Henry Abbott and the Numbers Say Kobe is Wrong

Posted on March 14, 2008 by


Often Henry Abbott – of TrueHoop – reports statistical analysis posted in this forum. This morning, I am going to post the following statistical analysis by Abbott.

Kobe Bryant has asserted that he would post better numbers if he played in the Eastern Conference. As you can see, Abbott doesn’t just disagree with Kobe Bryant. Abbott notes that the numbers indicate that Kobe is very, very wrong.  By the way, next week I plan on chiming in on the Kobe-for-MVP movement (and yes, the numbers say that idea is also very wrong).

from Henry Abbott… 

From Jack McCallum’s excellent recent Sports Illustrated article about the Lakers:

Asked what his MVP ballot would look like, Bryant says, “I’m not even thinking about that.” But when somebody mentions that the Cleveland Cavaliers’ James is a favorite because he’s a near one-man team, Bryant, who was averaging 28.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists through Sunday, snaps, “Put me in the East and see what happens.” 

It sounds great, right? Wow … Kobe Bryant turned loose against the weaker conference. His numbers might astound. You can just let the argument sit right there. Ooh, Kobe, good point.

Or, you can use basketball-reference.com’s handy dandy season splits, and compare how Bryant has performed in the East compared to the West.

Not that this is the ultimate proof — the sample size is small, as we are talking about 28 games Bryant has played against the East, and 36 against the West. Just a few good or bad games here or there could change all that.

But the story is that there is not evidence to support Bryant’s assertion that he’d go buck wild in the East. In fact, Bryant has bigger totals against the West in nearly every major category, even though he has played slighlty more minutes per game (39.1 compared to 38) against the East. 

Against the West, Bryant is scoring 29.3 points per game. Against the East, it’s 26.7. (James is scoring 29.6 againt the West, and 32 against the East.) 

In the all-important field goal percentage, Bryant is shooting 48% against the West, and 44% against the East. (James is at 47% against the West, and 50% against the East.)

Bryant is getting 6.5 rebounds per game against the West, and 5.6 per game against the East. (James is at 8 against the West and 8.2 per game against the East.)

Bryant registers 5.3 assists per game against the West, and 5.4 against the East. (James is getting 7.3 against the West, and 7.6 against the East.) 

Bryant is marginally better shooting free throws (82% vs. 88%) and three-pointers (33% vs. 37%) against the East. But all in all, for whatever reason — pace could be a big factor, and random chance could be another — Bryant has better numbers playing in the West. 

Box score statistics are only one little backwater in the river of Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James MVP debate. There are a hundred torrents of argument — their head-to-head play, Bryant is overdue, the Lakers are the better team, James went to the Finals with a so-so roster, Bryant is deferring to teammates more, etc.

But despite what Bryant may claim, the box score does not suggest he’d have James-like or better numbers if he moved East.