Hey everybody, we need to talk about how good LeBron James is at basketball. I mean, we certainly are not breaking any ground here, but I think we need to talk about the current season, and how he’s dominating the league more thoroughly than many folks fully realize. Things are at historical proportions with James yet again, and we need to pay some additional attention to the insanity. Of course, there are so many layers of his game to examine, but let’s take a gander at a couple of quick angles.
It’s more than fair to say that LeBron toys with the opposition, like in the classic cat-juggling-mouse-within-inches-of-death fashion. It’s a weird thing to watch….like an alien wandering onto a foreign planet and being completely and utterly superior to its inhabitants in whatever it is that they do in their day-to-day lives.
The eye test absolutely confirms that James is easily the best player in the game today, and one must summon footage of LeBron’s defensive prowess to fully understand the effect that he has on that end of the court. This format almost does James’ and the Heat defense an injustice, and coach Erik Spoelstra’s fantastic defensive system deserves a column (or series of columns) of their own, but we’re going to gawk in passing at pristine-ness of it all.
Here’s a quick look at LeBron ignoring a slip screen from Carlos Boozer and forcing Luol Deng to drive directly into Chris Bosh’s help defense. Bosh’s help was every bit as vital to the play, and somehow Deng allowed both defenders to ride him around the perimeter and steer him to the left elbow. Jimmy Butler was the open man in the opposite corner but failed to rotate far enough towards the wing, and Deng was unable to find an open lane to skip a pass.
We could spend all day singing LeBron’s defensive praises via video clips (this was one of many, many potential examples), but that one was recent and especially perfect. Let’s move on to some numbers.
There are a host of metrics and statistics that one can use to prove James’ dominance, but let’s start with one of my favorites: win shares per 48 minutes (primer on win shares can be found here). Anything over .100 is a more-than-passable, league-average player (players like Ramon Sessions, Wes Matthews, and Gary Neal hovered around this mark in 2011-12). Players with a WS/48 over .200 are, generally speaking, superstars. In fact, there were only 13 players that played more than half the season last year and had a WS/48 over .200, with James leading the league at .298.
Fast-forward to the current season. LeBron James currently has a WS/48 of .322. Kevin Durant is at .291 and Chris Paul is at a .284, and nobody else in the entire league is above a .209. That’s crazy. There are a clear three best players in the league this year, and James is still head and shoulders above his competition.
We don’t have to use fancy shmancy statistics. We can use pretty much any statistic that measures shooting efficiency. How about True Shooting Percentage, which takes into account not only two-point field goals, but also three-pointers and free throws? LeBron is in the top-15, with only Kevin Durant and a few centers ranking ahead of him. Let’s try Effective Field Goal Percentage, which adjusts for the value of three-point shots. James is still in the top-20, again with mostly centers ranking ahead of him, save for Kyle Korver and Heat teammate Shane Battier.
So he’s an all-around great player. And a really, really good (read: efficient) shooter. Well, LeBron James also ranks 11th in the NBA in assist percentage at 35.6%, despite technically playing power forward for much of the season for the undersized Heat. Only point guards rank ahead of him (Rondo, Paul, Vasquez, Wall, Calderon, Parker, Rubio, Westbrook, Holiday, Williams), and there are not any non-guards in sight until we get to Paul Pierce in the 50-60 range league-wide.
I’m not going to touch LeBron James’ career in a historical context at this point in time. In simply scratching the surface of the discussion, we’d be doing a grave disservice to the “All-Time Greats” debate. Let’s just appreciate the season and the career as they are, and sit back and see where James ultimately ends up. One thing continues to be confirmed, over and over: if he continues at his current pace, the possibilities (and records to be broken) are endless.