How LeBron James Has Exceeded Expectations in Each Year of His NBA Career
He was a basketball prodigy who proved deserving of the hype he received the very first time he stepped onto an NBA floor.
He then had an answer for those who questioned his ability to shoot the basketball. Another for others who said he wasn't willing to be a great defender.
James also proved he could lead his team to the playoffs much sooner than people expected. He then won his first series in similar fashion, before eventually eliminating a perennial power in the Eastern Conference finals.
Along the way, he became the league's most valuable player. Then, finally, an NBA champion.
2003-04: LeBron James Wins Rookie of the Year
LeBron James was supposed to play well his rookie season in the NBA. He was also expected to provide evidence of the fact that he would one day be great.
He exceeded those expectations by being great from the first time he stepped onto an NBA floor. As a 19-year-old, James proved to be more productive than fellow rookies Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade.
Anthony had just completed a national championship run the season before at Syracuse, Wade a trip to the Final Four with Marquette.
James would edge both players out for Rookie of the Year by collecting 78 first-place votes out of a possible 118 to win the award.
He finished his first season with averages of 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game.
2004-05: James Develops a Three-Point Jump Shot
Heading into his second season, the skeptics would tell you that LeBron James was not a complete player. Until he could become at least serviceable from three-point range, he never would be either.
The doubters would reference his rookie season statistics in support of such claims. James shot only 29 percent from three during the previous season. He attempted 217 as a rookie, making only 63.
It was expected to take him a few years, at least, to improve this area of his game.
James developed a good enough three-point shot that next season, however, to finish 35.1 percent from long range on the year.
He wasn't Steve Kerr by any means, but converting 108 of the 308 three-pointers he attempted was more than enough to keep defenses honest.
2005-06: LeBron Leads Cavaliers to the Playoffs
The Cleveland Cavaliers roster still wasn't very good in LeBron James' third NBA season.
They were not necessarily expected to make the playoffs before the year began. They also hadn't advanced to the playoffs as an organization for eight seasons.
During the 2004-05 campaign, however, James would exceed expectations for how far he could lead his team by willing the Cavs into postseason play.
He averaged 31.4 points per game that year, finishing second in the MVP race to Steve Nash.
He helped his team improve from 35 regular-season wins to 50 in just three seasons.
Then, James opened his playoff career with a triple-double in his first game. Followed by a series win over the Washington Wizards.
2006-07: James Beats Detroit Pistons in Eastern Conference Finals
By the 2006-07 season, LeBron James was a consensus superstar.
His numbers were expected to be fantastic, and they were in every way imaginable. But he was yet to have that defining win, something the doubters would suggest was unattainable.
Against the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals that year, he turned in the historic effort needed to silence those critics.
With the series tied at 2-2, James played arguably his best game ever in Game 5 of the ECF. He scored 48 points on 18-of-33 shooting from the field, hitting every shot imaginable down the stretch.
James pushed his Cavs past the Pistons 109-107 in that critical game, going on to then win the series in six.
2007-08: LeBron Scores 10,000 Points Before Kobe
During the 2007-08 season, the LeBron James vs. Kobe Bryant debate began in earnest. To an extent, it hasn't stopped since.
At 23 years old, James added fuel to the debate for NBA supremacy by reaching 10,000 points before Bryant did.
From the AP in February of 2008:
James reached the 10,000-point milestone at 23 years and 59 days, more than a year younger than Kobe Bryant was when he hit the milestone in 2003 (24 years, 193 days). It took James 368 games to do it—the ninth-fastest in league history.
Prior that season, the only people truly arguing that James was better than Bryant were those who lived in Cleveland. After reaching this milestone sooner than Kobe, LeBron began to slowly change those expectations.
2008-2009: LeBron Wins His First MVP
For as good as he'd been throughout his career, there were still those who said that LeBron James still wasn't the NBA's overall best player heading into the 2008-09 season.
Some suggested wildly that James may never actually take that next step, fully separating himself from the rest of his NBA contemporaries.
He went on to average over 28 points, seven assists and seven rebounds that season, though, being named the league's MVP in the process.
2009-10: James Proves He's an Elite Defender
There had been whispers throughout his career that LeBron James was not an elite defender.
During his previous season, he was named NBA All-Defensive First Team for the first time in his career. Some considered that was simply a residual effect from being named MVP.
That next season, though, he proved he belonged amongst the NBA's elite on the defensive side of the ball.
He was named an NBA All-Defensive First Team winner again for the second time, averaging one block and 1.6 steals per game.
2010-11: LeBron Proves He Can Coexist with Superstars
How would LeBron James coexist with two other alpha-dog, ball-dominant superstars in Miami? The expectation was that he'd take a back seat, playing more of a point guard role in order to help facilitate.
In the end, he still averaged over 26 points to go along with seven assists and seven rebounds. He didn't lead the Heat to an NBA championship, but he did help them all the way to the finals.
During the regular season, on a roster with both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, he was also his team's primary option offensively.
2011-12: James Wins an NBA Title
The NBA championship was his final hurdle.
The roars of "LeBron can't win an NBA title" were even louder heading into last season. He had just lost the previous year and played poorly in the process.
But James responded to those critics in triumphant fashion. He went wire-to-wire as the league's MVP to win his first NBA championship.
He was the biggest reason his team won that championship too, something nobody expected when he first arrived in Miami.