Why Michael Jordan Was Better Than Kobe Bryant

December 12, 2011

Coach Nick compares and contrasts how Kobe and Michael attacked out of the triangle offense.

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Coach Nick is the founder of BballBreakdown and a former high school varsity basketball coach. Follow Coach Nick on Twitter, @BballSource.

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  1. Jason Arias says:

    Great video, totally agree. This supports the knock against Kobe that he is a very selfish player.    Another reason why, although longer ago, people remember Jordan’s supporting cast more than Kobe’s. Jordan still the greatest of all time. 

  2. Alex Yuan says:

    MJ > Kobe

    HOWEVER, I think it is somewhat unfair to portray Kobe in the video like this. Sure, Kobe’s one-on-five tendencies do tune out his teammates, but to some extent, if his teammates were to make some stronger cuts, move off the ball as well when he has it and even when he doesn’t have it, then he would be able to succeed more as well.

    You do show some poor decision making from Kobe, even though he has played in the triangle for 10+ years now (though that is over now). But the lack of movement has to be blamed on both Kobe AS WELL AS his teammates. You show clips of them giving him the ball and getting out of the way. Had they made their cuts, would he be more willing to pass? Maybe not, but it’s unfair to pin the lack of ball movement COMPLETELY on Kobe

    • Anonymous says:

      I think it’s a combination, but the ∆ doesn’t work as well when a dominant player stops the offensive flow. I would argue the Lakers are so used to Kobe doing this, they simply stop cutting…

      • Alex Yuan says:

        True, and I think it is cyclical, and it does have to do with some lack of trust from Kobe for his teammates at times. However, I do think Alejandrokimata has a point as well about the teams built around him, with the shooters able to spread the floor better for MJ, making it easier for him to get the one-on-one, and hence losing his man I think. However, because the only guys that really excelled moving off the ball for the Lakers seemed to be Odom and Barnes (and Fisher, though he was almost a non-threat outside of being a spot-up shooter), making it easier for opponents to load up on him and focus on him even even when he is working off the ball.

        Still, Kobe does need to work harder off the ball and work on that spacing (such as on those post-entries where he stands on the perimeter without cutting, without moving).

        EDIT: I am a Kobe-biased person, so I may be trying to defend him too much, but I think people like Jason Arias below may take it too far in trying to criticize Kobe, who is not MJ, but still a pretty damn good player himself.

        • onion dome says:

          Don’t forget: stopping the offensive flow and taking your own teammates out of the game can make them less motivated on defense too.  The interesting things is that when Kobe is ‘on’, like in that one third quarter against Boston in 2010, the Celtics actually INCREASED their lead, because there is a cumulative effect of having your teammates just stand around and watch on offense, they stop hustling on defense too. It’s human nature. As a leader, Kobe fails to motivate and integrate his teammates.

          • Anonymous says:

            Yes! great point – I made it in this post as well – if you get out of sync on offense, it can affect your defense as well…

        • Anonymous says:

          Yes – Kobe is great and has had tremendous success, he’s just not as good as Michael… THX – great points!

  3. Alejandrokimata says:

    Hey good commentary.  Couple points that I think are deceiving though.  First, although I agree that Kobe holds the ball more, the clips you used show Kobe and MJ are at different points in the game.  All the clips of Kobe are in the middle of the game…when he “has it going” so to speak.  All the slips of MJ are the beginning of the game and both MJ and Kobe were known to get everyone involved in the game before they took over later in the game.  Secondly, I don’t think people  realize how disruptive hand checking was back in the 90′s .  The rules now really favor isolation because they do not allow really hands on defense that was allowed in the 90′s.  Thus if was more important back in the day to pass the ball around quickly so the defender couldn’t “lock you down”.  That is not the case today.  Finally when comparing teams like you did in the video, the teams are set up very differently.  For example, although the 2008 laker team had magnificent players in gasol and Odom, their strength was in cutting to the basket and interior play.  For example, their top three point shooters that year in volume (vujacic, fisher and ariza) shot .359.  In the 1995 Bulls for example, the top three shooters by volume (kerr, pippen, and kukoc) shot .430 from the 3 with Steve Kerr shooting an insane .515.  The primary point is that 2008 laker team and a lot of kobe’s teams in the past have lacked reliable outside shooting presence and have been geared for either isolation play or two man game pick and roll.  MJ teams relied more on getting their brilliant shooters open and so there was much more movement of the ball and by players away from the ball.  Not making a judgement either way, just saying its hard to do a comparison because the game and teams are so different now.  Thanks. 

