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Comparing LeBron James' Production at Small Forward to Power Forward

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 19:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat drives in the post in the second half against Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Four of the 2012 NBA Finals on June 19, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2017

No matter which position Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra decides to play reigning-MVP LeBron James at, Heat fans can expect James to thrive there.

There isn't a lot of difference between James the small forward and James the power forward. The former is a two-time MVP who solidified his career as an all-time great. The latter is both a regular-season and NBA Finals MVP who has just further cemented his place among the NBA's greatest of greats.

Even the statistical differences are negligible. Since the King's sophomore season in 2004-05, he has averaged between 27.1 and 31.4 points, 6.0 and 8.6 assists and 6.7 and 7.9 rebounds.

But Spoelstra made the decision to slide James to the power forward spot for a few reasons.

For starters, James, perhaps the most versatile player in league history, is talented enough to efficiently play both ends of the floor at the position.

Offensively, James the power forward is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. He can punish finesse power forwards with an offensive attack refined by Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon. And for the 2012-13 season, he is rumored, according to Michael Wallace of ESPN.com, to be adding a hook shot to his growing post-offense repertoire.

As for the more physical, bigger defenders, James can simply draw them away from the basket with a reliable perimeter shot (36.2 percent from the three-point line in 2011-12). Once the defenders stray too far from the rim, James can blow by them and finish plays at the rim or find one of Miami's countless deep threats.

And that passing ability has taken on a new life from the post, particularly when teamed alongside potent shooter Chris Bosh. Coach Spoelstra may think of his players as being position-less, but he's undoubtedly excited about the spacing created with James at the power-forward spot.

James' move to the post in 2011-12 brought along with it career highs in field-goal percentage (53.1) and three-pointer percentage (36.1) and the second-most offensive rebounds in his career (1.5).

Today's NBA has largely been seen as a golden age of point guards, but the small-forward position has a wealth of talent that the power-forward spot cannot match, particularly in the Eastern Conference. Sean Deveney of sportingnews.com recently ranked the top-10 power forwards in the league and only included two from the East (Atlanta's Josh Smith and New York's Amar'e Stoudemire), although he notably left James off his list.

Defensively, playing the power-forward position has allowed James to roam more, crowding passing lanes and challenging shots from the weak side. The 2011-12 season saw him set a career high in rebounds (7.9) and post the second best steals average of his career (1.9).

James was an all-time great before switching positions. But now that he has made that transition, he has entrenched the Heat as championship favorites for years to come, which is the best way to build a comparable legacy to Jordan's.

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