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Monday, September 15, 2008

Michael Jordan and Tex Winter Discuss the MJ-Kobe Comparisons

Lindy's Pro Basketball 2008-09 is on the market now. If it is not sold in a bookstore near you, you can order a copy online--choosing from among nine different regional covers--at the Lindy's website.

For this year's edition, I wrote the Sacramento Kings preview for the third year in a row, the Phoenix Suns preview for the second year in a row and I wrote the Cleveland Cavaliers preview for the first time, ending my run of writing three straight previews about the Denver Nuggets. For the sidebar stories that accompany each preview, I wrote about Ron Artest, Shaquille O'Neal and the Cavaliers' underrated defense respectively.

Editor Roland Lazenby contributed a very interesting story about Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant titled, "In Michael's Image." Lazenby has long had a very close working relationship with Tex Winter, the inventor of the Triangle Offense who coached both Jordan (with the Chicago Bulls) and Bryant (with the Lakers, for whom Winter is still a consultant). Lazenby's excellent article is well worth reading. Here are a few bullet points:

1) Jerry West, the man who originally drafted Bryant, believes that Bryant's greatness is not appreciated or understood by the general public: "The people who write and say things, they know nothing about him," West said during the 2008 NBA Finals, according to Lazenby.

2) Lazenby indicated that the Jordan-Bryant comparisons do not bother Jordan as much as they bother others: "Frankly, Jordan doesn't see what all the big fuss is about. After all, human behavior is mimetic. That's what humans do. They copy and ape another." Jordan acknowledged that Bryant has patterned aspects of his game after Jordan's but does not see this as a bad thing at all: "But how many people lighted the path for me? That's the evolution of basketball. There's no way I could have played the way I played if I didn't watch David Thompson and guys prior to me. There's no way Kobe could have played the way he's played without watching me play. So, you know, that's the evolution of basketball. You cannot change that."

3) Lazenby added, "In conversation, it becomes quickly obvious that Jordan respects Bryant, without even a hint of condescension. After all, Jordan respects anyone who does the work, who has the mental toughness, to climb the heights. Bryant's done the work and displayed the toughness, he says."

4) Winter has repeatedly emphasized that Scottie Pippen's role in the success of the Bulls cannot be overestimated; on the flip side, Winter and West both criticized the lack of mental toughness of Bryant's current supporting cast, a weakness that became glaringly apparent during the 2008 NBA Finals. "The Lakers just are not mentally tough," West said point blank, while Winter agreed and added, "We had some tough guys in Chicago, guys like John Paxson and Steve Kerr who could hit those open shots."

In a sidebar piece, Lazenby pointed out that several years ago the Lakers coaching staff--which of course contained several people who also coached Jordan in Chicago--"concluded Bryant and Jordan were much alike, almost eerie, in fact, when it came to the alpha male qualities of their competitive natures. Kobe and Michael were ruthless when it came to winning, everyone agreed. And their skills were similar. Except Michael's hands were larger. The major difference between the two came with college experience. Jordan had played in a basketball system for Dean Smith at North Carolina, thus he was better prepared to play within a team concept."

In a statement that may surprise a lot of people, Winter told Lazenby that he doubted that Jordan would have been a good fit playing alongside Shaquille O'Neal. It will probably surprise Bryant's critics even more to learn that Winter said that his critical examination of game tape shows that Bryant's shot selection is quite good: "Actually, for the most part, he's not forcing up a lot of bad shots. When he gets hot, he does take shots that would be questionable for other players. But a lot of the shots he's taken go in." After all, while some aspects of shot selection are universal--running the shot clock down at the end of the quarter to get the last shot and deny the other team a scoring opportunity--other aspects of shot selection depend on the skill set of the player who is taking the shot (and the skill sets of the players who he would be passing to if he did not shoot).

Winter concluded, "I tend to think how very much they're alike. They both display tremendous reaction, quickness and jumping ability. Both have a good shooting touch. Some people say Kobe is a better shooter but Michael really developed as a shooter as he went along. I don't know if Kobe is a better shooter than Michael was at his best."

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:21 AM



At Tuesday, September 16, 2008 1:47:00 PM, Blogger Jason J said...

this is an interesting article, though they do very little actual compare / contrast here. how about the fact that kobe shoots so many more 3s than michael did? or that since shaq left he's averaged 3 more ftas than jordan did in the 90s (probably a result of the no-contact on the perimeter rules)? not to say what's better or worse, but there are some pretty glaring differences along with all the cosmetic similarities.

At Tuesday, September 16, 2008 2:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome! Thanks for the information.

You can always trust Tex to be a straight shooter.

At Tuesday, September 16, 2008 4:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Kobe's overall free throw attempts are still behind Jordan's.

In fact, the most free throws Kobe's had in a season, 819 in 2005-2006 (His 35.5 ppg season), was trumped by Jordan's output from 1986-87, 1987-88.

He had 972 and 860 attempts in those years.

Jordan had as much of an advantage in going to the line as Kobe has.

The reason I'm comparing those seasons to Kobe's recent output, is because they had very similar responsibilities in those years offensively.

In fact, since Kobe's 35.5 ppg season, his total free throw attempts have gone down each season.

He's taken a step back offensively and his scoring average along with shot attempts have gone down since that year.


At Tuesday, September 16, 2008 5:20:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to be a stat curmudgeon quickly, there really is no comparison between Jordan and Bryant. Jordan was objectively much better. You can say their games are similar, fine, but Jordan was obviously hugely more productive.

