Cleveland Cavaliers

Who did more with less? 2009-10 Lebron or 2005-06 Kobe?

In the year of the Scheme Team, the collapse of the Cleveland Cavaliers this year has been well-documented. The Cavs just lost an NBA record 24th game in a row and now have the worst record in the NBA. This first to worst turnaround has caused a lot of folks to declare that Lebron was playing on one of the worst collections of talent assembed (or should be,  in some Bleacher Report overstatement, the “all-time mvp”)

As a Laker fan, I recall Kobe having perhaps his best season with the 2005-6 Lakers. That year, the Lakers finished as the 7th seed in the West and lost to the Phoenix Suns in a heartbreaking, come-from-ahead 7 game series. Kobe ‘s team that year was absolutely horrendous, with the likes of  NBA outcasts Smush Parker and Kwame Brown heading the starting lineup.  So the question is: who did more with less? It’s not as far fetched a comparison as you may think. Let’s check the facts.

1. Lebron’s Cavs won 16 more games than Kobe’s Lakers.

This is the first undisputable fact in any Kobe vs. Lebron comparison. Lebron’s Cavs finished with the best record (61-21) in the NBA for the 2009-10 season and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. Kobe’s Lakers scraped into the playoffs as a no. 7 seed (45-37).

2. Kobe was playing with a significantly worse roster.

The argument has been made that Kobe’s sidekick in 2005-2006 (Lamar Odom) was better than anyone that Lebron had. Even if that is true, the NEXT 8 matchups in their lineups favor Lebron.

Laker player Years in NBA Cavs Player Years in NBA Edge
Lamar Odom 6 Mo Williams 6 Edge: Lakers
Chris Mihm 5 Shaquille O’Neal 17 Edge: Cavs
Luke Walton 2 Antawn Jamison 11 Edge: Cavs
Smush Parker 2 Delonte West 5 Edge: Cavs
Devean George 6 Anthony Parker 6 Edge: Cavs
Aaron McKie 11 Jamario Moon 2 Edge: Cavs
Kwame Brown 4 Zydrunas Ilgauskus 11 Edge: Cavs
Jim Jackson 14 JJ Hickson 1 Edge: Cavs
Brian Cook 2 Anderson Varejao 5 Edge: Cavs

The chart above shows a significant talent gap between Kobe’s Lakers and Lebron’s Cavs. After Odom and Mo Williams, I tried to match up similar players/positions as closely as possible. The analysis above also doesn’t accurately describe the size of the edge within each individual matchup. Shaq, Jamison, Varejao, and West were all much better than their Laker counterparts. Amazingly, six of the players on the Lakers entire roster were completely out of the league by 2008: Smush Parker, Chris Mihm, Devin Green, Jim Jackson, Stanislav Medvedenko, and Laron Profit all had moved on. Four others: Luke Walton, Kwame Brown, Brian Cook, and Von Wafer were quickly relegated to the end of their respective team benches, and now sit in NBA obscurity. This collection of misfits accounts for 60% of the player roster for the Lakers in 2005-2006. And for those keeping score at home, I generously omitted the likes of other NBA greats like Sasha Vujacic, Ronny Turiaf, and Devean George.

3. The 2005-6 Western Conference was stronger than the 2009-10 Eastern Conference.

As with most of the last decade, the Western Conference in 2005-06 was well balanced and strong top to bottom. That year, 44 wins were required to enter in as an no. 8 seed, and only 1 team had less than 33 wins (the 21-win Jailblazers). Last year’s Eastern Conference was defined by a couple of very good teams (the Cavs, Celtics, and Magic), and a bunch of terrible squads. Six teams failed to win 33 games, with the New Jersey Nets posting one of the worst seasons in recent memory (12-70). On average, the 2005-06 Western Conference won 42.8 games per team, vs. 39.6 games for the 2009-10 Eastern Conference, an 8% win-loss discrepancy.

4.The Lakers overachieved in the playoffs that year. The Cavs underachieved.

If not for a lucky bounce to Tim Thomas in the waning moments of Game 6, the Lakers would have proceeded to Round 2 against the Clippers, with a very real shot at the Finals (remember, this was a team that matched up very well with the Mavericks). Even in losing, the Lakers pushed a Suns juggernaut well beyond what most experts believed possible. While it’s a given that last year’s Cavs were not as good as their regular season record may have indicated, their emotionless performance led to many still unanswered questions.

