We have now arrived to our very last featured franchise player. The process started a few weeks ago when I decided to compile a list of the best players the NBA has to offer, except I did it with a wrinkle: I wanted to draw up a list of players worthy of the title of franchise player. I set up a list of requirements that the players had to meet in order to make the list; you can find the set of guidelines by clicking here. Here is the list of franchise players that I broke down:
Now that we got that out of the way, on to our featured player.
Back in 2003, a high school senior from Akron, Ohio captivated the nation with his amazing talents as a basketball player. This soon to be millionaire was the talk of the country: he appeared on magazine covers, had one of his high school games broadcasted on ESPN and said all the right things about his team and his teammates. The Akron native was a freak of nature unlike anything we had ever seen before at such a young age. He was 6’8, 240 lbs, played small forward, and was blessed with exceptional passing skills. So when the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Draft Lottery, the obvious choice for the organization was to pick the hometown kid. His presence would help sell tickets and bring back interest to a team that had been all but forgotten. That hometown kid took the league by storm and became the face of the state of Ohio.Fast forward to today, LeBron James is consistently one of the top vote getters for the All-Star game, he is the face of Nike, his commercials are well thought out and perfectly executed and he just so happens to be the reigning League MVP. Hell, LeBron James accumulates more stats than your created player in NBA 2K; but do any of these facts make LeBron James a franchise player? Thought you’d never ask…
The Kobe Bryant Exception
In LeBron James’ first NBA season; the Cleveland Cavaliers won 35 games. By the following season, the team got slightly better as they won 42 games. After completing his first two NBA seasons without a playoff berth; LeBron James and his Cavaliers improved enough to make the playoffs the following season. The Cavaliers have since made four consecutive playoff appearances (headed for fifth because they clinched the Central division title last week). Look at the Cavs record by year since James entered the league:
2009-10: 57-15 (and counting)
The Cavaliers’ star has been able to carry an average supporting cast into the playoffs in four straight seasons and has managed to make it out of the first round in every postseason trip.
GRADE for this criteria: PASS
The Kareem Standard
LeBron James has been selected to participate in six All-Star games and has also won two NBA All-Star game MVPs (2005-06 & 2007-08). In addition, the Cavaliers star is currently the league’s reigning League MVP; and seems poised to capture his second trophy this season. Considering his relatively short NBA career, James does not have a gaudy amount of appearances on the All-NBA team; however he does still appear on it. Indeed, LeBron James has made the All-NBA first team three times, the All-NBA second team twice and the All-Defensive first team once.
In addition, James has a knack for playing extremely well when the bright lights come on. When playing with and against the league’s finest in the All-Star game; LeBron James always puts on a show. Look at his ASG averages:
23.7 PPG, 6. 3 RPG, 5.3 APG, 50.4 FG%, 30.5 MPG
Mind you, a player that performs well in the All-Star game is not a prerequisite that makes or breaks a career; however it does say something about the respect that players and coaches have for a given player. The same way I argued that Western Conference All-Stars never got in Kobe’s way because they respect his game and know that he will come up big when needed; the same is true in LeBron James’ case with the Eastern All-Stars.
The Karl Malone Rule
I love the fact that I picked Karl Malone to represent this requirement. No player epitomized durability in the NBA quite like Malone did. Ironically enough, LeBron James has often been compared to Karl Malone because they share just about the same height and weight. And yet, some people have questioned LeBron’s toughness because he has at times sat out of games with injuries that were said to be minor. But does #23 really miss that many games? Not quite. James has appeared in 541 out of a possible 563 games; good for a 96.1% participation rate (participation rate is the percentage of games that a player has played in for his team throughout his career). Let’s see how LeBron fares against the other featured franchise players:
Participation Rate (%)
Only Dwight Howard (with a ridiculous 99.4% participation rate) and Dirk Nowitzki participate in a higher rate of games than LeBron James. In a perfect world, your star player misses a fairly low percentage of his team’s games because he helps sell out arenas and immensely improves his team’s chances of winning. Such is not the case though, which is why there aren’t that many franchise players in the NBA; not everyone is able to stay durable for a large chunk of the games.
