True Shooting: Statistics in Context

In This Article…

Statistical comparison is a necessary evil in the sports world. On the one hand, we know that a player’s statistical accomplishments do not occur in a vacuum. Since factors such as position, body and build, teammates, opponents, and much more can significantly affect a player’s statistical output, comparing two players statistically is like comparing apples and oranges.

On the other hand, any attempt to compare two players without some form of quantitative measurement never leaves the realm of subjectivity. Thus, rational and logical (not to mention measurable and substantial) comparisons between two players cannot be performed without a certain amount of statistical comparison — making statistical comparison not only inevitable, but necessary.

Unfortunately, when making statistical comparisons, many people fail to account for the context in which a player’s statistics are recorded. They attempt to do the impossible — indeed, the irrational — by making straight statistical comparisons without accounting for each player’s multi-faceted context.

This is the issue that I want to explore: What is an appropriate way to compare two players statistically? While this topic obviously applies across the board, not only to all of basketball but to most other sports as well, I will approach this subject from the perspective of how it affects Kobe Bryant, since he is the primary topic of this website.

Field Goal Percentage

Field Goal Percentage (FG%) is often used as a measure of offensive scoring efficiency. This statistic is often taken into consideration along with points scored (or PPG – points per game). After all, scoring 20 points in a game can be seen as significant achievement, but if a player does so by making only eight out of 25 shots, shooting only 32%, then that achievement loses a lot of value.

Thus, particularly when dealing with two players whose scoring average (PPG) is relatively close, it can be important to compare the players based on efficiency.

This is where the problem arises: When attempting to compare two players’ in terms of efficiency, most people compare their field goal percentages. This is an understandable approach, since one would assume that scoring efficiency translates roughly into how many shots a player makes, as compared to how many shots he takes.

Unfortunately, comparing two players’ overall shooting percentage is an overly simplistic and often inaccurate way of viewing efficiency. Three very significant factors are not considered in the FG% statistic, and yet can have a huge impact on offensive efficiency: the position of the player, the number of three-point shots he takes (and makes), and the number of free throws he takes (and makes).

Position: A player’s position is very important when considering field goal percentage. Consider, for example, that centers in the NBA generally average over 50% shooting, and often closer to 60%. On the other hand, guards generally average in the mid- to low-40s. The reason for this is simple: centers play closest to the basket, and therefore tend to take very high percentage (easy) shots, while guards play farthest from the basket, and therefore tend to take lower percentage (more difficult) shots.

Therefore, it would be unreasonable to compare a guard shooting 47% (which is above average for guards) to a center shooting 52% (which is below average for centers), and conclude that the center is a better shooter and more efficient. In reality, the center is rather inefficient for his position, while the guard is quite efficient for his.

A player’s position also relates directly to the types of shots a player takes. Centers virtually never take three-point shots. Forwards are more likely than centers to do so, but much less likely than guards, who take the most three-point shots of all positions.

Therefore, while many people fans of LeBron James like to use his higher shooting percentage than Kobe’s as evidence that he is a better shooter or a more efficient scorer, they fail to account for the fact that James’ position allows him a greater number of easy shots, while Kobe position requires him to take a greater number of more difficult shots.

Three-Point Shooting: This leads us to the next point: FG% does not account for three-point shots. Consider that three-point field goals are worth 1-1/2 as much as two-point field goals. Because of this, a player can shoot a lower percentage on three-point shots and still be as effective as he is when shooting a higher percentage on two-point shots.

Here’s an example: Player #1 takes 10 two-point shots and makes six of them, shooting 60% and scoring 10 points. Player #2 takes 10 three-point shots and makes four of them, shooting only 40% but still scoring 10 points. Thus, Player #2′s FG% is lower than Player #1′s, but the two are equally efficient — they scored the same amount of points in the same amount of shot attempts.

Because of these things, a player’s three-point field goal percentage, as well as the number three-point shots they attempt, must be taken into consideration when comparing shooting efficiency.

Free Throw Shooting: Finally, FG% does not account for free throw shooting. Consider that most free throw attempts result from a foul on a shot attempt that is not converted, and as such, it is not counted in the box score as a Field Goal Attempt. (A shot on which the shooter is fouled does not count as field goal attempt unless the shot is made.) Thus, roughly every two Free Throws Attempted (FTA) represent one shot attempt that is not recorded in the box score. Since the shooter used an offensive possession with his two free throw attempts, it should count as an offensive possession (i.e., a shot attempt) for the player.

Let’s have an example: Player #3 takes 15 shots; he makes five, misses five, and is fouled (and does not make the shot) on the remaining five. The five shots on which he was fouled result in 10 free throws, and he makes all 10.

In this case, only the five made shots and the five missed shots are recorded in the box score as Field Goal Attempts, so the box score shows that he made 5 of 10, or 50%, of his shots. However, every two free throws also represent a shot he attempted — and since he made all of his free throws, a shot he made. Therefore, it is as though he had made 10 out of 15 shots, which would translate to 66.7% shooting.

Thus, to truly evaluate a player’s shooting efficiency, we must find a way to incorporate both the increased value of three-point shots and the missing free throws (attempted and made) into the comparison.