    • Anonymous says:

      Absolutely great points. I think you could argue that Kobe could’ve made his teammates jobs easier and created more shots for them, which in turn they’d hit more of, which would’ve raised their shooting percentage. In one of my breakdowns of the last year’s playoffs, Gasol goes 10 minutes of game time without taking a shot, while Kobe takes 10 shots. That definitely affected Gasol’s shot making ability…

    • Angemea says:

      i love your arguments man,but i don’t think robert horry,dereck fisher,mitch richmond,glen rice,rick fox,brian shaw were not great shooters,they were.
      not only that they were but they would take more difficults shots than paxson,kerr or armstrong because those guys shot the ball when they were totally free,neither kerr,paxson,armstrong would consistently make contested outside shots.
      the double and triple team on m.j. would help them a lot.

  4. onione dome says:

    How about some simple stats?  Compare Jordan vs. Kobe in the NBA playoffs

    Jordan:
    33.4 ppg, 48.7 FG%, 6.4 RPG, 5.7 APG,   (24-11 record in the NBA finals)

    Kobe:
    25.4 ppg, 44.8 FG%, 5.1 RPG, 4.8 APG, (20-15 record in the NBA finals)

  5. Ando says:

    This would be a great comparison is the sample size showed greater depth. It’s well chronicled that Kobe often defied the principles of the triangle, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that MJ was a better player. As both Phil Jackson and Tex Winter have noted, Kobe had offensive talents that MJ didn’t, so Kobe’s occasional deviation from the offense on occasion was warranted. We could blame Kobe for his team’s “wait around” mentality, but that’s a bit unfair. Secondly, we are missing some context here: each player’s role in the triangle. Scottie was typically assigned to initiate the offense, especially in the 4th quarter. Jordan was in position to attack by design. Kobe, who has had the benefit of playing with elite post players, was typically an outlet in the triangle. He secured isolations only after the first post option broke down. He will force shots before going to option 1, but again, that is a byproduct of his offensive skillset.
    As noted, MJ had more shooters available to him, which spread the floor in ways LA couldn’t. That allowed for a lot more spacing. There is also a fallacy about NBA defenses being better prior to zone allowances. Defenses were allowed to be more physical, but they lacked the efficiency of today’s schemes. Prior to the zones, double teams often came late. If you watch Jordan’s best games, you’ll see him exploit a single defender by attacking early in the dribble before the double team could come. In today’s NBA, you are allowed to shadow a perimeter player and bring help with one dribble instead of three. That’s why u see more long 2 point shots than you did before.
    I say this not to say Kobe is better, just that they played under starkly different circumstances in that offense. Kobe often proved more deadly, while Jordan usually was more efficient. You want both capabilities at different times in the game.

    • Anonymous says:

      Good points. I suppose at certain points of Kobe’s career, compared to MJ, the Bulls had more “shooters”
      But what made MJ so lethal was his willingness to go away from the ball and let his teammates set him up. Kobe has never been willing to do this with consistency. If he did, he’d average 40 points and shoot 55%

      • Ahoua says:

        please bballbreakdown..can you make an honest video for… let’s say the knicks defense of pat riley in the playoffs,the pistons of chuck daily and the celtics of 1986…when they play against jordan.
        and make a comparison with the defense of the celtics of 2008 and 2010,the pistons of 2004 when they play kobe,can you do that please..it would be great.

    • Ahoua says:

      i disagree with what you said about jordan and kobe skills.all kobe basically does is try to imitate jordan skills without being as efficient.tex winter and phil jackson were coaching kobe when they said those things so it would have been difficult for them to say such things as kobe doesn’t do anything better than michael,even tough they think that..at least jackson thinks that.
      now the way you talk about defenses before the 2000′s era compared to the 80′s and 90′s…i’m surprised bballbreakdown didn’t correct you but it’s just not true.
      for example,one thing that completely disapeared compared from the 80′s and 90′s as far defense is concerned is how defenses would identify habits and force great players not to use his own habits and trends..you don’t see that at all today.
      that is just one example.
      are you sure that you see more long 2 points shots today?i don’t think so…

  6. Steven says:

    Do you think Kobe is capable of penetrating as well as MJ? MJ has a strong body that can bump his defenders around while Kobe can’t. Seems like Kobe has a lot of trouble against people who can bump him around.

    I would argue with you at age 25~29 that Kobe was a lot more aggressive (perhaps even more than MJ when he was 25~29). From 30~retirement, MJ was still moving like a beast while Kobe is showing signs of slowing down. What do you think?

    • Anonymous says:

      from 25-29, Kobe was NOT more aggressive than MJ. During that period, Michael was averaging a ton of points and not making his teammates noticeably better. When he finally accepted the triangle in 91, he became more efficient and the Bulls took off.

