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Monday, February 11, 2013

LeBron James Has Become Amazingly Efficient

LeBron 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.

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:17 AM

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4 Comments:

At Monday, February 11, 2013 12:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...



Marcel

Lebron james peak maybe greatest in history he already a top 15 player all time borderline ten. His patience and offense of execution is bar none he will have 4 mvp in 5 years. He has greatest of all time potential. He has a similar work ethic to Jordan and kobe. And he might One day be in class who pass them up. He has worked on every aspect of his Game every year, And he continue to improve if him and wade keep playing at this level. They winning again.

I feel bad for kobe he is giving his all at 34 years old. Was Never a fan of him as a person but I come to respect him all around. Howard probably won't Stay I don't Think he built to be a laker say What u want bout shaq but wen he was on the court he was serious and brought it. I know howard hurt but he don't Have it to me. Maybe im wrong but he seem to sensitive

 
At Monday, February 11, 2013 4:51:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

LeBron James has made some important changes to his mindset in the wake of his playoff failures in 2010 and 2011; if he had not made those changes he would not have become a champion and he would have never quite worked his way into the very top level of pro basketball's Pantheon.

Kobe Bryant will always give the best that he's got but this is not 2006 or 2007 so he cannot singlehandedly carry a team to the playoffs; he needs more help not just from Dwight Howard but also from Nash, Gasol (when/if he returns) and the supporting cast.

I have no idea if Howard will return to the Lakers or not. If Howard can fully regain his physical health and also become more focused then I still think he can form a dynamic duo with Bryant but it does not seem likely that this will happen in the 2012-13 season.

 
At Monday, February 11, 2013 11:05:00 PM, Anonymous HP said...

HP

Hi David,

Will you be updating your excellent Pantheon series again?

And now that we have reached the middle of the season, will you comment on which teams you see as legitimate contenders and why?

Thanks for the insightful articles, and i would love to hear a non-biased Durant-LeBron comparison from you.

Best regards.

 
At Tuesday, February 12, 2013 4:30:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

HP:

I have no immediate plans to update my Pantheon series.

I have commented on various teams throughout the season and will continue to do so but I don't know if I will write a specific article about contenders in general until I do my playoff previews.

I compared James and Durant during the 2012 NBA Finals and I may very well end up making that same comparison during the 2013 NBA Finals. James and Durant are the two best players in the game today but I give the edge to James. Kobe Bryant held that title for several years but he can no longer dominate for an entire game and/or dominate for several games in a row the way that he did when he was younger--and the same fate will one day befall James and Durant. Durant has become a much more well rounded player than he used to be but he has not surpassed James; James is a better defender, rebounder and passer, while Durant only enjoys an advantage in pure shooting ability.

 

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