To do this, ESPN’s John Hollinger uses a statistic he calls True Shooting Percentage (TS%). True Shooting Percentage does three things:

  • It accounts for three-pointers by counting each three-point shot made as being worth 1.5 shots (this makes sense because each three-pointer is worth 1.5 times as many points as each two-pointer).
  • It accounts for the point value of free throws by counting every two free throws made as being equivalent to one made field goal.
  • It accounts for the number of possessions, or field goals attempted, represented by Free Throws Attempted by counting each free throw as slightly less than one possession (see below).

I said before that roughly every two free throws represent one shot attempt. If that were true, then we would simply divide a player’s Free Throws Attempted by two (or multiply by 0.5) to determine the number of shot attempts each free throw represents. However, this does not account for the occasional “and-1″ basket, in which the free throw does not actually represent a separate possession (that possession, instead, is represented by the made field goal).

Extensive NBA studies of literally decades worth of statistical data have determined that each free throw represents not one half (0.5) of a possession, but slightly over four tenths (0.44) of a possession. Thus, to find how many possessions a player used in free throws — which is to say, the number of shots that a player’s FTA represent — we multiply his FTA by 0.44, rather than by 0.5.

The equation Hollinger uses to derive his True Shooting Percentage is as follows:

(Points/2) / [FGA + (0.44 * FTA)]

I don’t think this is the place to go into a detailed mathematical explanation of Hollinger’s equation and how it accomplishes the three things outlined above. If you’re interested in the mathematical details, click here for a more detailed explanation (coming soon!). For now, suffice it to say that this equation does indeed accomplish these three things, and therefore it successfully accounts for both the increased value of three-point shots and the missing value of free throws.

In summary, it is not sufficient to simply compare the shooting percentages of two different players. Differences in three-point shooting percentage, free throw shooting percentage, and the frequency with which each player takes various different types of shots can all affect their shooting percentage, and whether that shooting percentage should be considered “efficient.”

To accurately compare the offensive shooting efficiency of two players, one should look at True Shooting Percentage (TS%) rather than Field Goal Percentage (FG%), as it accounts for three-pointers and free throws.

To bring this full circle to our early example, Kobe Bryant’s position requires him to shoot more three-point shots than LeBron James. At the same time, he is a much better three-point shooter than James. He is also a better free throw shooter than LeBron. Therefore, when comparing the two using a more accurate measure that accounts for three-pointers and free throws, we discover that Kobe’s TS% this year is .571, whereas LeBron’s is .565. Thus, Bryant is actually a more efficient scorer than James; James FG% is simply augmented by the fact that he takes more close, easy shots than Kobe.


Rebounding is quite a bit simpler to dissect than field goal percentage, as it does not include such complex factors as the point value and degree of difficulty various types of shots, or statistics such as free throws that are completely omitted from the equation. The issue is quite simple: Position and size both have a huge effect on rebounding.

First, when evaluating a player’s rebounding ability, it is important to consider size. LeBron James is 6’8″ and 250 lbs. In contrast, Kobe Bryant is 6’5″ (the NBA lists him as 6’6″, but he admits to being only 6’5″ and his wife says she measured him and he was 6’4-1/2″) and 205 lbs.

Given that LeBron is three to four inches taller and 45 pounds heavier than Kobe, the fact that James averages only two rebounds more than Bryant is, in reality, not all that impressive. It is only normal, and exactly what one would expect given the difference in height and weight.

Much like with shooting percentage, position is a huge factor in rebounding. Guards, by definition, play further away from the basket, and therefore do not have as many opportunities to rebound as players who play closer in. Forwards play closer to the basket, and center closest. Therefore, it’s not surprising that, on average, centers average more rebounds than forwards, who in turn average more rebounds than guards.

This concept applies to both offensive and defensive rebounds. On defense, guards are generally defending the other team’s guards, and are therefore located on the perimeter. On offense, guards take a higher percentage of shots from outside, and a lower percentage of shots “in the paint.” Therefore, they get fewer opportunities for offensive rebounds.

Again, these concepts can be applied to our example. James is a forward, while Bryant is a guard. As such, James is guarding forwards and therefore plays closer to the basket on defense than Bryant does. Furthermore, as a forward, a much higher percentage of LeBron’s shots are close to the basket, while Kobe shoots more from outside. Therefore, it is again less than impressive that LeBron, despite all the advantages that come from height, weight, and positioning on both offense and defense, only averages two rebounds more than Kobe.

To see this in context, simply evaluate each player based on how he stacks up against other players at his own position. As you can see here, Kobe Bryant is ranked 3rd in rebounding among guards — only Jason Kidd, who is a rebounding and triple-double freak of nature, and Mike Miller, who is also three to four inches taller than Bryant, have better rebounding averages. Meanwhile, LeBron ranks a lowly 18th among forwards in rebounding.

Clearly, Kobe Bryant is a better rebounder at his position than LeBron James is at his.

UPDATE: As commenter Will points out, LeBron may rank 18th among forwards, but he ranks 1st among small forwards, which is his actual position. (While’s player comparison doesn’t differentiate between SFs and PFs, or between SGs and PGs,’s does.)