5. Lebron probably had a slight edge over Kobe in statistical performance.

Kobe: 35.4ppg, 5.3rpg, 4.4apg, 1.8spg, 0.4bpg

Lebron: 29.7ppg, 7.3rpg, 8.6apg, 1.6spg, 1.0bpg

In comparing Kobe vs. Lebron stats, Kobe averaged more points and steals, whereas Lebron came out on top in rebounds, assists, and blocks. It might be argued that Lebron was more efficient as his FG% was significantly higher than Bryant’s (50% vs. 45%), though his FT% and 3PT% were lower, and he had a higher turnover rate (3.4 vs. 3.1 per game). Whatever the case, it’s close. Both of these players had historically great seasons.

So who did more with less? Lebron, by a hair.

If we normalize Kobe’s win total for relative strength of conference, this suggests he would have won 8% more games, or 49 games in Lebron’s weaker Eastern Conference. Furthermore, we estimate the significant talent gap between the teams may have cost Kobe roughly 5-10 wins. If we take the average here (7.5), it would be reasonable to expect that with a similar supporting cast, Kobe would have won ~56-57 games. Not the 61 games that Lebron won, but not as far off as some of the media hype would leave you to believe. Taking into account the performance of their respective teams in the playoffs, the gap narrows even further.

Who do you think had the better year?


28 Responses to “Who did more with less? 2009-10 Lebron or 2005-06 Kobe?”

  1. you didnt write about lebrons elbow injury – maybe the reason why the cavs underachieved

    Posted by logan | February 6, 2011, 7:53 pm
  2. Kobe with that Cavs crew would have made the Finals, bare minimum.

    Posted by Gil Meriken | February 7, 2011, 12:01 pm
  3. Great article! You guys are really doing some fantastic work. It should also be noted that Mo Williams was an “all-star” that year, despite begging for that last spot. It should also be noted that you wrote “of of” on line 1 of Paragraph 4. Get it together, fire your editor.

    Posted by Dirty South | February 7, 2011, 1:24 pm
  4. Thanks for the heads up, Dirty. No thanks for asking for me to be fired.

    Posted by Brown Mamba | February 7, 2011, 3:35 pm
  5. I gotta ask. Why compare the 09-10 cavs with the 05-06 lakers? Wouldn’t it be better to compare the 05-06 lakers with the group lebron brought to the finals? Which i must add was worse than the group he had last year.

    Posted by coolsig5 | February 7, 2011, 4:49 pm
    • Coolsig5 — I made the comparison because I’ve heard a lot of folks comment on how amazing Lebron was for winning with the Cavs last year (and then having them lose 26 straight this year without him). My main point is that if you break down the years between him and Kobe, there wasn’t a lot of difference – so let’s be careful about giving him too much props for last year’s team.

      That being said, I agree, what he did to bring to Cavs to the Finals, was in short, probably the most amazing accomplishment of his career.

      Posted by Brown Mamba | February 9, 2011, 9:51 pm
      • The talent of the league was also very diluted the year that Lebron did that. The super teams did not start to come into existence until the next year. With only the Piston (probably forgetting someone else here) possessing a well-rounded team in the east.

        Posted by Jeff Hershey | February 12, 2011, 2:14 pm
        • Jeff — thanks for the comment. Yes, definitely agreed the East was weak that year. But I will give Lebron credit where credit is due here — he beat a Pistons team that he really had no business even being close to given the talent on his squad at that point. .probably the greatest achievement of his career to date.

          Posted by Brown Mamba | February 15, 2011, 12:13 am
      • Parker better thank George, Moon better than Mckie…And rookie Hickson better than Jim Jackson. How about stating who has the edge in coaching?

        Posted by adambe | October 13, 2015, 12:29 am
  6. This site is starting to annoy me…Not because I dont like the comparisons, but because the absolute wrong comparisons are being made and also I’m seeing #s thrown out without any kind of reference or process to how the numbers are created.

    “Furthermore, we estimate the significant talent gap between the teams may have cost Kobe roughly 5-10 wins.”

    Wha wha? All I see is a chart above saying who one person thinks is “better”. How do you calculate 5-10 wins? I’m not saying BS, but you cant just start assigning wins here/there and not tell anybody how you came up with that calculation.

    “If we normalize Kobe’s win total for relative strength of conference, this suggests he would have won 8% more games, or 49 games in Lebron’s weaker Eastern Conference”
    That is a really poor way to normalize given that Eastern/Western Conference have different schedules and you play more games in-division then out-division. Additionally, some teams just match up better with other teams. So without those factors, blindly attributing “8%” more wins to a given team because of conference is a farce. For example sake, I wouldnt give the Timberwolves 8% more wins no matter what conference they played in!

