Does LeBron James Also Have a Mental Edge Over NBA?

Sam RichmondCorrespondent IMarch 18, 2013

We often hear people say and write that LeBron James is the most physically gifted player in the NBA.

That point is true.

What isn't always said, even though it's also true, is that James is one of the league's smartest and most mentally tough players.

James has a complete command of basketball right now, and that's because he's been able to mesh the mental aspect of the game with talent like few have ever done before him.

It's nearly impossible for defenses to stop James when he attacks the basket, as he converts an absolutely absurd 79.2 percent of his attempts at the rim, according to Hoopdata. James understands this and takes it to the rack relentlessly. It should come as no surprise that his 6.7 attempts per game at the rim are the most for any non-center.

Take a look at the chart below. Look at the rate of LeBron's shots that come from very close to the basket. He takes complete advantage of his physical tools by taking the highest of high-percentage shots.

But it's not just scoring that makes LeBron special. It never has been. His greatness stems from his ability to impact the game in other areas.

Part of why James has such a profound all-around impact is because there's not a player who understands what his team needs night after night and can provide it like he can.

The Heat are an undersized team. The starting center, Chris Bosh, isn't a very good rebounder. Because of that, Miami really needs LeBron to fight for rebounds.

James has more rebounds than Bosh and every other Heat player this season.

The Heat don't have a great passing point guard in the slightest. Their top assisting point guard, Mario Chalmers, averages just 3.3 per contest.

So LeBron plays the role of primary distributor, dishing out 7.1 dimes nightly.

As great as this Heat team is, it does have weaknesses. But James, so aware of those weaknesses, covers them up for Miami and has propelled it to be the league's premier team.

James realistically could lead the league in scoring every season if he wanted to. Excluding centers, LeBron's 55.5 shooting percentage is the best rate by a long shot. But James doesn't care about scoring the most points; he cares about winning, and he realizes the way to do that is to get his teammates involved.

What also doesn't get talked about enough with LeBron from a mental standpoint is his ability to maintain his composure regardless of circumstance.

A great example of this comes from last year's Eastern Conference finals against the rival Boston Celtics. It's not a secret that Celtics veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have long thought they could get into James' head with smack talk. But in that series against the Celtics, James showed how little that type of stuff bothers him. 

As the video above shows, when Garnett started talking at James late in Game 1, LeBron didn't engage Garnett and talk back. He simply laughed at him.

But as Grantland's Bill Simmons noted at the time, Garnett and Pierce continued to taunt James, especially in Game 5.

James' rebuttal this time was even better than laughing at Garnett.

He went out in the Garden the next game, a do-or-die Game 6 in front of a huge crowd and a team that supposedly had his number, and dominated the Celtics (45 points and 15 rebounds) in a special way. Even with teammates, he rarely talked. He might not have cracked a smile all game. He was simply stoic.

He blocked everything else out and just focused on playing basketball. 

Winning a championship in the following playoff series has allowed James to focus even more on the game this year. There are fewer distractions about what the media will say about him or whether his coach will get fired if the Heat lose. He can just play and enjoy the game.

Mentally, LeBron is free. 

It shouldn't be a surprise he's playing the best basketball this season that anyone's played since the days of Michael Jordan.

At this point in his career, along with his immense physical gifts, he has everything you could want from a mental standpoint in terms of basketball IQ and the ability to stay composed. 

LeBron is simply unstoppable, mentally and physically. Unfortunately for the rest of the NBA, with James entering his prime, that won't change anytime soon. 

Follow me on Twitter @srichmond93.