Tim Duncan vs. Kobe Bryant: A Brief Comparison

Cumulative Greatness

Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan are unquestionably the two greatest players of their generation. In the 17 years they have played together in the NBA together – Kobe entered the league 1 prior to Duncan leaving Wake Forest for the draft – one of their respective teams (i.e. Kobe’s Lakers or Duncan’s Spurs) have represented the Western Conference in a staggering 13 out of 17 NBA finals series. Of those 13 Finals appearances they took home 5 championship rings apiece, which means they have won nearly 60% of possible league titles during that span. Collectively Bryant and Duncan have amassed 29 All-NBA honors (voted on by sportswriters and broadcasters), earning them 1st and 2nd positions respectively for the most all-time selections. They’ve won 3 MVP awards and have been in the top-5 in MVP Award voting 20 times in their combined 35 seasons; fans have also voted them to a combined 29 All-Star appearances.Kobe_Bryant_hoists_both_the_2010_NB

When comparing two incredible players like Kobe and Tim, what is the best way to measure and contrast their greatness? Many statistical figures could be employed to make an argument for either Tim or Kobe, however I want to focus simply on one overarching category: Value Added. Which player adds a greater amount of value as a result of their defense, offense, and leadership over the course of their career? There are several key metrics to help illuminate our search.



Kobe came into the league one-year prior to Duncan, so the respective length of their careers is easily comparable. The first major metric in our comparison study is Win Shares. Win Shares simply measure the percentage (or overall number if taken over the course of an entire season) of wins a player directly contributes to their team – the league average in Win Shares per 48 minutes is .100. Kobe Bryant’s career mark is well above the league average at .182, only to be eclipsed by Duncan’s career average at .211. If we break these figures down even further, we see that on average Duncan has contributed 16% more win shares to his team than Bryant during the regular season. When we extrapolate these numbers for the playoffs, Duncan’s figures outshine Bryant’s by a significant 25% more win shares than Kobe during their respective playoff careers. Duncan exceeds Bryant in Defensives Win Shares (an estimate of the number of wins a player contributes based on their defense) by a 2:1 margin while Bryant overshadows Duncan by a 4:3 in Offensive Win Shares. All this to say that Duncan has contributed more value as measured by wins he has contributed to his team over the course of his career, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.


Personal Metrics

Since Duncan plays closer to the rim, you would expect him to exceed Bryant in the following statistical categories: rebounding percentage (18.5% – 8.2%), rebounds per game (11.1 – 5.3), block percentage (4.6% – 1.0%), and field goal percentage (51% – 45%). On the flip side, Bryant is the more dominant offensive talent – he ranks higher in points per game (25.5 – 20.0), assists per game (4.8 – 3.1), and free-throw percentage (84% – 70%). These stats tell the same story that Timmy_splitter_joke2most casual sports fans assume to be true when thinking about a side-by-side comparison of these players. However consider the following numbers…

Duncan’s player efficiency rating (a measure of per-minute player production) is 1.2 points higher than Bryant’s for over the course of their careers in the regular season and this gap widens to 2.2 points during the playoffs. On the offensive end, Duncan’s effective shooting percentage (adjusts for the fact that 3-point shots are worth more than 2-point shots) is 2% higher in both the regular season and playoffs.

While many people assume that Bryant has been the far more dominant player throughout his career, we can see that Duncan’s value on both the offensive and defensive end not only competes with Bryant’s, but overshadows it in several categories.



Bryant and Duncan have both won 5 championships, but who had the greater impact on those particular championship teams? Let’s take a minute to find out.

In Bryant’s 5 championship-winning seasons he never led the team in Win Shares. From 1999-2002, Shaquille O’Neal held the top spot while Pau Gasol contributed more wins than Bryant for his last two championships from 2008-2010. In contrast, Duncan led his team in Win Shares for 4 out of his 5 championships, with Kawhi Leonard eclipsing him at the top only in this last championship. Shaquille O’Neal was clearly the best player for the Lakers in their 3 consecutive championships; Shaq maintained a higher scoring average and player efficiency rating (by wide margins) over Kobe in all three championship seasons.

