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Boxscore Breakdown: Kobe vs. LeBron, Round 1

Posted by Neil Paine on January 20, 2009

So, did anybody catch that game last night?

In preparation for it, yesterday morning I wrote a rather effusive hosanna about LeBron James' high caliber of play this season, breaking down how LBJ's performance so far had not only surpassed Kobe Bryant's best years, but was also challenging the greatest campaigns of legends like Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.

But the game itself would seem to be a more convincing referendum on the great LeBron-Kobe debate, with the winner taking all... right? So would LeBron be able to sustain his incredible performance against Bryant's Lakers (the NBA's 5th-best defense), or would Kobe come out on top against the best D in the league?

The answer? Well, it was a sloppy game all around, but by any measure Kobe -- and more importantly, the Lakers -- won the first head-to-head matchup of the season. Here's the game's enhanced boxscore:

4 Factors  Pts Poss eFG% TOr  OR%  FTr  ORtg
Cleveland   88  86  48.1 16.3 35.7 15.2 102.6
LA Lakers  105  86  58.3 17.5 39.5  8.3 122.5
Player           Tm   Pos  Min Poss PProd ORtg  %Pos  DRtg Floor% Stops Stop%
Ben Wallace      CLE  PF   19   2.7  5.1  187.5  8.1 120.6 0.927   3.2  0.479
LeBron James     CLE  SF   42  27.8 22.6   81.3 37.0 112.0 0.399  10.2  0.678
Anderson Varejao CLE  C    34   9.9 10.3  103.8 16.3 111.8 0.507   8.3  0.683
Mo Williams      CLE  PG   34  18.4 16.8   91.3 30.3 126.3 0.393   4.2  0.348
Sasha Pavlovic   CLE  SG   34   9.3 10.8  116.8 15.3 125.9 0.492   4.3  0.357
Lorenzen Wright  CLE  PF    8   1.5  0.5   34.6 10.2 130.7 0.155   0.7  0.248
Wally Szczerbiak CLE  SG   23   3.9  6.1  158.0  9.5 124.0 0.682   3.3  0.401
Jawad Williams   CLE  F     1   0.0  0.0    0.0  0.0 132.5 0.000   0.1  0.205
Tarence Kinsey   CLE  SG    1   0.0  0.0    0.0  0.0 132.5 0.000   0.1  0.205
Daniel Gibson    CLE  PG   23   4.6  5.0  109.4 11.2 126.6 0.378   2.8  0.342
Darnell Jackson  CLE  PF    1   0.0  0.0    0.0  0.0 132.5 0.000   0.1  0.205
J.J. Hickson     CLE  PF   19   5.2 10.1  196.0 15.2 119.1 0.880   3.5  0.514
V. Radmanovic    LAL  SF   20   2.8  4.7  168.4  7.8  99.2 0.587   4.3  0.607
Pau Gasol        LAL  PF   36  12.7 17.8  140.4 19.7 107.7 0.688   5.3  0.411
Andrew Bynum     LAL  C    29  11.7 12.3  104.8 22.7 104.8 0.542   4.9  0.477
Kobe Bryant      LAL  SG   41  24.9 25.1  101.1 33.9 106.0 0.476   6.6  0.450
Derek Fisher     LAL  PG   34  10.6 12.3  116.0 17.5 110.9 0.526   4.1  0.336
Lamar Odom       LAL  PF   31  11.2  9.8   87.7 20.3  97.2 0.424   7.2  0.652
Trevor Ariza     LAL  SF   28   6.2 10.1  162.2 12.4  96.7 0.654   6.6  0.663
Sasha Vujacic    LAL  SG   21   6.9 11.4  165.7 18.3 105.8 0.602   3.4  0.454
Sun Yue          LAL  SG    1   0.6  0.0    0.0 32.3 116.4 0.000   0.1  0.209

First of all, it's clear that despite the heavy build-up for the game, neither player had a particularly good night. I apparently "stat-cursed" King James, because he had one of his worst games of the season: 23 points, but a 40.3 TS%, a mere 19.3 Ast% (his season average is 35.4), a terrible 21.6% turnover rate, and an un-LeBron-like 112.0 defensive rating (despite 4 steals). Needless to say, it was a disappointing showing for a player I had recently compared favorably to some of the game's best players ever.

For his part, Kobe scored 20 but needed 22 FGAs (TS%: 42.9), and he turned the ball over on 20.1% of his possessions; the only really good part of his game was the fact he assisted on 42% of his teammates' buckets. He made a few big shots down the stretch, but the finger injury he sustained in the game's opening sequence clearly bothered him all night.

So with both stars playing below their season averages, the difference between L.A. and Cleveland obviously came down their supporting casts -- and what a difference it was. Mo Williams had as rough a night as LeBron did, and those 2 combined to take nearly 65% of the shots when they were on the floor together. Sasha Pavlovic, Wally Szczerbiak, and Daniel Gibson collectively had a good shooting night, but for the most part the Lakers exposed the inability of Cleveland's offense to function without LeBron being in top form. With James and Williams serving as the team's only initiators, the offense completely revolves around them, and it sputtered badly tonight when they combined to shoot 15-for-41.