Clearly, I made an oversight in this area, and I’m not above admitting it. I was wrong about LeBron: he is a fantastic rebounder at his position. Meanwhile, Kobe ranks 2nd among shooting guards.

Given that both Bryant and James rank at the top of their position in rebounding, I think it’s safe to say that they’re fairly equal in rebounding; if one is slightly better than the other, it would have to be LeBron. Nonetheless — “haters,” pay attention — Bryant remains an excellent rebounder at his position.


Like everything else, a player’s assist numbers are significantly affected by factors outside of the players pure ability or skill. In this case, these external factors include the player’s teammates, the role he plays in his offense, and the offensive system itself.

First, it is important to note that a player’s teammates can have a large impact on his assist numbers. After all, assists are not recorded on passes that lead to shots that should be made, but are not. The player must make the shot after receiving the pass in order for the passer to receive the assist.

In addition, if none of a player’s teammates are capable of creating their own shot, then all of their shot attempts must come off of passes. This can also result in higher assist numbers, not only for a specific player, but for the entire team, while a team that has multiple players that can create their own shot will record fewer assists.

Therefore, if a player has poor teammates, his assist numbers may suffer. If, on the other hand, his teammates shoot a high percentage, his assist numbers may benefit (though, at the same time, they may also suffer if any of his teammates are capable of creating their own shots on a consistent basis).

The second factor at play here is the player’s role in his offense. Point guards often have the role of bringing the ball down the floor, running plays, and delivering passes to open teammates, who take, and hopefully make, the shot. However, on some teams which lack a quality point guard, the star player may be responsible for running the offense, and creating shots either for himself or his teammates.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are two prime examples of such a player. For each of them — particularly now that Wade no longer has Shaq to command double teams and pass to open teammates — virtually every play runs through the star player. In effect, the entire offense runs through Wade and James on each of their teams. Therefore, it is natural that they would record more assists than they might if they were playing on a team with a strong point guard like Jason Kidd or Steve Nash, or in an offensive system that took some pressure off of them to create.

This brings me to the third factor that affects assist numbers: the offensive system in which one plays. Kobe Bryant’s role in the offense is quite different from James’ and Wade’s, and that is mainly because of the Lakers’ offensive system. He plays in Phil Jackson’s Triangle Offense (created by Tex Winter) — and offensive system that is specifically designed both to emphasize ball movement and to prevent the ball from being dominated by one player. Therefore, the Lakers offense definitely does not run through Kobe Bryant in the way that it does for Wade and James. Therefore, Kobe has fewer opportunities for assists.

Furthermore, the Triangle Offense is built on the concept of swinging the ball rapidly from side to side, inside and out, until the team finds a high percentage shot. Therefore, the offense emphasizes the extra pass, and even an extra pass after that. So, while most of James’ and Wade’s passes result in a shot, many of Kobe’s passes result in another pass, and perhaps yet another, before a shot is taken.

In fact, Lakers fans frequently see Kobe draw a double- or triple-team, then make the pass out of the double- or triple-team to a teammate. For LeBron or Wade, this teammate would likely take the shot. If they make enough of those passes, some of those shots are going to fall, so they will inevitably get their assist numbers. But for Kobe, this pass often resuls in one or two additional passes before a quality shot is taken, and often made. While the player who took the shot was open because of Kobe, and the entire sequence started with Kobe, he does not get an assist on the possession.

Therefore, when evaluating assist numbers, it is important to consider all three of these factors. Better teammates that shoot higher percentages will result in more assists. But at the same time, a player is bound to record higher assist numbers when he is the primary ball handler and the offense usually flows through him, while a player who plays in a system designed to prevent one player from dominating the ball and instead encourage ball movement will record fewer assists.


The final statistical category that I want to touch on is blocking This will be brief, because most of what is relevant to this category has already been discussed above.

Much of blocking depends on two factors: size and position. First, the taller a player is, and the larger his wingspan, the easier it is for him to block shots. Meanwhile, shots closer into the basket tend to be easier to block, meaning that a player who plays closer to the basket will have more opportunities to block shots.

These are important factors to keep in mind when considering blocking ability. A shooting guard may be an excellent shot blocker, especially for his size, but he may rarely have the opportunity to block a shot.

Perhaps the most important issue to address here, however, is expectation. By and large, shooting guards simply aren’t expected to be shot blockers. In fact, if a guard is focusing on trying to block shots, it’s likely that he is slacking in other aspects of his man-to-man and team defense, just in the hope of recording an occasional block. It’s simply not worth it.

It is for that reason that the best shot blockers will always be forwards and centers: shooting guards simply aren’t asked to block shots. In fact, often times it’s best that they not try.

Worth noting: Kobe Bryant ranks 2nd among guards in blocks.

Proper Statistical Comparisons

By now, it should be clear that many different factors play into statistical measurements, which must be taken into consideration when comparing two players. It is never a good idea to compare two players’ statistics “straight up” — numerous factors such as size and weight, position, and role, as well as many others, can affect stats, and must be taken into consideration. When a person attempts to compare two players statistically without accounting for the various factors that could affect their statistical performance, it is often the case that he has ulterior motives, and is intentionally using statistics out of context because they support his assertion.

