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Eye-Popping Numbers That Give LeBron James Proper Due Among All-Time NBA Legends

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Eye-Popping Numbers That Give LeBron James Proper Due Among All-Time NBA Legends
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LeBron James has put up some eye-popping numbers, both this season and throughout his career. Considering what he’s done in context of history, he belongs in the company of some of the greatest players in the history of the game.

He’s a man who has drawn a lot of passionate discourse, some of it favorable, much of it not.

His poorly executed “Decision” does not, however, determine his place in history. His play does, and when you look at his play objectively, it’s apparent he’s moved into the conversation of one of the 10 greatest to ever play the game.

Greatness is a term debated, overused, misunderstood and exaggerated—all at the same time. You might even say it’s been “greatly” abused. The important thing to understand about the word is that it’s relative.

The definition of "greatness" is, “Of an extent, amount or intensity considerably above the normal or average.”

To define it mathematically, “three” is greater than “two" but not quite as great as “four.” Therefore, whether “three” is great or not depends on the company it keeps. It is relative, not constant. It’s in part defined by average, and it’s in part defined by the highest subset above average.

To define it in NBA terms, the fewer players who have matched a player’s accomplishments, the greater the player is because he is that much further above average. The further “above average” he is, the greater he is.

When you look at the numbers LeBron James has put up, it puts his greatness in perspective.

There are four factors we'll consider when we view a player’s greatness: accrued numbers, peak-year numbers, awards and championships. When you look at all of these things together, LeBron James is in a company that only the greatest players in the history of the game share.

 

Accrued Numbers

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

A player's accrued numbers are his total career numbers. For different players, it means different things. For a point guard, assists are the most important stat. For centers and forwards, it is points and rebounds, and for shooting guards, it’s scoring numbers.

What makes James special is that he does everything well. He scores. He rebounds. He dishes. He is already just one of 12 players in history with 20,000 points, 5,000 assists and 5,000 rebounds. Even if we extend that range to 15,000 points, the list only expands to 16. Those players are:

Player

TRB

AST

PTS

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar*

17,440

5,660

38,387

Karl Malone*

14,968

5,248

36,928

Michael Jordan*

6,672

5,633

32,292

Kobe Bryant

6,524

5,828

31,415

Oscar Robertson*

7,804

9,887

26,710

John Havlicek*

8,007

6,114

26,395

Kevin Garnett

13,820

5,214

25,237

Jerry West*

5,366

6,238

25,192

Clyde Drexler*

6,677

6,125

22,195

Gary Payton

5,269

8,966

21,813

Larry Bird*

8,974

5,695

21,791

LeBron James

5,525

5,269

20,946

Scottie Pippen*

7,494

6,135

18,940

Lenny Wilkens*

5,030

7,211

17,772

Magic Johnson*

6,559

10,141

17,707

Jason Kidd

8,670

12,059

17,489

*Hall of Fame

Every eligible person on the list is either already in the Hall of Fame or will be eventually.

What’s remarkable about this and really should be eye-popping is that James has found himself on this list at just 28 years old.

The only other player to accomplish this by age 28 was Oscar Robertson. The next youngest person to accomplish it was Magic Johnson, who achieved it by age 30. If you include players up to the age of 32, you can add Kobe Bryant and Clyde Drexler to the list.

It’s mind-blowing here that only four other players in the history of the game even came within five years of accomplishing this as young as James.

To a degree, the list favors James because he came into the NBA at just 18, while many other players came in much older.

However, even if we look at the list by years in the league, James and Robertson are the only players to accomplish those totals in their first 10 years. Johnson did it in his 11th year. Larry Bird and Clyde Drexler get added in their 12th seasons. Michael Jordan and three others did in in their 13th.

Even if you factor in that James came out of high school, he still did remarkably fast.

 

Career Averages

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Certainly the career totals are there, but if you look at his career averages, James becomes even more remarkable.

James has averaged 27.6 points, 6.9 assists and 7.3 rebounds per game in his career. In the history of the NBA, only eight players averaged even 20 points, five assists and five rebounds per game over the course of their careers.

Player

AST

TRB

PTS

Michael Jordan*

5.3

6.2

30.1

LeBron James

6.9

7.3

27.6

Jerry West*

6.7

5.8

27.0

Oscar Robertson*

9.5

7.5

25.7

Dwyane Wade

6.1

5.1

24.8

Larry Bird*

6.3

10.0

24.3

Rick Barry*

5.1

6.5

23.2

Clyde Drexler*

5.6

6.1

20.4

Of the players on this list, only Robertson averaged more assists than James, only Robertson and Bird averaged more rebounds and only Jordan averaged more points. No one else has averaged 27 points, seven boards and six assists.

James is just 51 assists shy of being the only player other than Robertson with 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game. Once again, the “company he keeps” is composed of only the most elite players in the history of the game.

But even with Robertson, there are some things to take into consideration.

