LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan: Comparing Their First 9 Seasons in the NBA

Daniel M.Correspondent IIJune 25, 2012

LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan: Comparing Their First 9 Seasons in the NBA

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    King James vs. Air Jordan

    The Chosen One vs. His Airness

    Who’s better?

    The Miami Heat won the 2012 NBA Championship last week. It was LeBron James’ first NBA championship, and he solidified his place as the best player in the NBA today as well as one of the greatest players ever. James has earned this championship, and he clearly deserves all the credit people give him.

    But I do have one issue with this new championship. I’ve read many articles and comments about James being better than Michael Jordan at the age of 27. I know James is better than Jordan at age 27. He has accomplished more in the NBA at age 27 than Jordan at the same age. It’s not a lie. It’s a fact. But this comparison is misleading and unfair, because they didn’t have the same number of NBA seasons under their belts at age 27.

    Jordan had played 6 seasons in the NBA when he was 27 years old. James has played 9 seasons thus far. Also, Jordan missed 64 games in his second season because he was injured. James never played fewer than 70 games in a season until this year, when teams played a shortened 66-game season. So Jordan had actually played 5 seasons by age 27.

    I don’t think it’s fair to compare a 9-season career with a 5-season career. It’s obvious that a player will achieve more if he plays 9 seasons instead of just 5.  

    The best way to compare these players is to use the same number of seasons. Now...James fans will say that Jordan was 22 years old when he was a rookie and that he had an 3-year advantage in basketball experience, but these are the same fans that use the age comparison—despite the fact that James played more seasons than Jordan at the same age. I don’t think that using the number of seasons is unfair.

    Also, these fans say that say James was drafted right out of high school because he was so good. Well, if he was so good, why shouldn’t we compare his first NBA seasons with Jordan’s first seasons? It makes no sense, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that they were in the same situation: They were rookies in the NBA. With 9 NBA seasons, they had the same NBA experience, so it’s better to compare these players using the number of seasons.

    So, who was more successful in the first 9 seasons?

First Season

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    LeBron James:

    James averaged 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.6 steals and 0.7 blocks per game. He became the first rookie since Jordan to average at least 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game.

    He also shot 41.7 percent from the field and he won the Rookie of the Year award. He made the All-Rookie first team, but he didn’t make the All-NBA team. He doesn’t have playoff stats because his team didn’t make the playoffs.

    Michael Jordan:

    Jordan averaged 28.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.4 steals and 0.8 blocks per game. He became the second rookie in NBA history to average at least 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game. He’s also the only rookie to average at least 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game.

    Jordan shot an amazing 51.5 percent from the field and led the league in points. He won the Rookie of the Year award and made the All-NBA second team. In the playoffs, he played 4 games and averaged 29.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists per game while shooting 43.6 percent from the field.

    Advantage: Jordan

    Jordan clearly had a better rookie season. No debate here.

Second Season

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    LeBron James:

    James had a great second season. He averaged 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 2.2 steals and 0.7 blocks per game while shooting 47.2 % from the field. He became the 5th player to average over 25.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game in a single season.

    James also made the All-NBA second team, but his team didn’t make the playoffs.

    Michel Jordan:

    Jordan missed 64 games because he had a broken foot, but he averaged 22.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game and shot 45.7 % from the field in the 18 regular season games he played. Jordan’s best moment was in the playoffs, when he torched the great Boston Celtics for 63 points, which is still the NBA record for most points scored in a playoff game.

    Jordan’s team got swept by the Celtics but he averaged 43.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists while shooting 50.5 % from the field in the 3-game series.

    Advantage: James

    Jordan had one of the greatest playoff performances ever, but he didn’t have a good regular season since he missed 64 games. James had a great season.

Third Season

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    LeBron James:

    James would build on his great second season with a better third season. He averaged 31.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.6 blocks per game and shot 48.0 percent from the field. He became the youngest player to average at least 30.0 points per game in a season, and one of three players to average at least 31.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game in a season.

    Finally, his team made the playoffs, and he recorded a triple-double in his playoff debut when he scored 32 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out 11 assists. He played in 13 games and average 30.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game while shooting 47.6 percent from the field.

    James also made the All-NBA First team.

    Michael Jordan:

    After just 3 seasons, Jordan would become the league’s best scorer. He averaged 37.1 points per game on 48.2 percent shooting, and won his first scoring title. It’s still the fifth highest scoring average in NBA history, and the highest by a player not named Wilt Chamberlain.