Paradoxically, Duncan led his team in Player Efficiency Rating in all 5 championships seasons while toping the scoring column for the Spurs in 3 out of 5 years. Although Duncan’s raw offensive numbers were never as good as Kobe’s during their championship years; Duncan was undoubtedly the more efficient and dominant player during their respective championship runs while the argument could be made that Kobe would only have 2 rings without Shaq.


 The Value of Greatness

Through this brief statistical comparison I am convinced that Tim Duncan is the greatest player of his generation. The value he has given the Spurs over his 17 years is unmatched by any other player during that time. His unique and powerful contributions make his impact on the Spurs greater than Kobe’s impact on the Lakers.

Duncan was unquestionably the best player on 4 out of 5 of his championship teams, while Kobe was the best player for only 2 of the Laker’s 5 championships. Duncan was also the more efficient player who consistently contributed more wins to his team than Bryant; in addition, Duncan always raised his level of play during the playoffs while Bryant’s key metrics (FG%, PER, and Real Shooting Percentage) tended to dip during the most important games of the season.

Tim Duncan was a dynamic package of killer efficiency that adapted his game to his teammates instead of forcing his teammates to adapt to his style – one can only imagine how many championships Kobe could have won if he and Shaq had learned to coexist. Duncan’s value never resided in gaudy stats or eye-popping numbers; rather his greatness was always about something bigger than himself. The real value of his game always resided in his mind numbing consistency and determination to raise the level of his team in whatever capacity he could. In this refusal to elevate his personal desires above the mission of the team he has elevated himself to one of the greatest players the NBA has ever seen. Tim Duncan never set out to be the greatest player of his generation, all he wanted to do was just “make a difference”, and that is the true value of greatness.

*** All stats and figures taken from Basketball-Reference.com


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The Duncan Way

The Duncan Way


“I just hope to make a difference.” 

– Tim Duncan (rookie year)


Tim Duncan was a 3-time NCAA Collegiate All American and Naismith Player of the Year at Wake Forest. He was selected with the 1st overall pick in the 1997 NBA draft and made the All-Defensive Team, All-Rookie Team, and All-NBA team in his ROOKIE season as a professional. Over the course of his 17-year NBA career he has been selected to the All-Defensive Team 14-times (10 first-team and 4 second-team), the All-NBA Team 14-times (10 first-team, 3 second-team, and 1 third-team); 3-times he was awarded the NBA Finals MVP and twice the NBA Regular Season MVP.***Timmy_splitter_joke2

He has maintained averages of 19.9pts/11reb/3.1ast/2.2blks while ranking 6th all time in total “win shares” (the estimated number of wins a particular player contributes to their team) and 2nd all time in defensive win shares.

What happens when a ‘Tim Duncan’ caliber player embraces servant leadership? What are the possibilities when your best player leverages their talent for the good of the team? What transpires when your best player’s leadership style is characterized by humility, tenacity, flexibility, and selflessness?

When the “Tim Duncan” of your team decides to use his/her ability for the common good of those around them, the results are nothing short of incredible. Words like longevity, durability, and sustained excellence only scratch the surface of the overwhelming impact Duncan has had with the Spurs organization over the past 17 seasons. In his 17 years with the Spurs he has led the team to a ridiculous 17 consecutive seasons with 50 wins or more – in no season did they win less than 61% of their games. On average Spurs have won 70% of their games since Duncan joined the squad; and in 6 of those seasons the Spurs made it to the NBA Finals, taking home the Larry O’Brien trophy 5 out of 6 times.

Duncan was an integral part in 8 out of 10 of the highest win totals franchise history and their 1999 team was only 1 out of 10 in history to finish the NBA season with less than 20 losses. His incredible longevity has allowed him to win an NBA championship in 3 different decades.