Filed Under Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Statistics | 38 Comments

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38 Comments so far
  1. Craig W. says...February 26, 2008 4:18 pm

    There are some other subjective factors, such as leadership, that play into evaluations, but for pure statistics this article has to be a starting point for anyone trying to make an intelligent point.

  2. Will says...February 26, 2008 6:16 pm

    When you compare Lebron’s rebounding relative to forwards, you fail to make the distinction between small forward and power forward. Relative to small forwards, Lebron rebounds at a better clip than you give him credit for.

  3. The Apologist says...February 26, 2008 11:40 pm


    You’re absolutely right. And I’m not above admitting it.

    I’ve edited my article to reflect the fact that LeBron ranks #1 in rebounding among small forwards.

    Click here to see the edited portion of the article.

  4. The Apologist says...February 27, 2008 12:35 am

    @Craig W.,

    Thanks for the compliment!

    There are more than a few subjective factors that come into play when evaluating players. In fact, I would argue that good old fashioned visual evaluation — meaning, watching a player play — is every bit as important in player evaluation as statistics. Statistical evaluations should never be seen as comprehensive.

    This article is geared towards those situations when you do need to compare two players using statistics. The point is, stats are never the full picture; but when you do use stats, you must keep them in context if you want to use them properly.

  5. randomfan says...February 27, 2008 3:34 am

    great post again. i just love reading your posts because i feel like i’m reading something i wrote (a little personal bias, hehe) here’s a potential topic i’ve analyzed in various forums: lebron’s apparently better stats than kobe’s during their respective initial years in the nba. (being drafted to different level teams with different team mates, hence altering kobe’s and lebron’s purpose on the team for the first few seasons, etc. (ie. kobe concurrently came to a perennial playoff contending lakers that was essentially handed to an incoming shaq, while lebron, like jordan and durant, was drafted to a team that expected these players to be their primary players since a high draft pick generally means a low-quality team). this would be another application of the verboten isolated-stats-comparison rule.

  6. randomfan says...February 27, 2008 4:04 am

    by the way, the site i referred you to previously ( falls prey to this fallacious method of argumentation. i doubt they’ll concede. anyway, whenever i suggest a topic, please don’t feel that you have to write about it in your next post or as quickly as possible. i’m just throwing out ideas for you to think about if you ever decide to write about them. thanks

  7. The Apologist says...February 27, 2008 6:59 am


    Very interesting, indeed. Statistical comparisons of two current players requires significant compensation for context. When comparing previous years from two players, this is even more true. Along the lines of what you have suggested, the Kobe Bryant/Michael Jordan comparison must take into account that Michael Jordan did 4 years of college, while Kobe went straight into the NBA. When he entered the NBA, he was not a starter. Therefore, it’s not unreasonable to equate Kobe’s first few years in the NBA to Jordan’s college years.

  8. Craig W. says...February 27, 2008 8:42 am

    Comparison between current and past players is almost impossible, if only because of the mythology built up around the past – both positive and negative (Michael and Wilt are two examples that come to mind).

    With current players you also have to take into account of the coaching styles and, for Michael and Kobe, the collage coaching needs and talents of Dean Smith vs the NBA needs of Del Harris.

  9. The Apologist says...February 27, 2008 8:52 am


    One more thing: I believe an in depth analysis may be coming pretty soon (perhaps as soon as my next article), but I’ll give you a little preview that relates to our discussion.

    I have shown why TS% is a better statistic for comparing shooting efficiency than FG% — soon, I will show that Kobe’s TS% is in fact higher than LeBron’s (slightly), and virtually equivalent to Michael Jordan’s.

    I’m quite certain the guys at wouldn’t recognize this. But then, I never expect dedicated haters to see reason or recognize logic.

  10. The Apologist says...February 27, 2008 9:04 am

    @Craig W.,

    Some great points there, I fully agree with you.

    I think the one point that I want to make is that Kobe’s stats in his first couple of years in the NBA represent a much bigger adjustment period for him than for MJ. Therefore, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to count a couple of years as being the equivalent of his college years. So, if you want to compare career statistics — which a lot of people do, and I will be writing about soon — you really should take out at the very least Kobe’s first 2 years, when he was (a) a bench player, and (b) making a huge adjustment from high school to the NBA.

  11. Ali says...February 27, 2008 10:08 am

    great post
    let me add if i may that Lebron runs alot of pick and pop with Z man its a simple play doesnt require much of playmaking ability and the big credit should go to Z man whos 7.2″ and can make a long range jumper over the defence which few big men can do .all cavs games i watched Lebron gets couple of assists from this play
    cavs 3point shooters shoot it while the defence is closing out on them they never make the extra pass but still people like gibson and jones are pure catch and shoot 3point shooters and they r few of the best in this league at that actually its the only thing they can do on the floor so they still get 2 make shots when they keep trying
    we see it in the lakers its a complete different story when kobe gets double or triple team on him he gives the the ball 2 some1 who often 2 make the extra pass and the lakers has all the time in the world 2 lunch the 3
    kobe gets 0 assists on that but give him the credit
    lebron has the ball in his hand all the time he s the cavs point guard or u can say on offense he s the cavs ! while kobe plays in a different system as u said b4
    and about rebound we see in all lakers games when kobe has 2 play sf bcuz something wrong in the team and P J force both sasha and farmar on the floor next to kobe we see in these games kobe gets +10 rebounds
    though his against bigger players i know a rebound is one rebound even if the ball comes to your hand but we have to consider how hard kobe works to get his boards
    and thats my problem with dead stats like when some1 just looks at the stats to judge but if people watched games and read stats after reading such a post like this one they should be able 2 realize the truth

  12. Happydaze says...February 27, 2008 11:00 am

    Great article. I enjoyed the statistical points.

