Is Lebron James Having The Best Individual Season Ever?
It is really hard for a reigning MVP, NBA Finals MVP and NBA champion to outdo himself, but Lebron James is doing a great job so far. With a new NBA record at six straight games of 30+ points while shooting over 60% from the field, James has shattered the chances of Kevin Durant or Carmelo Anthony dethroning him as the most valuable player in basketball. James’ streak ended against the Thunder when he shot 58%, with 39 points, 7 assists and 12 rebounds. His season has been so impressive that as we head to the All-Star break, we should look at James’ season so far and compare it to the greatest years Jordan had and where it would rank all-time.
If James can keep up his torrid pace, he will have completed his fourth straight season shooting over 50% from the field, showing that he is efficient in his scoring. Compare that to Michael Jordan, who had five straight seasons of that same feat from the ’87-’88 season to the ’91-’92 season. This is helped, of course, by the fact that Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are on James’ team, which means he doesn’t shoulder as much scoring responsibility as he had with the Cleveland Cavaliers. There are games where James doesn’t even have to reach 20 points for the Heat to win comfortably. Having said that, Jordan had Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen during his tenure with the Bulls, which granted him the same luxury. Regardless, it’s a prime example of the exemplary efficiency both players have, and their utilization of every offensive possession.
Regarding efficiency, James is at an all-time high right now. His new NBA record (mentioned above) is thanks to an increase in his aggression to the basket, which has led to high-percentage looks. This is not to say that he has forgotten about the rest of his game, because on this six-game streak he has gone 10-16 from beyond the arc, which is also above 60%. Clearly this is a very high mark, but for the entire season he is shooting a career-best 42% from the three-point line, showing an expansion to his game that used to be a weakness during his first few seasons in the league.
Now in terms of the best overall season statistically, James’ still pales in comparison to what Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain were able to accomplish. But in order to understand how impressive James’ year has been, it is imperative that we look at the circumstances.
The emergence of the zone defense and the increasing defensive strategies deployed by coaches like the Bulls’ Tom Thibodeau have made it increasingly difficult for an individual to accomplish such statistical feats—defenses are looking for teams with superstars to spread the ball rather than isolate their best player and let them go to work. This is the same reason why Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game versus the Toronto Raptors should be seen as even more impressive than Wilt’s infamous 100-point game. The game today is so different compared to even the ‘90s, let alone the ‘60s when Robertson was in his prime. This is not to say that he isn’t one of the greatest basketball players of all time, but it is important to look at things in perspective. When you add the fact that James is sharing the ball with two other players who are considered top 25 players in the league (Wade is still without a doubt top 10), his dominance this season seems all the more impressive. And if his numbers are similar at the end of the year it has to be at the very least in the conversation for the greatest individual season in the history of the NBA.
Since his first season in the NBA, Lebron James has been a dominant force on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. His ability to make his teammates better is constantly overlooked due to his own individual success, but if he keeps up his incredible pace this season, it will be even harder to look at it in any other way.
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