    Secondly, What LeBron supporters hold over Kobe supporters is that Kobe couldnt take a team that weak to the Finals like LeBron did.

    OBVIOUSLY even without statistical comparison the Cavs of last year were better than Kobe’s 2005-2006 squad. We dont need stats to compare those two teams. (and let me say,showing a chart about your opinion of whose a better player without any kind of PER or stat to say why or why not falls 100x below the standard of proof. The X players are out the league is a good point to note, so it should be relatively easy to point out how those players were terrible without Kobe and less terrible with Kobe).

    Overall, If you want to make this argument, then please go ahead and do a comparison of Kobe’s pre-Gasol rosters with LeBron’s roster when he won his 1st MVP but also when he went to the Finals.

    I’m a Laker fan, but I would be too ashamed to forward this on to friends as “evidence” proving this point or that point.

    I’m sorry if this was just a “conversation” starter blog-post. I dont mean to go off like this but I got exciting when I saw the story title and feel tremendously letdown now that I see the content of this article.

    Thanks for weighing the “general” hot stove issues, but I hope to see some more depth to these type of articles in the future.

    Posted by Korey | February 20, 2011, 1:36 pm
    • Korey — first of all, love the passion and the intelligent debate here! Let me respond to your points:

      1. Your statement about pulling the 5-10 wins from the talent gap out of thin air.

      You’re partially right here. I had no easy way of calculating precisely how Kobe’s lack of talent cost him in terms of victories (because frankly, none exists). That being said, I listed all the player match-ups because a quick glance would tell even many basketball novices that a huge discrepancy exists (i.e., do I really need PERs to tell me that Shaq was better than Mihm, or Jamison better than Walton?). What I was pretty sure of was that the difference was more than 2-3 games and less than 15-20, so I picked numbers I thought were fair without being overly conservative or aggressive. I would challenge you as to why you think my 5-10 educated guess seems wildly inaccurate (as you imply).

      2. Your concern for my normalization for conference strength.

      I’m not sure I see the major issue here. If teams in one conference typically won 8% more games than team in another conference within an intra-league set-up, I think it’s fair to draw some generalities from that. Add that to the fact the distribution in the West was much more balanced than the lopsided East. Of course, on a case by case basis, this may not hold, but at some point when you’re making comparisons across years, you need some benchmarks to apply. Finally, if your point is that this is skewed by the fact you play more in-conference games than out-of-conference, this is a valid point — however, statistically, it is not dramatic enough to significantly alter the results (if I have some time at a future date, I will post something further explaining why)

      3. Your concern about why I chose last year instead of when Lebron took the Cavs to the Finals.

      This was not really my argument. In fact, I stated as much several comments prior, acknowledging that Lebron’s performance that year was off the charts. To be honest, the reason I wrote the article was I got sick of people saying how great Lebron was for taking such an awful Cavs team to the best record last year. The truth of the matter is: that Cavs team was pretty good. They have been decimated this year by morale issues, injuries, and the fact the team was entirely constructed around one player.

      Posted by Brown Mamba | February 20, 2011, 9:58 pm
      • BM,
        Thanks for the response. I will say I do like that this blog’s posters seem to respond to reader commentary so I dig that. I’m a basketball junkie and I’ve had so many arguments about hoop that I have a very low tolerance for WEAK arguments. My tolerance is probably so low that I probably jump the gun a lot…

        But back to the points…

        #1. I wholeheartedly agree that if the Lakers were in the East, they would win more games those years. In fact, I’ve argued that many times on behalf of the Lakeshow. BUT, 5-10 wins is just what you said: “a guess”. I wont say that’s “educated” because there is nothing you’ve shown that QUANTIFIES that they will be better while we all agree qualitatively that that team would be better (I hope I’m not talking in circles here).

        My main problem is that you just cant define how many wins a team should get +/- based on conference or division. Good teams would be good in whatever conference (Spurs). Bad teams would be bad wherever (TWolves). It’s just a flawed way to look at things when you apply it to any team in the league.

        There are so many silly variables involved that the project process is ridiculous (e.g. Why do the Lakers always seem to SUCK on Sunday games? What’s up with losing to the Bobcats all the time? Or @ Portland?). Unfortunately, there is no formula to calculate those variables or account for nightlife in LA or the frustration of the 405 freeway.