    Re: Assists
    I grew up watching Magic Johnson, and as a PG myself, have always appreciated this particular stat. I have always been confused when people (including NBA “experts”) talk about how Kobe doesn’t pass, which means he doesn’t make his teammates better by putting them in position to score. This despite the fact that he consistently averages 4-6 assists per game, which is pretty good for a shooting guard. I’m not going to go in depth pointing out how many easy shots were missed in the Kwame-Smush-Cook seasons.

    As you pointed out, the system plays a HUGE role in determining the offensive stats recorded by a player. Playing in a system designed around ball movement and not having one player dominate the ball, Kobe makes a lot of the passes that lead to assists, which you always hear are important, but aren’t actually taken into consideration. Even when he’s 3-4 passes removed from the assist, Kobe usually starts the sequence due to the defensive attention paid him.

    In addition to this, most systems built around passing don’t actually result in one player having a lot of assists. Remember the Kings back in their heyday in 2000-2003? No one ever averaged more than 5.7 assists per game, and yet they were hailed — rightly — as the best passing team in the league. Likewise, the triangle offense aims to “spread the assists around” as it were, in an effort to make teams pay when they focus on one player.

    Anyways, I should stop writing so much. From now on, I’ll just type “I agree”, and save us both a lot of time. Good read.


  13. The Apologist says...February 27, 2008 11:12 am


    No, please don’t stop. That was really great, to hear it from the perspective of a point guard, whose primary focus is passing. Loved it. I may quote that comment in the future (most likely in an eventual post, one day, that will specifically take on the common perception that Kobe doesn’t, or hasn’t, made his teammates better).


  14. burningjoe says...February 27, 2008 12:22 pm

    One comment…its Texas Winters Trianlge Offense…Phil is but a desciple.

  15. The Apologist says...February 27, 2008 12:47 pm


    Quite true, and that’s something I have mentioned before — both in an article and in the comments

    In the context of this article, the term “Phil Jackson’s Triangle Offense” means the same as “the Triangle Offense run by Phil Jackson.”

    It’s the same as when people refer to Phoenix’s system as “Mike D’Antoni’s high octane offense.” Mike D’Antoni didn’t invent it — far, far from it. But he brought it with him, and he’s the one who runs it.

    So, I’m quite aware that it’s Tex Winter’s offense. In fact, that’s specifically why I reference it here, here, and here, when discussing how, last year, Kobe was playing within the system, even after injuries and during a losing streak, until Phil Jackson AND Tex Winter asked him to take over and shoot more. It was significant because Tex is the creator of the Triangle, and as such, he’s very anal about it. So when even he says that Kobe should take over, that really carries weight.

    But it is Jackson’s Triangle in the sense that he’s the one who brought it to LA, has used it to win championships, and runs it as his offense, on his team.

  16. burningjoe says...February 27, 2008 3:08 pm

    The Apologist…I certainly didnt mean to quibble over who’s offense it is…I had just come across this site and this happened to be the first article I read…so I have not seen the other points you might have made in reference to the fact that the Trigangle is all Tex.

    I just dont think Tex gets his due credit…and from reading your other statements now…I think you probably can agree with that….although I do realize that this is not and so maybe not the forum to voice that issue.

    I agree with all the points about the differneces in position, offense played and everything other point…it was a great write up.

    To the Anti-Kobe league…I simply say this “Lebron James himself says that Kobe is the best player…period”.

  17. The Apologist says...February 27, 2008 3:14 pm


    Oh, hey man, no offense was taken. Actually, the reason I responded as I did was because I completely agree with you, that Tex doesn’t get the credit he deserves, and want to make it clear not only to you, but to anyone who reads, that on this web page at least, he will get his credit as the brilliant creator of the best offense in professional basketball.

    Speaking of Tex not getting his credit… can you believe they still refuse to induct him into the Hall of Fame? That pure B.S., if you ask me. Unbelievable.

    I just dont think Tex gets his due credit…and from reading your other statements now…I think you probably can agree with that….although I do realize that this is not and so maybe not the forum to voice that issue.

    I absolutely do agree, obviously. An no, no… you feel free to make that point. It’s educational, and it’s important people know.

    Sorry if I came off a bit defensive in my tone. I should probably work on that…

  18. The Apologist says...February 27, 2008 3:17 pm


    Just for you, I’ve edited the article to make sure Tex gets his due. Here’s the edit.

  19. Willie Montgomery says...February 27, 2008 3:41 pm

    Forgive me if I missed it in the article (or comments) but another stat that’s makes a big difference on all the stats in “minutes per game”. Lebron currently plays 2.5 more mpg than Kobe because Lebron’s team requires that of him (being the only star player).