I am not sure what the best sample to compare the two is? Both to age 29? First twelve seasons? No matter what time frame you choose though, Jordan has the advantage in every statistical category, including big edges in scoring volume, ts%, steals, rebounds, and turnovers.

Per 36 through their first 12 seasos, Jordan generated almost two more possessions per 36 for his team than Bryant, while scoring much more and more efficiently.

He also was, imho, a much better defender.

Tex and Jerry are great names in basketball, but they are simply wrong to think Bryant comes anywhere close to approaching Jordan's productivity.

Jordan really was the best, you can see it in the stats. Kobe has won three titles, which is why people try to compare the two. But let's be honest, if Jordan had been paired with a player of Shaq's caliber through the first six years of his career, and then played with Grant, Pippen, Rodman, and Kukoc as he actually did, he probably would have won more titles than Bill Russell.


At Tuesday, September 16, 2008 5:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I have made it clear in previous posts that I rate MJ higher than I rate Kobe but it is still interesting to read the observations of an all-time great player (Jerry West) and an all-time great coach (Tex Winter) who actually coached both players. Even though I rate MJ above Kobe, I tend to agree with Winter's comment that MJ and Shaq might not have gotten along so well. The main problem that Shaq and Kobe had was that Kobe's work ethic is so much better than Shaq's. MJ is just like Kobe in that regard, so he and Shaq would have inevitably clashed. Winter also made the point (in a portion of the article that I did not quote) that MJ played deep in the post more than Kobe does, so Shaq and MJ might have battled over who gets the ball in the low post area. I think whether or not an MJ-Shaq duo would have won titles depends a lot on which age each of those players would have been when they played together. A young MJ and a young Shaq would have argued constantly, just as much if not more than Shaq and Kobe did (I'm speaking in terms of their personalities as opposed to a real world scenario of Shaq somehow going to the Bulls in 1993 or 1994).

At Tuesday, September 16, 2008 6:12:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

There IS a comparison between Kobe and MJ. They are close. MJ might be better, but they are close. Why is that so hard to admit? Because the stats are so different? I guess people are swayed because they believe statistical production to be an "objective measure", but isn't it very possible (indeed, likely) that Kobe could have had better stats if put in the same situation as Jordan (era, team role, teammates, opponents) and yet remain at the same skill level?

At Tuesday, September 16, 2008 6:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Although I would take MJ over Kobe, I agree with you that it is close and it is valid to make such a comparison. MJ has become a sports icon who some people think never made a mistake or missed a shot, as opposed to a great basketball player who was not perfect. If Winter, West and others thought that no comparison should be made then they would say so. As Lazenby indicated elsewhere in the article, Kobe is the only player who has followed MJ who can realistically be compared with him.

At Tuesday, September 16, 2008 6:32:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The "compare" portion of the piece concerns their similarities in skill set and mind set. The "contrast" portion concerns MJ playing college ball and having larger hands. Also, keep in mind that I merely summarized the article but to get the full flavor of it you really should read the entire piece. I offered a fair sampling of the gist of the article but I obviously did not cite every single comparison and quote.

At Wednesday, September 17, 2008 12:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

as i always have been consistent saying mj is the best player ever jerry west john havlicek magic charles barkley bob cousy bob knight and sam jones all said by far.

there has never been a issue here kobe is not mj never was mj kobe is a very special basketball player but as owen anymous said mj is objectively better you can compare anybody doesnt mean anything mj from a accomplishment standpoint and statiscally is better than kobe mj wasnt perfect but he was the best ever kobe is only better at long range shooting really i dont see another area he better than mj in.

tex winter and jerry west are great observers shaq and mj would of been intresting shaq and mj had both great personality where kobe does not they would clash because mj had such a great work ethic shaq didnt. but i think shaq probably would respect mj enough to try more than he did with kobe too keep in shape mj and shaq win a whole bunch of rings if they stay for a long time.

me and you david have went back and forth on this issue i say mj is better and so has he he claims it's close i dont think it is as close as he think it is he a fan of kobe im not a big kobe fan like that really what cant be disputed is numbers and accomplishments.

At Wednesday, September 17, 2008 2:35:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


When did "jerry west john havlicek magic charles barkley bob cousy bob knight and sam jones" say that MJ is the best ever "by far"?

At Wednesday, September 17, 2008 3:09:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

now, now, people easily forget that MJ was a far, far better playmaker than kobe ever was....

if mj had shaq in the middle, mj would rack up 10+ assists easily... he was a triple-double machine when he played point at some time....he averaged, i think 10+ assists during his first finals....

the difference w/ mj and kobe was how they approach the game, not just basketball itself, but the game that is happening currently... mj knows how to exploit by taking advantage of his weapons - team mates.... kobe, during his stint w/ shaq wants to take the spot light and failed to bank on that set up while shaq is still super productive...

that's why tex and jerry are kind of bias when they hinted that idea of mj-shaq duo....

At Wednesday, September 17, 2008 11:16:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Kobe led the Lakers in assists in all three championship seasons (and most of his other seasons with the team as well). No matter how bumpy the relationship was at times, Kobe proved that he could accept Shaq being the primary offensive weapon; MJ never had to do that and that is what Winter is alluding to: would MJ have ceded the post and the role of first scoring option to Shaq? Of course, this is a hypothetical question but Winter would know better than most what the most likely answer is.

At Wednesday, September 17, 2008 12:23:00 PM, Blogger JP said...

