Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant are recognized as two of the top 10 players to have ever lived. They were special players who had an impactful presence on the court, both for the Spurs and Lakers respectively. They were also two of the rare breeds to stay with a franchise, win multiple rings, and maintain sustained dominance on the court.
As a result, fans and media have often compared the two. Many argue that Duncans sustained excellence deep into his 30’s gives him the edge, while others feel that Kobe’s more complete style of play and offensive dominance allows him to surpass Duncan.
While they clearly played different positions and had different styles of play, it is only natural to compare which player had the better career.
It is time to finally end the debate and choose the player who was a better performer over the course of their careers.
Inside Scoring - Tim Duncan
Even though Kobe is very underrated at slithering his way to the rim when the defense plays him too tightly, Duncan takes this one. He is obviously a power forward or center and made a living with his back to the basket. Duncan had an array of flip shots, post hooks, and post fadeaways that he could pull off at any time. As a result, Duncan usually commanded a double team when in the post.
Kobe is one of the game’s greatest scorers and was nearly unstoppable at attacking the basket, or when he used his post moves against smaller defenders or weaker guards. Kobe's footwork and array of pump fakes gave him an incredible advantage down low. But when it mattered most, Bryant preferred to make his living on the outside and as a result, Duncan takes this one.
Outside Scoring - Kobe Bryant
This one is a no-brainer. Kobe Bryant was a force from the outside, and usually did most of his damage from the mid-range. While the mid-range shot is no longer seen as much in today’s NBA, Kobe revolutionized the mid-range game and made it an absolute joy to watch. For defenders, it was a nightmare trying to defend. Bryant could get his shot off whenever he wanted and had every counter-move in the book. Bryant might have the best mid-range game of all time.
Duncan could step out for his mid-range bank shot at any time as well, and that became his signature move when the paint was clogged. But Bryants’ ability to extend to the three and nail deep shots gives him the landslide victory here.
Athleticism - Kobe Bryant
Duncan's athleticism came in the form of his great height and size. While he wasn't an aggressive player per se, he had a powerful body with a strong center of gravity which helped him take contact and finish buckets. It also helped him on the other end, where he could make life difficult for bigs when they tried to use their own strength and size to score.
Bryant was on another level when it came to athleticism. He won a dunk contest as a rookie and has countless poster dunks over big time shot-blockers including Dwight Howard. Bryant's quickness and ability to beat his defender also gives him the edge here, over Tim Duncan who normally played below the rim.
Defense - Even
Both players were exceptional defensive players. Bryant managed to make a whopping 9 All-Defensive First Teams whole Duncan managed to make 8. Overall, Duncan had 15 All-Defensive Honors compared to Kobe's 12. Beyond just accomplishments, both players had an incredible defensive impact on the court.
Kobe often used his ruthlessness and awareness to his advantage. He had every offensive move in the book, so he could usually read what the opponent would do with the ball.
On the other end, Duncan was just so fundamentally pure. Even deep into his old age, he could defend the rim better than almost every NBA player. He knew when to jump, how to bother opposing bigs, and how to impact the game with blocks and steals. Due to their undeniable success in the defensive department, both players are even.
Clutch - Kobe Bryant
Duncan was clutch in his ability to make the right plays, and even make tough fall-away shots when he was forced to. But there wasn't a more clutch player, since Michael Jordan, than Kobe Bryant.
Even when Bryant missed big-time buckets, he would be absolutely certain that the next one would go in. It's the killer mentality that makes a clutch player so dominant, and Kobe Bryant had that to his name.
Kobe's offensive prowess and ability to score the ball anytime he wanted certainly helps his case here, and he will go down as one of the most clutch players to have ever lived. Kobe takes this one.
Leadership - Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant was both the vocal force and team leader of the Lakers team that went back to back in 2009 and 2010. Kobe always held players accountable on both ends of the floor and pushed each one of his teammates to possess the dedication and killer instinct that he had himself. There was a point of time where Kobe could have been dropped on any team and he could immediately become their best player, most vocal leader, and most impactful performer.
Duncan also possessed exceptional leadership skills, although he preferred to lead by example and production on the floor. Tim was a soft-spoken guy, and hardly ever got out of character. Despite this, each one of his teammates respected his work ethic and dedication to the game. As a result, both players are exceptional leaders. But Kobe stands out more because of his killer will and ability to lead any teammate he had at any point. Kobe takes this one.
Basketball I.Q. - Even
Kobe was a fantastic scorer, and Duncan was a double-double machine who made his name on the defensive end. As a result, both players have similar basketball I.Q.
