Friday, April 03, 2015

The 4th Greatest NBA Player of All-Time? LeBron James

Now, for anyone who reads this Blog or even sorts through old entries, there is no question that I am not very objective when it comes to LeBron.  From the first time I saw him play on TV as a high school player, I saw greatness.  So, I am a huge fan.  That said, I think there is an objective basis for naming LeBron the 4th best player of all-time, and here it is.

If you look at players with at least 170 career Win Shares, a WS/48 of at least .2 and a PER of at least 22 (I think it is 11 guys) then you will see that LeBron is 10th in career Win Shares, 4th in WS/48 and 2nd (only to Jordan) in PER.

So, just based upon his existing statistics for the regular season, even assuming he never plays another minute, his average in these stats is around 5.33 - so roughly 5th place.  

Then, if you take his career "MVP Award Shares"  of 6.1, he ranks 3rd all-time behind Kareem and Jordan.  Assuming that he gets a few votes this year, he could pass Kareem for 2nd.  So, based upon contemporary evaluations of his dominance as a player, he is the 2nd or 3rd most dominant regular season player of all-time.

Points per game - 3rd best; PER - 2nd best; assists per game 28th best; steals per game 28th best.

WS/48th -- 6th best; Box Score Plus-Minus - 1st; Value Over Replacement Player - 3rd (this is a stat that generally improves with years played - he could eventually be 1st).

8X First-team all-NBA.  4X MVP (should be 5 or 6); 2X Finals MVP, 2 titles, 5 finals appearances.

He has had 10 years with a Value Over Replacement Player of at least 7.  That means that there have been 10 years where he has accounted for 19 or more wins versus what the team would have had with a replacement player.  Jordan is second with 9 such season.,  He had a year at 11 VORP.  That is roughly 30 Wins Added.  Jordan had two such years, LeBron had one, it has never been accomplished by anyone else.

Seasons with Win Shares over 15 and WS/48 over .27 -- Jordan has the most, then Kareem and Wilt, then LeBron.

Seasons with Win Shares over 18 with WS/48 over .3 - Kareem and Michael have 3, LeBron 2, Wilt 1. 

Let's be blunt - since Jimmy Carter took office, there have been only two guys putting up freakish dominant regular seasons -- Michael Jordan and LeBron.

OK - let's go to LeBron's supposed "weakness" - the playoffs.  He has as many titles as Wilt.  He has 5 finals appearances, all of which were his doing.  There are very, very few players who can say that they led a team to 5 finals. 

The most "really good" playoff seasons?  Michael first, Kareem and LeBron tied for second most.  If the Spurs go out early this year and the Cavs reach the Finals, it is conceivable that LeBron will have the 2nd most playoff Win Shares of any NBA player ever......trailing only Michael.

So why isn't LeBron first?  Well, if you go through basically every single stat, LeBron trails Jordan.  He has a few stats where is comes out ahead, but if I had to guess, I would say LeBron is behind Jordan in 90% of stats and/or invented seasons that I could possibly review or make up.  Jordan was a slightly better defender.  Jordan always won; LeBron just sometimes wins.  (A LeBron defender would say that winning at all with Mike Brown and Erik Spoelstra is a miracle, but I won't go that far).

Why not second place or third?  Well, both of the big guys, Wilt and Kareem, were just so freakishly dominant in overall production that LeBron just cannot catch them without more MVPs or titles and more first-team all-NBAs.  If you go through the seasons and start looking at season-by-season Win Shares, Wilt has 11 seasons with over 15 Win Shares.  Kareem had 11 seasons with over 12.9 Win Shares.

LeBron, by comparison, has only seven 15 WS seasons and only ten 12.9 WS seasons.  He won't make 12.9 WS this year, and his days of doing so may be over.  I see no indication from watching today's LeBron that his body will hold up at a 13 WS level ever again.  We have probably seen the best of LeBron, and 10 WS may be a very good season for him from here on out.

So, while he is undoubtedly my favorite, he appears stuck at 4th place.  What could he do to move up?  Well, if he rolled up 60 more career WS and 3 more first-team all-NBAs and won an MVP, he might move up.  Or if he won 2 more titles where he was Finals MVP he might move up. 

But hey.  The guy is 30 years old and I have him at #4 overall.  I could see an argument for dropping him a spot.  I could see an argument for pumping him up to #2.  His overall rank in the history of the game will depend upon how his body holds up over the next 5 years.  We shall see.

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