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Insider: LeBron having greatest season ever?

LeBron having greatest season ever?
Will LeBron surpass MJ's record PER mark this season? (PER Diem: March 1, 2012)

HollingerBy John Hollinger
ESPN.com
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LeBron James
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Enjoying his best season yet, LeBron James is taking aim at Michael Jordan's record PER mark again.

31.89.

That number may not mean much to many of you, but for those of us who track player efficiency rating it represents the hallowed mark of one Michael Jeffrey Jordan in 1987-88, the best mark in the game's modern history. (PER only tracks back to 1973-74, when the league began tracking individual turnovers. While we can estimate that it would have been really, really good, we don't know what Wilt Chamberlain's or Oscar Robertson's PER would have been without that key piece of missing info.)

PER, for the uninitiated, is a rating of a player's per-minute statistical effectiveness that I developed several years ago. The formula is too long and complex to explain here, but you can learn all about it at this link.

And this season, that mark is in jeopardy.

With half a season in the books, LeBron James' PER stands at 32.41, which not only eclipses Jordan's best season but does so by a full half-point. While we emphasize that this puts him on track for the best regular season in the game's modern history -- James still has much to prove come June -- it nonetheless would represent a spectacular accomplishment.

It also puts another notch in LeBron's career file; even if he doesn't end up breaking Jordan's record, he's likely to add another 31-plus season to his file and give himself three of the top seven all-time PER seasons; Jordan has the other four (see chart). Any way you slice it, he's putting himself in some fairly lofty company.

TOP ALL-TIME PER SEASONS

Player
Year
PPG
RPG
APG
MPG
PER

LeBron James
2011-12
27.4
8.1
6.8
36.7
32.41

Michael Jordan
1987-88
35.0
5.5
5.9
40.4
31.89

Michael Jordan
1990-91
31.5
6.0
5.5
37.0
31.79

LeBron James
2008-09
28.4
7.6
7.2
37.7
31.76

Michael Jordan
1989-90
33.6
6.9
6.3
39.0
31.31

Michael Jordan
1988-89
32.5
8.0
8.0
40.2
31.29

LeBron James
2009-10
29.7
7.3
8.6
39.0
31.19

That, of course, raises all kinds of questions, and I'm going to try to answer a few of them. Let's start from the top:

What are the odds he actually does it?

Still much less than 50-50, I would argue. We have to remember that we're in a shortened season, so James has played only 1,212 minutes -- barely a third of his total in 2008-09, when he threatened the mark until the final week of the season.

In 1,212 minutes we can still see the effects of some outliers, and I'd argue James' shooting percentages fall in that category. While a big chunk of his improvement in true shooting percentage results simply from the decision to shoot fewer 3s, his 56.3 percent mark on 2s still exceeds his career norms, and his 41.3 percent on 3s vastly exceeds it. Additionally, he's at 77.3 percent from the line, bettering his career mark of 74.6 percent.

It's possible he keeps this up for an entire season, but as always the prudent way to bet is on the longer-term trend he established in the other 25,000 minutes of his career. Moreover, those numbers don't need to dip much to have him fall short of Jordan -- when you're dealing with "best all time," even a merely great performance isn't good enough. For instance, if James has a PER of 31.00 in the second half of the season -- which itself would be one of the best marks of all time -- he'll end up falling short.

Second, the last week of the season may hurt his cause. In April of 2009, LeBron's Cavs had the top seed wrapped up and put it in cruise control over the final few games; a coasting James hurt his numbers in those games and lost any shot of catching Jordan. As long as Chicago and Oklahoma City push the Heat for the league's top record this won't be a factor, but should those two fall off the pace then James may again see a late dip. Alternatively, it's possible the Heat will fall off the pace and find themselves locked into the East's second seed.

How is he doing this?

At first glance, it doesn't seem right that James' mark would be so lofty. After all, his per-game averages pale beside the ones he put up in his final two seasons in Cleveland.