  7. I always like your breakdowns but this one is very one sided, starting with a series in which the Lakers got swept (and Kobe’s teammates played horribly) versus a Bulls game in which they had a 22 point lead in the first quarter (and a 3-0 lead in the series). Had you changed the Kobe game to, say, Lakers-Magic Game 1, or anything from the Lakers-Denver series in 2008 you’d see a vastly different comparison. I’d even argue that the Laker offense in 2010 was very stagnant compared to previous seasons that involved less iso’s (Bynum increased playing time at the expense of Odom) and more standing around vs cutting to the basket (because Ariza was replaced with Artest). 

    Some of the points also ring hollow. For instance, you talk about Kobe not setting his teammates up with open baskets but how many times have we seen alley-oops from Kobe to Bynum or Gasol (as just one example of something the Bulls rarely did).

    • Anonymous says:

      Having watched Kobe for so long in the ∆, the key to this post is HOW he approaches the triangle – the result of the play is immaterial. I wish people could let go of the result and understand the process. That said, I’ll get some games from this year and do another one…

  8. Carlos Correa says:

    Good breakdown. What’s really noticeable is Kobe’s poor catch and shoot mechanics and tendency to get away from the triangle (especially when bringing up the ball). It’s not exactly fair to compare the offensive flow of the best team ever with the Lakers offfense last season, but the points are good.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks – I knew people would get upset – but this has been crazy. I’ll get more Kobe footage this season and do another one…

  9. Aj Daniels says:

    I just think you may have judged Kobe a bit harshly due to the selection bias. You can’t merely pick two games where Kobe didn’t perform at his peak, in the regular season no less, and compare them to a playoff game when Jordan was as focused as can be on playing effective basketball to get the W. I understand you did a good job of highlighting some of the tendencies Kobe exhibits in the triangle, but come on, you’re lauding MJ for making a basic pass to Luc Longley in the post, because Longley has good position to score. Frankly I don’t know if it’s ever advantageous to go to Longley! How about all the times Kobe makes effective entries into Bynum and Pau? I’ve got no qualms with people saying MJ was better, and as many comments mention, the stats speak for themselves. It just feels like the entire video is agenda driven and doesn’t give Kobe a fair shake.

  10. Mark says:

    After watching this, I checked your older posts and watched the 1998 game 6 clip.  I have a request: do you think you could do a post on Rodman in the triangle? You showed a few clips of him from 1998, but he also totally took over game 6 against Seattle in the third quarter.  I just think he was underrated for being a cerebral player, and his decision making in the triangle showed how he impacted the game without scoring a lot.  I think with your analytical skills you could do a great profile of Rodman.  Thx.

  11. Joe says:

    I see the comments, and the Kobe fans are a little up in arms it seems.  My two cents:
    - The overwhelming issue is that Kobe doesn’t trust anyone else when it really matters.  He might defer in the 4th quarter of a mid-season game against the bobcats, but in the finals…he isn’t going to defer…regardless of how many defenders or what the coach says.
    - It is veryhard to just take two individual games and try to compare two players performance within the offense
    - At one point you mention a very difficult Kobe fadeaway that he hits, then show an “easy” MJ fadeaway…they look very similar to me.  Additionally, Kobe has Jason Kidd on him…which is a very good match-up for Kobe
    - I think help defense, double teams, rotations, and zones make it a bit tougher now, than it was 15 years ago (wow…I can’t believe that was 15 years ago….)
    - I agree with your “consistency” comment on Kobe’s ability to run the offense.  He can do it…he chooses not to.  I believe he is a better passer than Michael was, but a much less willing passer.
    - Overall – MJ was more efficient in the offense, he was more bought in (late in his career), and was willing to work off-the-ball to get his vs. always going iso (which lets the defense set-up and easily help/double)
    - I don’t know that the ability to work within an offense makes one player a “better player” than the other, but it certainly makes them more effective for their team.

    • Angemea says:

      double teams,rotations and zones..you are wrong about that…double teams and rotations were better in the 80′s and 90′s without a doubt..zone were used,even tough it was not official.
      that is the main reason why the nba allowed the zone,the game was guetting so slow because of all the illegal defenses that were called.
      i remember in the 1996 nba finals,phil jackson,before game 1 said:”the sonics are are always at the limit of zone defense” and georges karl replied;”all nba teams are always at the limit of zone defense”.