In 1965, the heart of Robertson’s career, the game was very different. The average NBA game was faster-paced and higher-scoring. It also featured many, many more missed shots. There was an average of 134.5 rebounds per game in 1965 compared to just 84.6 this season, meaning that Robertson had nearly 60 percent more rebound opportunities per game than James does today. There were also 28 percent more field goals per game, meaning more potential for points and assists.

When you account for the differences in the game, James’ stat line might be as impressive—or more so—than Robertson’s.

 

Season Averages

USA TODAY Sports

Breaking it down by seasons, James steps to the top of the mountain.

In the history of the NBA, there have been a grand total of 30 seasons where a player averaged 25 points, six rebounds and six assists while qualifying for the minutes leaderboard. James accounts for nine of them, the most in NBA history. Here is the complete list:

Player

From

To

Count

LeBron James

2005

2013

9

Oscar Robertson*

1961

1968

9

Larry Bird*

1985

1988

4

Michael Jordan*

1989

1992

3

John Havlicek*

1971

1972

2

Rick Barry*

1974

1974

1

Clyde Drexler*

1992

1992

1

Richie Guerin

1962

1962

1

Jerry West*

1966

1966

1

Players who have accomplished this are few and far between. Those who have accomplished it more than once, you can count on one hand—and the three other than James who have accomplished it three times or more are widely regarded as three of the 10 greatest players in the history of the game.

While his overall stats, career averages and season averages are elite, LeBron's game-to-game consistency may be the most impressive thing of all.

Currently, he’s on a streak of games in which he’s scored in double digits 491 consecutive games.

That dates back to January 6, 2007. Peyton Manning was still a month away from winning his first Super Bowl, the mortgage bubble was still perfectly inflated and Barack Obama was just some junior senator that gave a great speech at the DNC.

LeBron's streak is longer than Wilt Chamberlain or Oscar Robertson ever had. Kobe Bryant’s longest streak is only 211 games. In fact, Bryant’s two longest streaks added together fall short of James’ streak.

Only five other players have longer streaks. Here they are:

Player

Start Date

End Date

Days

Games

Michael Jordan

3/25/1986

12/26/2001

5755

866

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

12/4/1977

12/2/1987

3650

787

Karl Malone

12/18/1991

3/26/1999

2655

575

Moses Malone

11/4/1978

3/4/1985

2312

526

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

10/18/1969

1/7/1976

2272

508

LeBron James

1/6/2007

3/30/2013

2275

491

James already has the sixth-longest streak in history, and next season he can move that to the third-longest streak. And he still won’t be 30.

The more you pare it down, the more impressive James gets. He’s never been held scoreless. He’s only gone without a rebound three times. He’s failed to record an assist just twice.

LeBron has played in 761 games in his career. In those games, he’s amassed 25 points, five boards and five assists 349 times. That means he’s accomplished that feat in 45.9 percent of all the games he’s played. Here is a list of the 10 players that have accomplished that feat the most times, ordered by the percent of time they accomplished it.

Player

Count

Games

Percent

LeBron James

349

761

45.86%

Larry Bird*

162

418

38.76%

Michael Jordan*

289

1072

26.96%

Dwyane Wade

154

662

23.26%

Kobe Bryant

239

1232

19.40%

Clyde Drexler*

170

924

18.40%

Charles Barkley*

171

991

17.26%

Tracy McGrady

157

938

16.74%

Karl Malone*

245

1476

16.60%

Allen Iverson

150

914

16.41%

There are a few other players who feasibly put up more total games, but since Basketball-Reference's Game Finder only goes back to 1985, it’s hard to say.

Magic Johnson only scored 25 points 229 times in his entire career, ruling him out.

However, Larry Bird, with 412 games of at least 25 points, is possible. Robertson is probable, especially when you consider his triple-doubles and 30-point games. Abdul-Jabbar, an excellent passer for a center, might have more five-assist games than we’d expect too. Finally, Jerry West, whose career averages are all above those numbers, may have also hit that mark.

However, other than Robertson, it’s doubtful that any of them had over almost half of their games with at least 25 points, five rebounds and five assists.

 

Scoring Machine

Nick Laham/Getty Images

While much of this has focused on James' all-around game, his ability as a scorer is often taken for granted. Players like Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Durant get named as greater scorers, even though their career scoring averages fall well short of James’.

Here are the top 10 scorers in points per game in NBA history.

Rank

Player

PPG

1

Michael Jordan*

30.12

2

Wilt Chamberlain*

30.07

3

LeBron James

27.57

4

Elgin Baylor*

27.36

5

Jerry West*

27.03

6

Allen Iverson

26.66

7

Kevin Durant

26.59

8

Bob Pettit*

26.36

9

George Gervin*

26.18

10

Oscar Robertson*

25.68

In fact, James is third all-time in points per game, trailing only Jordan and Chamberlain. Additionally, earlier this season he became the youngest player in the history of the NBA to reach 20,000 points. Here are the players who reached that milestone before 30, and the age they were when they did it:

Player

Age

LeBron James

28 Years, 17 Days

Kobe Bryant

29 Years, 122 Days

Wilt Chamberlain

29 Years, 134 Days

Michael Jordan

29 Years, 326 Days

Note that the other three players on the list are now all among the top five scorers of all time. James isn’t just one of the great all-around players in NBA history; he’s also one of the greatest scorers in history.