[+] EnlargeLebron James
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireLeBron's doing impressive work in and around the paint this season.

This is where factors like adjusting for minutes and normalizing to league averages become important. First, because James is playing only 36.7 minutes per game in Miami rather than the 37.7 he played in 2008-09 or the whopping 39.0 he played in 2009-10, his per-game averages take a bit of a hit.

The more important effect, however, is that of lockoutball. With shooting percentages and offensive efficiency down around the league, it's made what James has done -- crushing his career high in true shooting percentage at 62.4 (his career average is 52.8) -- that much more impressive. Less obviously, James has also gone wild on the boards. His 13.0 rebound rate is the best of any true small forward (Dominic McGuire often plays the 4) and by far the best of his career.

This comparison can be seen more obviously by comparing LeBron to his peers. Take Kevin Durant, for instance, a supernatural scoring machine who has led the league in scoring the past two seasons and annually posts true shooting percentages around 60. Well, James averages more points per minute than Durant this year and has him beat in true shooting percentage, too. Add in that he has by far the best rebound rate of any wing player and that he has the secondary stats of a point guard, ranking 11th in assists and ninth in steals, and it becomes easier to see why this half-season is historic.

Sum it up, and James has dramatically improved his effectiveness as a scorer with no drop-off in the broad-based dominance that had already made him one of the best players in history.

What about Wade?

The most interesting part of LeBron's stats is comparing how he plays with and without Dwyane Wade on the court. Due to an early-season injury to Wade, LeBron has played nearly half his minutes this season without his tag-team partner, and one could argue that's helped him revert to Cleveland mode and taking over games himself.

The potential drawback, obviously, is that a healthy Wade could be a drag on James' stats in the second half of the season. Both this year and last year, James averages only a shade over 15 shots per 36 minutes with Wade on the court, according to this StatsCube comparison on NBA.com. By comparison, James takes 20.3 shots per 36 minutes and more free throws when Wade is off the floor, and his assists increase, too.

That said, the visible anti-synergy between the two a year ago has been replaced with a much better understanding of how to take advantage of each other's strengths. Wade now averages the same number of shots whether James is playing with him or not, although the non-LeBron sample is small (just 153 minutes). Meanwhile, James' field goal percentages zoom up to 58 percent when he plays with Wade, and the difference in shots when Wade is with him is much less than a year ago.

Nonetheless, at the margin one wonders if Wade's health will determine whether James can ultimately set the record. The only way to pull it off is to use a ton of possessions with extremely high efficiency; LeBron has the second item in the bag, but sharing the ball with Wade could still leave him a bit short on the first criteria. Even with the increased efficiency playing with Wade, it's difficult to make up a 25 percent shortfall in shots.


FastAndFurious
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Along with alot of other ppl

Along with alot of other ppl on here we've been saying it for quite some time now:

LEBRON is the best in the game....HANDS DOWN

I don't care if you don't like him, don't think he is clutch, if you think he is arrogant, or whatever the case may be.

He is the best basketball player on the planet.

esperanzafleet69
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i remember this same article

i remember this same article a while ago when lebron got the 31.76 PER, just basically tweaked it for this season.. cool stuff

esperanzafleet69
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i remember this same article

i remember this same article a while ago when lebron got the 31.76 PER, just basically tweaked it for this season.. cool stuff

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wow im a huge lebron fan. no

wow im a huge lebron fan. no way he is better than mj.

surve
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youngdave

thats the way it goes....

sports fans, critics, enthusiasts, experts, etc... they are never fair....they make up their own rules.

if its an individual sport, like Boxing, they dont give as much credit to a fighter who is undefeated or unchallenged, they always say, the mark of greatness is how they come back from defeat. this plagued Roy Jones for years, now he's gettin the snot beat out of him and the critics are begging for him to quit.

then you have instances where full credit can not be given because the competition didnt seem to be at its "stiffest". case in point...when the Rockets won, they said it was because Jordan was retired. that Rockets team was VERY good, they started the season with a 15-0 record and finished with 58 wins. Yet the Jazz get even more marks against them because they DIDNT win during this period.

now its Lebron's time to face the unwavering criticism. we could be looking at the best to ever do it one day, but somehow I feel he will be slighted because he didnt "do it" the way some others may have done it.

