Duncan vs Kobe: Post Jordan Legacy Battle

By tamir1515
Jul. 18, 2016

The 2015-2016 season has come to an end.  As one superstar ascended to the Mount Rushmore debate (see my Lebron James post ) 2 All Time Greats played their last games.  Both retired in ways that epitomized their respective careers. 

Kobe self proclaimed "Black Mamba" pretended to not want a farewell tour...but eventually "gave in" as he led the mighty Los Angeles Lakers to a 17 win debacle of a final season.  He relished in the admiration (and who can blame him) as he flashed his smiled in every away city he went to while he "rested - DNP" during home games of the fans that supported him throughout his tumultuous career (it should have been the other way around).  Duncan "the big fundamental" didn't say a word about retiring until well after the Spurs 67 win season was over at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2nd round of the Playoffs.  No farewell tour, no hoopla.  Just typical Timmy.  Kobe's last game, again epitomized his career; gaudy numbers in a meaningless fashion.  A 60 point performance on 22 of 50 shot attempts (and 6 of 21 from 3's.  Not even Steph Curry jacks up that many).  Duncan's last game?  His best performance of the 2016 playoffs.  19 pt on 7 of 14 shooting.  

Kobe always talked about winning.  People attribute that "do anything to win" attitude to Kobe.  While Duncan put his money where his mouth is...almost literally.  In 2015 Kobe signed a 2 year $49 million contract following a torn Achilles tendon, essentially handcuffing the Lakers into a 21 win season followed by a 17 win season.  Kobe took a "pay cut" but ensured he would still be the highest paid player in the NBA.  Similar to when he drove Shaq out of town only to watch that years entire playoffs from his couch.  Tim Duncan's last 4 years?  $9.6m, $10.4m, $10m, $5m.  That's $35 million.  He allowed the Spurs to continue to be relevant in the twilight of his career and likely set them up for the future.

Both players won 5 championships. Both are All Time Greats. Both lay claim to the Post Jordan Era Mount Rushmore (along with Shaq and Lebron), but which one had a better career? Which one has a more impressive Legacy. The stats we usually hear have them neck and neck. But whats the truth?

Here are the basics.  Most of which you've seen already.  Some things that stick out. Duncan wins 72% of his games played.  Kobe wins 63%.  Duncan's worst season is an astonishing 60% win %age (that's only 3% less than Kobe's average).  Kobe's worst season?  21%.  Duncan's teams made the playoffs every year he played (though he didn't play in 1 due to injury).  Kobe's teams missed the playoffs 4x in his career (including in the prime of his career).  Duncan received at least 1 MVP vote in 16 of 19 years (84% of career).  Kobe in 13 of 20 years (65% of career).  

But let's dig a little deeper.  At this level of the discussion; the All Time greatest level of discussion, clutch matters.  How did these players perform as games were more important.  My ranking of game importance is as follows (from least important to most important)

As you can see below...in almost a perfect inverse result Kobe scores more and shoots better in less important games and scores less and shoots worse in more important games.  25.0 ppg in Regular Season shooting 44.7%.  21.4 ppg in Game 7's shooting 39.5%.  And Duncan almost the exact opposite.  His gets better as games get more important.  19 ppg in Regular Season at 50.6%, and 25.9 ppg in Game 7's at 50.7%.  Its a common misconception that Kobe is a "killer", is "clutch", is the guy that performs when games matter the most.  The stats prove the opposite.   There are many sites and blogs that talk about his crunchtime stats.  What about crunchtime games?  

What is an all time great legacy without Memorable Moments.  More importantly the best players of all time have memorable "IMPORTANT" moments.  Lebron NBA Finals leading both teams in Pts, Reb, Ast, Stl, and Blks (never been done in NBA history in any series yet alone NBA finals).  Jordan...too many to list but they are almost all in Playoffs related like 63 vs Birds Celtics.  The shot on Cleveland.  The 6 3's in a half vs Portland (shrug game).  The Flu game vs Utah.  The final Shot vs Utah.  The hand switch layup vs Lakers.  The 41 ppg vs the Phoenix Suns, etc etc etc.   Magic had the 42pt 15reb, 7 ast NBA Finals clinching game 6 as a rookie and the Famous baby hook vs the Celtics.  Larry Bird had the steal on Thomas.  His mid air hand switch rebound to layup in the 1981 playoffs.  1987 game 7 eastern conference championship 39pt triple double.  Game 7 shootout vs Dominique.  etc. etc.  Shaq had 3 dominating NBA Finals...35.9 ppg and 15.2 rpg in those 3 Lakers Finals.  His near quadruple double in game 2 of the 2001 NBA Finals 28 points, 20 rebounds, 9 assists and 8 blocks.  All the greats have had memorable moments or games in the playoffs...what about Kobe and Duncan...lets google it.

Kobe.  His most memorable moments were mostly in meaningless regular season games; 60 points on 44% shooting in his final game of a 17 win regular season.  His 81 points vs Toronto.  62 points in 3 quarters vs the Mavericks.  And some of his most memorable Playoff moments were bad ones (5 airball vs Jazz, Game 7 vs Boston Celtics, etc)

Duncan.  Has many moments that should be memorable had played for a team not named the San Antonio Spurs.   

In Conclusion.

2 all time greats.  1 just a little greater.  Duncan is the best Power Forward of all time (and its not debatable).  Kobe is the 2nd best Shooting Guard of all time (and its not debatable).  But as far as legacies go?  I believe Kobe's legacy is defined but his accumulation of stats and the confusing legacy he self promoted as being a clutch ice cold killer (since he was neither clutch, and only a killer of teammates).  Kobe's legacy is defined by his work ethic (which is more than well deserved).  Duncan's legacy is that of consistency.  of Winning.  of Sacrificing.  of "team 1st".  Secretly ask any GM in basketball if you can have Duncan the last 20 years or Kobe, they would overwhelmingly pick Duncan.

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