LeBron James Makes Being the Best Look Easy
If you just watched NBA basketball since the All-Star break for the first time in 10 years since, you wouldn't know you missed a single game.
Well, you wouldn't know it if you watched the Lakers.
Kobe Bryant has averaged 31.9 points since the break, and his Lakers have won 8-of-10 games.
Over his last three games, vintage Kobe has showed up and then some.
In New Orleans on March 6, the Lakers found themselves down by as many as 25 and down by 18 entering the fourth quarter. With 6:47 left, the Hornets led 102-88. Seven minutes and 13 Kobe Bryant points later, the Lakers had won, 108-102.
Two nights later, the Lakers found themselves down 10 entering the fourth, and down five with 2:20 left. Three incredibly difficult three-pointers from Bryant later, the game was heading to overtime. The Lakers would go on to win, 118-116.
In both games, Bryant had 40-plus points and 12 assists, the first two times in his career he'd accomplished such a feat.
If Kobe was the best player in the world for the better part of a decade and is now having career nights in his 17th NBA season, certainly this must still be his league, right?
Over in Miami, the Heat have also been playing pretty good basketball since the break. They're a respectable 11-0, and LeBron James has put up 25.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.1 assists during that stretch.
James and the Heat have been so dominant that he hasn't had as many clutch moments as Bryant of late, but he still hit a game-winner with three seconds left against Orlando on March 6.
There's no way around it: LeBron James is the best basketball player in the world right now. This was true last season, and the season before that, but as James keeps improving his game significantly, the debate keeps becoming less and less interesting.
From his second season on, James has been putting up numbers that no one can hang with. Ever since his rookie year, his career lows are as follows: 26.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.6 blocks and 47.2 percent shooting efficiency.
In other words, a composite of LeBron's worst statistical season in each major category is still MVP-worthy.
What makes him so special, however, is his never-ending drive to improve. This is most apparent on the offensive end, as James has added a new move or a refined shot to his arsenal every season since 2007—the year James singlehandedly led the Cavaliers to an Eastern Conference Championship.
Don't believe me? Check out James' shooting percentages since the 2006-07 season: 47.6, 48.4, 48.9, 50.3, 51.0, 53.1, 56.2.
Really? .56.2 percent from the field? Was 53.1 really not good enough?
No, it wasn't. The Heat may have won the championship last season, but champions don't repeat by staying the same. Not in today's insanely athletic, meticulously scouted and coached, and ultra-competitive NBA.
So rather than spending the offseason celebrating, James improved the one part of his game that opponents were willing to give to him: the three-point shot.
James has become one of the league's best long-range shooters this season, knocking down the trey at a .404 percent clip.
This should have been expected though. After all, a guy who was, after his rookie season, simply the NBA's best one-man fast break, penetrator and finisher at the rim is now amongst the NBA's best passers, post-up scorers, rebounders, defenders and clutch finishers.
LeBron's across-the-board dominance is so redundant that people often see past it. Other players still, somehow, someway enter the "best in the league" conversation.
It's Kobe Bryant this week, it's usually Kevin Durant, sometimes it's even Tony Parker.
OK, we'll give these guys a fair chance and take the highest total amongst the three in every statistical category. This hypothetical superhuman "tri-brid" would average 28.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.9 blocks while shooting 50.4 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from deep.
In a world where this hypothetical superhuman existed, however, they would still be the second-best player in the NBA.
LeBron would be inched out by this player in scoring and three-point shooting, but would still out-rebound, out-assist, out-steal, out-block and out-shoot this player from the floor.
It wouldn't be a stretch to give LeBron James this year's MVP, Defensive Player of the Year honors and even Most Improved Player honors.
Yes, James is respected universally as a surefire Hall of Famer and amongst the best in the game today. Still, until it is fully recognized how unprecedented and unparalleled James' dominance is, the defining talent of a generation of athletes will continue to be, technically, underrated.
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