Duncan was a perfect power forward, who could rebound and defend with the best of them. He could also score the ball in the post, from mid-range, and could be counted on to make crucial free throws which is not normally the case for most big men. Bryant was a perfect shooting guard, who could score anytime he wanted and also shut down opposing guards on the other end. Duncan often relied on his intelligence and awareness to impact the game, and would sometimes go unnoticed through stretches of the game. But his impact was there for every second of every minute.
Bryant attracted a ton of attention on the court, and it was obvious whenever Bryant played the game. Even with their conflicting styles of play, both players have incredibly high basketball I.Q.
Scoring - Kobe Bryant
Bryant is a better scorer than Duncan, and hardly anyone will ever dispute this. Bryant's career average of 25.0 PPG trumps Duncan's 19.0 PPG. Bryant could score in every way imaginable and had an unstoppable perimeter game.
Even when double or even triple-teamed, Bryant could score the ball whenever he wanted. In terms of being able to create his own shot and put the ball in the hoop on a consistent basis, Bryant beats out Tim Duncan.
Impact - Even
Duncan's impact is undeniable. His ability to dominate a game defensively and with his fundamentals is something we have never seen before. Duncan always went at his own pace and was never rushed at what he had to do. It is no wonder he is the greatest Spurs player in NBA history and possibly the best power forward to have ever played.
Kobe Bryant was also a legendary impactful player. He could vocally hold people responsible and just could not be stopped offensively. His ability to attract two and three defenders at once made the Lakers a very dominant team, even when Shaq was on the team. While Duncan went about it in a quiet and calm manner, everybody in the building knew that Kobe Bryant would be the star of the show each and every time.
Both players have five rings and managed to play their entire careers with one franchise. Their sustained dominance and impact on the game will never be forgotten, and as such, they are even here.
Fundamental - Even
"The Big Fundamental' himself, Tim Duncan has a case for having the best fundamentals of all time. The game came naturally to him, and he hardly ever made a mistake on the court. He never took bad shots, always made the right play, and was a consistent force on defense. Duncan was as close to perfection as one could get at the power forward position. But Kobe just managed to even it up.
Most people think of Kobe as a high octane and high usage player, which he was, but he was a flawless NBA player. He had no weakness, and would never let you off the hook. Kobe could score in any way he wanted, and his sublime post moves and footwork gives him enough to match Duncan here.
1 On 1 Game - Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan are both great at what they do and they were at the top of their positions for their entire careers. But there is no doubt that Kobe Bryant is a better one on one player. Nobody in history, perhaps outside Michael Jordan and even Kevin Durant, could come close to Kobe Bryant's one on one skills. It is what he loved doing most, and he always felt that there wasn't a better player in history when it came to getting buckets.
Kobe was fortunate to play in Phil Jackson's triangle system, as that allowed him to share the ball throughout most of the game and help his teammates establish a rhythm. But when it was time to close, it was Kobe time. Everyone would clear out and Kobe would normally seal the deal by destroying his opponent one on one. Without a doubt, the Mamba takes this one.
Rings - Even
Both players managed to win five NBA titles during their careers. Duncan won five with the Spurs while Bryant managed to do so with the Lakers. Duncan's five rings came with support from stability and an excellent system employed by Gregg Popovich. Joined by the likes of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and David Robinson, Duncan had a lot of help. But it was always Duncan who provided the impact on the game, on both ends of the floor, and will go down as the greatest Spur to ever play.
Similarly, Bryant had help in the form of Shaquille O'Neal, Pau Gasol, and Phil Jackson. But it was almost always Kobe Bryant who had to take all the pressure shots and would normally come through when it mattered most. Bryant also has a case for being the greatest player in his own franchise history, so this one is even.
Career - Kobe Bryant
Overall, when considering all the nuts and bolts of the comparison between two outstanding legends, Kobe Bryant has had a better career than Tim Duncan. While a case can clearly be made for Duncan, Kobe just had more impressive accomplishments to his name.
They each have 5 rings, but Kobe Bryant carried the Lakers to back to back titles in a league that featured the Big Three Celtics, a dominant Orlando Magic team, LeBron's Cavaliers, and even a strong Phoenix Suns team. Countless times, Bryant defeated 50-win teams in the playoffs and even got the better of the Tim Duncan-led Spurs a few times as well.
Bryant's high octane scoring, sustained dominance on the court, and memorable post-season performances slightly give him the edge over the first-ballot Hall of Famer Tim Duncan.