LeBron James Has Become Amazingly EfficientLeBron James scored 32 points on 12-18 field goal shooting during Miami's 107-97 win against the L.A. Lakers on Sunday. He set a Miami franchise record for most consecutive 30 point games (five) and he became just the second player in NBA history to score at least 30 points while shooting at least .600 from the field in five straight games, a feat that only Adrian Dantley (1979) and Moses Malone (1982) had previously accomplished. James' combination of productivity and efficiency in those five games is incredible but this is just a continuation/extension of what is shaping up to be a tremendous season even considering the high standards previously set by the three-time regular season MVP. Through 48 games, James is averaging 27.0 ppg while shooting a career-high .562 from the field and a career-high .421 from three point range. James is still a mediocre free throw shooter (.738, slightly below his career average) but is combination of high scoring, tremendous shooting efficiency and productive rebounding (8.1 rpg)/playmaking (6.9 apg) is very rare. It is often misleading to compare statistics from different eras without providing proper context regarding rules changes, scorekeeping changes (assists are awarded much more liberally now) and other factors but it is legitimate to suggest that few players in pro basketball history have been capable of putting up the across the board numbers James is currently posting; that short list would include names such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson. Those three players shot free throws much better than James but did not have the shooting range that James now possesses (Robertson played in the pre-three pointer era but was known more for methodically powering his way to the hoop than for bombing away from the equivalent of modern three point range).
James' field goal percentage has gone up almost every season of his career and the overall arc is incredible, starting at .417 and progressing to this season's stratospheric heights (James currently ranks in the top 10 in field goal percentage for the first time in his career). James has tremendously improved both his shot selection and his shooting form; when I covered him in person during his time as a Cleveland Cavalier I marveled at how high his field goal percentage was each season after his rookie campaign even though he often took bad shots and even though his shooting form was not good; in Cavaliers and Wizards Work Overtime to Produce an Instant Classic (a playoff game recap from James' third season but first trip to the playoffs) I offered my take on James' shot selection and his room for growth as a player:
So far, James has a triple double, two 40 point games--including a record 41 points in his first road playoff game--and two game winning shots. I still say that he shoots too many "Oh no--good shot" shots, but the amazing thing is that he makes most of them; you almost wonder if maybe the off-balance, fadeaway jumper is not a bad shot for him--but when you see him miss that kind of shot at the end of regulation and then score on a power move to the hoop to win the game in overtime you realize that when he stops settling for the fadeaway he may become completely unguardable. At one point when LeBron launched an off balance fadeaway I remarked to Mike Conley, who covers the Cavs for Cleveland.com, "That's a bad shot." The words were barely out of my mouth when the ball hit nothing but net. "I guess that's why we're up here watching and he's playing," I added, shaking my head.
When the ESPN NBA Countdown crew compared James' 2012-13 performance to other MVP caliber seasons, they left out one obvious comparison. See if you can guess who authored these MVP numbers:
82 games, 35.0 mpg, .521 FG%, .222 3FG%, .787 FT%, 8.0 rpg, 4.4 apg, 2.1 spg, 1.8 bpg, 24.6 ppg
This same player followed up that season with these numbers:
81 games, 34.4 mpg, .546 FG%, .273 3FG%, .763 FT%, 6.9 rpg, 3.9 apg, 2.0 spg, 1.7 bpg, 24.4 ppg
Again, for the sake of an easy side by side comparison, here are James' 2012-13 numbers:
48 games, 38.4 mpg, .562 FG%, .421 3FG%, .738 FT%, 8.1 rpg, 6.9 apg, 1.6 spg, .9 bpg, 27.0 ppg
The first set of numbers comes from Julius Erving's 1980-81 season, when he became the first non-center to win the NBA MVP since Oscar Robertson in 1963-64. The big statistical differences between 1981 Erving and 2013 James are in three point field goal percentage and assists but those can be explained contextually. The three pointer had only been added to the NBA game in 1979-80 and most three pointers attempted during that era were either heaves to beat the shot clock and/or end of quarter buzzer or desperation shots at the end of a game. Erving only attempted 18 three pointers in 1980-81 and 11 three pointers in 1981-82 but he shot a very respectable .330 (good enough for sixth in the league) from three point range in 1975-76 (the ABA's final season) when the three pointer was a more regular part of his repertoire. As for the assists, I am not suggesting that Erving passed as well as James does but it is undeniable that assists are awarded more generously now than they were in previous eras; Erving was an excellent passer and his assist average was good for a forward during his era.
Regardless of the context one supplies and regardless of which player comparisons one prefers, it is clear that James is performing at a historically significant level this season. The Accelerated Growth Curve of LeBron James that I described in 2007 has unfolded in remarkable fashion and now that James is an NBA champion he has fully earned the right to be compared with champions/legends/Hall of Famers like Oscar Robertson, Julius Erving, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan.
posted by David Friedman @ 8:17 AM