That is a a foolish, erroneous statement.

Kobe's playmaking ability is right up there with Jordan's, if not better.

As for Owen, correct on the statistical edge, although you are wrong in your overall conclusion. They really are pretty close.

The two eras are very different. I won't go on and list all the differences, but Jordan played in the more physical league, while Kobe plays against better defensive schemes, and against slightly more athletic ball players.

Jordan is the better player, mainly because of his physical edge on Bryant. 1) more athletic & 2) the huge hands --> finishing --> efficiency

Two other (smaller) advantages would be decision making and gas tank. Jordan, overall a little better at reading the game. Superior endurance because Jordan played both ends at a very high level. Really high.

At Wednesday, September 17, 2008 5:33:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


That is a very insightful comment with a lot of accurate observations.

At Wednesday, September 17, 2008 6:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JP - How can you look at their per 36 numbers and say they are close at all? Jordan averaged a steal per game more than Bryant through age 29. He averaged 25% more points than Kobe on a ts% 3% higher. Those are enormous differences.

At Thursday, September 18, 2008 6:16:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I'm sure that JP can speak for himself but I think that part of the answer to your question is contained in his previous comment:

"The two eras are very different. I won't go on and list all the differences, but Jordan played in the more physical league, while Kobe plays against better defensive schemes, and against slightly more athletic ball players."

In other words, if I understand him correctly, JP is saying that when you consider mitigating contextual factors, the two players have similar skill sets even though their statistics are not the same.

At Thursday, September 18, 2008 9:32:00 AM, Blogger JP said...

Yes, what David said.

Just look at several of the bigger differences between the eras:

Defense around the rim. Jordan played his entire career with the average big man attempting to protect the rim. Kobe has played the last 7 years or so with the average big man preferring to take the charge. (In a league that has been giving the defender the benefit of the doubt most of the time) Threat or fear of a charge, of course, is greater than that of a blocked shot.

Jordan played in a more physical league, one with hand checking, less touch fouls, & “enforcers.” But Kobe plays against stronger, more athletic players. Most teams in the NBA have weight programs. Many players lift on game day. 20 years ago, you had very few guys in the weight room on a consistent basis. At that time, there was a prevailing myth that weights only bulked you up, slowed you down, messed with your shot, etc.

Zone defense and better defensive schemes today. Look at stacking, for example. Jordan never faced it while Kobe has to deal with it more than any other player in the league. Stacking is when you see a player on the wing in an iso situation, and a help defender leaves his man on the weak side and lines up behind the primary defender. This discourages the offensive player from attacking the basket.

The officiating is different, the pick-and-roll defense is different..... and so on and so forth.

The Jordan/Kobe stat argument is a common occurrence when comparing team vs team or player vs player. To exaggerate the disparity. If you isolate and just compare their individual skill sets, they are fairly close.

At Thursday, September 18, 2008 1:18:00 PM, Blogger Gbolade said...

Even though both Players are very similar, MJ has an edge above KB. MJ went against centers like Ewing, Alonzo, Olajuwon and others.
At that time the center for bulls was LOngley. So Mj could have also gone up against Shaq [at Shaqs prime] & still won those rings.
These days: a hand fully outstretched in a defensive posture on a players back is a foul. In MJs days, Detroit basically used to BEAT MJ UP b4 a foul is being called. I mean they even devised a way to hurt MJ and Mj still came out ontop. The same went with the knicks with tough defenders like Mason and Oakley. JORDAN WENT UP AGAINST BOTH INDIVIDUAL AND TEAM DEFENSES THAN KOBE WOULD EVER EXPERIENCE IN THIS LEAGUE.
Kobe is very very good, but I think the edge goes to MJ.
It shouldn't even be in any discussion.
Lastly, this is evident by the fact that u can say KB is puff daddy - THE REMIXER while MJ is the original. Even though MJ might have patented his game after some of his predecessors, he didnt focus on any one player. KOBE's GAME IS PATENTED AFTER ONLY [EMPHASIS ON ONLY] ONE PLAYER - JORDAN THE GREAT.

At Thursday, September 18, 2008 1:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David - Is the argument here that if Jordan were in the NBA right now in his prime, his numbers would look like Kobe's?

Or that if Kobe had played at the same time as Jordan he would have posted the same numbers?

This is getting ridiculous. Look, there are a lot of players recently who you can legitimately compare to Kobe. Vince, T-Mac, Ray Allen, Manu, Paul Pierce, DWade for instance. The stats look pretty similar. The difference between Kobe and those guys is Shaq.

Hell, no one seems to notice Kevin Martin, but he will probably surpass Kobe as the most effective scorer at the shooting guard position this year. His ts% was 4% higher than Kobe's last year, on volume that was 13% less. And that was with Artest in the lineup who is now gone.

Jordan on the other hand was completely exceptional. There was no one in the league at his position who came close to him.

Cross-generational comparisons are difficult. You have the issue of absolute vs relative performance. I think we all would agree that George Mikan probably wouldn't make it in the NBA right now.

But Jordan didn't play that long ago. He won six titles. He led the two greatest teams of all time.

This isn't close....

At Thursday, September 18, 2008 4:20:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree with your analysis and I also agree with the earlier reasons that you listed to give an edge to MJ.

At Thursday, September 18, 2008 4:35:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The consensus here in the comments is that MJ has the edge, so I'm not sure who you are disagreeing with. The main point of contention is between people who look purely at certain stats and give MJ a large edge versus people who make a skill set comparison and give MJ a small edge.