On the other hand, the Lakers proved they don't necessarily need Kobe to be at his best to fire on all cylinders. Despite KB24's relatively subpar game, Pau Gasol had a brilliant night (140.4 ORtg), Vladimir Radmanovic and Sasha Vujacic combined to go 6-for-9 from 3-point territory, and Trevor Ariza (162.2 ORtg) provided a big spark off the bench, especially after Cleveland had cut the L.A. lead to 7 in the 4th. It's also worth noting that without Delonte West and Zydrunas Ilgauskas in the lineup, the Cavs' ability to slow down L.A.'s deep stable of offensive threats suffered. At any rate, here's the final tally for the superstars and their teammates:

                Pts Produced    Poss.   ORtg
LeBron                  22.6    27.8    81.3
Other Cavaliers         65.4    58.0   112.8
Kobe                    25.1    24.9   101.1
Other Lakers            79.9    60.9   131.2

The good news for LeBron and the Cavaliers is that this is "just 1 game out of 82", and that it occurred on the road, deep in enemy territory. Does it change the complexion of the LBJ-Kobe debate? I don't think so; again, it's just one game, and neither player even managed to meet their typical season numbers, let alone make a definitive argument for superiority. But it was something of a "statement game" for Kobe's supporting cast -- the unequivocally showed that they're better than James' mates. Which means that if these teams end up meeting again in the Finals, LeBron's going to have to reach down into his "2007 Pistons Series" bag of tricks to bring a title to Cleveland.

14 Responses to “Boxscore Breakdown: Kobe vs. LeBron, Round 1”

  1. Deen Says:

    Great analysis.
    Do you have a page that explains how you calculate Stop%, Stops, or even Poss from box score stats or any other available stats?

  2. Neil Paine Says:

    My bad, I should have noted that the calculations for all of these stats are in Dean Oliver's book Basketball on Paper:

    Which is, for my money, the best basketball stats book ever written. You should be able to pick up a copy at your local bookstore or, failing that,

  3. Deen Says:

    Thanks for the reply.

    I think I now understand the meaning of stop%, but it seems impossible to calculate using box score stats.

    Is there a stat source you would recommend to calculate stop%(or other enhanced stats) for future games?

    For example, i know that shows by quarter stats but that still wouldn't allow the calculation of possessions and stops for a particular player's time on the court.

  4. Neil Paine Says:

    They're actually all just estimates from the box score stats -- for instance, team possessions while a player is on the court are found by taking total team possessions, dividing by (team minutes / 5), and multiplying by player minutes. It's definitely not 100% accurate, since teams can play at different tempos with different 5-man lineups on the floor, but it's the best we can do from just looking at the box scores, especially for players in the era.

  5. Tsunami Says:

    This is great, Neil. You have instantly become one of my favorite writers.

    Keep up the good work.

  6. Neil Paine Says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Tsunami. :)

  7. vincent attard Says:

    i think your stats are garbage, they dont take into account important passages of the game and when the game is over. To say the truth i think i can could break down a game better then you

  8. Deen Says:

    Thanks again. Great work.

  9. Ter Says:

    I agree with Vincent although he put it more bluntly than I would. I think these 2 articles, the one comparing Lebron to NBA greats and this one, run the risk of personal bias. It was apparent when you said that you had "stat-cursed" Lebron. The problem is that you come up with the stats and attempt to rebuff them through a biased analysis. I know this may be unintentional, but an outsider may consider your results influenced by the human nature to want to be right.

    The reason I don't like looking at stats this closely is that it misses the emotional nature of sports. You cant overlook the possibility that maybe LeBron was rattled by Kobe's defense and the pressure on him to prove himself in a true head-to-head. I would argue that Kobe rose to the occasion (the 2 jumpers on Lebron late in the game) while Lebron faltered. Thus it does, to some degree, count towards their battle for the best-in-the-world title.

    I'm a Kobe fan, but I do acknowledge the fact that LeBron can possibly be the greatest NBA player we'll ever see. But because of the ups-and-downs in performance from day-to-day, I think people will only stop comparing them when Lebron's youth finally overtakes Kobe's decline as a result of age, just like how T-Mac's injuries finally put to rest the Kobe-Tmac debate.

  10. Ter Says:

    and yes, I also showed a little bias by delivering a Kobe victory over T-Mac parting shot.

  11. steve from boston Says:

    yeah this guy is a JOKE in his final analysis, he doesnt want to admit he was wrong and that Kobe flat-out owned Lebron on this night, even with the broken finger

  12. steve from boston Says:

    PS: Wade is better than both of them when he's healthy

  13. c tran Says:

    Lets see.....Kobe shoots a better % than lebron in the game, but you point out Kobe's low shooting %. K.. thats cool. I need you to be my lawyer. You will make all the bad things go away...YAY!

  14. Neil Paine Says:

    Man, they really need to start making people take a reading comprehension test before they're allowed to get a "Lakers #24" jersey.