LeBron James is now ‘the Michael Jordan of our era’


(EPA/RHONA WISE CORBIS OUT)

All hail the King. LeBron James is averaging 27.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.8 steals and a plus-9.9 net rating per game in the postseason and has given the Miami Heat a chance at a three-peat after its victory over the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals.

“It’s bitterly disappointing to lose to this team three years in a row, but we’re competing against the Michael Jordan of our era, the Chicago Bulls of our era,” Indiana Coach Frank Vogel said after Miami eliminated the Pacers in Game 6.

Perhaps the comparisons of James to Jordan were premature before. Not now.

James got a two-year head start on his NBA career, debuting as a 19-year-old with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but if we look at their campaigns from ages 21 through 29 (at the start of Feb. 1 of that season) we see almost an identical match in terms of win shares, an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player.

Their raw totals over that time span are also incredibly similar. Jordan appeared in 667 regular season games, James has played in 683. Jordan tallied  32.3 points per game in a league where the average team scored 108 per contest; James scored 28.3 in a 98.3-points-per-game environment. Jordan had an effective shooting percentage, which adjusts for the fact that a three-point field goal is worth one more point than a two-point field goal, of 52.6 percent; James is 54.4 percent. Jordan had a net rating (an estimate of net points allowed per 100 possessions) of plus-18 during this nine-season stretch; James plus-16.

In the playoffs, James has the edge over Jordan in win shares, and a victory over the San Antonio Spurs in a rematch of last year’s NBA Finals could equal Jordan’s championship total up to age 29: three, also in a row.

By the time James’s career winds down we could see him surpass Jordan as the greatest NBA player of all time. He certainly will best Jordan in terms of raw numbers, and could quite possibly match him in championship rings.

“Any time I hear my name or our team in the same breath with legends and great teams and franchises, it’s so humbling,” James said when told of the latest comparison. “It’s like — I really don’t know.”

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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