    He became the second player to score at least 3,000 points in a season. He also averaged 5.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.9 steals and 1.5 blocks per game and made the All-NBA first team. He became the first player to record 200 steals and 100 blocks in a season.

    In the playoffs, his team got swept by the Boston Celtics for the second straight season but he still averaged 35.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game.

    Advantage: James

    It’s close. Jordan had one of the greatest scoring seasons ever, but I’m going to give it to James because he had a 31-7-6 season and a better postseason run.

    So far James is winning 2-1.

Fourth Season

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    LeBron James:

    For the fourth straight season, James would have a great all-around season when he averaged 27.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.6 steals and 0.7 blocks per game. He would continue his good accuracy from the field, with a 47.6 shooting percentage and he made the All-NBA Second team.

    In the playoffs James averaged 25.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game but only shot 41.6 percent from the field. He did have one of the greatest performances ever in Game 5 against the Detroit Pistons, when he scored 48 points—including 25 straight and 29 of his team’s last 30 points.

    His team made the Finals, but he wasn’t great in that series. He only averaged 22.0 points on a terrible 35.6 percent shooting and his team got swept.

    Michael Jordan:

    In his fourth season, Jordan became the league’s best player. He had one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. He averaged 35.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 3.2 steals and 1.6 blocks per game. For the second straight season, he would record at least 200 steals and 100 blocks in a season, making him the only player to achieve this in multiple seasons.

    He became the first player to lead the league in scoring and steals in the same season. He would also have a great shooting season, when he shot 53.5 percent—which is the highest shooting percentage for a scoring average of at least 35.0.

    Jordan won almost every award. He won the Slam Dunk Contest, the All-Star MVP, the Defensive Player of the Year award (DPOY) and the regular season MVP. He was selected to the All-NBA and All-Defensive first teams. As of today, he is still the only player to win the scoring title and DPOY in the same season

    In 10 playoff games, Jordan averaged 36.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game

    Advantage: Jordan

    Jordan had one of the greatest seasons ever and clearly wins this one.

Fifth Season

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    LeBron James:

    Losing in the Finals in his fourth season didn’t stop James from having one of the greatest all-around seasons in NBA history. He won his first scoring title,when he averaged 30.0 points per game on 48.4 percent shooting.

    James would futher dominate the stat sheet with 7.9 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.1 blocks per game; and he was selected to the All-NBA first team. He became the third player to average at least 30 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists in a season.

    His postseason run was also good, which included a 45-point performance in Game 7 against the Boston Celtics.

    Michael Jordan:

    Just like James did in his fifth season, Jordan would have one of the greatest all-around seasons in NBA history. He averaged 32.5 points per game on 53.8 percent shooting to go along with 8.0 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game. He also averaged 2.9 steals per game.

    He’s the second player to average at least 30 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists in a season. Jordan would record 15 triple-doubles in this season—including 7 straight—which is the second longest streak in NBA history.

    Jordan had a great postseason run. He played in 17 games and averaged 34.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game.

    Advantage: Jordan

    Both had a great all-around season, but Jordan’s 32-8-8 season beats James’ 30-7-7 season. Jordan was also better in the playoffs.

Sixth Season

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    LeBron James:

    For the first time in his career, James would win the league MVP—and he deserved it. He averaged 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.2 assists.

    James would proceed to elevate his game in the playoffs. In 14 games he averaged 35.3 points, 9.1 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game. He had the second highest player efficiency rating (PER) in NBA playoff history, and his performance against the Orlando Magic is one of the greatest performances ever: in that series he averaged 38.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game.

    Michael Jordan:

    Jordan had another great all-around season. He average an amazing 33.6 points per game on 52.6 percent shooting to go along with 6.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 2.8 steals and 1.0 blocks per game.

    This season is special because Jordan added another offensive weapon to his game: the three-point shot. He shot 37.6 percent from the three-point line, which is a career high (without the shortened line). He led the league in steals for the second time in his career, and was selected to the All-Defensive first team.

    Jordan’s sixth season was his most complete one, because he could score, grab rebounds, make plays, defend and shoot from anywhere on the court.  

    Jordan also had a great postseason run. In 16 games he averaged 36.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game.

    Advantage: Tie

    It’s so close.

Seventh Season

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    LeBron James:

    It’s all the same with James in this season, so I’m not going to repeat myself. He had another great all-around season, but this time he shot over 50 % from the field and averaged a career best 8.6 assists per game, which is a record for forwards.