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They didn;t say he was better

They didn;t say he was better than MJ, just having a better PER for a season and possibly having the best season in NBA history.

But with that being said, I can see Lebron going down as the best player to play, if he can gets some rings, some may not feel that way, but Lebron's career numbers make a valid argument if he gets some rings.

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Hmmmmm Just can't agree that

Hmmmmm Just can't agree that either guys season was better than the Big O's best or Wilt's best

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athlete vs baller

Lebron better than MJ? Come on!! First of all, I don't like Lebron but I'm not biased. Think about it...he throws up great stats and he does so every season. Jordan made alot of people on them bulls team money. Jordan made Pippen. Lebron coming to Mia and having the best PER in NBA history is becuase of bosh and dwade. Then if wade is out, lebrons numbers are still great but who else do they have on the heat? He's athletic enough to get great stats every night. Now his PER for this year, look at the season Lebron is doing it in...a shortened season when most NBA players are out of shape. Field goal percentages are down. Lebron is a freak athlete no one can take that away from him.

But basketball is not just about athleticsm, not when you're considered one of the best ever. Thats why Lebron can't close games. Clutchness is due to not only athleticsm but also due to skill. And this whole PER thing is way out of line. Jordan changed the game. What has Lebron changed about the game? Plus in this weak nba, you touch Lebron and its a foul. Jordan dominated the NBA and had to go through beatings from my Pistons and then the Knicks and still posted them numbers. PER is a wayyyy overr stat ESPN came up with a calculation they think is the perfect equation for how to determine who the best player is. Watch the games! ESPN is the greatest hype machine in the history of media. Watch 80-90's ball when flagrant fouls were barely ever called. And no Lebron is not the best BASKETBALL player in the nba...he's the best athlete. He's not even the best BASKETBALL player on his own team. Dwade is. Lebron is probably going to get his first ring this year, but there should be an asterisk next to it. With that team he should repeatedly win rings...at least 4...at least! Kobe never gets enough credit. Fights through injuries. Takes a team with Smush and Kwame and Luke Walton starting to the playoffs in a deep west team that year adn almost knocks off the number 1 seed?

Hate all you want but dont be biased. And worse off...don't let ESPN analyze things. Everyone watching enough ball and playin should be able to make their own judgements

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I really like LeBron as a

I really like LeBron as a player, I don't know him personally so I cannot say I hate him as a person or like him as a person. He is the best player in the league and probably the most dominant player since Shaq/Kobe were in their primes and before that, since Jordan.

The thing that's always going to haunt him is joining the Heat. Because he joined the Heat, the expectations will only get higher. Right now, he's getting a lot of "heat" (no pun intended) because he hasn't won a championship. I'm willing to bet that when he does win a championship, everyone is going to say he won it unfairly because of Wade and Bosh.

Even if he manages to win 3 or more, LeBron haters will always use the argument of "He won with Wade and Bosh so they don't count", when in reality, it's a petty and baseless argument. LeBron will go down as the greatest small forward whether he has no rings or 7 rings. The rings will further him into the conversation with greats such as Kareem, Kobe, and Jordan.

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Lebron has a legitimate shot

Lebron has a legitimate shot to be the best ever if he gets enough rings, there's no denying that, no matter what you want to say about this or that, dude is amazing, his numbers and accolades by the time he is done will match up to anyone's all he needs is the rings.

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Chamberlain was the most

Chamberlain was the most dominant athlete, arguably of any sport, in all of history. Props to 'Bron tho for having those numbers, not really surprised. He's the most complete player I've ever seen or heard of, regardless of his lack of rings.

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Rings or not Lebron will go

Rings or not Lebron will go down as a top 10 player of all time.

