Comparing Each of LeBron James' Traits to an All-Time Great
However, it didn't feel fair. LeBron's career was incomplete up until the end of the 2011-'12 season. Not just because nobody would take him seriously if he didn't win a title, which is asinine enough, but also because he wasn't playing as well as he could be playing.
Once he lost the 2011 NBA Finals and expanded the broad reaches of his game, then he became the unstoppable force we've been waiting to see.
Sure, James was just as good in his days with Cleveland. He somehow made that team look good enough into fooling the NBA that it was a team worthy of the finals one year. But even with the regression in his numbers, James is a much better player today than he ever was in a season with Cleveland. LeBron was never as mature and well-rounded as he finds himself today.
Being in Miami broke that out of him. Who knows where James' career would be had he not taken the team with the best chance to win a championship?
With the title, we can now rightfully begin to compare the careers of LeBron and the legends he emulated, and even played with for one season.
Picking out a few statistical categories and a few of his traits, we've compared James to five NBA legends similar to those categories and traits and see how well he compares to that player at that facet of the game.
Scorer: Elgin Baylor
Although not the same height, James holds a three-inch advantage, Elgin Baylor and LeBron share similar characteristics when it came down to putting the ball in the basket.
Baylor was one of the league's first great scorers, scoring 73 points in an NBA game and setting a Finals record that still stands with 61 points. By the time he was in his fourth year, he was averaging 38.3 points per game. Baylor would have won quite a few scoring championships, but he also happened to be playing in the same league as Wilt Chamberlain at the time.
As a small forward, however, Baylor held his own. He was too athletic, too quick and too strong for any defender at the time to contain, which is similar to what you hear about LeBron James today. Even against some of the league's best defenders, James has had some of his best games, including scoring 41 points in a game against Andre Iguodala, arguably the league's top perimeter defender.
The comparison between Baylor and James as scorers comes down to how they scored. While Baylor had a solid outside shot to accompany his slashing game, he was primarily a driver who constantly attacked the rim. James, whose jumper can be off and on, is a full-blooded slasher who will get to the rim at all costs.
No matter how many defenders he has surrounding him, James finds ways to get to where he wants to be.
Baylor obviously attracted similar defense as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, where he was one of the few threats on the team outside of Jerry West. Yet even with the defense's attention on him at nearly all times, Baylor was one of the league's greatest athletes and knew how to utilize that athleticism to average 34 points per or more for three consecutive seasons.
Rebounder: Charles Barkley
A first-round pick of the Philadelphia 76ers in 1984, Charles Barkley spent the majority of his prestigious NBA career listed at only 6'6" and weighing in at 252 pounds.
During that career, he made a name for himself as one of the league's best rebounders. Despite standing the average height of today's shooting guard, Barkley was at or near the top of the rebounding leaders by season's end, grabbing 14.6 in 1986 and an even more impressive 13.5 at the age of 33. He made up for his lack of height with physical play, timing and knowing how to use his wide-frame to keep the taller, skinnier centers at bay.
Obviously, LeBron James isn't nowhere near Charles Barkley's level when it comes to rebounding. He can't compare when Barkley made it a purpose to grab rebounds and score. Charles was a player who was gifted with knowing how to use his body to its fullest potential.
Although it took longer, LeBron is finally coming into his own and recognizing the physical capacities of his body.
When it comes to rebounding, James has displayed his dominance, but isn't as dominant as he could be because he exerts his energy at all other facets of the game. However, as we saw during the Miami Heat's brief stint without Chris Bosh in the lineup, James is capable of putting up big rebounding numbers if his team calls upon him.
Against a loaded Indiana Pacers frontline, James' rebound numbers were 15, 9, 7, 18, 10 and six, respectively, through all six games of the series. That's 11 rebounds per game, accompanying 30 ppg and six apg.
LeBron made himself a more aggressive player in the series against Indiana, playing a lot of time at the four and spending time down low grabbing rebounds and making up for Bosh's absence.
James is similar to Barkley because he knows how to utilize his body like the Hall of Famer, as well as being able to appear as the biggest player contending for a rebounder, yet also probably being the shortest player in the pack.
Passer: Magic Johnson
One of the most popular, and appropriate, comparisons between an NBA legend and a player of today features LeBron James being matched up with Magic Johnson, a five-time champion and three-time MVP who played a game similar to James'.