  12. Coach Havard says:

    Coach, Thought you did a good job of pointing out the extreme importance of initially running late clock isolations away from the person you would like to isolate for. I remember watching Jordan have the ball suddenly appear in his hands at the end of the clock after the ball moved through the offence (this obviously wasn’t a coinsidence). You see Kobe hold the ball and/or pound it into the wood 10 times before shooting on every late clock possession. The most important lesson for basketball players is that if you do not have Kobe Bryant in your offence doing these types of things can kill your entire team! It is too bad today’s generation do not get to watch a player like Jordan to appreciate how he learned to play within a team system.

    • bballbreakdown says:

      It took Michael a long time to understand this, but it made it almost impossible to double him when he could exist in the offense for 3 or 4 passes before getting it…

      • angemea says:

        coach,according to tex winter,jordan learned quickly because he had an incredible knowledge of the game thanks to dean smith…but it took him one year to really believe the system.

  13. Brm8010 says:

    I’m so glad to have discovered Coach Nick’s breakdowns. Very nice.
    It’s hard to disagree with the analysis here even though Coach Nick has selected Kobe’s bad shots to contrast with Jordan’s better shots.
    Kobe, as great and accomplished as he is, remains a highly flawed player. I don’t know why people bother to compare him with Jordan. 

  14. Angemea says:

    there are many areas in which jordan is clearly better than kobe.
    and it goes from tangibles things that can be shown in stats to intangibles things like the era of jordan,the mental toughness or I.Q. basketball.
    i love your video coach because it’s the first time that someone illustrates the difference between their I.Q.
    but i have 2 critics,the shot that jordan makes at the free throw linw at 2:15 was a fadeway and was more difficult than the shots kobe made at 1:55 and 2:08.
    not to even mention the spontaneous fadeaway that jordan took at 4:50,it was the more difficult shot of the video even tough he makes it look easy.
    but i understand your point,you want to illustrate that by playing within the system,jordan can take the shots that he wants to instead of forcing it.
    but beautiful work,i learnt a lot,thank you.

  15. Ignarus says:

    Back when Kobe won his MVP, he and Lebron had more in common with each other with respect to how they got their shots than either guy did with MJ. I know Kobe and Lebron  deal with more sophisticated offenses today that make it easier to focus the efforts of 5 to shut down the 1 and how double and triple teaming before the catch made it so Kobe couldn’t post up as close to the bucket as MJ habitually did.

    But it’s becoming more and more clear that the ridiculous success of those Bulls teams was due to a lot more things than what’s immediately apparent to casual fans – MJ’s individual dominance. Yeah, Rodman and Pipper were underrated, but that’s not what I mean. With so much of his legend built on talk about his personality, you know, stuff that’s easy to write stories about, I suspect there’s a whole lot of untapped knowledge to digest from focusing on what the MJ/Pippen Bulls actually DID that was so successful beyond all the tired cliches.

    The more I look at it, the more I think the Heat have a really good squad to run a pile of triangle offense. It seems basically like a more sophisticated iteration of what they’ve tried to install this year with spacing, cutting, less PnR dependence, and better ball movement. Honestly, the MJ plays you showed looked a lot like what Wade does well off the ball and the Kobe stuff looked like what happens at the end of three broken plays or a clock-control situation.

    What, if anything, stands between the Heat’s current roster and a squad that could be devastating in triangle sets? If there was ever an offense that fits what we know about Lebron’s personality, it’s one where everybody gets to be an effective part.

  16. kb24sh says:

    I agree that Jordan is better than Kobe, but this guy has taken one of Jordans best team game vs. Kobes worse team game and has compared them. You can do that about anyone, that’s not really fair. You make Kobe out to be a lot worse than he actaully is.

  17. Chainsaw says:

    Wow, so you spliced a bunch of film where Jordan makes all of his shots and Kobe misses a bunch and turns it over? This showed/proved nothing. Interesting though.

    • bballbreakdown says:

      You missed the point. It’s not about the outcome, it was HOW these two players get their shots out of the triangle.

  18. chino says:

    Coach Nick, I wonder if Kobe has seen this video yet. Hopefully, Nash will make him a catch and shoot guard again. Like you said, it’s so much effort wasted the way Kobe initiates his offense.

  19. An says:

    meh, you must be from Chicago.  Phil Jackson said that Kobe’s biggest problem in the offense is that he didn’t have a Scottie Pippen to run the offense so that he could play on the wing like MJ did.  In essence, Kobe had to initiate the offense like Pippen and be a playmaker like Jordan.  Also, comparing the regular season to the finals isn’t fair.  Finally, 5 nba championships pretty much sums everything up.

    • Coach Nick says:

      If 5 championships sums it up – then why doesn’t MJ’s SIX? And this isn’t about who he played with – it’s about how they attacked out of the triangle. Clearly, Jordan used the offense more efficiently… And I am from Chicago, LOL

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