Though the two will team up to play for Team USA in the 2008 Olympics, the battle over superiority between Cleveland’s King James and Lakers legend Kobe Bryant remains fervent. The arguments between fans of each player range from those over current statistics to historical statistics. Who is better now? How do the two compare at the same age?
I chose to use the WhatIfSports supercomputer to find an answer to the great debate.
To determine which mega-star reigns, various teams were created and simulations performed:
For a historical perspective, teams from each player’s fifth professional season were pitted against each other. NBA champions, the 2000-2001 Lakers set the best post-season record in the history of the NBA at 15-1. Defending Eastern Conference champs, the 2007-2008 Cavaliers made an appearance in the NBA playoffs, losing to the eventual champion Boston Celtics in seven games.
James led the NBA in scoring in the 2007-2008 season with 30 points per game and was named to the All-NBA First Team. He also averaged 7.9 rebounds and 7.2 assists playing in 3,028 minutes over 75 games and scoring a total of 2,250 points in the season.
For the 2000-2001 season, Bryant was named to the All-NBA Second Team and played a large role in the NBA finals victory. He averaged 28.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.0 assists playing in 2,783 minutes over 68 games and scoring a total of 1,938 points in the season.
When the teams were simulated against each other, the results showed the Lakers as victorious over the Cavs in 57 percent of the games. The 2000-2001 Lakers averaged 100.8 points per game, while the Cavaliers averaged 99.6 points per game.
To determine each player’s importance to his team, 07-08 LeBron James and 00-01 Kobe Bryant were swapped in the simulations; otherwise, the teams remained the same.
James teamed up with Shaq and the rest of the 2000-2001 Lakers to win 69 percent of the games over Bryant and the 2007-2008 Cavs. The Lakers and Cavaliers averaged 103.2 and 98.2 points per game respectively.
The statistics show that the Lakers team increased victory percentage by 12 percent with the addition of James or that the Cavaliers decreased winning percentage by 12 percent without him.
Each player was returned to his franchise, and the teams competed against an "average" NBA team.
The 2000-2001 Lakers beat the average team in 62 percent of the games, and the Cavs were victorious in 69 percent of the games.
The star players were swapped, and the teams faced the average team once again.
The results determined that Kobe and the Cavs won 49 percent of the games against the average team; James and the Lakers increased to a winning percentage of 65 percent.
It is evident that the loss of James significantly reduces the Cavs performance; his addition slightly amplifies the Lakers.
For a current comparison of the two players, the same simulations were performed. For the second set of simulations, the 2007-2008 Lakers were pitted against the 2007-2008 Cavaliers.
The 2007-2008 Lakers made an appearance in the NBA Finals. The team lost to the Boston Celtics in six games. During the season, Bryant was the NBA MVP and named to the All-NBA First Team. He averaged 28.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists playing in 3,192 minutes over 82 games and scoring a total of 2,323 points in the season.
In play between the two actual 2007-08 teams, the Lakers beat the Cavs in 68 percent of the games, averaging 105.1 points per game, compared to the Cavs' 99.3 points per game.
The players were swapped, and James increased the Lakers' winning percentage by 10 percent, bringing it to 78 percent.
The most interesting argument came from simulations against the average team.
When Kobe Bryant and the Lakers faced the average team, they won 68 percent of the games. The Cavs were triumphant 57 percent of the time.
By swapping the players and performing the same contest, the results showed little variance. James and the Lakers won 69 percent of the games, and Bryant and the Cavs won 56 percent of the games, giving James a slight edge over Bryant.
From an experience perspective, James appears to be the more valuable player five years into the league. Currently though, the two players are very comparable, which justifies the intensity and validity of arguments for both players- even the supercomputer had trouble deciding. Ultimately, James' experience and ability as a floor general as exhibited through his passing and ball-handling, as well as his edge in rebounding, more than make up for his minor relative deficiencies in scoring efficiency and on the ball defense (LeBron is a much better defender than many may think).
In the end, though both formidable opponents, the simulations say LBJ conquers.
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