ESPN Insider Request: Lebron Closing in on Jordan

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Normally at this time of year, we would be writing breathless articles about the MVP race, rallying our support behind one candidate or another and sifting through torrents of angry e-mails supporting that player's rivals.

Not this year.

The MVP race has been over since about mid-January. LeBron James has run so far away from the pack that he could shoot 0-for-100 from the field over his final eight games and still win the award going away. (For fun, I fact-checked this: Even with 100 straight misses, no assists and no rebounds in his next 200 minutes, he'd still lead the league in PER.)

Only two items of interest remain. First, will some sycophant homer screw up what should be a unanimous decision with a completely indefensible vote for his local guy? And second, is this the best individual season a player has ever had?

As you might suspect, today's topic deals with the second of those questions. Some of this may sound familiar, as this time a year ago I mentioned that James was en route to one of the best statistical seasons in history.

Here's the thing: This season, he's been better.

Once again, a hallowed record (at least in my world) is in play for James as we enter the final eight games: He could surpass Michael Jordan's 1987-88 campaign for the greatest single-season PER in the modern era. I have to add the "modern" qualifier because the league didn't keep track of things like blocks and individual turnovers before 1973-74, rendering the PER exercise a guessing game for players from previous eras.

James' current PER of 31.81 is second best in "modern" history, and with eight games left (of which he'll probably play only five or six), he retains an outside shot at breaking Jordan's all-time mark of 31.89. At the very least, he's going to be within hailing distance.

[table][tr][td]Player[/td][td]Year[/td][td]PPG[/td][td]RPG[/td][td]APG[/td][td]MPG[/td][td]PER[/td][/tr][tr][td]Michael Jordan [/td][td]1987-88 [/td][td]35.0[/td][td] 5.5[/td][td] 5.9 [/td][td]40.4 [/td][td]31.89[/td][/tr][tr][td]LeBron James [/td][td]2009-10[/td][td]29.8 [/td][td]7.2 [/td][td]8.6[/td][td] 39.0 [/td][td]31.81[/td][/tr][tr][td]Michael Jordan [/td][td]1990-91 [/td][td]31.5 [/td][td]6.0 [/td][td]5.5 [/td][td]37.0 [/td][td]31.79[/td][/tr][tr][td]LeBron James [/td][td]2008-09 [/td][td]28.4 [/td][td]7.6 [/td][td]7.2 [/td][td]38.6 [/td][td]31.76[/td][/tr][tr][td]Michael Jordan [/td][td]1989-90 [/td][td]33.6 [/td][td]6.9 [/td][td]6.3[/td][td] 39.0 [/td][td]31.31[/td][/tr][tr][td]Michael Jordan [/td][td]1988-89[/td][td] 32.5 [/td][td]8.0[/td][td] 8.0 [/td][td]40.2[/td][td] 31.29[/td][/tr][/table]

Regardless, James will almost certainly set another record: The best two-year PER stretch of any player in history. James was no slouch last season, finishing at 31.76 for the third-best PER ever (well, until he bumped it down to fourth this season); combined, that gives him a two-year average of 31.78. The best Jordan mustered was 31.55.

Obviously, the larger James versus Jordan argument won't be much of a debate until LeBron picks up some hardware in the postseason. Nonetheless, I can't emphasize enough what an extraordinary accomplishment James' past two seasons represent. We've flinched at comparing current players to Jordan after several previous "next Jordans" were found wanting. But that has put up a mental barrier to a declaration that the numbers see as obvious: In terms of regular-season performance, we're watching the next Jordan.

I'd argue that we can extend that comparison further. When Jordan was at the same stage of his career as LeBron, the press treated him almost exactly the same. Like James, he was a wondrous regular-season performer who had never won anything important and thus couldn't be compared with the likes of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

Looking back, that whole notion seems laughable, if not downright quaint … yet we're falling in the exact same trap. Jordan, remember, didn't win a title until his seventh season. As luck would have it, James is in his seventh season, and his odds of winning a crown have never looked better. With the Lakers faltering down the stretch and the Celtics succumbing to age, only James' nemesis from a year ago -- Orlando -- would rate as an even-money proposition to stop him from winning the trophy.

That part of the James-Jordan comparison won't be settled for another two months, his regular-season one in a little more than two weeks.

James leads the league in scoring, at least for the moment (Kevin Durant is only 0.2 behind, and if James rests the final couple of games, Durant will have a number to shoot for, David Robinson-style, in the season finale). But LeBron is not just scoring. He's getting his 29.8 points per game with incredibly high-percentage shots. James' true shooting percentage of 60.4 ranks in the league's top 25, and most of the players ahead of him are snipers with much smaller offensive roles.

Yet for me, his passing is the most amazing part. In fact, for a wing player, it's eye-popping: James has cracked the league's top 15 in pure point rating even though he plays small forward. (Except for James and San Antonio's Manu Ginobili, every player in the top 40 plays the point).

Or try this one on for size: No forward in league history has ever averaged more than eight assists per game until this season; Larry Bird's 7.6 assists per game in 1986-87 came the closest. James is averaging 8.6, even though he's playing in one of the slow-paced eras in league annals and averages a relatively modest 39.0 minutes per game. Put him at Bird's pace in 1986-87, and he'd be averaging a whopping 9.3.

The same applies to most of James' numbers. On a per possession basis, his triple-crown stats of 29.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 8.6 assists crush Oscar Robertson's triple-double season in 1961-62 … or Jordan's 32.5-8.0-8.0 season in 1988-89 … or just about any statistical season in history.

