Kobe Bryant’s offensive outbursts were just one part of his game. Sure, he scored 81 points and averaged 56.25 points in a four-game stretch. But the Black Mamba was also a 12-time member of the All-NBA Defensive Teams. Before the term “two-way” player was being tossed around, Kobe was already shutting down his foes while dropping 50.
But there’s an elite set of players who were able to hold their ground against the Mamba. No, they didn’t shut him down offensively. But they managed to put up decent scoring numbers against him. These are the top five players with the highest scoring average against Kobe Bryant-led teams in the regular season (minimum of 10 games, data collected from StateMuse).
5. Dwyane Wade (24.3 ppg, 20 games)
The most famous Dwyane Wade vs. Kobe Bryant match-up is probably the one on December 4, 2009, in Los Angeles. Up by two points with 3.2 seconds left, Wade played the best defense of his life against Kobe. He partly succeeded. He forced Kobe to a one-legged side-fadeaway shot. But somehow, someway, Bryant banked the game-winning 3-pointer. All Wade could do was stare as the Black Mamba raised both of his fists in the air.
This is not indicative of Wade’s overall performance when he went up against Kobe. He actually finished with a decent stat line that night: 26 points, 7 rebounds, and 9 assists. They’ve faced each other 20 times, and Wade has the edge with 11 wins. Apart from this, Wade also has a 40-point game against Kobe, which is something to be incredibly proud of, given the Black Mamba’s elite defensive chops.
4. Karl Malone (24.6 ppg, 25 games)
Karl Malone seems like the outlier on this list since he rarely matched up against Kobe Bryant. Nevertheless, Malone’s presence on this list proves how much of a consistent scorer he was during his playing days. He ranks third on the all-time scoring list despite never winning a scoring title.
Interestingly, Malone (26.4 ppg) also ranks fourth among the players with the highest scoring average against Michael Jordan. Kobe and MJ aren’t only linked by their similar playstyles and mindset. But also through Phil Jackson, the legendary coach who guided the two guards to all of their titles. As such, we can say that Jackson definitely knew how to beat the Jazz. But he probably couldn’t figure out how to contain the Mail Man.
3. Allen Iverson (25.3 ppg, 29 games)
When Kobe was donning the no. 8 jersey, Allen Iverson was probably his most formidable foe. Bryant once said, “we’re fortunate that Iverson wasn’t 6’5.” This is the ultimate compliment from a 12-time member of the All-NBA Defensive Teams. Dropping 25-30 points on the Black Mamba’s head was a hobby for Iverson. He also has a couple of 40-point games against the Black Mamba plus a 51-point explosion.
Before we forget, Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers were the only ones to snatch a game away from the Lakers’ championship run in 2001. Bryant admitted that the one loss still bugged his teammates even after winning it all.
2. Kevin Durant (27.3 ppg, 25 games)
It would be foolish to say that Bryant cruised his way to five championship rings. The Black Mamba faced generational talent after generational talent on his way to the coveted Larry O’Brien trophy. Kevin Durant was one of those searing talents he came across. While the Lakers pounced on them in the 2010 Playoffs, Durant and the Thunder got their revenge in the 2012 Playoffs, beating Kobe 4-1 in the Conference Semifinals.
Kobe expressed his admiration for Durant’s evolution. He noted that Durant was the player he failed to figure out during his tenure in the league. Durant’s presence on this list is probably the most impressive since he’s the youngest. In other words, young Durant — who was still figuring out his game — was already going toe-to-toe with prime Mamba.
1. LeBron James (28.2 ppg, 22 games)
The discussion that James is merely an all-time playmaker has been scrapped. LeBron is right behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time scoring list. Provided that the King remains healthy, he’s expected to snatch the crown away from the legendary center.
And so it’s not a surprise that James boasts of the highest scoring average when going up against Kobe. Diehard fans of the Black Mamba know that Kobe voluntarily matches up with the opposing team’s best player. Fans were treated to those times LeBron and Kobe went at it. Yes, James had the size advantage. But Kobe was a defensive genius whom you couldn’t just overpower. To score against Kobe, you had to outsmart him. LeBron being no.1 on this list is the ultimate testament to his basketball IQ.