As for your other point, MJ patterned himself after David Thompson and others, as he admitted in the Lazenby article, so it is possible to be a "remixer" and be better than the original.

At Thursday, September 18, 2008 4:58:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

why is it that ppl get so butt-hurt at the mere thought of kobe comparing to MJ in any way? i have YET to see anybody claim kobe was definitely BETTER...just that he is CLOSE. the main differences between the two can be accounted for by acknowledging the TEAM differences. first b/c of shaq, secondly because MJ had some TRULY GREAT defenders AND offensive players as his teammates...PLENTY of role players who did their jobs under pressure, and defensive stalwarts like ho grant, pippen (!!), and rodman.

kobe has...lamar. and...uhh, kwame brown and smush parker as his major supporting cast. well, finally, NOW, he has pau gasol and next year, andrew bynum, so i figure it's "no excuse" time, and time for kobe to win a couple more rings with this roster, but still...MJ had AMAZING supporting casts for ALL those teams.

as for scoring and especially EFFICIENCY...just check kobe's TOTAL FGs and PPS (point per shot) numbers...they stack up quite nicely next to MJs. again, not saying BETTER THAN...just saying COMPARABLE. and please, if you put kobe on a team with a young active horace grant, scottie pippen as his unquestioned #2, dennis rodman to guard the power forwards, and shooters like kerr or hodges or even paxson and armstrong and trent tucker...i think THAT team wins multiple titles, YES, even against centers like shaq in his prime, ewing, olajuwon, and robinson. and maybe they don't win 72 games, but i'd take those teams at the start of ANY NBA season and see them as the favorites.

At Thursday, September 18, 2008 6:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not an "edge." An "edge" is what Kobe Bryant has over Mcgrady or Paul Pierce.

Take Win Shares, the statistic created by Justin Kubatko, the founder of Basketball Reference.

Michael Jordan was ranked number 1 in win shares for every full season he played from 86-7 to 96-7, and he finished second in 97-98 and in 84-5.

He won scoring titles and piled up incredible statistics despite never playing for a team that was above average in pace. In fact his teams were almost always in the bottom quartile. Kobe has never played for a team that was below average in pace.

Really, it isn't close in the slightest.

To say it's harder to be a great guard now, that defenses are tougher, is totally ridiculous. Jordan played in his prime in the most defense friendly era ever, matching up frequently against the best defensive team of all-time, the New York Knicks. Kobe is playing in a post expansion era where a guard like Steve Nash can post ts%s in the 60%s with ease and has won two MVP's. Where you could almost argue the best defensive center in the league is still Dikembe Mutombo. (that's a joke btw)

It's always been hard to be the best player in the league as a shooting guard. Jordan pulled it off 8 times in an era with Magic, Bird, Barkley, Malone, etc....

MJ was a lot better than Kobe.


At Friday, September 19, 2008 3:48:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous (the one who mentioned Kevin Martin):

I think that there are two different viewpoints being expressed here. One viewpoint is that purely based on statistical productivity, MJ is significantly superior to Kobe. The second viewpoint (which I hold) is that there are contextual factors which influence those numbers but if you compare the players' skill sets that MJ merits a slight edge over Kobe.

None of the players you compared to Kobe are nearly as good as Kobe defensively. It is not really proper to put Manu in this discussion because his minutes are limited because his body would break down if he played 40 mpg. Therefore, he could not be the number one option on a team for a whole season and play at the level that Kobe does. As for the difference being Shaq, funny but I did not notice Shaq being on the Lakers' roster this year when they had the best record in the West and made it to the Finals. Maybe you meant that the difference for Wade was Shaq, since Dallas was so determined to clog the lane around Shaq in the 2006 Finals that the Mavs let Wade run wild. How good did Wade and Miami look without a healthy/productive Shaq this year? Has Kobe or any of his teams ever looked quite that bad?

Martin is a great scorer but he is not the all-around threat that Kobe is in terms of passing and defense. We'll see if Martin truly is a franchise player or just an All-Star caliber scorer; the jury is still out on that one, a point that I made in my Lindy's preview about Sacramento.

For you and anyone else who thinks that it is "not close" between MJ and Kobe, let's just take a step back for a minute. Jerry West, Tex Winter and even MJ himself apparently think that the subject is worth discussing. Mark Jackson, one of the top playmakers of all-time, has repeatedly said that Kobe will go down as a greater player than MJ. Numerous other current and former players have made some manner of comparisons between MJ and Kobe in terms of skills, work ethic and so forth. As a fan, a stat geek or any other kind of outside observer, do you really and truly believe that you understand the NBA game--specifically, player evaluation and comparison--better than all of those aforementioned people? I'm actually pretty sure that the stat geeks do think that but a rational person has to at least pause for a minute and think about that.

When I make player evaluations, they are either based on things that those kinds of NBA insiders have told me over the years or analysis methods that I have learned from interacting with such people. I'm not pulling this stuff out of a hat or just touting people for subjective reasons.

At Friday, September 19, 2008 3:59:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I think that a lot of MJ fans are very sensitive about his place in history. They almost worship him like a god and cannot bear the thought of any "false idols" being raised above him. MJ is truly one of my favorite players of all-time but the similarities between MJ and Kobe are obvious and it is clear that there is not a sizable skill set gap between them.

Then there are the "stat geeks" who only know what the spreadsheet tells them. This kind of thinking led to the bizarre conclusion that Dennis Rodman was more productive for the 1996 Bulls than Michael Jordan. Hey, the numbers don't lie, right? Well, not really.

