While LeBron James was attending high school in Ohio over eight years ago, basketball analysts, experts and fans swung for the fences in labeling him the next Michael Jordan. As has been the case with every "Next Jordan," that swing is starting to look more like a whiff.
Jordan was the greatest player of all-time, a shooting guard virtuoso who added layers and dimensions to his game every year. His natural talent, and more importantly his work ethic, helped him build a skill-set that included... well, everything.
Above all, he could score. Jordan could score better than anyone who's ever played basketball. Don't tell me he couldn't have averaged what Wilt did had he played in the '60s.
And even if you don't believe Wilt's numbers were a product of the era he played in, Jordan is still No. 1 all-time in career points per game.
He could score inside and out. He had a post game, a jump shot, handles and an ability to finish around the rim that may still be unrivaled.
But his best attribute as a basketball player was not a physical one. It was his (I know you're sick of hearing this, but I'm going to say it anyway) "Killer Instinct."
In terms of depth and artistry as a scorer, LeBron James is simply nowhere near the incomparable MJ. The Miami Heat forward scores with power on his way to the rim and an occasional hot streak from the perimeter.
And in terms of that immeasurable, intangible "Killer Instinct?" Yeah, you know where I'm going with that.
So maybe he's not the next Michael Jordan. I think even the most staunch believers in that increasingly hollow comparison are beginning to waver on their faith in King James' heirship to His Airness.
I think in the back of our collective basketball mind, we've all kind of known that he's always been more Magic than Michael. I mean, the one skill that LeBron clearly possesses to a greater degree than Jordan ever did is passing.
Last year, as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, he averaged 8.6 assists a game as a small forward. That's nearly one assist a game better than Jordan's best single-season average of eight dimes. For his career, LeBron is averaging seven assists a game--nearly two more than Jordan's 5.3.
Maybe if we let go of our expectations of LeBron being the next MJ, he could, too. And if he could do that, perhaps he could get to playing the way he may have always been meant to play...as a point guard (which happens to be his team's second biggest position of need).
Miami has plenty of offensive options. Dwyane Wade is a former scoring champion who averages over 25 points a game for his career. And he has more of that scoring artistry than his bigger-named teammate.
Chris Bosh had averaged better than 20 points a game in each of five straight seasons prior to joining the Heat. And Mike Miller has averaged double-figures in nine of his 11 NBA seasons and is a career 40 percent three-point shooter.
If LeBron's role was defined as point guard and distributor instead of point forward and scorer, he could easily average over 10 assists a game passing the ball to the aforementioned scorers.
Let me clarify what I'm saying right now. I don't think he simply needs to take on more of a facilitator's role while remaining at small forward on the depth chart. I'm talking about a full-blown position change. LeBron doesn't just play like a point guard. He is a point guard.
We've only been able to see hints of that because we pegged him as the next Michael Jordan.
Even as he's tried to live up to that hype, his natural game has still emerged in the form of his career average of seven assists a game.
LeBron should be starting at point guard next year. That will open up the small forward slot for Mike Miller (a legitimate starter if he's not battling injuries all season as he did in 2010-11).
Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will obviously maintain their current spots in the lineup.
Offensively, that foursome could potentially be unstoppable.
If LeBron reduced his shot attempts from 19 to 13 or 14, and focused on breaking down defenses to set up shots for his gifted teammates as much as for himself, he could average 20 points and 12 assists a game.
Wade and Bosh would both score better than 20 points a game and Mill would be back around his career average of 13 a game.
If worried about what would happen to the team on defense, just look at what LeBron James did to Derrick Rose in the Eastern Conference Finals. If he can shut Rose down the way he did, he'll be fine defending the rest of the league's point guards.
One of the biggest criticisms LeBron has had to face is that he's never lived up to the hype.
What we're just now figuring out is that he's been surrounded by the wrong hype from the beginning.
And as for that other position of need... Greg Oden, anyone?
You can follow Andy Bailey on Twitter @_Andy_Bailey
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