    Michael Jordan:

    Jordan had another great season. There’s no point in repeating. However, he did shoot 53.9 % from the field, which is the highest for a perimeter player averaging at least 30.0 points per game.

    In the playoffs it was different because Jordan finally won the Finals MVP. In the Finals against Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers, Jordan averaged 31.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 11.4 assists, 2.8 steals and 1.4 blocks per game.

    Jordan won the scoring title, league MVP and Finals MVP

    Advantage: Jordan

    Although James had another all-around season with 8.6 assists per game, Jordan had a better postseason run which included a Finals MVP.

Eighth Season

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    LeBron James:

    As always, James had a great regular season. What hurt James in this season was that after having good series against the Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics in the playoffs, he failed to deliver in the Finals.

    Michael Jordan:

    The only thing we need to know is that Jordan won the scoring title, league MVP and Finals MVP in the same season for the second straight time. Jordan’s stats and performances were great, which included the all-time record for most points in a single postseason and his six first-half three-pointers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. 

    Advantage: Jordan

    Jordan clearly wins after James’ shortcomings in the Finals.

Ninth Season

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    LeBron James:

    James won the MVP and he had another great regular season. This time he won the Finals MVP, and had one of the greatest postseason runs in NBA playoff history.

    In Game 4 against the Indiana Pacers, a must-win for the Miami Heat, James scored 40 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and dished out 9 assists. Then, in Game 6 against the Boston Celtics—another must-win for the Heat—James scored 45 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dished out 5 assists.  He became the first player since Wilt Chamberlain in 1964 with at least 45 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists in a playoff game.

    After the Oklahoma City Thunder won Game 1 of the NBA Finals, James scored 32 points, grabbed 8 rebounds and dished out 5 assists to help his team tie the series. James averaged 39.0 points, 13.7 rebounds and 6.3 assist per game when his team was trailing in a series. He also averaged 28.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game in the Heat’s 4 clinching games and he had a triple-double (26 points, 11 rebounds, 13 assists) in the title-clinching game.

    James’ Finals averages:

    28.6 ppg (47.2 FG percentage), 10.2 rpg, 7.4 apg, 1.6 apg, 0.4 bpg

    Michael Jordan:

    Jordan didn’t win the league MVP, but he led the league in scoring and steals. He won his third straight Finals MVP with another dominant finals performance. In Game 4 of the NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns, Jordan scored 55 points, which is tied for the second most points in a Finals game. Jordan would average 41.0 points per game in that series, which is still the NBA record. He scored 40 or more points four times in that series.

    Jordan’s Finals average:

    41.0 ppg (50.8 FG percentage), 8.5 rpg, 6.3 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.7 bpg 

    Advantage: Jordan

    It’s close, but I’m going to give it to Jordan because he averaged 41.0 points per game in the Finals.

Overall Career Stats

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    LeBron James

    Regular season:

    27.6 ppg (48.3 FG percentage), 7.2 rpg, 6.9 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.8 bpg

    Playoffs:

    28.5 ppg (46.9 FG percentage), 8.7 rpg, 6.7 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.9 bpg

    Finals:

    22.5 ppg (43.8 FG percentage), 8.1 rpg, 7.0 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.5 bpg

    Michael Jordan

    Regular season:

    32.4 ppg (51.6 FG percentage), 6.3 rpg, 5.9 apg, 2.7 spg, 1.0 bpg

    Playoffs:

    34.7 ppg (50.1 FG percentage), 6.7 rpg, 6.6 apg, 2.3 spg, 1.0 bpg

    Finals:

    36.3 ppg (52.6 FG percentage), 6.6 rpg, 7.9 apg, 2.0 spg, 0.8 bpg

Career Awards and Honors

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    LeBron James:

    1 Scoring title

    6 All-NBA First teams

    4 All-Defensive First teams

    3 league MVPs

    1 Finals MVP

    Michael Jordan:

    7 Scoring titles

    3 Steal titles

    7 All-NBA First teams

    6 All-Defensive First teams

    1 DPOY

    3 league MVPs

    3 Finals MVPs

Conclusion

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    The final score is 6-2, with one tie. Jordan has the stats, awards and performances.

    James is a great player. He has been the best player in the NBA since the 2005-06 season, but Jordan is clearly better when you compare their first nine seasons. James will go down as one of the 10 greatest players ever and he has a chance to make the top five, but if he is going to beat Jordan, he still has a long way to go.