Numbers are a tool. They are information. They are part of the equation of player evaluation but they should not be the entire equation. You also have to watch the game with understanding. That is what the Lindy's article and the articles that I write are about.

MJ's "true shooting percentage" (PTS / (2 * (FGA + 0.44 * FTA) was .569; Kobe's is .557. MJ's "efg" ((FG + 0.5 * 3P) / FGA), a stat that factors in the value of the three point shot, was .509; Kobe's is .486. In other words, while some MJ fans like to tout his large advantage over Kobe in fg% (.497 to .453), when you factor in points generated by making three pointers and converting free throws Kobe's numbers are much closer to MJ's.

At Friday, September 19, 2008 4:09:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Kobe has more than an "edge" over T-Mac and Pierce, though I do think that T-Mac is underrated by the general public. How good did Pierce, KG and Ray Allen look when each tried to lead teams on his own without All-Star help? Kobe got to the playoffs twice with Kwame and Smush playing the two most important positions, center and pg. I don't see Pierce, KG or Ray Allen making it to the playoffs with those guys--certainly not in the West.

Defenses in MJ's era were more physical but less sophisticated. I've talked about this subject--the increasing sophistication of defenses, not specifically in reference to MJ but just in general--with several coaches over the years and they all have said that in recent years there has been a real revolution in preparation due to the DVD and computer technology that allows quick, in depth scouting of player tendencies.

The Nash MVP issue is interesting. He essentially won his MVPs while putting up the kinds of numbers that John Stockton or Mark Price put up when MJ was winning MVPs. If the same standards applied now, Kobe would have three MVPs, not one.

One of the really remarkable things about MJ is that he came back from retirement to win three titles and two MVPs. He won a lot of his hardware late in the game, so to speak. For Kobe to match or surpass MJ he will have to be very productive well into his 30s.

At Friday, September 19, 2008 2:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry David, I should have signed the Martin post, mine also.....

Martin isn't as good as Kobe overall, I didn't mean to suggest otherwise, just to point out that he is a much more efficient scorer who will probably equal his volume this year. Martin looks to be Reggie Miller-esque, a great scoring guard who isn't a complete enough player to be the best at his position.

I have spent a lot of time listening to Mark Jackson on national broadcasts and Nets broadcasts (yes, I am a basketball junkie.) He was a good not truly great player who was a great entertainer on the court and is pretty entertaining in the booth. From what I can tell he is part moron, part buffoon. It may be a bit of an act on his part, trying to provide a contrast to JVG. I don't know. But it seems like he genuinely doesn't understand the concept of offensive efficiency, not surprising for a player who posted a 52% ts% in his career. I saw the same thing from Isiah for 4 years and I think it's a pervasive issue. Is it a coincidence that Isiah, (career ts% 51.6%) was so enthused about so many high usage, low efficiency pseudostars like Marbury, Randolph, Curry, and Crawford? A lot of players who move into management and analysis don't seem to understand the basics. Joe Dumars would be a definite exception, he of the career ts% of 55% and excellent stewardship of the Pistons. Incidentally, Jerry West also had a ts% of 55%, in an era where that was more unusual than it is today.

I am an investor. In my trade, being highly skeptical of the conventional wisdom is pretty much a prerequisite if you hope to outperform. I think of Mark Jackson kind of like I think of the rating agencies. More apt to tell you what everyone thinks or wants to believe than to tell you the real truth.

I am not one of the Jordan fans who would cite his fg% as evidence. And it's true MJ and Kobe are pretty close in career ts%. That is slightly misleading though. That number is skewed downwards by his third act, which Kobe hasn't hit yet. When MJ was 12 seasons in, his ts% was 58.4%. Kobe has never posted a ts% that high even in one season. A 2.7% edge may seem small, but I work in finance as I said, and my feeling would be that that is a very tangible difference when you consider that the average is 52% or so, and shooting guards rarely go above 60%. MJ also scored 5 points more per 36, which is twice as big as the edge that Kobe has on Vince, Ray, Paul, Tracy, and the gang. Playing at a much slower pace. Those really are big "edges."

Things have changed a lot in the last 20 years. But it seems to me the game now is far more similar to the way it was in the 80's, than that era was to the 60's, before full integration, when numerous players were out there averaging 20 rpg and no one really could shoot a lick.

I am not doing Kobe/Manu again. Ok, just a little bit, quickly. You know I feel that Kobe is more productive overall, but Manu is much more productive in the minutes he plays, matching Kobe in every statistical category basically except ts% where Manu has a largish edge.

What Manu and Dwyane Wade have accomplished, winning a gold medal for Argentina, winning an NBA championship with an aging, gimpy Shaq, is unquestionably as impressive as anything Kobe has done. Manu was that 2004 team. Heart, soul, and statistical leader. He willed them to the title and lifted his entire country up in the process. He has been a major star and the go-to-guy in the clutch on 2 of the three NBA title teams he has played on. He won a title in Europe too.

Wade has had a shorter, injury plagued career. He took Marquette to the Final Four pretty much all by himself. Then, in his third year he was the undisputed superstar of the championship Heat squad. He won a title on a team whose third best player was either Udonis Haslem or James Posey. I will set his performance against the Mavericks against any single series Kobe has had.

