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The Newest Version of LeBron James Proves He's Still Getting Better

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The Newest Version of LeBron James Proves He's Still Getting Better
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

How is this possible? 

The best player in the world isn't supposed to keep getting better, yet that's exactly what LeBron James is doing during the 2013-14 season. It's just not fair. 

Through the first 11 games, LeBron is averaging 26.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.3 blocks per game. At first glance, it seems like that's a decline for the reigning MVP, as those per-game numbers are all steps down from the ones he posted during the 2012-13 campaign. 

But that's only because we haven't stopped to look at his shooting percentages yet. 

Thus far, he's knocking down 61 percent of his shots from the field, 51.7 percent of the looks from beyond the three-point arc and 75.3 percent of his attempts at the charity stripe. How's that for impressive? 

All the freebies are just in line with what he's done over the last few years, but take a gander at how the other two percentages have trended over the past five seasons: 

Graphic created with Infogr.am.

That just isn't how it's supposed to work. 

LeBron has consistently gone into the offseason and added new elements to his game, and they keep manifesting themselves in his on-court performance. Over the last few offseasons, he was improving his post game. 

Now he seems to have a vastly improved jumper and a whole new set of moves. Plus, Synergy Sports (subscription required) shows that his points per possession when posting up has risen from 0.89 last year to a staggering 1.02 this season. 

Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

Other than hard work, how else do you explain the Dirk Nowitzki-esque flamingo fadeaways that he's suddenly been hitting? As ESPN's Tom Haberstroh wrote (subscription required): 

Take for instance James' fadeaway (a la Dirk Nowitzki) that he appears to be incorporating more into his game this season (GIF'd here by Heat.com's Danny Martinez.) James went back for seconds with that shot against the Charlotte Bobcats. He used it on Saturday for his opening bucket of the game, rendering Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's seven-foot wingspan utterly useless.

The best one came against the Dallas Mavericks, as he hit it to extend a small lead right after Dirk used the move himself. 

Does it get any prettier than that? 

But that's by no means the only tool that LeBron has added to his already ridiculous arsenal. He's better than ever in the post, utilizing his spinning jumper to great success. He's creating looks around the rim whenever he wants to get them. He's a freight train in transition, posting 1.49 points per possession, up from 1.46 last year.

He's just unstoppable. 

To put the percentages in perspective, only two players have better field-goal percentages at this point in the season: Jordan Hill and Andre Drummond. Both of them are content to fill up the stat sheet solely through their efforts in the paint, thriving off put-back dunks and alley-oop finishes. 

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Combined, Hill and Drummond are averaging 22.7 points per game. LeBron is averaging 26, and he's putting up his numbers from all over the court. 

According to SportsVU data on NBA.com, no qualified player has posted a higher shooting percentage when driving to the basket, defined as, "Any touch that starts at least 20 feet of the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop and excludes fast breaks."

Among the 59 players driving at least four times per game, James' 68.8 percent shooting reigns supreme. But his greatness doesn't stop there. 

How about on close shots, which are defined as non-drives that originate within a dozen feet of the hoop?

There are 42 players scoring at least three points per game in that situation, and only 10 of them are posting a higher percentage than James' 71.4: Mason Plumlee, Chris Bosh, Luol Deng, Greg Monroe, Serge Ibaka, Zach Randolph, Jordan Hill, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond

If you're not noticing a trend, you should be. With the notable exception of Deng, LeBron is the only non-big man on the list. In fact, you have to go all the way down to Nos. 16 and 25 to get the next two combo forwards (Thaddeus Young and Shawn Marion, respectively). No guards can be found.

And it doesn't stop there either. 

On catch-and-shoot opportunities, LeBron is No. 8 in efficiency among players averaging at least three points per game in that situation. If we shift gears and look at pull-up opportunities, he's 12th. 

Across the board, it reads, "elite, elite, elite."

Oh, and I haven't even mentioned that he ranks ninth in the NBA in three-point percentage while firing away on 2.6 triples per game. 

In fact, there's no point even comparing him to the rest of the players in the league right now. Given all you've heard about his efficiency, there shouldn't be any way that LeBron is in the hunt for a scoring title. After all, he must be selecting his shots carefully and eschewing any questionable looks. 

But is there such a thing as a questionable look for LeBron anymore? Are you really going to complain about him taking a contested jumper if he decides that's the best decision?

Although he's separated from Kevin Durant by 3.6 points per game, LeBron currently sits at No. 3 in the scoring chase, trailing only Durant and Kevin Love. That's just ridiculous, which means that it's time to put things in a more historical context. 

Dick Raphael/Getty Images

Throughout NBA history, there have been 1,122 seasons in which a player averaged at least 20 points per game while qualifying for the scoring title. Of those 1,122, 346 have come while the player in question makes at least half of his shots from the field. 

Alright, so that's still not too special. After all, LeBron, Klay Thompson, Blake Griffin and Eric Bledsoe all qualify for that group right now. But what about shooting 60 percent from the field? 

Ah, now we're getting somewhere. 

Dick Raphael/Getty Images

Throughout the decades that make up this sport's history, only five seasons have been recorded in which a player shot at least 60 percent from the field while averaging 20 or more points per game: Wilt Chamberlain (1966-67), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1979-80), Kevin McHale (1986-87 and 1987-88) and Shaquille O'Neal (2004-05). 

Not only are they all big men, but they all did so without even making a single three-pointer. Wilt couldn't have, but the other four did play with a line separating triples from two-point attempts. 

LeBron stands on the verge of history, although he'll have to keep up this level of play throughout the entirety of the 2013-14 campaign. Anyone feel like doubting his ability to do so? 

The game's best player is getting better. There's no doubt about that. 

And as scary as what we've already seen is, what's even scarier is what could come next. LeBron is forcing us to venture into the unknown. 

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