Duncan set out to make a difference. He made that difference in profound ways when he chose to use his abilities to illuminate the talents of those around him. His flexible leadership style allowed him to adapt to a changing league and the changing needs of his team. The bedrock of his leadership style has always been founded on a simple question: what can I do to make those around me better? Throughout the years

Duncan was the catalyst of the Spurs extraordinary run of excellence; he set the speed and tone for one of the most successful sports organizations of the last 25 years. Duncan will be remembered as one of the greatest players in his position because of his leadership and commitment to excellence. He made a positive difference on those around him, will you?


*** All stats and figures taken from basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted

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Building “Spurs” Culture

Creating Culture

 “The individual becomes the culture and the culture becomes the individual. It becomes hard to deconstruct.”

– Louisa Thomas 

“But to have that dedication and that fortitude to come back every year and try to be the best team you can be by playoff time, it takes character and toughness and that’s all embodied in the players that we have…You can save yourself a lot of problems by trying to do that work early rather than get a guy in your program and then say, ‘We gotta get rid of this guy…First I depend on the fact that bringing them in, we believe they have character as such that they care about the group more than themselves as individual players.”

– Gregg Popovich

The San Antonio Spurs have given us one of the most powerful recent examples about the importance of culture in buildinglarge_5287228411 championship teams. This past June, the Spurs took down the Miami Heat in five games to secure their 5th championship in the Tim Duncan era. Duncan entered the NBA in the 1997-98 season and has lead the spurs to a 5-1 record in Finals appearances while amassing 3 finals MVP’s and 2 regular season MVP’s. Duncan has epitomized the selfless, team-oriented brand of basketball that has captured the imagination of millions of basketball fans and thrust the entire franchise into the national spotlight.

Ironically, the spotlight is the place where the Spurs feel least comfortable. There are countless superlatives that could be used to describe the culture of the Spurs, but the core of the Spurs cultural identity can be summed up in two words: servant leadership. The DNA of Spurs culture was created as a result of thousands of personal decisions – from players to coaches to the front office – to defer personal achievement for the greater good of the organization. For our purposes, we will define culture as “shared consciousness and purpose to achieve a common mission”.


The Priority of Culture

In the Spurs hierarchy of priorities, fostering a winning culture remains their most important objective. Before they decide their offensive sets or defensive schemes, the Spurs understand any chance of success hinges on their ability to recruit players who fit their culture. The Spurs create a cultural expectation for everyone in the organization, and then find players who fit that criteria. The culture makes demands on the player to conform to it’s ethos instead of players driving culture.

Many organizations flip this process by recruiting people primarily based on talent with the consideration of culture taking a back seat. Often, teams will inadvertently amass a conglomerate of conflicting personalities, goals, and value systems in an effort to secure large amounts of talent. The confluence of opposing ideologies and varying levels of character can make it difficult to create championship level culture. It is always more difficult to make the players fit the system than to allow the system to select the players.

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The Expectations of Culture

Think about a fisherman. A good fisherman will understand what type of fish he wants to catch. He will think about the type of water he is fishing in, how the weather will affect his fishing, and any other outlying factors that could affect his fish catching ability. Once this information is compiled, he will decide what type of bait to use. By assessing his surroundings and deciding what kind of system to use, the fisherman has created cultural expectations that limit what lures he throws into the water. It would be counterproductive for him to use lures that didn’t fit with his environment.

In the same way, the Spurs have allowed their environment to limit the types of players they recruit – which means they don’t always get the most talented players – believing that the collective culture will outperform individual talent over the long haul. Teams have the opportunity to achieve prolonged excellence when their best players embody the values of their culture. Organizations become standards of entire industries when they prioritize “who” over “what”, “where”, and “how”. Culture is not a disembodied concept that requires charismatic leadership or grandiose vision casting. Culture beings and ends with people. To borrow a phrase from Jim Collins, leadership starts with getting the right people on the bus.


“In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.”

– Jim Collins


Culture will be created one way or another on your team. The question remains then what kind of values will typify the culture of your organization? Will your culture – more explicitly, the teams shared consciousness and purpose to achieve a common mission – be marked by selflessness, character, servitude, and humility or will the destructive behaviors of selfishness, greed, and egoism control your locker room. What kind of culture do you want to be a part of?


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