I credit Kobe for having been to the finals 5 times. But he has lost twice. He was horrible against the Pistons when they lost. And the Lakers were heavily favored against the Celtics yet lost this year, choking away a huge home game in the process. (The fact the Lakers were favored this year, something I am on record being on the other side of, is a classic example of the conventional wisdom being wrong. The Celtics had the superior efficiency differential. The same was true with the Pistons. The year they won, they were better than the Lakers)

I have said it before. Kobe's greatness, such as it is, is not really about per minute statistical superiority. It's about durability, stamina, and longevity. Those are great qualities but Jordan had those at least as much as Kobe.

It's also about the quality of Kobe's teammates. It's possible to quantify this. And its pretty clear that Kobe has benefited from having excellent teammates in his career relative to the average. MJ finally got some, but it took six years. Shaq arrived in LA in Kobe's rookie season. People seriously underestimate the impact that teammate quality and team success has on a player's reputation. It's very possible to be an Ernie Banks in the NBA. It's harder, since single individuals have a much bigger impact in basketball than in baseball, but it happens. There are a lot players who have been pretty great who never got the credit they deserved.

Finally, you have to factor in the celebrity quotient. Kobe's reputation is definitely inflated by the fact that he has played his entire career in LA. Everything that gets said about him has to be filtered through the fact he is the biggest sports star in the second biggest media market in the world.


At Friday, September 19, 2008 2:29:00 PM, Blogger ohkeedoke said...


You can't say that Jordan played in a most defensive era ever. Zones are much tougher (when played right) than man to man.

Take away the zone rules, and the Celtics were not the same this past year. No one on that team was ever considered physical, but yet their physicality was praised and their defense considered among the best ever. It was the zone schemes they were able to play along with man.

Nostalgia skews perception, like the thought, that players from the 60-s and 70's were better shooters. They were not. Team could have been more physical, but not better defensively.

At Friday, September 19, 2008 3:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The Reggie Miller comparison to Martin seems apt, though Martin of course has yet to have the postseason success that Miller had.

I definitely do not agree with your characterization of Mark Jackson (and not because of his praise of Kobe, which actually well exceeds my own opinion of Kobe's historical rank). You seem to place a great value on shooting percentages but there have been great players who were not great shooters; Bill Russell, who many would argue is the greatest player of all-time, shot poorly. I don't see how Jackson's shooting percentage disqualifies him from having intelligent opinions about the sport. There is also a difference between being able to analyze games on TV and being able to run a front office. Jackson is a good TV analyst, as was Isiah, but that does not mean that either one would do well running a team.

This is well far afield from the territory I cover here but since you brought up finance, haven't a lot of "experts" who relied on numbers recently run several fairly large, well established financial institutions into the ground? Numbers have to be interpreted correctly and they sometimes do not tell the whole story.

I agree about the importance of what you call Kobe's "third act" and I mentioned this before: MJ won three rings and two MVPs after coming back from his first retirement. For Kobe to equal MJ he will have to be very, very productive well into his 30s.

Comparing the NBA and FIBA games is comparing apples and oranges. Pau Gasol is a superstar in FIBA play, as is Luis Scola. That said, Kobe has yet to lose a game in his short international career and when the going got tough versus Spain in the gold medal game, he took over.

Duncan has been the major star on the Spurs' championship teams. Everything revolves around him. Manu is a very good player but he does not have the skill set that Kobe does and the fact that he cannot play the same level of minutes is very important because a lesser player has to be on the court during those times.

Didn't Pervis Ellison take a team to an NCAA title as a freshman? Does that make him equal to or better than Kobe? Wade's collegiate accomplishments have nothing to do with who is the better NBA player.

Wade averaged 34.7 ppg on .468 FG shooting in the 2006 Finals. He averaged 7.8 rpg, 3.8 apg and 2.7 spg. For comparison purposes, here are three playoff series by Kobe (this only includes series that the Lakers won):

2001 versus Sac: 35.0 ppg, .473 fg%, 9.0 rpg, 4.3 apg, 1.3 spg

2001 versus San Antonio: 33.3 ppg, .514 fg%, 7.0 rpg, 7.0 apg, 1.5 spg

2003 versus Minn: 31.8 ppg, .430 FG%, 5.2 rpg, 6.7 apg, 1.3 spg

As for Kobe's Finals performances, Kobe was injured during the 2000 Finals. The Lakers lost game three when he sat out but when Shaq fouled out in game four Kobe took over in overtime and that victory gave L.A. a 3-1 lead instead of the series being tied at 2-2.

You say that Kobe was "horrible" versus Detroit in the 2004 Finals but in a recent post I cited an ESPN Magazine article in which Chauncey Billups recalled that Detroit's primary strategy in that series was to go right at Shaq's weak pick and roll defense. Gary Payton also struggled terribly on defense in that series. It is wrong to simply look at Kobe's field goal percentage and ignore the larger problems that the Lakers had.

I can't speak for other people who picked the Lakers to beat the Celtics but I did so based on the Lakers' crisp execution of the Bryant-Gasol screen/roll action that opened up scoring opportunities for everyone on the team. The Lakers beat two tough, physical, playoff experienced teams that made it to last year's Western Conference Finals and I thought that they could do the same thing to Boston. I did not know that Gasol and Odom would suddenly go soft in the biggest moments. You will note that Winter and West share my assessment of what the Lakers' greatest problem was versus Boston.

The "celebrity quotient" works both ways; Kobe gets a lot of attention being in L.A. but a lot of that attention is negative, focused on his allegedly bad qualities as a teammate, etc.

