Kobe Bryant has now passed former teammate Shaquille O’Neal for fifth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Bryant now trails only Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Both Bryant and O’Neal are unquestionable Pro Basketball Hall of Famers, but when the debate arises about which of the two superstar players have been more valuable throughout their careers the answer isn’t as clear. Let the debate begin.
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This argument has much to do with points scored and championships won, as it does with efficiency and intangibles. When looking at statistics due to their difference in positions, Bryant, being a shooting guard and O’Neal, a centre, there must be a common statistic that can measure and boil down players’ performance to a commonality like what sabermetrics does for baseball.
ESPN analyst John Hollinger created the Player Efficiency Rating (PER) which grinds all of a player’s positive and negative contributions including made and missed field goals, made and missed free throws, assists blocks, rebounds and steals, plus more measurable statistics. Hollinger’s system has 15.00 as the consistent average per league-wide, and the formula is done in a per-minute system so all players can be compared fairly, whether they are starters or benchwarmers.
Going ahead with this formula, how do Kobe and Shaq compare?
Bryant’s career average PER is 23.6, and greatest regular season according to PER was 2005-2006 with 28.0. In that season he averaged a whooping 35.4 points per game, 5.3 rebounds per game and 4.5 assists to go with 3.1 turnovers per game and the famous 81-point burst against the Toronto Raptors.
In that season the Lakers finished 45-37, just enough for the seventh seed where they lost to the Steve Nash-led Phoenix Suns.
Bryant’s average PER during his three championship titles with O’Neal was 22.4 and his two titles without O’Neal he averaged 23.1. The Lakers won a championship only once during the top five Bryant seasons based on PER; and in fact it was his fifth best season 2000-2001, where he had a 24.5 PER. Simply put, out of his five rings, it was only two championship seasons that fall within his top 10 best PER results, one with O’Neal and one without. It’s clear that Bryant’s leadership did not shine through for the majority of his championship teams, and his flashy style and numbers may have hindered the total success of the teams he led.
When O’Neal’s results are compared the differences are clear. Between the 1992-93 to 2006-07 seasons where Shaq was full time starter on Orlando, Los Angeles and Miami he averaged a solid 27.6 PER. In his last seasons, 2007-08 to 2010-11 where he took on the “journeyman” role with stints in Miami, Phoenix, Cleveland and Boston his average PER took a major dip to 19.2. In all, he averaged 26.4 PER throughout his career. Almost 3.0 points more than Bryant over his career.
When looking at the how the PER can translate to his leadership, O’Neal actually had eight seasons with PER’s at 28.0 (Bryant’s highest) or higher, and had a PER over 30.0 three times, doubling the league average of 15.
O’Neal has one less ring than Bryant, but all three of his Laker titles fall within his top ten PER rated seasons. His highest rated season (30.6) led the Lakers, Bryant included, to the championship in 2000. During that season, O’Neal averaged 29.7 points per game, 13.6 rebounds per game, 3.8 assists per game and 2.8 turnovers per game on 57 per cent shooting over the season.
Bryant has always played on the Lakers and has always won with Phil Jackson as his head coach, finishing his career with only one regular season MVP and two Finals MVPs. His PER over the average of all of his playoff appearances is 22.3.
On the contrary, O’Neal has led the Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat to Finals appearances, winning three titles with Phil Jackson and his fourth with Stan Van Gundy and Pat Riley in Miami. For his career, he has one regular season MVP and three Finals MVPs on the Lakers while playing with, and figuratively carrying Bryant to their three titles. His average PER throughout playoff appearances is 26.1, nearly four points higher than Bryant’s.
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal have both have shown that they can win with, and without each other, but when it is all grinded down to total achievement and based on their PER ratings and leadership with playoff numbers and championships won it’s obvious.
It’s more than just total points and trophies; Shaquille O’Neal’s career has been more efficient, and greater.