    2.5 minutes more of playing time can account for Lebron getting 2 more rebounds, 2+ more assists, 2+ more pts than Kobe…etc, not necessarily because Lebron is better in those areas than Kobe he’s just on the court more, thus has more opportunity to increase his stats. So even given Lebron’s added height, bulk, strength, position, ball handling requirements, then adding the 2.5 minutes more minutes of PT is Lebron really better statistically than Kobe???

    Good article. As someone else said, I too wrote something similar on another site. The Kobe Haters are so easy to respond to, most come in with major bias against Kobe and totally misrepresent the stats. I’m a big Kobe fan (for good reason) but there is something more important than that, and that’s TRUTH.

  20. burningjoe says...February 27, 2008 3:49 pm

    @The Apologist

    awesome…TEX for President!!!! Can you image if the Goverment ran as efficiently as the Triangle…The Triangle when run properly is so fantastic to watch…especaily when teams use Zone defenses against it…the exact Defense that it was designed to bust. And its won…what…9 Championships? In this modern game…that is a BIG deal. The catch is getting players to buy in to it and getting them to play effective Defense…had Shaq stepped out on pick/rolls…he’d probably still be in LA…the Lakers would have 8 rings now working on 9. (ok..maybe a little dreamy)

  21. The Apologist says...February 27, 2008 4:03 pm

    @Willie Montgomery,

    I agree with you in principle, but not as far as you go. The minutes per game, and the usage, are key stats. However, I wouldn’t say 2.5 minutes per game is enough to get an additional 2 rebounds per game.

    That said, it might be worth 1/2 or 1/4 of a rebound per game.

    I’d still say that they are basically equal in rebounding, both at the top in their position, with LeBron holding a slight edge.

    But I think the key here is that LBJ fans use the rebounding stats as though they’re huge advantages. The key isn’t to show Kobe is a better rebounder than LeBron, because I don’t think he is. The key is to show that, in context, he is equal LeBron in rebounding. And as such, that’s not a point Kobe haters can use against him.

  22. Willie Montgomery says...February 27, 2008 4:17 pm

    To add to my last post, if you calculate Lebron and Kobe’s stats on a “per minute” bases the numbers are closer, and Kobe actually gets steals at a higher rate than Lebron. Stats per minute(when players are playing “starters” minutes) tell a more accurate story than stats per game. The catagories in order are points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks “per minute”.

    Lebron—— .745 .200 .185 .049 .027
    Kobe——– .731 .161 .142 .053 .013

  23. The Apologist says...February 27, 2008 4:41 pm

    @Willie Montgomery,

    I see what you’re getting at. Your point has validity. Let’s take a look:

    LeBron James:
    8.2 rebounds per game
    0.745 rebounds per minute
    1.06 blocks per game
    0.027 blocks per minute

    Kobe Bryant:
    6.1 rebounds per game
    0.731 rebounds per minute
    0.51 blocks per game
    0.013 blocks per minute

    In terms of rebounds per game, Kobe grabs 74.4% as many rebounds as LeBron. However, in terms of rebounds per minute, Kobe grabs 80.5% as many rebounds as LeBron.

    So clearly, the additional minutes for LeBron do have their effect.

    I wouldn’t say it’s enough to say Kobe is a better rebounder than LeBron. I’d still say they’re either equal, or LeBron has a very slight edge. But it is worth noting, nonetheless.

    If Kobe played the same number of minutes that LeBron plays, he’d average 6.6 rebounds per game, rather than 6.1.

    That would put him at #1 among shooting guards.

  24. Willie Montgomery says...February 27, 2008 7:35 pm

    I overstated my position in my 1st comment and agree that 2.5 more minutes would not translate into 2 more rebounds, assists…etc. per game. I just wanted to make the point that the minutes have to be figured into the equation and lessen Lebrons lead over Kobe in the stats. Given the obvious size, position and role differences stats should not be used to show that Lebron is a better overall player than Kobe unless they (the stats) are properly analyzed.

    Having said that and realizing that some will insist on using the stats, I’ll say this…Kobe is a better offensive rebounder than Lebron. Over his career Kobe averages 1.2 off. rbs per game, in 36.3 minutes, while Lebron, with all his size, position and role advantages averages 1.2rbs per game in 41.2 minutes, over his career.

    Realizing Lebron is in his 5th year while Kobe is in his 12th I looked at Kobes first 5 years. Kobe averaged 1.18 off. rpg, in an average of only 31.7 minutes per game. Kobe still got close to 1.2 off. rbs in almost 10 minutes less than Lebron has in his 5 year career.

    So when the Kobe haters speak of Lebron as a better rebounder than Kobe it should only be on the defensive end, even then bigger, stronger forwards are expected to get more boards so there’s really no significant point to make for Lebron against Kobe in that area.

    I know, I have too much time on my hands… :)

  25. Pipo says...February 28, 2008 1:46 pm

    For those guys who say that superplayers are those whoe make other players better I just have this to show them:

    And who’s the guy that is being talked to be one of the most improved players this year?? Andrew Bynum, who plays with who? So in this case Kobe has no role at all, in the process… or does he?

  26. Pipo says...February 28, 2008 2:36 pm

    What I think about all this, is that Kobe is the best player in the present, and he is one for the ages, he’s in the same level as Jordan (the greatest, for all he’s done), Wilt, Russel, Dr. J, Kareem, and let’s not forget about Shaq who was unstopable some years ago, and that’s a fact that people seem to have forgoten… And all those guys who dominated in their eras. But I think that Lebron will be, or has everything to be, the most perfect basketball player ever. It’s just like that. Just look at what he’s done, and does every mouth/year. With his age he is in better shape than every guy who played basketball, he’s starting to score in the clunch, he’s starting to hit the treys, he’s a force of Nature, he’s unstopable when he attacks the basket. Let’s just hope that he doesn’t have any injuries or other kinds of problems so that we can enjoy all that Lebron’s potential has to offer us, and enjoy what Kobe does now that he’s in his prime.

    PS: Sorry about the guys that where ellit and I didn’t mension but I just can’t remember all of them, and don’t whant to cut anyone who deserved to be on the list. One thing that I notice is that the number of superstars seems to grow each year, and that now there are more great teams that there where 4 or 5 years ago, when there where like 5 great teams and 2 or 3 with real chances to be the champs. And that’s why I think the NBA is the greatest sporting event in the world!

  27. Craig W. says...February 28, 2008 3:02 pm

    Lebron is very, very good; but he is also the flavor of the month. Look at the past greats and only Dr. J did it without any defense and his offense was off the chart spectacular.

    Incidentally, if you are writing of Wilt as the greatest of all time…did you know that he is the only player in history to lead the league in scoring, rebounding, AND assists. Besides his 50pts/game and 27rebounds/game will stand forever.Just enjoy what we have now and stop with all these comparisons.

  28. Josh Tucker (The Apologist) says...February 28, 2008 3:17 pm

    @Craig W.,

    Well said about LeBron. But, I do think that he will eventually grow beyond that. After Kobe’s reign is over, he will own the league.

    Regarding Wilt, you know, I honestly just don’t know how to view him. On the one hand, his numbers are ridiculous. On the other, he clearly played at a time when defense was minimal, the pace of the game was much, much, much faster than it is today (even with the running game coming back into style), so all numbers are augmented. Finally, he was physically dominating in a way that probably only Bill Russell could identify with. He played at a time when blocked shots were a new comment, and when he was a giant among men. How could he not score a lot when no one could deny him position or challenge his shot? How could he not assist a lot when teams would undoubtedly have to double- or triple-team him? And how could he not rebound and block well when he exists in a completely different level of the atmosphere? Maybe it wasn’t just that, you know. Maybe there’s really something to it. But how are we supposed to know?

    I don’t know, you know? How do you account for that? I simply don’t know how. But I know that Kobe’s 81 points are generally regarded as being more impressive in this day an age, with the way the game is played now, than Wilt’s in his own time.

    Incidentally, Wilt and Oscar are both examples of why LeBron’s ridiculous numbers don’t automatically equate to a certain level of greatness. Was it really all about the numbers, either Wilt or Oscar would unquestionably have to be considered the greatest player ever to play the game.

  29. Craig W. says...February 28, 2008 4:39 pm

    The problem is we are all trying to prove things with numbers. I have seen Wilt, Jerry, Oscar in their prime and they were just as dominating as Lebron, Kobe, and Shaq. Yes, the game has changed, but these were superb athletes and they played a rough brand of basketball. I saw Wilt at the end of a game take his shirt off and there were welts on his body where he took continued hits during the game – it was not for the faint hearted. Jerry had his nose broken 9 times during his career. This isn’t to say these people were better than the players today, but I don’t really think they would have a lot of trouble in today’s game. For example, Wilt was a track and field champion as well as a basketball player.

    It is tough enough just trying to compare Kobe and Lebron without bringing up players most people never saw play. When we see something fantastic we just go wow! When someone tells us about something fantastic in their past we just cannot connect the same way. I watch every game Kobe plays. Therefore, it is really hard to evaluate he and Lebron. I don’t see all Lebron’s games, just the highlights. Kobe will do something fantastic practically every game – that’s why people fill up the stadiums to see him.

  30. Josh Tucker (The Apologist) says...February 28, 2008 4:49 pm

    @Craig W.,

    Clearly, you are much better qualified than I am to be talking about Wilt, Jerry, Oscar, etc. Fascinating insight that you have.

    When we see something fantastic we just go wow!

    Actually, that is how I feel when I hear or read or am reminded about some of Wilt’s accomplishments. I don’t know exactly how the era he played in affected all that, and I don’t know if he’s the best ever, or how close he is, and I don’t know that any of that really matters. What I do know is that it must have been dumbfounding to watch. I know it’s mind boggling just to think about.

  31. Craig W. says...February 28, 2008 5:43 pm

    Wilt was a physical anomaly, as was Shaq. Wilt, however, worked on his game and changed as he grew older. My complaint with Shaq is that he was, perhaps, the most talented basketball player ever to play the game, but stopped developing when he got to the point where he could dominate. His rebound numbers never equaled those he put up in his rookie year – that just about says it all about his love for the game.