At Friday, September 19, 2008 11:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

ive maintained jordan was better from a standpoint of skill set and accomplishments

shooting kobe
kobe has edge from a pure range standpoint he has more range than mike has. jordan shot a better percentage because he took less threes and was closer to basket and was stronger and could drive better.

foot work fakes jordan

jordan had super great foot work kobe is good not as good as mike kobe is a carbon copy of mike jordan was better faker than kobe kobe will do 3 and 4 fakes and alot of times the guy wont go jordan would do one or two fakes spin and pivot and lay ball in sometimes kobe will do that but jordan was better at that.

rebounds jordan
he averaged 6.2 a game kobe 4.5 it is no contest here all jordan he was alot bettter rebounder than kobe has been jordan ad more triple doubles and double digit reboundong games avg 8 a game in 89.

passing jordan

5.3 assists kobe 4.5 jordan was better passer than kobe he had more double digit assits was better passer out the double team avg more in a season.

defense jordan

was all time great 9 first team all defense team kobe got 6 first team which is great as well jordan won defense of player of year kobe never did plus jordan missed 3 years he would of had 12 all defensive first team.

ball handling jordan

jordan avg 2.3 turnover kobe 2.9 so it's pretty close jordan has edge kobe averaged 4 turovers a game one year jordan never did kobe has more moves with balls jordan was stronger and finish in traffic better than kobe ever could he did things with the ball i never seen anyone do remebr the 91 finals 98 vs knicks last game over bill laimbeer in 89 confernce finals i can go on and on kobe has had alot of great finishes vs portland boston and utah this year but this is mike he had a better handle with ball and also had bigger hands.


nba all stars games

jordan played in 14 kobe played in ten jordan missed 3 years so he would and should have 17 but none the less kobe will probably tie or pass him up here.

all nba

jordan has 11 kobe has ten kobe will pass him up here and probably would of if jordan had played te three years he missed.

all defensive team

it's 9 to 8 kobe will pass him up jordan had more first teams but kobe will probably pass jordan up here.

mvp 5 to 1 this is jordan all day kobe will never pass him up here both should have more than 5 and 1.

championships 6 to 3

i dont think kobe will pass him up here he has a chance to tie but i dont think he will he might get two more i think he will get one more.

scoreing titles 10 to 2 jordan

no chance kobe will probably not win another scoreing title.

finals mvp 6 to 0 kobe will probably win 1 finals mvp not 6

career shooting percentage 50 to 45 jordan ppg career 30 to 25 jordan reb assits career turnovers all jordan most playoff points 32,000 career points kobe has a chance i dont know if he could pass jordan up in career points so he still is a long way away from being better than mike but he might end up being better than shaq and i thnk kobe will be happy about that.

At Monday, September 22, 2008 4:00:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The skill sets of the two players are very close, as Winter, West et. al state. MJ's bigger hands are an advantage in several areas and MJ had an edge as a postup player but overall this is very close. You can dance around this any way that you want but the people who do player evaluation for a living understand that their skill sets are very comparable (the differences in their numbers derive in part from contextual factors).

It is not really fair to look at "accomplishments" when MJ's career is over and Kobe still has several top level seasons left, particularly considering that MJ added three titles and two MVPs late in his career; that is very hard to do, but Kobe deserves a chance to match that before we close the book on his "accomplishments." That is why I rely more on "skill set" comparisons than "accomplishment" comparisons.

At Monday, September 22, 2008 10:20:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

jordan is better in all skill areas you can dance around accomplishments all you want but if kobe doesnt accomplish as much as jordan he cant be better. kobe might have just as much talent as jordan as other people have had more talent than jordan but skill alone doesnt make you better if that was the case roy jones jr is the greatest boxer all time he had more skill than any boxer ever and physical talent but he didnt fight the fighters ali and ray robinson and ray leornard fought he fought second tear fighters and never callenged himself therfore without great fighters on your resume like ali got foreman liston frazier ron lyle etc robinson got lamotta carmen basillo kid gavilian henry armstrong etc ray leornard got hearns hagler duran youre not as good as those guys.

without accomplishments you could have all the skill you want if jordan dont have all those rings mvp the scoreing avreage and scoeing titles he not mike kobe got to accomplish as much as mike as well as have comparable skill it's that simple he isa not close now. he 30 played 13 years he got a few more years left not several i know youre in the tank for him but come on you assurate like hek for him.

At Tuesday, September 23, 2008 7:38:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


West, Winter and other legit NBA experts agree that MJ and Kobe have very comparable skill sets. I'm not "dancing" around anything, so don't try to steal my line; you are the one who is scrambling to try to explain why NBA lifers who understand the game better than you do are not simply bowing down and worshiping MJ the way that you think that they should. Winter coached both players and said that there is not much difference, from a skill set standpoint.

Your comparison of MJ and Kobe's accomplishments blatantly disregards the fact that Kobe still may have nearly a third of his career in front of him (if he plays six more years). MJ did a lot of his greatest work near the end of his career, winning two MVPs and three titles in his last three Chicago seasons. Kobe could be setting himself up for a similar run if he stays healthy and productive and he teams up with a healthy and productive supporting cast led by Gasol and Bynum. If you insist on comparing accomplishments, then you have to stop the tape on MJ at age 30, which leaves the two of them with the same number of championships won.

