It’s Lebron, and it’s not that close.
Kobe fools casuals into thinking he’s a great defender because he has 12x All-Def selections. In his early years, especially 1999–2003 he was a very solid defender but after that, he started slacking off on defense. A lot of these All-Def selections were not deserved, and based on his reputation.
In fact, Phil Jackson even says in his book The Last Season, that Kobe was an overrated defender and shouldn’t have gotten those All-Def selections. That’s his own coach!
In 2005, Shaq is no longer on the Lakers and the Lakers drop to the bottom in defensive rating with Kobe being the main star on the team. If he was a great defender why did this happen?
In his later years, Kobe was negligible on defense and literally bottom of the league in DBAPM. Lots of proof out there of Kobe’s overrated defense.
^ Here’s Iverson outscoring Kobe 51 to 25.. remember this is Nuggets Iverson, when he was past his prime.
^ Melo would routinely get 40+ points on him
^ Manu getting 30 points on Kobe
^ Rip Hamilton getting 30 points on Kobe
^ Jason Terry hitting a record 9 3pointers on the Lakers in 2011 2nd round Game 4 to close out the series
^ Cuttino Mobley and Steve Francis getting a combined 73 on the Lakers
^ Bonzi wells getting 29 on the Lakers
Here’s old Latrell Sprewell outscoring Kobe 27 to 20..
Here’s Gilbert Arenas dropping his career high 60 on Kobe
Here’s Jeremy Lin dropping his career high 38 on Kobe
^ Here’s Stephon Marbury getting his career high 50 on the Lakers
^ Here’s Allan Houston getting his career high 53 on the Lakers
^ here’s Brandon Roy getting 30+ on Kobe
Here’s post injury Penny Hardaway schooling Kobe..
Here’s Jalen Rose who averaged 8 PPG more than Kobe on 10% better efficiency in the 2000 Finals
Of course, Lebron almost always prevails in their head to head matchups. Head to head, Lebron outscores Kobe by 4 PPG on 4% better efficiency – see
Here’s Kobe basically just standing around letting guys get to the basket…
So yeah there’s TONS of evidence of Kobe not being able to lockdown his defensive assignments. Kobe fans always say he’s a lockdown defender and I haven’t seen it. Every guy that matches up with him gets their career average or better on him. Heck 4 guys I mentioned got their career HIGHS on him. Chauncey Billups and Paul Pierce won Finals MVP being guarded by him. So how’s he an elite defender?
Meanwhile for Lebron, he has actually locked down players at every position
In his prime Lebron guarded every position and locked guys down from Paul Pierce to Paul George.
And unlike Kobe, who got absolutely clamped down by Tayshaun Prince in the 2004 Finals (22 PPG on 38%) and Tony Allen in the 2008 Finals (25 PPG on 40%) and old Jason Kidd in 2011 (22 PPG), Lebron never got locked down by anybody. People who say that Terry and Barea supposedly ‘limited’ Lebron can never show me the footage. Lebron shot 48% in the 2011 Finals, so I don’t know who was locking him down. Kawhi won Finals MVP for supposedly ‘locking down’ Lebron in the 2014 Finals but Lebron still averaged 28 PPG on 57% that series. Iggy won Finals MVP for supposedly ‘locking down’ Lebron in the 2015 Finals but Lebron still averaged 35 PPG that Finals. So nobody could lock down Lebron, while Kobe has definitely been locked down before.
^ even an older 35 year old Lebron played great lockdown defense on Jamal Murray, a player who had frustrated Kawhi and PG (both considered great defenders) in the previous round in the 2020 playoffs.
So yeah, it’s totally a myth that Kobe was a great defender. People just look at Kobe’s 12x All-Def and Lebron’s 6x All-Def and think oh Kobe’s a better defender. They don’t look at what actually happened in games and whether or not Kobe deserved those All Def selections.
Kobe’s defense, much like his offense (his ‘scoring explosions’ in the regular season didn’t translate to the playoffs where his high was only 50pts and he rarely had 40+ pt games) and his clutch ability (22 PPG in elimination games, 40% shooting in the Finals, 7/28 on go ahead buckets in the last 24s of playoff games), and the overall player himself, is overrated.