    Sorry, I digress. I really loved watching the old games, but the current game is faster and the players are so big and so agile. It is just different and I want to leave it at that. I just love to watch the moves over and around players that goes on today. I just have a hard time with comparisons when all that really matters is the beauty of the game going on in front of you.

  32. khandor says...February 29, 2008 8:04 am


    First off … some great stuff in this article … and the comments.

    Kudos to you & the other contributors.

    re: this specific observation

    "There are more than a few subjective factors that come into play when evaluating players. In fact, I would argue that good old fashioned visual evaluation — meaning, watching a player play — is every bit as important in player evaluation as statistics. Statistical evaluations should never be seen as comprehensive.
    This article is geared towards those situations when you do need to compare two players using statistics. The point is, stats are never the full picture; but when you do use stats, you must keep them in context if you want to use them properly.

    The points you raise, right there, need to be emphasized, so that others understand them properly (ironically … in context).

    i) The most ‘authentic’ understanding of basketball ‘Truth’ is found through close (personal) observation of ‘how’ the game is ‘actually’ played and ‘when’ it is specific things occur (or not).
    ii) ‘Statistical comparisons’ are fundamentally flawed when it comes to understanding ‘how’ NBA basketball actually works … especially, if/when used in isolation.
    In addition … a 3rd crucial point I’d include is that:
    iii) NBA basketball is unique … played & coached (exclusively) on a ‘Possession by Possession’ basis, within the context of an entire game (series, season or career) … and, therefore, needs to be analysed & understood in this way, as well.

    (which is something I have yet to see happen anywhere within the basketball community)

    Keep up your terrific work. :-)

  33. Josh Tucker (The Apologist) says...February 29, 2008 9:34 am


    Thanks, khandor. I recognize the fact that you frequently feel more than free disagreeing with me, and you seem to have an uncommon ability to hold Kobe in highest regard while at the same time not being too quick to just give him the nod because he’s Kobe Bryant and you think he’s awesome. (Even if sometimes, I think your criticisms are incorrect — for example, it’s my personal opinion that Kobe Bryant plays better through injury, even severe injury, than you seem to think.)

    Given all that, I take your compliments seriously. I’m glad you feel this article meets a standard that not only Kobe fans, but also those who can be reluctant to jump on the Kobe bandwagon, appreciate.

    For my part, I do believe that significant work can be done to numerically analyze and compare player achievements through numbers — however, I believe that (a) it can require a lot of work, as it always means going far beyond the simple box score stats and finding ways to compensate for context, and (b) that it is not comprehensive, and while much can be done to use statistics properly to compare two players — or two teams, for that matter — there is also much that cannot be done with numbers.

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  36. anonymus/ chap says...December 9, 2008 11:27 am

    as you see, i read your comment and followed your advice to read some of your other stuff. only a few notes. personally i think you cant take away the edge in assists. even with your comments on the triangle offense and so on i wouldnt agree even to considerate kobe beeing an equal passer or someone who has the same court vision as lebron. in every team their are “shooters” they maybe just need to have enough time. look at delonte west because the defense of the other tem concentrates on lebron so much he has enough time to shoot a high percentage from 3-point range like many others.
    i never would just say kobe is just a ballhog thats just ignorant but i think he isnt that selfish like lebron which is good its part of the reason why he is such an escellent scorer but he wouldnt have got that many assists on the cavaliers the last 2 years if he had been on this team…still very interesting

  37. Josh Tucker (The Apologist) says...December 9, 2008 12:38 pm

    @anonymus/ chap,

    You’re obviously a pretty reasonable guy. I don’t recall exactly what I wrote back then, but I think I can give you a passing edge for LeBron. But I’d call it a similar edge to his rebounding edge: An edge, but a small one. Kobe is still very good in that area.

    Still, if you look at Lakers’ box scores, I think you’ll find that Kobe plays with a lot of other players that are also great passers. And, as I’ve mentioned before, playing with better players often causes your numbers to go down. Notice that after adding Mo Williams, LeBron’s assists have dropped some. Fisher, Gasol, Bynum, and Odom are all fantastic passers. For example: In a recent game against the Wizards, Kobe had 7 assists. But Gasol had 6 assists and Fisher had 5.

    Bynum and Ariza, meanwhile, are becoming players who can easily pick up 4 assists in a game.

    Add that to the fact that the offense they run is specifically designed NOT to allow any player — Kobe included — to dominate the ball, and I don’t think it’s hard to account for 2 assists per game. If Kobe was running the offense like LeBron does, that’s at least five to 10 more possessions per game that, instead of running through the triangle offense, run through Kobe, directly. Those are possessions in which he either scores, or sets guys up. At least one or two of those shots will be makes, which is an extra assist or two. Does it necessarily happen that way? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s not hard to see an offense that runs through Kobe resulting in more assists.

    Anyhow. I’ll still give LeBron a slight edge in passing, as I do in rebounding, assuming we can agree that it’s a slight one, and that Kobe is still an excellent passer.

    Props to you for recognizing that calling Kobe a selfish player or a ballhog is just ignorant. Actually, I’d say that both he and LeBron figured out the “passing to teammates” thing at a much earlier stage in their careers than Jordan did.

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