All except one, that is. James' output still trails Jordan's peak campaign in 1987-88 by a whisker. He has a chance to glide past him in the final two weeks but, with Cleveland throttling down to coast into the postseason, probably won't.

Nonetheless, it's a season for the ages -- and his second of the like in a row. We've held off on comparing James to Jordan for some good reasons, especially since he hasn't won a title yet. But at this point, there's nobody else left to whom we can compare him.




The MVP race has been over since about mid-January. LeBron James has run so far away from the pack that he could shoot 0-for-100 from the field over his final eight games and still win the award going away. (For fun, I fact-checked this: Even with 100 straight misses, no assists and no rebounds in his next 200 minutes, he'd still lead the league in PER.)

 
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Truly an amazing year for James. I know he and Cavs fans want that title to go along with it though. This post season will be so fun to watch!
 
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Fro B, that is an acceptable response, and I won't elaborate anymore on that because I was expecting something else from a Laker fan.  So, kudos
.  I'm not a Cavs fan.  I'm a diehard Warrior fan until I die, but I like watching Lebron play.  Hopefully the damage he's done this year will continue in the playoffs and result in some jewelry for him and Shaq when the season is all said and done...
 
12,885
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Aside from all the free agency hype, the NY %$**$!%% and Lebron vs. MJ comparison- for God's sake...

JUST BRING ME AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP TO CLEVELAND!!

That is all.
 
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Very interesting, that really puts it into perspective how well he is playing.

I knew he was having a good season, but thats unbelievable
 
12,885
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And dudes laughed when I said he can average a triple double if he wanted too.

8 assist and 8 rebounds ain't too far away..
 

big j 33

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I said it before about Lebron, I feel like I'm taking his performances for granted.

I'm almost numb to it, that he goes out on a nightly basis and puts up the numbers in such an efficient way that I'm not even impressed every time he does it, I just expect it.
 

lobotomybeats

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Animal Thug, dude would be so spent every night if he averaged 2 more boards and 2 more assists. I think for him to do that he'd have to significantly reduce his scoring load. that said, having Jamison has to help tremendously.
 
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Originally Posted by Fro B Giant

Truly an amazing year for James. I know he and Cavs fans want that title to go along with it though. This post season will be so fun to watch!
Realest thing a Laker fan has ever posted on NT.
Bron Bron 


we gotta get this ring though! 

PLEASE .   LA has like 30, BOS has like 50 .   JESUS.   
 
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Originally Posted by Big J 33

I said it before about Lebron, I feel like I'm taking his performances for granted.

I'm almost numb to it, that he goes out on a nightly basis and puts up the numbers in such an efficient way that I'm not even impressed every time he does it, I just expect it.
this.
 
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Originally Posted by JBnSOUL

Fro B, that is an acceptable response, and I won't elaborate anymore on that because I was expecting something else from a Laker fan.  So, kudos
thanks for stereotype not all of us are the same 




as many of us already know...Lebron is the best player in league right now



  
 
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Originally Posted by lobotomybeats

Animal Thug, dude would be so spent every night if he averaged 2 more boards and 2 more assists. I think for him to do that he'd have to significantly reduce his scoring load. that said, having Jamison has to help tremendously.

And I explained that here on 01/30/2010:

Originally Posted by Animal Thug1539


..and I say this with no fear. I said this 4 years ago and he's well on his way there..

Duke is averaging a sick 29.4 pts, 7.20 rebounds and 8.0 assists a game right now!


Now let me elaborate.

He is averaging close to 30 points a game along with 8 assists. If he chooses to reduce his points by 5 or 6 points, he can easily equivalently turn those 5 or 6 points into 2 or 3 more assists.

Now hypothetically- lets say he averages 24ppg, 10apg with 8 rebounds right now. Two rebounds shy of a triple double. Only thing seperating him from those two more rebounds, would be about 4 or 5 more minutes per game. Right now, he's averaging 38.5 minutes a game, a difference of exactly 4 minutes from 2005-2006 (42.5mpg average).

If he manages to play 4 or 5 minutes more a game, he can easily acquire those 2 or 3 more rebounds and translate that into.....

..a Triple Double per game. Discuss.
Since than, he raised his APG to 8.6
...
 

lobotomybeats

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I'd like to see it. I just don't know if I like the cost (4-5 more minutes a game). Also, it's hard to see that happening when your team leads the league in DIFF.
 
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what happened to Daniel Gibson? didnt they sign dude to a extension a yr back? he rides the pine


IMO he's better than West and Mo Williams
 
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I read this article and even more can't believe some of the responses in that other lebron thread
 
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Those are freakishly disgusting numbers! But to average a triple dub would be a lot harder than some of you are making it out to be, but if anybody would be able to do it, it would be Lebron. Playoffs are almost here!!! Cant wait, every game would be interesting, West is stacked 1 to 8, hell a first round match might be Spurs v Lakers!! And the top 4, or 5 in the East are good as well.
 
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I can't wait for Lebron to win his ring, that would shut all the haters up. Unfortunately, I don't see the Cavs winning it this season
 
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I actually hope Lebron stays in Cleavland, right know it's a pretty even league, there is no one stand out team. I like when there is a challenge, I don't want to see sweeps all the way to the Finals. I want to see close games.

I hope James stays in a Cavs uni, that is unless he somehow becomes a Laker.
 
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If Lebron ever becomes a Laker, then I will officially quit watching the NBA for the rest of my life...
 
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