Comparing James Harden’s Offense This Season to Kobe’s 05-06 Run

Kobe Bryant. James Harden. The Mamba. The Beard. Two of the best players the league has ever seen. Two of the most prolific scoring single seasons in history. As Harden is slowly creeping his way into uncharted waters and putting up numbers the league hasn’t seen since the Mamba it’s about time the two get compared. So here we go.


Before I start throwing out stats and comparing these two I want to preface this. In no way shape or form am I saying that Harden is in Kobe territory for their careers or even for these individual seasons due to defensive reasons? What I am saying however is that offensively these are without a doubt 2 of the best offensive seasons in the history of the league and it’s time to compare the seasons, not the players.  


Before we begin let me explain two disclaimers:


Disclaimer #1: James Harden has only played 46 games at the time of this article while Kobe played 80 over the season (both started every game)*

Disclaimer #2: If any of these stats don’t make sense follow this link:

Then press CTRL + F and search for any stat you need to be explained.


Side By Side Comparison


Player Kobe Bryant James Harden
MPG 41.0 37.4
PPG 35.4 36.3
FGA 27.2 24.0
FGM 12.2 10.6
FG% 45% 44%
3P% 34.7% 36.8%
eFG% 49.1% 54.2%
FTA 10.2 11.9
FT% 85% 86.8%
TS% 55.9% 62.1%
TRB 5.3 6.6
APG 4.5 8.2
USG% 38.7 40.6%
PER 28.0 30.7


As you can see the 2 players have quite similar stats. Harden being slightly more efficient when looking at advanced stats. He gets more points, rebounds, and assists than Kobe in fewer minutes while also having a higher PER. James catches a lot of flack or shooting a lot of free throws but Kobe only shoots 1.5 less per game. Also despite his higher USG rate Harden actually shoots less than Kobe did this season. He also manages to maintain a higher overall efficiency evident by his eFG% and TS%.


While their numbers are similar, how they both got their numbers are not. Kobe’s points at the time were prominently in the mid-range area, where Harden does the least of his damage. If you’re not a fan of advanced stats this might not be for you but let’s take a look at where the shots are coming from.


Shooting By Distance and %

Stat/Player Kobe Bryant James Harden
% of 2P FGA 76.2% 44.9%
% of 3P FGA 23.8% 55.1%
% of shots 0-3 ft from

from basket

20% 24.4%
% of shots 3-10 ft from

from basket

8.3% 14.2%
% of shots 10-16 ft from

from basket

14.8% 4.4%
% of shots 16ft <3P from

from basket

33.1% 1.9%
FG% 0-3ft from basket 59.8% 60.6%
FG% 3-10 ft from basket 49.4% 42.7%
FG% 10-16 ft from basket 45.5% 51%
FG% 16 ft <3P from basket 42.1% 33.3%
3P FG% 34.7% 36.8%
2P FG% 48.2% 52.8%
AVG Shot Distance 15.1 feet from basket 16.6
%Ast’d 2P FG 37.7% 11.5%
%Asd’d 3P FG 70.6% 11.6%
2PA 20.7 10.8
3PA 6.5 13.2


I know there are a lot of numbers but these splits really highlight the differences in how Harden and Kobe differ in their scoring. The first glaring difference is the huge gap between their 3P%. Harden shoots more than double the number of threes by pure attempts and % of his total shots while also hitting them at a higher clip.


Kobe and Harden both take 20-25% of their shots off layups or dunks (0-3 feet from the basket). Harden, in fact, shoots more of his shots from 0-10 feet which when adding them up shows that 38.6% of Harden’s shots come from there. Kobe’s % from the same distance is 28.3%. The huge discrepancy in scoring comes from their mid-range games.


Kobe Bryant took 47.9% of his 2P field goal attempts from 10+ feet. Harden from the same distance shot only 6.3% of his total shots from there. The way they got their shots are very different as well.


Michael Jordan may have made the fadeaway famous but Kobe perfected it. Hitting fadeaways from virtually everywhere Kobe mastered it. Harden meanwhile gets most of his points off of iso clear outs where he has shooters around him and basically goes one on one with whoever is defender is or runs a high pick and roll. The chart also shows just how many iso threes harden takes with 88.4% of his threes being in iso and 88.5% of his 2P attempts being in iso situations. Kobe is in a sense the flip side of that with only 29.4% of his threes being in iso.


Two of the best scorers the game has ever seen, two different play styles. It’s not crazy to think that this season Harden has outperformed peak Kobe on the offensive end. Once again this isn’t knocking Kobe or saying Harden is the better player it’s just time to really appreciate this season for what it is, one of the greatest displays of offense the league has ever seen.

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