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Michael Jordon vs Kobe Bryant vs Lebron James: What do the stats say?

Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Lakers
Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Lakers
Sriram Iyer
CONTRIBUTOR
Modified 04 Jan 2021, 18:37 IST
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For years, basketball fans have argued over who the greatest player is, amongst Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Lebron James. Jerry West, a player forward immortilised as the NBA logo once said,

“For someone to be a great player, you have to make it at least, eight times to All-Pro team”.

Michael Jordan (14x All star), who dominated the 90’s single-handedly turned around not just fortunes of his team but the league itself. Kobe Bryant (18x All star) dominated the 2000’s by winning 5 championships and Lebron James (16x All star) continues to defy gravity in the present day at the age of 36.

We deep dive into player statistics to see who amongst the three was the best.

Defining greatness

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers, Game 2
Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers, Game 2

Does number of championships, points or wins define greatness? Objectively, to define who is greatest between the three modern giants, we divided each player's career into 3-time frames: early, middle and late stages.

During each of these timeframes, player's individual all-round dominance, his and his team’s consistency and most importantly how good he was in the post-season’ is considered. Michael Jordon's career years: 1-6 as early years, 7-13 as middle and 14 & above as late years are considered as time intervals for comparison. 

Team consistency

This is to see the impact of player on his teams wins throughout his career.

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Average regular season wins at various career stages ( Source https://www.nba.com/stats/ , https://www.basketball-reference.com/)
Average regular season wins at various career stages ( Source https://www.nba.com/stats/ , https://www.basketball-reference.com/)

Jordan’s Chicago Bull’s averaged 43.3 regular season wins in his early career season. Kobe Bryant’s LA Lakers averaged 54.8 wins and Lebron James averaged 48 regular season wins.

However, in the middle stages of his career Jordan’s Bulls averaged a whopping 62.1 wins when he was at his peak. Kobe Bryant averaged 49.8 wins and Lebron during the same period averaged 56.3 wins.

The late years of Jordan career were disappointing with Washington Wizards where they averaged just 37 wins. Kobe too just averaged 37.8 regular season wins whereas Lebron James is still taking his team to 47.5 wins with his name always in MVP circuits. There is no comparison of Jordan’s middle years and Kobe in his early years, but overall Lebron James has been most consistent in taking his team to heights throughout the years.

Also read: Michael Jordan vs. Lebron James Comparison

Regular Season career stats

Players regular season stats (PPG:points per game, APG: assits per game, RPG:rebouds per game, FG%: field goal %)
Players regular season stats (PPG:points per game, APG: assits per game, RPG:rebouds per game, FG%: field goal %)
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Though Jordan scored the bulk of the team points in early and mid-years averaging 31.5 and 30 points, in his late career he averaged 21.4 points with FG% of 43.

Lebron James on the other hand is averaging 26.6 in his late career (debatable if it can be called late) with a FG% of 52.3 which is phenomenal. Kobe’s peak in terms of PPG and FG% can be seen in his mid-career years.

Comparing assists & rebounds, Lebron James has been leading both Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan throughout the time period with his best numbers in the late career years and there is a clear winner in terms of better all-round player amongst the three.

Playoffs Stats

‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man’. Be it Jordan’s steal from Karl Malone and jumper over Bryon Russel to seal 1998 NBA finals, or Kobe’s 2009 finals performance or Lebron creating history in 2015-16 to win a title after being down 3-1, all three have given legendary playoff performances. 

Players playoffs career stats
Players playoffs career stats
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Michael Jordan was prolific in his playoff performances. Out of the 13 playoff’s appearance for Michael Jordan, he led his team to 6 championships. Kobe Bryant’s Lakers won 5 championships in 16 appearances. Lebron has won 4 championships in 14 playoffs’ but is not yet done.

Again, in terms of overall all-round contribution for the team, Lebron James leads the three, but most importantly is averaging 30 points with FG% of 54 in his so-called late career which is quite astounding.

The verdict : Lebron James

Michael Jordan was the greatest showman the NBA had ever seen, who took the league to new heights. Both Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan had extraordinary early and middle years and had edge over Lebron James.

But if players consistency, longevity and all-round performance are considered, Lebron James is better amongst the three. Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan had forgettable last few years in the league, but Lebron James on the other hand is still considered to be in his prime, winning not just the championships but unanimously being voted finals MVP in his 17th season.

Published 30 Dec 2020, 01:32 IST
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