Kobe Bryant is a selfish ball hog!
How many times have you heard that statement? A thousand? A million? Infinity plus one?
Basketball fans, I have a revelation for you:
If Kobe Bryant is a selfish ball hog, then so was Michael Jordan.
It's true. Hear me out.
"Ball hog" is a subjective term that gets thrown around as easily as Jeff Van Gundy in a player's brawl, and yet there is no official definition of what a ball hog actually is. But I know a ball hog when I see one, and you do too. In general terms, ball hogs are normally associated with the following:
A) Field Goal Attempts: Ball hogs jack up a ridiculous number of shots on a per-minute basis.
B) Scoring Efficiency: They attempt an inordinate amount of field goal in order to "get their points."
C) Usage Percentage: Ball hogs dominant the rock and the percentage of their teams' plays.
D) Assists: Ball hogs care far more about their own points than setting up their teammates.
Let's call these the "Ball Hog Statistics." And for many NBA fans there should be an additional "Ball Hog Statistic" which reads:
E) Everything Kobe Bryant does when the ball is in his hands, because Kobe is a ball hog.
In fact, just this week Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell called out Kobe at Grantland.com for being a ball hog when Gladwell said, "Kobe's ideal teammate is a ball boy" while Simmons wrote if Kobe and Larry Bird played together, Kobe would steal crunch-time shots from Larry Legend. Heck, ESPN's Henry Abbott wrote a 2011 piece about Kobe Bryant and concluded, "That, my friends, is a ball hog."
But Simmons, Gladwell, Abbott and others need to remember this:
If Kobe Bryant is a ball hog, then so was Michael Jordan, or at least that's what the objective "Ball Hog Statistics" reveal.
Field Goal Attempts - Bigger Ball Hog: Michael Jordan
The number of shots Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan jacked up on a nightly basis is most accurately viewed on a Per-36 minute basis to allow for a shots-per-minute type comparison. In this regard, Michael Jordan shot more often than Kobe Bryant when he was on the floor:
Field Goal Attempts Per-36 Minutes- Regular Season
Michael Jordan - 21.5
Kobe Bryant - 19.3
In other words, in 36 minutes of playing time Michael Jordan would jack up two more shots than Kobe. In terms of the sheer volume of shots attempted while on the floor, Jordan was the bigger ball hog.
Scoring Efficiency - Bigger Ball Hog: Kobe Bryant (Barely)
But the quantity of shots attempted does not paint the full picture of a player's ball hoggishness - you also have to look at how efficiently a player scores in order to put the volume of shots in their proper context. One of the best measures of scoring efficiency is to examine how many field goal attempts a player needs in order to generate his points.
In terms of scoring efficiency, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant are nearly identical:
Points per Field Goals Attempted- Regular Season
Michael Jordan - 1.32 PTS/FGA (32,292 points on 24,537 FGA)
Kobe Bryant - 1.30 PTS/FGA (29,484 points on 22,706 FGA)
To put this in perspective, Kobe Bryant has averaged 20 FGA's throughout his career. If both Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant attempted 20 field goals per game, MJ's scoring efficiency would have yielded 26.3 points (1.32 PTS/FGA x 20 FGA) to Kobe Bryant's 26.0 points (1.30 PTS/FGA x 20 FGA).
In other words, if Kobe and MJ each attempted 20 shots per game, then over a three-game span MJ's would score 79 points to Kobe's 78 points. The difference between MJ and Kobe with respect to scoring efficiency is just one free throw every three games.
The advantage here goes to MJ, but only by the slimmest of margins.
Usage Percentage - Bigger Ball Hog: Michael Jordan
The advanced stat of Usage Percentage is an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor. According to pro-basketball-reference, here is the Usage Percentage for both players:
Michael Jordan - 33.3
Kobe Bryant - 31.8
In other words, Michael Jordan "used" more of his team's possessions than Kobe Bryant has throughout his career.
Additionally, Michael Jordan played 13 full NBA seasons (excluding 1986 and 1995) and had the NBA's highest Usage Percentage in eight of those 13 years. In 16 full NBA seasons, Kobe has led the NBA in Usage Percentage just three times.
To put this in perspective, at Michael Jordan's rate Kobe Bryant would have led the NBA in Usage Percentage 10 times (not three) by now. Kobe's Usage Percentage suddenly feels tame by comparison.
Assists - Bigger Ball Hog: Kobe Bryant (Barely)
On a Per-36 minute basis, Michael Jordan's 4.9 AST-36 are slightly higher than Kobe Bryant's 4.6 AST-36. The other way of looking at assists is the advanced statistic Assist Percentage which estimates the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while he was on the floor:
Michael Jordan - 24.9%
Kobe Bryant - 23.9%
Whether in real terms (Per-36 minute actual assists) or in estimated terms (Assist Percentage), Michael Jordan narrowly edges out Kobe Bryant in the assists department.
Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan have played remarkably similar careers that make their statistics as close to apples-to-apples as you can get. Both played for Phil Jackson, ran the triangle offense extensively, and were regularly surrounded by All-Star caliber teammates.
Additionally, Both Kobe and MJ played two full "odd" seasons - Kobe as a precocious teen-aged reserve (starting just seven games his first two NBA seasons) and MJ as a past-his-prime Washington Wizard. In the end, both Kobe and MJ played about 150 "odd" games with Kobe being "too young" and MJ "too old", so evaluating their full career stats is a fair comparison.
Summing It All Up
Ball hogs, generally speaking, shoot too much, score inefficiently, dominate offensive possessions, and rarely set up their teammates for easy buckets.
When comparing these "Ball Hog Statistics," Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan are nearly mirror images of each other.
Michael Jordan shot more often than Kobe Bryant (FGA per 36-Mins) and dominated the ball on the offensive more often (Usage Percentage). However, MJ was also a slightly more efficient scorer than Kobe (PTS/FGA) and assisted his teammates a little more often (AST per 36-Mins).
In the end, the "Ball Hog Stats" between Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan are virtually identical.
The debate as to whether Kobe Bryant's career will ever match or surpass Michael Jordan's will go on for years - and possibly forever if Kobe can somehow win a sixth title. But for now, we can finally all agree on at least one important area in the great Kobe vs. MJ debate:
If Kobe Bryant is a ball hog, then so was Michael Jordan.
Andrew Sweat is a die-hard Lakers fan. For more from this author, visit Andrew's archive or check these out articles: