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Kobe Bryant vs. Tim Duncan Comparison: Who Had The Better Career?

Kobe Bryant vs. Tim Duncan Comparison: Who Had The Better Career?

Kobe Bryant suited up at the shooting guard position, and Tim Duncan spent his time dominating in the frontcourt. Bryant played under the bright lights of Hollywood in front of diamond-laced celebrities for the big-market Lakers. Duncan wowed the boots and jeans fans in the shadows of small-market San Antonio. Kobe spoke his mind, famously calling out his teammates during practices and laying into Purple and Gold management when they didn’t surround him with a championship-caliber roster. Duncan was a soft-spoken giant who watched the world with equanimity.

Kobe and Duncan were about as different as two basketball players could be, yet they were also incredibly similar. Both players came into the league during the late 90s and found immediate success. Each man grinded as hard as possible during practices, after games, and throughout the offseason perfecting their talents, transforming from mere All-Stars to generational athletes. Kobe and Duncan also played through pain and injuries, doing whatever it took to hang a banner for their organization.

Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan took over the NBA for over a decade, each winning a handful of championships and amassing a stocked trophy case full of hardware.

Below we’ll break down Kobe and Duncan’s career achievements and decide who had the most successful career.

NBA Championships

Kobe Bryant: 5 (2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2010)

Finals Record: 5-2

Tim Duncan: 5 (1999, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2014)

Finals Record: 5-1

Kobe Bryant, 21, began the Lakers’ three-peat in 2000, teaming up with Shaq, Glen Rice, Ron Harper, A. C. Green, Derek Fisher, and Robert Horry to storm the NBA with the league’s top defense. Bryant, more known for his scoring prowess, hounded opposing guards on the perimeter, while Shaq, also more known for his offensive exploits, terrorized opposing centers on the less fun end.

The Lakers hung their second banner in 2001 as Bryant and Shaq dominated the league, each averaging over 28.0 points per game. Rick Fox and Horace Grant joined the squad along with Isaiah Rider, supplying the Purple and Gold with veteran toughness.

The Lakers finished their three-peat in 2002 with a depleted starting unit, featuring Lindsey Hunter, Samaki Walker, and Rick Fox surrounding Shaq and Kobe. Bryant’s perimeter greatness and Shaq’s inside dominance were enough to get the Purple and Gold over the hump one last time.

Kobe’s fourth title came in 2009 with an overhauled Lakers roster. Pau Gasol was in, and Shaq was out. Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza, Andrew Bynum, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, and Luke Walton joined the Purple and Gold’s two incumbents, Kobe and Fish, to take down the Orlando Magic in the finals.

Kobe Bryant won his fifth title in 2010, topping the Boston Celtics in seven games during the finals. Kobe, 31, ruled the postseason, averaging 29.2 PPG, 6.0 RPG, and 5.5 APG as the Lakers stomped through the Western Conference, only losing two games before taking down their east coast rivals.

Tim Duncan won his first championship in 1998-99 alongside David Robinson, forming San Antonio’s still famous “Twin Towers.” Duncan and Robinson dominated the league with their defense, creating an impenetrable wall in the interior and giving opposing teams fits throughout the regular season and the playoffs.

Tim Duncan won his second title in 2003 after watching Kobe and Shaq three-peat. Duncan’s second title squad featured David Robinson in a reduced role with new imports Tony Parker, Stephen Jackson, Bruce Bowen, and Manu Ginobili forming an excellent two-way core.

Tim Duncan took down his third championship two years later in 2005. This version of Spurs saw David Robinson in retirement as Robert Horry and Rasho Nesterovic joined the squad to offer Duncan frontcourt support. At the same time, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Brent Barry provided perimeter shot-making and passing, and Bruce Bowen played top-tier All-Defensive Team perimeter D.

Tim Duncan, 30, won his fourth title in 2007 behind one of the staunchest defenses the league had seen since the Bad Boy Pistons. Tim Duncan anchored the ship as the best rim protector in the association, and Bruce Bowen took on the opposing squad’s best perimeter option nightly, hounding his assignments into submission. Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Brent Barry, and Robert Horry were still part of the Spurs core, joined by Michael Finley, who supplied supplementary off-the-dribble scoring.

Tim Duncan won his fifth and final championship at age 37 during the 2013-14 season. The Spurs were the ultimate team, with Tony Parker leading in nightly points at a modest 16.7 points per game. San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich relied on an extremely deep roster—T. Parker, T. Duncan, K. Leonard, M. Ginobili, M. Belinelli, P. Mills, B. Diaw, D. Green, C. Joseph, and T. Splitter—to rack up wins and help a hobbled Duncan win it all for the last time.