        However, I’d be more comfortable if there was just a first-pass analysis here: Project the strength of each team based off Points Per Minute, PER, or whatever for each NBA team, then go through the schedule and then project the wins/losses based off schedule. I’m not saying publish a master’s thesis here, but I am saying that the average # of wins per conference just seems way too handwavy (although I’d probably agree with the conclusion of maybe 7 extra wins).

        Honestly, It’d be interesting (if not better) to just show what the Lakers Eastern Conference Seed would be that year and kind of evaluate what kind of playoff run they could’ve seen. Doing that way, we stay in the realm of conjecture so the reader doesnt get duped into thinking that there are all kind of behind the scenes formulas going on when there really isnt.

        BTW, I just saw that the Lakers would’ve been the 5th seed that year and would’ve played…guess who?…THE CAVS 1st round! And that’s the natural comparison that we were asking for anyway right? You could do the analysis of that series for IF the Lakers had homecourt (they finished 4 games behind the Cavs, so 5-10 more wins?) or IF they didnt (it’s really hard to project victories…Where’s John Hollinger when you need him?).

        Anyway, that’s all I got for now. #2 is kinda like #1, so I’ll spare you the novel, and #3 yea I agree with you.

        OK, I cant help myself. I compare that Cavs team last year to the Iverson team in 2001. Sure it looks like it’s 1 superstar surrounded by a bunch of sorry players BUT when you dig deep on those teams you see they found the “magic” role players to #1 Do Dirty Work and not really demand the ball, #2 Play Defense, Take Charges and #3 let the superstar make all the plays for what I call the modern day age of stat inflation. (i.e. Teams dont run offenses, they give the ball P/R to their star all game, so the dude ends up with crazy assists, crazy points, and stat stuffing. (See, Chris Duhon, Raymond Felton, and heck, I’ll say it CP3, LeBron! This is me “Kobe Lovin”, but the Lakers run a real offense, so Kobe isnt typically going to have 28pts, 10 assts a night since the offense just isnt set up that way until very late in games where they go Kobe/Pau pick and roll…)

        Okay , now I’m done.

        Posted by Korey | February 21, 2011, 9:05 pm
  7. DFJ -obviously your brain is the size of a pea, but that is another topic for another day.

    My point was, how can you say Kobe with Lebron’s Cavs could have made the finals last year when Lebron lost to a Celtics team than Kobe could BARELY beat with Gasol, Artest, Odom, Bynum. Kobe would have gotten bounced in the 2nd round, just like Lebron

    Posted by beant0wnlove | February 24, 2011, 12:15 am
  8. Great read and interesting article especially being that I followed Kobe’s season that year watching every game and reading every article…So it’s refreshing that someone actually made an argument about how horrible Kobe’s teammates were that year and the fact that the WEST was stacked with Phoenix, Dallas, and Spurs.

    With that said, I think what could be a great article is indepth analysis of how is it that Lebron and the CAVs of last year can have a better winning year than the Lebron/Wade/Bosh with the Heat of this year when it’s widely stated that a) the CAVs had no “REAL” players to help Lebron – essentially he had all scrubs, b) this year he’s playing with 2 other franchise stars in their prime, yet they’re losing against better teams and choking in the closing moments, and c) that the biggest argument for Lebron-Lovers and Kobe-Haters that Lebron makes his teammates better.

    So it’s just perplexing that now Lebron has great help (i.e. no excuses) yet they would have to win 18 of the remaining 19 games to match the CAVs record from last year…Doesn’t something seem off?

    Lastly, it should also be greated stated that when the Lakers acquired Pau in mid-season, they’ve been in the finals every season since given the great parity of talent in the WEST and in that year, they’re were projected as 7-8th spot playoff team at best…And please don’t forget that Pau has never won a playoff game before playing with Kobe whereas Kobe has won without Pau.

    Just wanted to throw that thought out there…thanks.

    Posted by Ethan_B | March 8, 2011, 9:24 pm
    • Ethan — thanks for the comment and sorry for the late response. It some sense, I think people underestimate the job the Cavs did in building a team around Lebron that catered very specifically to his skills. They almost did too good of a job, as evidenced from the fact that when he left, the team really collapsed.

      My expectations are that the Heat this offseason will add some depth to their team and have had a season to play together, I would consider it a big disappointment if this team fully healthy didn’t win 62-66 games next year.

