Comparing LeBron's Value to His Defensive Value

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Comparing LeBron's Value to His Defensive Value
Gary Bogdon/Getty Images

There's no question right now that LeBron James is currently the best all-around, most complete basketball player on the planet.

James' game with and without the basketball is seemingly unstoppable for opposing teams, and it has generated a great deal of success both from an individual and team perspective. 

Though he's on track for yet another Most Valuable Player award, which would be his fourth in five years, it'd be interesting to break down the actual value of LeBron James as a player in terms of offense and defense.

It's fair to say that most casual NBA fans and even some of the more diehard stat junkies view most of LeBron's effectiveness through the scope of his offensive performance. Offensive output is simply an easier means of quantifying how good or bad a player's doing, since it provides tangible statistics like points, assists, rebounds and shooting percentages.

On defense, there are some telling statistics like blocks and steals, but those are not necessarily always reflective of just how effective someone is in regard to defending. Playing good defense requires various fundamentals that don't show up in the box score, like handling screens correctly or contesting a shot.

Due to James' freakish physical attributes enabling him to accomplish feats on the offensive end that make him appear to be a man amongst boys, fans are infatuated with this component of his game. Rather than taking notice of how well he closes out on a jump shot or how he fights through a tough screen, they see things like alley-oop dunks and turnaround jumpers.

Now that I've been able to explain the intricacies of how measurable defense is compared to offense, we can actually take a look to see how much value LeBron holds both defensively and offensively.

Since you've gotten this far without seeing any awe-inspiring LeBron highlights, we'll start off with his offensive value.

As you can see, there's almost nothing any team can do on defense to stop James once he gets rolling. He's really improved his shooting efficiency and range this season, as he's at a career high in field-goal percentage (56.5 percent) and three-point percentage (40.6 percent).

Aside from the typical LeBron we've seen in past years, where he slashes like a runaway freight train to the basket, we've now witnessed him really take control of his jump-shooting this season. As a result, teams are forced to worry about James' ability to score from just about anywhere when he has the ball in his hands.

This amount of versatility in his game opens things up for himself offensively, as well as the rest of his Miami Heat teammates.

Drawing copious amounts of attention while holding the basketball on the perimeter or driving in the lane allows for James to kick out to open teammates on the perimeter (see: Ray Allen) or dish to his favorite target and skilled cutter, Dwyane Wade.

Therefore, James holds a lot of value offensively, as he can tear a team up by himself or through his superb passing ability and facilitation. James is able to pick apart even the best defenses by combining his high basketball IQ with his versatile offensive game that allows him to perform well individually and as a teammate.

Statistically, his offensive rating comes in at 124.7, which means that he produces about 125 points per 100 possessions. James' rating is third in the NBA this season, just behind Chris Paul (126.8) and Tyson Chandler (133.1).

On defense, LeBron's build (6'8" and a healthy 250 pounds) makes him an intimidating figure to match up against. His strength allows him to guard some forwards who may have height or length advantages on him, as he can guard effectively in the post and on the perimeter.

James' defense also relies heavily on his sheer athleticism, which allows him to produce numerous highlights with exciting chase-down blocks that cut opposing fast breaks short.

His superb court vision lends itself to defense, too, as it factors into reading passing lanes and intercepting passes, which leads to his frequent fast-break opportunities. 

In terms of on-ball defense, James has a lot of tenacity, which often forces his assignments to make ill-advised shooting or passing decisions.

LeBron's defensive rating is less impressive than his offensive rating, as he is currently allowing about 101 points per 100 possessions. While that's still a very above-average score, it still doesn't land him in the top 10 for the season.

After comparing both the tangible and more abstract characteristics of James' overall skill set, it isn't easy to make a definitive call without a shadow of a doubt as to on which side of the ball he's most valuable.

However, I've decided that his explosive tendencies are best utilized when either he or his teammates have possession of the ball, therefore making him considerably more valuable on offense.

James' defense is still what I'd consider to be elite and among the best at his position, but to a greater extent, he's certainly built his individual career and team success through his offensive output. All of the awards and accolades LeBron's collected throughout his career are mainly an acknowledgement of his offensive abilities, which seem to be inexplicably expanding year after year.  

Overall, LeBron James is one of the most complete players to ever pick up a basketball, but even with his strong defense, his amazing talents with the ball make him most valuable offensively.

 

All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

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