Advantage: Even

Finals MVP Awards

Kobe Bryant: 2 (2009,2010)

Tim Duncan: 3 (1999, 2003, 2005)

After watching teammate Shaq win three Finals MVP Awards through the Lakers’ turn of the century three-peat, Kobe Bryant won back-to-back Finals MVP trophies during the Purple and Gold’s 2009 and 2010 championship runs. Kobe was at the height of his powers in the 2009 finals, averaging 32.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.4 SPG, and 1.4 BPG across 43.8 minutes nightly as the Purple and Gold smothered the Orlando Magic 4 to 1. In 2010, Bryant led the Lakers and Celtics in scoring, putting up 28.6 PPG against Boston’s vaunted defense along with 8.0 RPG, 3.9 APG, 2.1 SPG, and 0.7 BPG as LA won in a hard-fought seventh game.

Tim Duncan won his first of three Finals MVP Awards during his second season in the league. He led the 1999 Spurs to the title in five games against the Knicks, averaging a series-high 27.4 PPG and 14.0 RPG along with 2.4 APG, 1.0 SPG, and 2.2 BPG as he bullied New York with his interior defense. The Big Fundamental won his second Finals MVP Award in 2003, averaging 24.2 PPG, 17.0 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.0 SPG, and 5.3 BPG against the New Jersey Nets in what was one of the greatest two-way destructive showcases in NBA finals history. Tim Duncan won his third Finals MVP trophy in 2005 against the Detroit Pistons by putting up 20.6 PPG, 14.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.4 SPG, and 2.1 BPG.

Advantage: Tim Duncan

NBA MVP Awards

Kobe Bryant: 1 (2008)

Tim Duncan: 2 (2002, 2003)

Kobe Bryant loses this battle with Tim Duncan 2-1, but in the 2005-06 season, he was robbed by the league of an MVP trophy in ridiculous fashion. During 2005-06 Kobe averaged a league-high 35.4 PPG along with 5.3 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.8 SPG, and 0.4 BPG as he dragged his Lakers squad featuring starters Smush Parker, Chris Mihm, Kwame Brown, and Lamar Odom into the playoffs with a 45-37 record.

Smush Parker, Chris Mihm, and Kwame Brown!!!!!

Kobe Bryant lost the MVP Award to Steve Nash despite besting him in WS, PER, VORP, BPM, PPG, RPG, SPG, and BPG.

Black Mamba won his one and only MVP Award in 2007-08, averaging 28.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.8 SPG, and 0.5 BPG for the 57-25 Lakers.

Tim Duncan put up his best overall numbers in 2001-02, averaging 25.5 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 3.7 APG, 0.7 SPG, and 2.5 BPG while leading the league in total win shares at a massive 17.8. Tim won the MVP Award with 57 first-place votes over second-place Jason Kidd (45 first-place votes). The Big Fundamental took down his second MVP trophy the following season, edging out Kevin Garnett, as he averaged 23.3 PPG, 12.9 RPG, 3.9 APG, 0.7 SPG, 2.9 BPG, and a league-high 16.5 WS.

Advantage: Tim Duncan

All-NBA Teams

Kobe Bryant: 15 (11 First Team, 2 Second Team, 2 Third Team)

Tim Duncan: 15 (10 First Team, 3 Second Team, 2 Third Team)

Kobe Bryant was selected All-NBA First Team 11 times, All-NBA Second Team twice, and All-NBA Third Team twice. Kobe Bryant was named All-NBA First Team three consecutive seasons from 2002 through 2004, averaging a massive 26.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1.8 SPG, and 0.6 BPG. In 2005 he dropped to All-NBA Third Team before going on a ridiculous eight-year All-NBA First Team run between 2006 and 2013 while accruing a whopping 91.7 win shares along with 28.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.5 SPG, and 0.4 BPG.

Tim Duncan was selected All-NBA First Team ten times, All-NBA Second Team three times, and All-NBA Third Team twice. The Big Fundamental made an unprecedented run of All-NBA First Team selections, getting named one of the league’s best big men nine times in a row between 1998 through 2007. During that span, he played 666 games averaging 22.1 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 3.1 APG, 0.8 SPG, and 2.5 BPG as he amassed a league-high 65.9 defensive win shares. Tim Duncan played a two-way, mistake-free style of basketball that twisted the axis of the league directly over San Antonio.

Advantage: Even

All-Star Selections

Kobe Bryant: 18 All-Star Appearances, 4 All-Stare Game MVPs

Tim Duncan: 15 All-Star Appearances, 1 All-Stare Game MVP

Tim Duncan was selected to the All-Star team 15 times throughout his career, making the squad every year of his prime except during the 1998-99 season when the league canceled the event due to the NBA lockout. Tim Duncan won one All-Star MVP Award in 2000, notching 24 points, 14 rebounds, and 4 assists across 33 minutes as he helped the Western Conference fend off their east coast counterparts.