It makes far more comparison than the Michael Jordan comparisons. Understood that the comparisons are dealing with the legacy of each player and not their overall style and approach to the game, but it's still unfair because we are just now getting the past the tip of the iceberg that is LeBron's career. Jordan had accomplished just as much as James, if you compare them by their ages.
But the Magic vs. LeBron comparisons? Those are fair when comparing how each player looks at the game and the overall influence on their teammates. The Los Angeles Lakers aren't "Showtime" without Magic leading the way, and the Cleveland Cavaliers aren't a relevant basketball town for seven years without James being the essence of Cleveland basketball.
The two are different in where they start out the game, James starting at small forward and Johnson running the point, but both play a game where the ball ends up in their hands for the majority of the game. Because they are such excellent decision-makers for players their size at 6'8" and 6'9", respectively, they possess a definitive advantage over their smaller defenders.
It explains why Magic averaged over 10 assists per for nine consecutive seasons and why LeBron was averaging seven assists per game on a team that wasn't nearly as good as Magic's Lakers. They both commanded the constant attention of the opposing defense, made the game revolve around their decisions and exhibited excellent decision-making when it comes to passing the ball.
Defender: Scottie Pippen
Because of the constant research being done to constantly analyze the history of the NBA, we are finding out more and more about the former great teams and the players who didn't always take the spotlight.
Over time, Scottie Pippen, simply dubbed "Jordan's sidekick" by some, has found himself regarded as one of the key reasons as to why Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were so wildly successful throughout the 1990's. Jordan led the show and orchestrated the masterpiece through 40-point games and game-winning shots, but it was Pippen who was doing everything else to make sure the Bulls were one of the league's most well-oiled and efficient teams.
Pippen was more than just a small forward. Like LeBron James, Pippen was listed as a three who could play multiple positions. In fact, he could defend every position with success similar to what James garnered when he defended the four and five. James primarily utilizes quick feet and athleticism to stay with his defender, while Pippen was a maestro when it came to using his length to pick the pocket of ball-handlers.
Watching that video and seeing Pippen front Charles Barkley in the post evokes memories of LeBron doing the same to Pau Gasol.
Scottie led the league in steals per at 2.9 in the 1994-95 season. LeBron has yet to average at least two steals in a season. However, that too can be attributed to James investing his energy to far more than his perimeter defense. Pippen was a defender before anything else, which is a trait that LeBron James cannot share with the eight-time All-Defensive first team member.
But what they can share is being a lockdown defender. We've seen countless times where Pippen has blanketed his assignment to the point of making that useless, and we've seen James turn the league's MVP into a black hole in the fourth quarter. When LeBron needs to look into a specific part of the game and is being relied on to perform, he will devote more of his energy to that part.
As it goes with rebounding and passing, James could be among the league's top statistical leaders if he didn't invest his energy at every facet.
Dominance: Shaquille O'Neal
Alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain, there was no player who was a more dominating presence in the NBA than Shaquille O'Neal.
While Abdul-Jabbar can attribute length and an unstoppable shot and Chamberlain to athleticism and a different time to their success, O'Neal can, obviously, thank his size for making him into the future Hall-of-Famer and legend that he's know as today. At 7'1", 325 pounds and somehow having quick feet at the same time, O'Neal was nearly unstoppable with his back to the basket, and would constantly require double-teams.
Averaging as much as 29.7 points, 13.9 rebounds and 3.5 blocks—the rebound and block highs came in his rookie year—O'Neal would also lead the league in PER five consecutive times, with a high of 30.6.
LeBron James can boast even more success when comparing his PER to O'Neal's thanks to a 31.7 PER in 2009.
Those rating's are so high because O'Neal and James command such an influence on the court. Even with Kobe Bryant on O'Neal's side and Dwyane Wade on James', both players stand as the team's top player when they're at their best. When O'Neal is working in the post and converting his jump hooks and James is converting his jumpers, the two cannot be stopped unless they're defended by multiple players, and even that may not be enough.
Now that LeBron is working out of the post, he and the Heat are as good as they've ever been. James is commanding a lot of attention because there isn't a sole defender who can match his strength and agility, and it's causing multiple defenders to go after LeBron. Once he sucks in the defenders, James is free to find the open defender for an easy score.
As we saw in the Heat's Game 5 triumph over Oklahoma City, James' influence is staggering; he assisted on nine of the Heat's 14 three-pointers.