You'll have to explain the difference you think there is between "a few" and "several." One means "one," a "couple" means "two" and "few" or "several" each mean three or more. I said that Kobe has "several" seasons left and you answered that he only has a "few" left, not "several," so you are acting like you disagree but the word you chose means the same thing as the word I used. If Kobe does not suffer a serious injury then he has three to five top level (meaning All-NBA) seasons left. He can add a lot to his accomplishment files in that time, including the potential of multiple championships and MVPs plus possibly even a second Olympic gold medal.

At Monday, September 29, 2008 11:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

as for natural talent, kobe has better skills than michael, let's just all agree on that. kobe was and still is the better shooter, michael can split defenders and drive to the hoop with ease but kobe does that so well either. but michael was the better player, maybe because jordan lived in a time where he the one of the few if not the only hyper athlete, unlike today where fundamental athletes are rare and more and more swingmen are coming, and kobe still stands out. jordan played more single coverage, teams try to stop him with the ball not without it, unlike in today's game where zone defense is abundant and teams try to deny kobe before he even gets the ball. but the work ethic, i don't think anybody is better than kobe, in a time where jumpshot is a must, he has it. in a time where offense has to beat defense not the other way around, kobe does it. so this is just my argument: what if kobe played in jordan's time without jordan in it? and jordan today without kobe but with athletes like lebron etc. don't bash me with there were more legends before, kobe can hang with those guys with short shorts, tell that to yourself.

At Wednesday, October 01, 2008 5:01:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


i think jordan is better but to make it like kobe is nowhere close is mindboggling jordan had better skill set kobe has more natural talent. jordan had more mental toughness than kobe has and was more clutch 24 last second shots.

kobe played with shaq jordan had pippen shaq alot better than pippen but kobe had him first part of his career jordan had pippen second part of his career from that perspective it is even. jordan teamates were tougher and more physical than kobe but maybe with years his teamates meaning kobe will get more physical.

jordan won more rings and mvp than kobe did more scoreing titles as well kobe is a better scorer in a single game than jordan he scored 81 jordan highest is 69 in 2ot. two diffrent eras diffrent rules diffrent players diffrent teams so it is really hard to totally compare i would take jordan over kobe but kobe closer than people think. he would be in my top 20 all time jordan is number 1.

At Wednesday, March 24, 2010 2:13:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To look at them both equally the context in which their respective stats were earned has to be considered. The pace of the game overall has slowed down by at least 3 possessions per team per game except in rare cases like phoenix and golden state. Anyone who thinks with that kinda difference KB24 couldn't get an extra rebound and/or assist is crazy. Also while jordans dpoy was impressively earned, many other of his awards have not been attained by kobe because they are voted awards and letting him (a spoiled kid/rapist in the eyes of much of america) be mvp or have any award that could have been avoided giving him would affect the "revolutionized" NBA's image.

At Wednesday, March 24, 2010 2:15:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mjs game was far from flawless and if he and kobe play in either era I give the edge to kobe. He got the better nba body sooner and I think could've taken the same if not more abuse from the likes of thomas dumars and lambeer looking at how he can ang with guys like howard, bowen, and bell. And he has better range than jordan with just as much endurance and tenacity. Both are great but this is a new time with a new ruler.

At Wednesday, March 24, 2010 2:15:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The championships mj earned were earned with an allstar supporting cast. So were kobe's. Big surprise, bball is a team sport and great players need a good supporting cast to win. As a grown man, no one should have to "make" anyone better. The main difference between the two supporting casts is generational. Jordans generation and consequential supporting cast overall had a tougher will and bbetter work ethic than kobe's. Pip nor Rodman or Grant simply disappear like Shaq, Gasol, Bynum, nor Odom. The work ethic and toughness simply wasn't there for the latter group. Jordans teammates refused to lose most likely out of fear, while kobes teammates were simply ok with bein there(nothin to fear in this crybaby society in the middle of the information cyber age). Mj got nowhere near the media exposure or scrutiny as any player today gets. Today the media can gain easy entry into every aspect of a players life and according to league rules a player has to let them(so no punching teammates in practice, or private chiding of their unwillingnes to get or stay in shape) . Also their years of losing over the same span match, 7 each(and 3 of kobes came from the bench also skewing his numbers). Jordan never lost in the finals mostly because when he made it there was no big man on those finals opponents to contend with that rodman didnt handle and the other years he simply never made it. Bynum and gasol r nowhere near the defenders or reounders h grant and d rodman were. Also jordan gets credit for rules while the benefit he got from them is ignored. For example he's plus one to kobe in steals right but his era was tougher defensively(a lie by the way) due to handchecking being allowed but doesn't that mean mj could handcheck to earn that extra steal. Any way u also have to consider the defensive and overall athletic advancements of the contemporary baller. More complex defensive schemes and scouting, zone, no illegal defense anymore. These all make getting to the basket more difficult as we all had gotten used to seeing his airness and the upstart 17-20 year old in purple and gold do up until 01.(yes kobe was comin off pine goin to the basket all the time i n the beginning). Add to that the fact that instead of facing the likes of john starks, reggie miller, dan majerle, etc, the league today is filled with drafted mj prototypes that even mj would struggle against just out of sheer size and speed comos he nor the world has ever seen( the 6'6 guy at ur local 24 hour fitness moves nothing like vince carter and is a post player who couldn't stay in front of mutumbo or lift as much as reggie miller). The league is built today with guys picked to hold the likes of mj and kb. Even when mj went against vernon maxwell or brian russel his games were less than great. The gws over russel were both nice but #23s games overall against his size and speed and strength weren't impressive. And v maxwell got under mj's skin and pissed him off y not letting him hit his averages.


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