Kobe Bryant was an All-Star during 18 of his 20 seasons. He made the team 17 years in a row between 1999-20 through 2015-16, his last year in the association. Kobe, the ultimate competitor, won four All-Star MVP trophies. His best showing came during the 2011 NBA mid-season classic as he put up 37 points, 14 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals in only 29 minutes as his Western Conference squad earned the victory.

Advantage: Kobe Bryant

All-Defensive Teams

Kobe Bryant: 12 (9 First Team, 3 Second Team)

Tim Duncan: 15 (8 First Team, 7 Second Team)

Kobe Bryant was selected All-Defensive First Team nine times throughout his career, and he was named All-Defensive Second Team during three seasons. Kobe prided himself on his two-way play and hounded his perimeter assignments with a relentless fury rarely seen in the NBA. Kobe often had the highest usage rate on the Lakers, and despite the way his heart wanted to break through his ribs and crawl out of his chest at the end of games, he ignored the pain and dug in, shutting down the opposing team’s best offensive option night after night during his 20-year career.

Tim Duncan is one of the best defenders to lace them up in the NBA. He came into the league, a 21-year-old rookie, and promptly harassed his counterparts into submission, claiming his first of seven All-Defensive Second Team selections. The Big Fundamental was also chosen for eight All-Defensive First Teams from 1999 through 2008. Duncan didn’t look as ripped as Dwight Howard or Karl Malone, but he had a natural strength centered in his core, which made him an immovable force in the lane against opposing big men. He also had excellent timing and court awareness that allowed him to protect the rim for the San Antonio Spurs.

Advantage: Tim Duncan

Total Win Shares

Kobe Bryant: 172.7 WS

Tim Duncan; 206.4 WS

Win Shares is a statistic that tries to allocate a team’s wins for each player on the roster. For example, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar owns the single-season record for Win Shares with 25.4 during 1971-72 on a Milwaukee Bucks team that won 63 games. Kareem is credited with 25.4 of those wins.

Kobe Bryant piled up 172.7 Win Shares for his career, which lands him 19th all time. Kobe topped out at 15.3 Win Shares during the 2005-06 season, but he never led the league in this advanced stat because his 32.9 three-point percentage dragged down his efficiency in an otherwise sparkling offensive career.

Tim Duncan lands 7th all-time in Win Shares with a whopping 206.4 throughout 1,392 games. Tim Duncan led the league in total Win Shares twice in 2002 (17.8 WS) and 2003 (16.5 WS). He built up his massive WS totals on the less glamorous end, picking up 106.34 Defensive Win Shares, the second-best mark in the NBA’s history.

Advantage: Tim Duncan

Career Player Efficiency Rating (PER)

Kobe Bryant: 22.9 PER

Tim Duncan; 24.2 PER

Player Efficiency Rating, better known as PER, is a statistic created by John Hollinger that’s goal is to give each NBA player a comprehensive rating. Hollinger’s PER metric is unique because it combines a player’s positive and negative contributions on the court.

For comparison’s sake, Michael Jordan is first all-time in PER at 27.91, Karl-Anthony Towns is 10th all-time with a 24.80 PER, and Stephen Curry lands 20th all-time at 23.84 PER.

Kobe Bryant’s 22.9 career PER mark puts him 28th in the NBA’s history. Kobe Bryant was a dominant force throughout his career. Still, he only had an effective field goal percentage of over 50% during four of his 20 seasons, and he only shot at an above league-average clip from deep during two of his 20 seasons, which dragged his efficiency marks down slightly.

Tim Duncan’s 24.2 PER places him 17th all-time. Duncan’s massive career rebound percentages (26.5 DRB%) and block numbers (4.6 BLK%) give him a PER boost. Timmy also ended his career with an efficient 50.7 eFG% and a 55.1 true shooting percentage, both excellent numbers for a center who only took 31.0% of his career shots at the rim.

Advantage: Tim Duncan

Final Score

Kobe Bryant vs. Tim Duncan 1-5

Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant were two of the best to lace them up from the late 90s through the start of the new century. Each player won 5 titles, and even though Tim Duncan is the winner of our head-to-head battle against Bryant, this was a much closer competition than the 5 to 1 final score shows.

Tim Duncan edged Kobe in Finals MVP Awards 3 to 2 and won the regular-season MVP race 2 to 1, but Kobe was robbed during the 2005-06 season that saw him lead the league in scoring at 35.4 PPG.

Tim Duncan also edges Kobe in All-Defensive selections 15 to 12 and wins the advanced stat battle with more Win Shares and a slightly better PER.

Duncan and Kobe are all-time greats who played some of the best two-way basketball in the NBA’s history.


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