With 4-6 rings he is in discussion for best ever.

That simple.

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lol at getting negged for

lol at getting negged for saying mj>lebron. its actually hilarious

FastAndFurious
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You didn't get negged for

You didn't get negged for saying MJ is better than Lebron, that's a true statement, i'm a huge Lebron fan and even I know Lebron is not better....yet.

But you prolly getting negged because at the time of your comment it had nothing to do with the topic, nothing in that article stated Lebron was better than MJ or Speedy Claxton, it's just saying his PER will be the best ever in NBA history if he continues to play how he is playing.

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Lebron is the most talented

Lebron is the most talented basketball player of all time. If anyone wants to try and argue that good luck there isnt anything you could say to take that away from him. But to become the best yes he does have to win rings, sports is just like anything in life, you work hard to achieve something and if you dont get to the top it should be considered a dissapointment. If your happy with simply being the best for a portion of your career but never when it really matters then yes people like us do have the right to judge you it comes with the territory of being a professional athlete. He will win one ring hopefully two and for me that will be enough. Ive seen jordan play and it was something out of a dream, but when you see Lebron in those moments when it only likes like its him out their it takes your breath away. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1Px-jPm_TU Example one this was insane, he went into full FU mode as bill simmons would say, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyd4NPvzKQg example 2 is my favourite, this is ridiculous what 6'9 260 guy slices thru d like a warm knife in butter and then starts nailing threes from the north pole, theres just somethings that he does on the court that no one else in my life time will be able to do and i just hope people appreciate what theyre seeing and dont let their hate for him or their ignorance cloud what we are witnessing

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No player is a top 10 if they

No player is a top 10 if they have 0 rings, and most of the top 15 players have multiple rings.

Here's some with multiple rings MJ, Magic, Bird, Wilt, Kareem, Russell, Olajuwon, Duncan, Olajuwon, Shaq, Kobe, West.

Unlike baseball and football you don't control the game as much basketball is obviously different when your a star player.

Lebron is having an unreal season, ppl bringing up the lack of clutch play seemed to have forgotten some of his great playoff games and series. Also the decision and celebration with the big 3, funny how no one knocks Wade for joining up with Lebron n Bosh though.

The year he did it in Cleveland in 08-09 was more impressive though to me.

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I think the point is that he

I think the point is that he is putting up some obscene numbers and Lebron's season is basically an afterthought as an NBA story this season. He has become better it seems. So people better look out. The Heat are basically gearing up to start their dynasty with this season.

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this isnt lebrons best

this isnt lebrons best season... every yr he has a great yr....

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I wrote earlier this season

that I think LeBron is better skills wise than Jordan... He has developed a low post shot and a mid-range game... I still think he needs to get more effiecient on both but he can now rely on it... I just think it's sad that it took him this long to develop it... I really hate Hollinger and his PER... Because he uses it as a end all be all... Which it's not... If that's the case LeBron should have a ring by now... LeBron use to hold the ball soooo long with Cleveland it's no way in hell that was good basketball... You knew exactly when LeBron was going to shoot and when he was going to drive... He didn't get easy shots either all the way to the cup or a 3 that's it... LeBron now have matured with his game... He still tend to hold the ball too long instead of making a move and go... Next year I believe (if he works on his game) he will be even better...

LeBron only problem is he doesn't believe in himself or second guess himself when pressure is REALLY on... He maybe the best player of all time 46 mins. of the game... If LeBron had the demeanor he had when going back to Cleveland for the first time last year... With his new game??? Good lawd he would be unstoppable...

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Wilt and Oscar were one

Wilt and Oscar were one legendary bunch, and they would most likely be stars in the league today, but can you imagine Lebron going up against a 6'6 white guy with nowhere near as much strength, speed, or athleticism? Lebron would absolutly anihilate every single opponent if he played in the 60s. Would he have scored 100? Maybe not, but he would have been every bit as dominant as Wilt was.

