LeBron James' Absurd 2012-13 NBA Season by the Numbers
LeBron James' historically brilliant 2012-13 regular season will get some official recognition on Sunday when he'll be awarded his fourth Most Valuable Player Award, according to ESPN.com's Michael Wallace.
But does that honor, the highest individual achievement the NBA can bestow, really do enough to reward James for what he did this season? Maybe there needs to be some other trophy for players who blow away their peers by such a wide margin.
That's probably a topic for another time, though.
For now, a dive into the numbers might help quantify just how spectacular James' season truly was.
Since James' fourth MVP award is kind of the impetus for this retrospective, that seems to be as good a place to start as any.
By winning this year's title, James will pull into a tie with Wilt Chamberlain, who also captured a quartet of MVP trophies. Now, only Bill Russell (five), Michael Jordan (five) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) rank ahead of LBJ in that category.
LeBron now has twice as many MVPs as Michael Jordan did when he was 28.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 3, 2013
Not only that, but James now has more such awards than a whole bunch of other past greats combined:
LeBron now has as many MVPs as Kobe, Iverson, Shaq and Dirk combined.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 3, 2013
And by winning four in five years, James joins Russell as the only player to ever do that.
MVPs are easy to count, but what's harder to quantify is James' overall statistical contribution on the court.
But thanks to the handy-dandy "Player Efficiency Rating" we can get a good idea of just how valuable he was this year.
It should go without saying that James' PER of 31.6 was tops in the league, but what makes his 2012-13 season even more impressive was the fact that he led the NBA in that category for the sixth year in a row.
Historically, James' efficiency rating checks in as the seventh best of all time. Three seasons by Chamberlain were better, as were two by Jordan and one by James, himself, in 2008-09. That last bit—about how this season rated as only the second best of James' own career—is almost enough to call the validity of that stat into question.
Anyone who watched James play five years ago would certainly concede that he was an amazing player then, but his efficiency this season certainly made it seem like he had an even better individual season.
We're not here to debate the merits of PER, though; we're here to chronicle James' ridiculous numerical accomplishments. So at the very least, we can definitively say that James had one of the seven best seasons ever by one of the better metrics available.
It's All About Efficiency
Here's where things get crazy. Forget MVPs and PER for now; what made James' 2012-13 campaign so ridiculously good was his efficiency.
James averaged 26.8 points, eight rebounds and 7.3 assists per game during the regular season. Only four players (Michael Jordan, John Havlicek, Larry Bird and Oscar Robertson) have ever done that in a single season. Between those four players, they accumulated nine such seasons.
But that doesn't even account for the very best part of James' campaign: his efficiency.
If we start paring down that group of nine seasons by bringing field-goal percentage into the equation, James' greatness begins to emerge.
By using a 50 percent cutoff, we trim the list to just three individual seasons: Robertson's 1962-63 season, Bird's 1986-87 season and Jordan's 1988-89 season.
Remember, though, that James shot 56.5 percent from the field this year.
So, as you may have guessed, the upshot is this: No player in the history of the NBA has ever posted traditional, per-game averages like James' with anything even approaching his level of efficiency from the field.
It shouldn't be surprising, then, that James put together some impressively efficient streaks during the year. Chief among those was a six-game span in which he scored at least 30 points while making at least 60 percent of his shots.
And he couldn't have done all of that without a major addition to his game: a suddenly accurate three-point shot.
LeBron's 3-pt FG pct of 40.6% is highest for any player that averaged at least 25 PPG and 7 APG in a season in NBA history.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 3, 2013
Though they feel like footnotes to his season, some of James' other historical accomplishments deserve mention too.
In January, James became the youngest player to ever amass 20,000 career points, beating the former record-holder, Kobe Bryant, by more than a full year. That's pretty good for a player like James, for whom scoring is often an afterthought.
Appropriately, LBJ also racked up his 5,000th assist in that same game against the Golden State Warriors, becoming one of only 13 players in NBA history with 20,000 points and 5,000 assists. If he stopped playing today, he'd already be a sure bet for the Hall of Fame.
But he's only 28 years old.
Because the stats community is so far behind in its effort to quantify defense, much of James' brilliance still goes unnoticed.
There are no numbers (at least ones that are currently available to the public) that show how devastatingly quick James is in rotating into help positions on defense or how adept he is at shutting off passing lanes. Those things are just as valuable as points, rebounds and assists, but because we don't yet have easily digestible numbers to measure them, it's hard to say just how much better James is on defense than everyone else.
Call it a hunch, but I'm guessing the margin is pretty wide.
What we do know is that LBJ made the Heat about three-and-a-half points per 100 possessions stingier when he was on the court. But that number still doesn't reflect the value he brings as a player capable of guarding all five positions effectively.
We don't have many numbers here, but it's just not right to discuss James' terrific season without some reference to his currently unquantifiable contributions on defense.
Beyond the Numbers
Don't worry; we're done with rankings, percentages and historical lists. And that's appropriate because the other thing that made James' 2012-13 season so incredible also goes beyond things we can count.
The effortless way in which James compiled those statistics may have actually been more impressive than the numbers themselves.
LBJ coasted through huge portions of games all season long, content to set up his teammates, play within the flow of the offense and generally exhibit a relaxed demeanor. He did that because he knew he could take over most games if he needed to.
So as rare as James' numbers were this past season, his ability to accumulate them without expending even one unnecessary drop of sweat may have been rarer still.
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