In other words, almost anybody can deliver pizza; but not everyone can be The Loverboy (if you’re 27 or younger, you might have no idea what I’m talking about; but let’s just say that Patrick Dempsey didn’t always play the role of a doctor on Grey’s Anatomy). Let’s ask Tyra Banks (the America’s Next Top Model version) what she thinks that James passes this requirement: “LeBron, with your 96.1% participation rate, you are still in the running for being an NBA franchise player.”
Magic Johnson Provision
So far, every franchise player we have covered has been able to display an uncanny ability to rise to the occasion. Whether it’s a game in November at Arco Arena or a game in May at the Staples Center; all of our franchise players display a great amount of consistency; but also raise their games in moments of need.
Quick tangent: Don’t believe that winning a title is hard? Only one third of our franchise players have at least one NBA ring.
Back to our regularly scheduled program. I mentioned this in the Kobe Bryant feature; there are multiple ways to measure a player’s stage presence, and LeBron James is no exception. So we’ll look at two specific aspects for James.
I. Historical place
Let me be clear with this one: LeBron James is still a young NBA player with much to accomplish in his NBA career before we can anoint him as the league’s savior or one of its greatest players. With that said, LeBron James’ name appears in a list full of Hall of Fame NBA players. What list you ask? The 25-7-7 list. Throughout NBA history, only a handful of NBA players have been able to average at least 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in an NBA season. Have a look at the list (placed in order of scoring average):
So if you look at the list, you’ll notice that Oscar Robertson accomplished the feat six times, LeBron James is on pace to do it for the fourth time in his career (if his current stats hold up until the end of this season), John Havlicek did it twice and Michael Jordan and Larry Bird both did it once. So LeBron James puts up historical numbers in the regular season; big deal, great players are judged by what they do in the playoffs right? Let’s have a look at the players to average at least 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in the playoffs in any given season (minimum of 10 games):
In the postseason, LeBron James leads everybody with three different playoff seasons in which he averaged at least 25-7-7. Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird are tied with two such playoffs seasons. Michael Jordan, George McGinnis, John Havlicek and Clyde Drexler all did it once.
Some might not be overly impressed by all these numbers considering the fact that LeBron James has yet to win a championship; and I am more then willing to concede that point. With greatness comes great expectations, that comes with the territory. So consequently, LeBron James needs to do something pretty impressive; perhaps something that no one else has been able to manage so far in NBA history before we compare him to some of the greatest the game has ever seen.
Well guess what you’re in luck. Quickly glance at LeBron James’ career playoff averages:
That’s pretty decent right? Well put this in perspective: the Cleveland Cavaliers star is the only player in NBA history to average more than 25-7-7 over the span of his playoff career. Think about that for a moment, in a league that was/is home to players such as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Scottie Pippen, Dominique Wilkins, Wilt Chamberlain, Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant, John Havlicek, Oscar Robertson, Jason Kidd and Dwyane Wade; LeBron James is the only player to manage such a feat. And people wonder why this summer is known as The Summer of LeBron.
II. Signature game
Every now and then, a franchise player has to bail his team out. When the outlook seems unfavorable and all else fails, your franchise player might have to come to the rescue when everything is slipping away. Michael Jordan did it in the infamous 1998 flu game, Dirk Nowitzki did it in Game 7 of the 2006 Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Spurs and Kobe Bryant did it in Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals (when Shaq fouled out in OT).
LeBron James is no different. If there is one game that you can look at and point to as a signature game for James, it has to be against one of his biggest rivals: the Detroit Pistons. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane.
It’s Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, and the series is tied 2-2 with the swing game being in Detroit. The Pistons have been here before; they have all the experience, preparation and mental toughness. And yet, the Cavs and Pistons enter the fourth quarter of Game 5 tied 70-70. Look at the scoring plays of the Cavs from the 8:42 mark of the fourth quarter up to the end of the game (game went to double overtime).
Points scored by James
LeBron James enters the game for Larry Hughes
LeBron James makes 17-foot jumper
LeBron James makes driving layup
Drew Gooden misses free throw 1 of 2
Drew Gooden makes free throw 2 of 2
LeBron James makes 26-foot three point jumper
LeBron James makes driving dunk
End of 4th Quarter
Points scored by James
LeBron James makes free throw 1 of 2
LeBron James makes free throw 2 of 2