It's really hard to determine how good those guys actually were, but I'm sure that as good as Oscar and Wilt were, a Prime AI would break Oscar's ankles(Vice Versa also) and a Prime Shaq would dunk on Wilt.

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Don't underestimate a 6'6

Don't underestimate a 6'6 white guy with a high basket iq and a firm understanding of defensive principles...

Champzilla21
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a firm understanding of

a firm understanding of defense only goes so far when the other guy is the biggest strongest most agile player to play the game

Mr. 19134
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Yeah but them 6'6 white guys

Yeah but them 6'6 white guys would low bridge you every time you went to dunk and just pull out all kinds of crazy dirty stuff. Remenber hand checking wasn't illegal back then, and neither was 3 in the key early enough so teams could just pack the inside of the paint with no 3 point line. So even with less athleticism don't mean it would be easier on offense because if you flew through the lane and tried to windmill you were gonna get clotheslined. And if you went up for an oop somebody was just gonna pull you down.

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I understand what you guys

I understand what you guys are saying, but my point was that the defenders that Wilt went up against are nowhere near the caliber of the guys that guard Lebron

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I never watched either of

I never watched either of these guys play but I can imagine that LeBron is a combination
of Oscar Robertson and Elgin Baylor -- two of the original greats and guys who redefines
the game. But Baylor never won a ring and the Big O got his with lots of help from Kareem.

I can see LeBron easily passing those two guys among the best ever.

All time, the best guards are MJ, Magic, the Big O, Jerry West and Kobe.
The best forwards are Bird and Tim Duncan with LeBron in there now with the Big Four
Centers (Wilt, Russell, Kareem, and Shaq) and Hakeem Olajuwon.

I guess that is the Big 13 with each guy dominating his own era and redifining the game.
The new benchmark for LeBron will be 3 titles. If he gets that then he passes, Robertson,
West, Wilt, and Hakeem and ties Larry Bird. At that point I would have LeBron passing the Big O,
West and Olajwon with the only guys he cannot pass (only rank up there with at best) would be MJ,
Magic, Wilt, Russell, Kareem, and Shaq (and possibly Kobe).

LeBron is in rare company and is knocking on the door of the all-time greats.

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I'll try not to get too

I'll try not to get too involved in this, because most people on both sides are already set in their positions, but I had to address a few comments;

1) Whoever said "why don't we blame Wade for teaming with Lebron and Bosh" is forgetting that the Heat are the team that drafted him, and he didn't team with them, they teamed up with him. Wade cannot be faulted for remaining loyal to his franchise and being gifted with great teammates.

2) Someone said that Lebron would go down as the greatest SF of all time with or without rings, but if he doesn't get multiple championships I'm still taking Larry Joe Bird as the best SF of all time.

Also, people need to stop talking about how his numbers will hold up against the greats, because the numbers are secondary to results and the eye test in my opinion.

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I don't think anyone's REALLY

I don't think anyone's REALLY saying that LeBron is better than Michael. He's just arguably having the best statistical season ever. There's a very sizable difference, mostly because rings don't count in season stats.

Memphis Madness
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LeBron

If LeBron ends up with 3 titles then he is easily a Top 10 guy all-time and most likely the
best froward ever ahead of Bird and Duncan (LeBron beats Bird on longevity and TD on versatility).
To get in the discussion with Mike and Magic he needs 5 or 6 titles. For LeBron to pass Kobe I think 3 Finals
MVP's to do it. Take away the Shaq tag team years, and Kobe has 2 championships out of 3 tries with two
Finals MVP's. LeBron has one Final without much help and another with Wade (and no legit center).

A title this year with a Finals MVP would get him halfway to Kobe (post-Shaq era).

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Serious question, besides

Serious question, besides Bird who is currently CLEARLY better than Lebron, is there another 3 in NBA history you'd rather have? Off the top of my head, I'd say no. If we're talking on pure quality, I'll take him over Dr. J, Elgin, and Barry, none of whom were ring machines.

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