Wade vs. Kobe: The Crescendo of a Rivalry Meets Its Finale

Insight7 years ago6 min readGiancarlo Navas

Tonight could be the final time that Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant play NBA basketball in Miami. The two are all-time greats, and not just the “you were really good and fun to watch” kind of great. They were the kind of great that shaped modern basketball.

They would steal All-NBA spots from each other and alternated hogging championships from everyone not named Tim Duncan. They dominated the league to the tune of winning 8 of the 19 available championships since 1996 (the year Kobe was drafted). That’s 42%, almost half, by two players. To push this narrative even further, they have been in 12 of the 19 finals since 1996. That is 63%. Again, let that number sink in. Wade and Kobe have been in 63% of all NBA finals since 1996.

So while the two have been exceptional, I wanted to look at them compared to each other. I think the general consensus around basketball is that Kobe is the second greatest shooting guard who ever lived. And third is usually occupied by Dwyane or sometimes Jerry West.

The Heat fans that say outright that Kobe is better have a feeling deep, deep, deep down inside that Dwyane is better and is just undervalued — or at least that’s what I think they feel anyways.

Well, I am here to help! Not necessarily to put this discussion to bed, but rather to take a look at the two and appreciate how great they were compared to each other.

I wanted to look at the peaks of Wade’s and Kobe’s careers because Kobe never started during his rookie season and his drop off as of late isn’t an accurate representation of his greatness.

So we define Kobe’s peak from the 2000-2001 season to the 2012-2013 season. As for Wade, from the 2004-2005 NBA season to the 2014-2015 NBA season. The first thing I wanted to look at was Dwyane’s and Kobe’s RPM (Real Plus Minus) numbers during their prime.

To steal from ESPN’s website, RPM is “player’s estimated on-court impact on team performance, measured in net point differential per 100 offensive and defensive possessions. RPM takes into account teammates, opponents, and additional factors.”

Basically, it’s a fancy +/- stat that is not only adjusted for pace but also isolates individual performances. The problem with standard +/- is how there are too many variables to affect it (things units played with or against and pace). Here is a more detailed explanation on the stat.

Below we have Wade and Kobe’s RPM for their primes and it is further broken down to DRPM (defensive real plus minus) and ORPM (offensive real plus minus), so we have isolated both ends of the floor and their contributions on it.

As you can see Kobe has been the better offensive player, posting an ORPM of 5.18 compared to Wade’s 4.59. The defensive number is more interesting; Kobe has a -0.55 rating which is pretty awful. During that span, Kobe made 9 All NBA 1st or 2nd teams, taking the first place spot away from Wade twice.  

Next let’s look at how the two look efficiency wise. I have charted each season they have played in the window of years I previously described by True Shooting % vs. Usage %. The relationship between TS% and USG% is fun; the idea is that the more you shoot the less efficient you will be. Factors like fatigue and shot selection play into that. If a player is tasked with carrying the offense, the shots he will have to take might not be the best. High usage players cannot only shoot open shots, they have to play make and maybe take questionable shots because it might be the best available. That causes a dip in efficiency and is what this relationship is about. The more a player is used, the less efficient he will be in theory.

As you can see LeBron really helped Wade’s efficiency at an advanced age. He kept Wade’s USG% down and Wade was able to be very efficient, particularly his 2013-2014 season. Dwyane has had more years of efficiency, but Kobe has been used a tad more.

Below is a look at the two and how their PER has risen and aged over the years. It is interesting to see how 2004 and 2005, Wade and Kobe had a nearly identical PER. It is also important to note how Wade’s 2007 season was one where he had his first major injury and was in and out games before then.

Below are some other stats charted out by year for the two players.

The two are very different players and it is difficult to compare the two. Kobe is a much better 3-point shooter and can create those shots off the dribble or off catch and shoots, courtesy of the triangle offense.

Wade was a devastating high and pick and roll guard who created not only for himself but for others as he has had years with an assist % north of 40% while being an ultra efficient finisher even to this day. Wade was 2nd among guards in FG% in the restricted area, second only to Dragic.

Both also played in very different defensive schemes. Miami has run several funky defensive schemes over the Wade years, from using Wade as a weak side shot blocker to the ultra aggressive trap defense in the LeBron era. Something Kobe might not have been able to run, but also Wade can’t defend bigger guards as well as Kobe could. It’s a give and take.

And while their careers are coming to a close, Wade still has a few chapters left in his. But for tonight, let’s just enjoy greatness.