Michael Jordan is the Greatest Player Of All Time. There is no doubt about that. He was faster than Kobe, jumped higher, and had bigger hands. In turn, this helped make Jordan a “better player”. However, both are known for being hyper-competitive and worked on their games tremendously. Which breaks it down to who was more “skilled”?
First, we have to define skill. In this case, we are going to say that someone’s basketball skill is something they purely gained from practicing. So we are going to “try” to ignore the fact that Jordan was a better athlete overall. Second, we are going to present arguments for each case and may or may not reach a conclusion. Let’s begin.
Statistically, it isn’t even close, and while statistics aren’t the greatest measure of skill, this is something worth noting. Jordan shot nearly the same from 3, his 32.7% compared to Kobe’s 32.9%, and was far more efficient from the field at a near 50%. Additionally, Jordan averaged 5.3 assists in his career, including his 1989 season where he averaged 8 apg. This shows that Jordan was a better and far more willing passer than Kobe.
2. Attacking the rim
While Frobe was explosive and known for superior drives to the rim (and dunking all over Tim Duncan and David Robinson), his game changed quite drastically when he switched over to number 24. Kobe began to perfect his fadeaway jump shot, using it as his main method of attack. While Jordan later developed a jump shot with age, he didn’t exactly need one to start his career (he shot sub 20% from 3 in his first 4 seasons). Instead, Jordan used his superior athleticism, crafty ball fakes, and vicious jab steps to break down defenses and get to the rim almost every time.
Let’s not forget that Jordan was probably one of the, if not the, best defenders at the time. He averaged an absurd 3.2 steals per game in one season, and also won Defensive Player of the Year, a feat Kobe wasn’t even close to. Before the emergence of Scottie Pippen, Jordan also displayed his shot blocking ability, as he needed to also anchor his team’s defense. He averaged 1.6 blocks per game as a shooting guard. And let’s not forget when he literally slapped the ball out of Karl Malone’s hands and drained a shot to win his 6th ring.
While statistically, Jordan is “similar” to Kobe in overall 3 point shooting, there are a few things to consider. First, Jordan’s best 3 point years were actually in a time where the NBA 3 point-line was shortened to 22 feet, the size of the current corner 3. This obviously messes up the statistics of Jordan’s 3 point prowess. Secondly, although it is his fault, Kobe took much harder shots. When his game developed more into jump shooting than attacking, Kobe practically shot 44% from the field off of double-team fadeaways.
This is a hard one since both players were so well-rounded. They both had solid fundamentals. Their pump fake, up and under, turnaround fadeaway, and mid-range inside foot pull-up jump shot were practically mirror images of each other. However, the slight edge has to go to Kobe. He took Jordan’s moves and lifted them up just a bit. Adding Hakeem’s dream fake, perfecting left-handed hooks, and smooth reverse pivots demonstrated his creativity and mastery. Kobe’s ball handling also gives him the slight edge, demonstrating an Allen Iverson-like crossover to shift opponents or a behind the back counter just when defenses thought they could stop him.
3. Adjusting for injury
While this is kind of a one-sided deal, as MJ never had to contend for a title while playing with injuries, it is quite worth mentioning. Towards his back-to-back championship seasons, Kobe broke his right index finger. Kobe elected to forgo surgery and continue playing with wrapped up, broken finger. While Kobe played as if this never really affected him, I’m sure it took quite the toll. Let’s not forget, Kobe lived as a jump shooter at this time. More importantly, he utilized the finger release, which meant the ball would rotate off his index. Adjusting for this is definitely not easy, and it is something that Kobe had to do to win his 4th and 5th ring. While we can’t say MJ could or couldn’t do the same, it for sure proves how much practice and skill Kobe had.
Both players have strong arguments for which one is more skilled. While we cannot reach a conclusion, we can safely say that these two go down as some of the most skilled NBA players in the history of the game. Comment below who you think is the more skilled player.