 

Awards

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Numbers tell a big part of the story, but they don’t tell the whole story.

There is a measure of subjectivity involved in evaluating a player as well. Awards are a great way of measuring subjectivity, and the most distinguished of those awards is the Most Valuable Player.

The reason awards are a great way of measuring subjectivity is that they are a kind of snapshot of time, illuminating what the prevailing opinions were in that moment.

James is well on his way to winning his fourth MVP this season, barring something thoroughly implausible happening between now and when votes are cast, such as finding out that James really is a cyborg.

If he does win, then he’ll be only the fourth player with at least four MVPs. Only Chamberlain with four, Bill Russell and Jordan with five and Abdul-Jabbar with six have accomplished that.

In all, there are only 12 players in history who have even won multiple MVPs, accounting for 40 of the 57 total awards given. However, of the multiple award winners, only 17 won a title in the same season they won the award, and of those 17, only 11 went on to win the NBA Finals MVP in the same season.

Only two players in NBA history have won both the MVP award and the NBA Finals MVP award in the same season on two or more occasions. Michael Jordan did it four times. Larry Bird did it twice.

James has a very good chance of being the third this year. As it stands, he’s one of only seven players to win the regular-season MVP and Finals MVP in the season.

Here is the complete list of multiple award winners, the number of titles they won in that season and the number of NBA Finals MVPs they won the same season.

Player

MVPs

Title Same Year

Finals MVP Same Year

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

6

2

1

Bill Russell

5

4

0

Michael Jordan

5

4

4

Wilt Chamberlain

4

1

0

Magic Johnson

3

1

1

Larry Bird

3

2

2

Moses Malone

3

1

1

LeBron James

3

1

1

Tim Duncan

2

1

1

Bob Pettit

2

0

0

Karl Malone

2

0

0

Steve Nash

2

0

0

A significant footnote to this is that Bill Russell, for whom the NBA Finals MVP award is named, never won one because the award didn’t exist. Since his name is on the award, it’s a safe conclusion he might have won a few.

Gary Bogdon/Getty Images

Another coveted award is being named to either the All-NBA or All-Defensive teams. If James is named to the All-Defensive first team this year, he would become just the seventh player in NBA history to be named to both first teams on at least five occasions.

Being named to both first teams means that a player is regarded as the best at his position on both sides of the ball. When we view the list of players that have managed five first-team selections to both teams, we again see that James is in extremely rarefied company.

Player

All-NBA

All-Defensive

Total

Michael Jordan

10

9

19

Kobe Bryant

10

9

19

Tim Duncan

9

8

17

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

10

5

15

LeBron James*

7

5

12

Hakeem Olajuwon

6

5

11

*Assuming 2013 selections to both first teams.

The NBA also has awards for Player of the Week and Player of the Month. As these awards weren’t instituted until the 1979-80 season and were split by conferences beginning in the 2001-2002 season, there is definitely a bias towards more recent players.

However, even taking that into consideration, James is historical. He already has more Player of the Week and Player of the Month awards than anyone in history, both by a considerable margin. This is an indication of him consistently dominating the league.

Here are the only players with at least 20 POW awards and at least 10 POM awards:

Player

Week

Month

Total

LeBron James

43

24

67

Kobe Bryant

32

17

49

Michael Jordan

25

16

41

Shaquille O'Neal

20

15

35

Karl Malone

23

11

34

Since the 2008-09 season, James has won the POM award 18 out of 27 times, two-thirds of the time. This also means that in just the last five seasons, he’s won the award more than anyone in the history of the NBA. He’s also won 33 POW awards in that span—again, more than anyone in history.

Over the last five seasons James has dominated the league like few in history ever have.

His 25, five and five is like steady, rhythmic mortar fire, beating away on NBA opponents, game after game, week after week, month after month, season after season.  

His constancy is the true testament to his greatness.

The one strike against him is that he still has just the one ring, although that may change shortly.

Is LeBron James already a top-10 player in NBA history?

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The Miami Heat certainly seem poised to make a run at defending their title. If they successfully do so, and particularly if James wins a second NBA Finals MVP to go along with his fourth regular-season MVP, he should secure his positioning as one of the 10 greatest players in the history of the game, even if he never played again.

When you look at James and the kind of production he’s had, there is an extremely select group that share his company.

Statistically, they are names like Jordan, Johnson, Bird and Robertson. When it comes to awards and accolades, they are names like Russell, Jordan, Bird, Abdul-Jabbar and Bryant.

All the names that have accomplished what James has accomplished are nearly universally regarded as among the 10 greatest players in the history of the game.

The company he keeps proves it’s time to start including James in that conversation. And the more his jewelry collection grows, the further up that list he is going to climb.

What if he reaches six…

 

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