LeBron James can still surprise us.
One of the single-greatest players to ever grace the hardwood has done just about all you can do over the last nine years. He's switched teams, won championships, won MVPs, set records, turned three-point shooting woes into an undeniable strength and taken the phrase "volume efficiency" to new heights.
And he's not done.
Going on 29, LeBron isn't on the verge of retiring—not even to play Minor League Baseball. He's still traversing the prime of his career and somehow getting better.
“I want to be the greatest player of all time,” LeBron said, per ESPN's Tom Haberstroh. “It’s that simple. But I’m far from that.”
If becoming the greatest of all time remains his goal and he's still "far from" making it happen, that, in a nutshell, means the best has yet to come.
As far as chilling concepts go, it doesn't get scarier or more thrilling than being able to acknowledge the world's most talented player still has some scores to settle.
No, he can't. Seriously, no. Shoot 60 percent from the floor? LeBron? Puh-lease.
Only three players in NBA history have ever converted 60 percent of their shots over an entire season while also attempting at least 15 per game—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1979-80), Kevin McHale (1986-87) and Shaquille O'Neal (2004-05). Know what they had in common? They were all centers, not point forwards. They weren't jacking up threes or long twos. They were in the post, using their height and, in Shaq's case, overwhelming strength to create high-percentage shots at the rim.
Short of LeBron discontinuing his outside game, it's not going to happen. And he's not going to cease shooting threes or jumpers altogether, so it's not going to happen.
But as The Miami Herald's Joseph Goodman points out, it could.
Between January 12 and February 26 of last season, a span that included more than 20 games, LeBron shot better than 60 percent from the field. He also did so while attempting more than 17 shots a night, nearly four of which came from downtown. So, wow.
Fresh off shooting a career-best 56.5 percent for the year overall, we shouldn't doubt his ability to become even more efficient. Reaching the 60-percent mark equates to a 6.2 percent increase in efficiency over last season, a statistical jump he isn't incapable of.
“Nothing surprises me about that guy,” Shane Battier said, per Goodman. “As long as he’s willing to take the punishment of trying to shoot 60 percent, which means a few more rim attacks a game, it’s possible.
And he could do it again.
LeBron is too good for a 50/40/90 to mean as much as it does to others. Plus, it's so Kevin Durant. So last year. Steve Nash himself notches 50/40/90 campaigns in his sleep.
We're already talking about The King shooting 60 percent from the floor. If that's possible, a 60/40/90 extravaganza becomes possible. Until now, it hasn't been possible. For anyone.
Aside from draining 60 percent of his shots, LeBron would also have to maintain his newfound shooting prowess from beyond the rainbow. He buried a career-high 40.6 percent of his treys last season, the second straight year he elevated his efficiency from downtown. The time for him to regress back toward his previous three-point-challenged ways wouldn't be now.
Finally, he'd have to make at least 90 percent of his free-throw attempts. Pat Riley believes he can do it, saying "our goal is to get [James] up over 90 percent from the free-throw line," per Haberstroh, just after the Heat secured their second consecutive championship.
LeBron, who has never shot better than 78 percent from the foul line and connected on just 75.3 percent of his freebies last season, laughed at Riley's notion.
"Ninety percent is not the goal, that is out of control,” he said, via Haberstroh. “Let me get to 80 percent first. Let me get to 78 percent.”
Though he chuckled then, LeBron is also on the record as saying he could hit a 90-percent benchmark if he wanted to.
“I can achieve anything if I just make it a goal of mine,'' he told Fox Sports Florida's Chris Tomasson back in May. "I never made it a goal of mine. If I decided to do it, I can make it happen.’’
Should he make 60/40/90 a goal, and it be one he achieves, he'll have done something no one ever has before. Not Michael Jordan. Not Magic Johnson. No one.
LeBron has never been more valuable to the Heat than he is now.
What with Dwyane Wade's knee, Chris Bosh's continued exploration of mediocrity, the ages of Shane Battier (35), Chris Andersen (35) and Ray Allen (38) and Miami taking calculated risks on Michael Beasley and Greg Oden, the Heatles need No. 6 now more than ever.
Even last year, his growing importance showed. In 2011-12 he accounted for 14.5 of the Heat's 46 win shares, the fourth-lowest total of his career. But that was during a lockout-truncated crusade. Miami played only 66 games. Extrapolated, LeBron's 14.5 in 66 equates to roughly 18 in 82 games. Beyond impressive.
Then came 2012-13, during which he represented 19.3 of Miami's 66 win shares, the second-highest accumulation of his career. And in 2013-14, he could take it a step further.
His 20.3 mark with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2008-09 tied him with Jordan for the 16th-most in league history. What LeBron does in 2013-14, on the Heat, a superteam both capable of closing in on 70 victories while still living and dying by The Chosen One, could be better.
No one will ever average a triple-double again. That ship has basically sailed. LeBron himself could come the closest we ever see again.
So get the thought of him averaging a triple-double out of your head. Actually, don't. I like dreamers. Just don't bank on it happening (it won't.) But he could join Oscar Robertson, the only player to ever average a triple-double for an entire season, in a different regard.
LeBron has yet to average a double-double. He's surpassed 10 points a night rather easily each and every year, but grabbing either 10 boards or dishing out 10 dimes has eluded him. That could change in 2013-14.
The Chosen One finished last year averaging eight rebounds and 7.3 assists per game, in addition to his 26.8 points. I'll let you sit on that for a second, because like the invention of sliced bread, it deserves a moment of silence.
Picture now, if you will, LeBron maintaining his assists average while grabbing 10 rebounds a night. Broken-record style, it could happen. The Heat, even with Birdman and Oden, remain small enough to where LeBron will probably lead the team in rebounds again.
When—I mean if—that happens, LeBron would be only the third player in NBA history to average at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists per game in a single season, the others being The Big O (three times) and Wilt Chamberlain (twice).
I won't say that's not going to happen, because it could. Hell, after that, I will even entertain future arguments for a LeBron triple-double campaign.
Five NBA teams have won three titles in a row; the Heat have an opportunity to become the sixth this season.
Jordan has done it. Twice. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal have done it, too. Russell also did it (my goodness, eight in a row).
Across the sporting world—not just the NBA, but everywhere—winning three straight titles is the pinnacle of success. Doing it puts LeBron among legends he is frequently compared to, none more often than Jordan.
Winning another title in 2014 puts him right there with Jordan. With Kobe. It also puts him in position—free-agency decision permitting—to win a fourth consecutive championship in 2015, something only Russell's Boston Celtics have done before.
More importantly, it brings him one title closer to becoming the greatest NBA player of all time.
Do you know what Jordan and Magic also never did? Win three straight league MVPs.
Plenty of players have won back-to-back Maurice Podoloff Trophies. LeBron himself has accomplished such a feat twice. Winning three in a row puts him in the limited company of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird, the only three players in NBA history to take home three consecutive MVP awards.
Reeling in another one also puts LeBron on the cusp of an unprecedented four straight MVPs. No one has ever secured four in a row. A third straight one would keep that hope alive, would make it possible for LeBron to stand completely alone there.
In the interest of getting even more ahead of ourselves, remember that an MVP in 2013-14 would give him five, the same number as Russell and Jordan, and one less than Kareem's six.
If he can get his fifth this year, when he's 29, I'd like to on the record as saying he'll not only match Kareem's six, he'll retire with at least seven, the most of any player ever.
That chill you feel trickling down your spine at the moment, those are goosebumps. Get used you to them.