      Posted by Brown Mamba | April 2, 2011, 10:38 pm
  9. I will say Kobe by far did more with less. In fact that roster outside of Kobe may go down as one of the all time worst rosters in NBA history. The best argument made by the article is the number of players who were actually out of the league within two years, the other players were at the tail end of their benches, and the players who are still significant sans Odom are bench players at best but were then much less experienced with lower basketball IQ. And as much as I love Odom he is NOT a player you can count on game to game as a second scoring option.
    Lebron’s team last year however actually had a lot of talent. Mo williams was playing excellent at a high confidence level, they had guys that could create their own shot at 3 postions and had a tremendous shooting cast as when big Z was on the floor they could hit an ouside jumpshot consistently at every position. The team was built perfectly around Lebron’s style of game (hold, penetrate, kick, or rund pick and roll.) with all the shooters it gave him tremendous space to operate and made it extremely dangerous to double team.
    Now back to Kobe, he was playing on a team with NO consistent outside threat as vujacic did not even have a big role on that team and his two best big men outside of odem were both terrible offensive players with horrible hands. To me is amazing he could even average that many assists. Now factor in the lack of fear for the outside shooting and it becomes easy for teams to double and triple team Kobe. His volume of shots taken was very high because he was their only legitimate scoring option but to be able to score at that volume while constantly playing under that much pressure and turn it into a very nice season, almost winning 50 games is a remarkable accomplishment which to me stands out as the best regular season of any single player this decade.

    Posted by BQ32 | March 30, 2011, 7:22 am
    • BQ32 — thanks for the read and the comment. I even didn’t actually realize how bad that Lakers team was until I researched it for this article. It was absolutely horrendous. No wonder Kobe had a meltdown just a season later…

      Posted by Brown Mamba | April 2, 2011, 10:45 pm
  10. Korey, Ethan_B, and BQ32 make great points.

    The only thing that I want to say even though it has kind of been addressed already is that LeBron’s teammates are much better than Kobe’s were. First of all Cleveland for the last two years have had better records than Heat this year. So obviously LeBron’s teammates were not bad, and they were perfect for their roles.

    As for Kobe’s teammates, three words…Smush, Kwame, and Cook. The team was built on players that would get no serious play on anyother franchise, ie Smush, Cook, George…, in addition to failed or damaged goods, Kwame, Mihm. Walton had his moments, and Odom failed as the number two guy. This was the Lakers team. All the minutes going to guys who were miscast in there roles and in positions where they could not produce as much as they should.

    Posted by Hakeem the Dream | March 30, 2011, 12:31 pm
  11. man, how is this brown mamba guy an editor, why dont we compare kobes rookie season to lebrons first mvp season and see who had a better year (note the sarcasm) why not compare kobes 05=06 year to the year lebron lead his team to the finals, in those years they both had lesser talent.

    Posted by samtotheg | April 6, 2011, 12:18 pm
  12. I think some of you are pushing it with the compliments of the Cavs catering to LBJ’s talents. Although that team was constructed and the end result were wins and high statistical performances from LBJ, in comparison, MJ had a small forward who was not only a top 10 player, but an efficient scorer, playmaker, and elite if not top defender. He also had the best #3 in the league in Rodman, who topped the league in rebounds, could defend anyone from 1-5(defended Shaq unlike anyone else), and who grinded for the ball, was on the floor etc etc. Im not even gonna bring up that they had the most successful coach to date, plus underrated Ron Harper Kukoc and many other shooters. The end result? 6 MORE REGULAR SEASON WINS than 08-09 Cavs! More importantly, a title. So while those Cavs fit Lebron’s playstyle, that organization wasnt nearly as close to the Bulls of the 90’s, Spurs or Lakers of the 2000’s, and since they were successful championship teams, shouldnt we be comparing Lebron’s lineups to those teams rather than a Lakers team with an uber-scorer and not much else? What do I take from this? Lebron’s overall play is amazing and un-equaled in NBA history. You say that team was catered to him, I say they were all glorified bench players that while on Lebron’s team thrived because of the plays he made. A true starter can hold his starting spot on another roster, who’s doing that who played with Lebron? Not Varajao, not Mo Williams, Drew Gooden, Pavlovic, Delonte West, none of em. People REALLY forget, Bball is a team sport. With anything more than sub-par supporting cast, the Cavs wouldve been more successful. Lebron was a Pippen, Rodman, Phil Jackson, Shaq, Pau, Bynum, just 1 of those away from becoming a champion. Lets not forget, when Jordan retired the 1st time, ppl assumed the Bulls would lose atleast 15 more games. They lost 2 games.

    Posted by L | October 30, 2012, 12:11 pm
  13. Agreed … the Cavs team LeBron took to the Finals was probably the worst Finals supporting casts in history …

    Posted by Ken | October 30, 2012, 2:36 pm

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