When the Lakers take on the Miami Heat, as they do tonight, it’s usually about Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. And let’s be honest, that’s the main reason this game is so intriguing.
Over the past decade Bryant and James have been the two best players in the league. It’s always been even more intriguing since the players play in opposite conferences, meaning they only meet twice a season. But this season both have been playing exceptionally well, and are the top two candidates for league MVP. (Although saying someone is an MVP candidate three weeks into the season is a little ridiculous in itself.)
Tonight’s game may feature James and Bryant more than usual because of the circumstances surrounding the matchup. Miami’s other star player, Dwyane Wade, will miss the game with a sprained right ankle. This puts more emphasis on James, especially offensively.
Still, let’s take a minute and break down some of the numbers they have been putting up this season to see how they compare.
Bryant is having one of the best statistical seasons in recent memory. In fact, many are saying this is Bryant’s best year (so far) since his MVP campaign back in 2008-09. Bryant is leading the NBA in scoring, currently averaging 30.8 points per game. What’s more impressive is that he’s shooting 46 percent from the field, which is the highest percentage he’s shot at since 2009.
But, while Bryant’s point average is certainly impressive, he’s also racking up the assists. Currently Kobe is dishing out 5.5 assists per game, which is the highest number since the 2004-05 when he averaged 6.0 assists per contest. The only asterisk that belongs next to the assist number is the turnovers, where Bryant is averaging 3.9 per game, which is again the highest since the 04-05 season.
However, when you look at the Lakers’ total offensive production Bryant’s numbers seem that much more impressive. Right now Los Angeles is averaging just 93.3 points per game, which is near the bottom of the Western Conference. Bryant’s 30.8 PPG account for over 30 percent of the team’s total offense. Whether you believe this stat is good for the team or bad, it’s still impressive.
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Now let’s take a look at James. Statistically, LeBron is the only player in the NBA that means as much to his team right now as Bryant. James is averaging 29.8 PPG, trailing only Bryant. Even though the season is still relatively infantile, this is the highest point total LeBron has averaged since 2007-08 when he was a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
James is also leading the Heat in assists, averaging 7.6 per game. To put this into further perspective, the next highest number on the Heat is 5.4, which belongs to Wade. James is averaging over two assists more per game than the next best passer on the team, and is accounting for nearly a third of the team’s total dimes per game.
Another area where James and Bryant see similarities is in the turnovers. In fact, both James and Bryant are averaging 3.9 turnovers per game, leading their respective teams. Truthfully this isn’t much of a surprise, as both Bryant and James have the ball in their hands more often than anybody else on the floor. But, James does have a slight edge in the assist-to-turnover ratio due to the higher assist average.
So what does all this mean? Honestly, not that much.
It’s no secret that Bryant and James will both go down as two of the greatest players in NBA history. But so far this season it’s impossible to say which one is indeed more valuable to their team. The teams play completely different styles of basketball, which is evident when you look at the team stats. Miami averages 107.2 points per game, which is 15 points higher than the Lakers current clip. But defensively the Lakers do have an edge, as they are giving up just 89.4 points as opposed to the 99.2 points per game the Heat are allowing.
Obviously the differences in team philosophy does play into the two player’s statistics, but percentage-wise they’re still nearly identical.
So what will we see tonight when the team’s square off in Miami? It’s a pretty fair assumption that both James and Bryant will have control of the game offensively. But it might be better for the Lakers if Bryant isn’t forced to carry the offensive load. Miami’s frontline is anything but dynamic, and if Bryant can get Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum involved in the offense the team could utilize their size advantage.
Still, the main story will be Bryant and James. After all, they’re still the two best players in the world.