What shows up in the box scores is similar to how one can dominate in NBA video games.
While he was playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers, James helped lead the team to over 60 wins the past two seasons.
This year, Cleveland’s record is a dismal 12-53. The team ranks last in defensive ratings and 28th in offensive ratings. Many see this as proof of James’ value; that he deserves to be the MVP again this season.
James may be the best player in the league and may deserve that award, but this article is not meant to diverge into that discussion.
Yet, in trying to promote James’ greatness, NBA pundits use the current Cleveland season as further justification of how James took a horrible team and made it great.
But this is simply not true.
While LeBron is an amazing basketball player, he would not have been able to lead this year’s Cleveland team to another 60-win season.
Let’s consider the facts.
First, the roster this season has been far from healthy.
Anderson Varejao has been out most of the season. This is significant because he is the team’s best defender—his efforts were recognized last season when he got selected to the All-Defensive Second Team.
The roster has also seen significant lost time from Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, Leon Powe and Daniel Gibson, among others. These players (at least before the recent trades) were some of the best rotation guys on the roster.
In addition, the roster started off this season without some core pieces from last season. Besides the departure of LeBron James, the team saw Delonte West, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Shaquille O’Neal leave.
West is one of the better all-around bench players in the league, and Ilgauskas and O'Neal were the team’s two centers from last season.
Although neither player remained in their prime, O'Neal was a physical presence down low that could still dominate in brief stretches and intimidate opponents. Ilgauskas has twice been an All-Star and has continued to have an impact on the game.
In fact, the pairing of seven-footers Ilgauskas and O'Neal led to the team's success against other tall teams like the Los Angeles Lakers during last year's regular season.
Furthermore, what some people fail to realize is that this team was built around LeBron. The pieces that Dan Gilbert brought in over the last several years were all meant to complement James’ game.
Which player would you rather have on your team?
Hence, we saw a few of the premier outside shooters get added to the team, which was perfect for when James dribble drove to the basket and kicked the ball out to open teammates.
Other players like—JJ Hickson and Antawn Jamison—were meant to get easy shots that James helped set up or opened up once the defenses sagged off.
When considering James’ game, one has to realize that he dominates the ball; that’s how he becomes effective and that’s how he accumulates his impressive stats.
When James left town to “take his talents to South Beach,” the Cavaliers were left with a team without a decent center, with a point guard (Mo Williams) who was a good shooter but not a great playmaker and a bunch of players incapable of creating their own shots.
Hence, it becomes clear why the Cavaliers have struggled this season—and it has much less to do with James’ greatness than many analysts have speculated upon.
James has certainly hurt his reputation over the past few seasons. Many have tired of his ego, which often rivals the size of Texas. After everything that the Cavaliers organization did through the years to help make him a winner and promote him, LeBron’s disloyalty and the way he left the organization were classless.
Now, James has shown why he is not even the best clutch player on his own team. He has gone 1-of-7 on last-second shots this season. The one shot he made tied the game up, where the Heat lost in overtime.
Other times, James has disappointed Heat fans by passing up open opportunities and giving the ball to players like Chris Bosh in positions where they are not comfortable taking clutch shots.
This is why the debate remains open regarding James as the best player in the NBA.
For the first 47 minutes of the game, he may be the best. But a game lasts 48 minutes, and I think most fans would rather have Paul Pierce, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony or Derrick Rose lead their teams at the end of a close game.
Clearly, stats don’t tell the whole story and things like body language, setting the right tone and chemistry with the team brings to light some serious issues.
Personally, I don’t care about the “greatest NBA player” debates, because there are many amazing athletes in the game today—and I wish they were all on my favorite team.
But the demigod status in which the media likes to paint LeBron James? It just has too many holes in it to hold up when one truly looks at the root causes and facts.