It is safe to say that Lebron James and Kobe Bryant have been the two best players in the NBA for the past couple of seasons. But who is better. I'll try to break down their basketball skills and talents as unbiased as possible.
Physical Talents: Lebron James, at 6-8 250 is a couple inches taller and a lot bulkier than the 6-6 220 Kobe Bryant. Lebron's got the clear advantage in athleticism, even when compared to Kobe's younger days. While Kobe is athletic, I sometimes feel that his athleticism is overrated. Lebron on the other hand is a once in a lifetime athlete. He can sprint the floor as fast as any guard in the league. His vertical is as high as anyone in the league. But he's 6-8 250lbs. He is not supposed to be doing all those things. Add his athleticism with his strenght, you've got a player who is absolutely unstoppable when driving to the hole.
Offense: For the past few seasons, Kobe has been recognized as the league's most prolific scorer. Those of us who are lucky enough to be able to watch the majority of Lakers games have witnessed Kobe's vast array of offensive moves. His creativity in the way he scores is absolutely off the charts. Lebron's offensive game is not too shabby as well. In fact, he won the scoring title this year, dethroning the previous scoring king Kobe Bryant. Lebron's game is based mostly on his athleticism and strength. Whenever he sees a lane open, he takes it to the rack and is virtually unstoppable. He is one of the best finishers around the rim the league has ever seen. So let's break down both of their offensive games more in detail. The most fundamental aspect of offense is shooting. Kobe has a clear advantage there. Kobe was a decent shooter when he first came into the league and now has evolved into an elite mid range shooter. His deadly jump shot baits his defenders into defending him up close, thus allowing him to drive past them. Lebron's mid range game is mediocre at best. When he first came into the league, his shot was horrible. He's improved his shot significantly to the point where it is respectable, but no where near the level he should be. Therefore, when defenders play him, they tend to sag off him, daring him to take the jump shot. They're willing to sacrafice an open shot as opposed to giving him an open lane to drive towards the basket. As far as 3 point shooting goes, Kobe has the advantage there as well. One of the reasons why Kobe is so deadly is because of his unlimited range. He can hit shots consistently from anywhere. I must admit, his shots seem a little off this season. Whether it's because of injuries, age, not getting enough elevation on his shots, etc..., his shooting is still superior to Lebron. Lebron's 3 point shot is not that bad actually. When he catches fire, he's every bit as good as Kobe.
Another aspect of the offensive game is footwork. Kobe, along with Carmello Anthony, has one of the best footwork of any perimeter player in the league. When he is out in the perimeter, he uses his footwork to fake out his defender. He displays his footwork more often through his post game. When Kobe is posting up his defender, he is nearly unstoppable. Whether it be is fake spin move, jab step, or up and under, the defender cannot stop him. Lebron James, imho, has never really displayed any type of footwork. For a man his size, he does not post up a whole lot. As he ages and loses his athleticism, Lebron must develop a post game and a jump shot in order to maintain his success. If Lebron develops a post game, I can see him becoming a Michael Jordan type of post player, except with more power and a little less finesse and footwork. As a right now, Kobe clearly has the edge in both footwork and postgame.
A critical aspect of the offensive game is driving to the rack and finishing. This is Lebron's specialty. Lebron is so strong and so fast that it is impossible to guard in when he has space. If a player is strong enough to guard him, he's most likely too slow to stay in front of him. If a player is fast enough to stay in front of him, Lebron could probably bull his way to the rim. Once Lebron gets to the rim, he is probably the best finisher in the league. His size and strength allows him to take contact and still score. Kobe is pretty good at taking the ball to the basket as well. The problem is, he is not nearly as fast and strong as Lebron. Age and injuries have slowed Kobe down a bit, but I don't think you can use that as an excuse. Ever since Kobe came into the league, he has had problems finishing at the rim when there is contact. Over the years, he has become a lot stronger and thus has improved tremendously in that aspect. But, he still does not finish like Lebron. Therefore, edge: Lebron.
Passing is often overlooked in the offensive side of the ball. Lebron is probably recognized as the better playmakers. While this was definitely true in previous years, Kobe this season has shown his ability to be a great playmaker as well. Kobe has shown a knack to create for his teammates when the opposing team's defense focuses their attention on him. His passes are also quite flashy at times, resulting either in highlight reels or unforced turnovers. Lebron obviously is just as good of a passer if not better. His court vision is off the charts, something Kobe will also be inferior to Lebron at. If you look at the assist numbers, Lebron has an edge over Kobe. But this is because of the way their respective team's offense is set up. The Laker offense this season revolves around ball movement. Therefore, when Kobe sets up his teammates, he often throws the first pass that results in a basket after an extra pass or two. The Cavs offense pretty much consists of Lebron dribbling the ball and either driving to the basket or dishing it off to a teammate. Therefore, Lebron racks up more assists. But since Lebron has been making plays for his teammates since he came into the league, I'll give the edge to Lebron.
Defense: This is where many people believe Kobe separates himself from Lebron. Kobe has been on the All NBA Defensive Team a multitude of times while Lebron has yet to be bestowed that honor. Kobe is clearly the better defender. But, Kobe's defense in recent years have been lacking. Announcers overrate is defense due to his reputation. I get very frustrated watching Kobe refusing to close out on shooters and failing to rotate on defense. Plus, when he does close out on shooters, he has a tendency to foul them, resulting in 4 point plays. Due to injuries,age, or just plain laziness, his lateral movement hasn't been as effective. Therefore, many players can go by him with ease at times. Lebron's defense has always been mediocre. He has all the tools to become a great defender. Players will have trouble going around his wide body and his speed should help him out as well. This season, his defense has improved dramatically, thus the gap between him and Kobe is not as far as people perceive. But, the advantage still goes to Kobe.
Rebounding: Lebron is bigger and stronger that Kobe. He also plays the small forward position. As a result, he averages more rebounds than Kobe. Kobe, I believe, has the highest rebounding average for a shooting guard. Since Lebron plays the 3, he will get a couple more cheap rebounds per game. Both players have shown that they are capable of getting clutch rebounds. I still say advantage Lebron because he's bigger, but the edge is not big at all.
Basketball IQ: This one goes to Lebron. He does not force shots as much as Kobe. While people criticize the fact that his game is centered around going to the rack, you have to realize that a layup or dunk is more efficient than a jump shot. While Kobe is a great jumpshooter, he often settles to much. When his shots a'rent falling, he has to realize that he must take it to the rack and go to the freethrow line. Lebron does not get a free pass on this one though. Sometimes, when he gets a rhythm going, he can get a little 3 point happy as well. But I say Lebron with a slight advantage.
Kobe Bryant: 3 time champion, 2 time scoring champion, 2 time allstar MVP, 1 time slam dunk champion, 5 time NBA First Team, 5 time NBA First Defensive Team, 10 time NBA All-Star.
Lebron James: NBA Rookie of the Year, 1 time scoring champion, 2 time allstar MVP, 1 time NBA First Team, 3 time NBA allstar.
Kobe will probably win MVP this year so you can add that to his list of accomplishments. Due to Lebron's young age and what he's done already, he will probably end up having a better career. As far as who is the better player right now, it's still hard to decide. I'll lean towards Kobe because of his experience, more polished game, and the intangibles such as leadership and unselfishness are finally coming together.
I know there are many people who believe that Lebron James is better. I'd love to hear what the readers out think about arguably the two best players in the league today.