How Miami Heat's LeBron James Is a Better Player Now Than Last Year

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How Miami Heat's LeBron James Is a Better Player Now Than Last Year
Jason Miller/Getty Images

It's fair to say that the year LeBron James had in 2012 was possibly the best stretch of basketball any human being had ever experienced.

James collected his third MVP award in the past four seasons. He lead the charge for Team USA in the Olympics to capture his second gold medal. And, most importantly, he silenced the critics by reaching the pinnacle of success in professional basketball, wining his first NBA championship.

As you can see, this is a pretty tough act to follow. After so much success in a relatively short time period, one could see how LeBron could become complacent and lose that hunger in the following season.

However, as we've witnessed throughout the course of the regular season, there's no coasting on James' part. His will to win and competitive edge, in fact, have seemingly increased, as evidenced by a historic 27-game win streak by the Miami Heat this season.

This motivated play and focus on success are telltale signs that LeBron James is simply a better basketball player right now than he's ever been.

Sure, it may seem obvious to say that guys in the NBA get better from season to season. But James' play last year was so dominant that it didn't even seem like something he could top.

Numbers-wise in the 2011-12 season, LeBron averaged a ridiculous stat line of 27.1 points, 6.2 assists and 7.9 rebounds. To top it off, he shot 53.1 percent from the field, a number you might see from a power forward or center who doesn't shoot further away than five feet from the basket. 

If you go to advanced statistics, it really provides more insight of how much damage he was doing to the opposition on the court. James' PER (player efficiency rating) was a ridiculous 30.74, making it the 10th-highest single-season PER in NBA history. The only other players ahead of James on that list, by the way, are a couple guys named Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan.

This season, LeBron's managed to bump up his averages in assists (7.3 per game), rebounds (8.0 per game) and field-goal percentage (56.5 percent). Though his scoring average dropped a bit to a humble 26.8 points per game, it's simply reflective of his increased facilitation of the Heat offense.

James' PER is also noteworthy, as it currently stands at 31.75. Should he complete the season with that number intact, it will be the highest PER posted by any NBA player since Wilt Chamberlain's 31.82 in 1963.

Outside of all of these statistics, LeBron has also really demonstrated his improvement from last season with his play outside of box-score numbers. 

A sample of this can be seen in this highlight video when James and the Heat faced the Oklahoma City Thunder earlier this season, a team considered to be Miami's biggest threat to preventing a second consecutive championship run.

As you can see, this was a very well played, complete, all-around game for James. His basketball IQ is at an all-time high, as he has a firm grasp on how to effectively attack a defense individually and as a team.

LeBron demonstrates a lot of patience with the ball, moves well without the ball and has shown off some excellent passing ability for a man of his size and position. Defensively, James has a great nose for the ball, cutting through passing lanes and chasing down opposing fast breaks for amazingly athletic blocks.

What's most important about this particular game is that the Heat handled the Thunder fairly easily, and LeBron James dismantled them on an individual level.

The difference between last year and this year for LeBron against one of his biggest competitors is that he looks so much more in control and at ease. There's an almost tangible amount of confidence exuding from James, which is contagious for the rest of the team. This is why the Heat were able to rip off 27 straight wins and why James looks to be unmatched by anyone else in the world in terms of what he can do with a basketball.

Having won a championship, it's like a gigantic weight has been lifted from LeBron's shoulders. Without so much hate being cast on him for a lack of success, he can finally play his game without distractions and focus on the task at hand.

That newfound freedom has really impacted just how locked in James has been this season. He's having fun, dominating and winning games.

He's made plenty of spectacular highlight plays.

But he's also made plenty of little plays that we don't see on TV or on the front page of Bleacher Report. 

Whatever the case, LeBron's been on a whole different level this season. James has crushed teams with his scoring, with his passing and even with his defense. This all-around attack has made him a favorite for yet another MVP award and also has other teams scratching their heads trying to figure out how to stop him and the Miami Heat from hanging another banner at the end of the season.

 

All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com

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