No. 23 or No. 6 — How do LeBron James’s numbers compare?


(AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

The No. 6 era is over. Quite possibly for good.

So it’s only fitting that we look back at how LeBron James’s stats compare with each jersey number. James spent his first seven seasons in Cleveland, from the ages of 19 to 25, before playing in Miami for the last four years. James will turn 30 this coming season.

When James first headed south, one of the initial expectations was that his chance of winning MVPs were all but gone, since his numbers would drop off considerably, given the talents of his Heat teammates, compared with the role players that filled those Cleveland rosters.

Of course, that didn’t wind up happening and in fact his usage rate in Miami (31.1 percent) is almost identical to those Cleveland years (31.9 percent). His defensive rating is also incredibly similar. In Cleveland, his teams allowed 102 points per 100 possessions, only slightly higher than in Miami (101). His regular season rebounding, passing, steals and blocks averages are close as well, as you can see in the table above.

The big difference, however, can be found in the advanced stats. James was simply far more efficient offensively in that No. 6 jersey, which can be attributed to developing one of the best low-post games in the league after his embarrassing performance in the 2011 Finals. Playing for Erik Spoelstra, a coach who ran a more complex offense than Mike Brown’s “Hey, everyone get out of LeBron’s way” scheme also improved James’s efficiency.

In Miami, James’s PER (29.6 compared with 26.9), win shares per 48 minutes (.281 compared to .224), and true shooting percentage (62.2 percent compared with 56.2 percent) were all higher. The same is true for James’s playoff numbers.

You can see the evolution of James’s offensive game by simply looking at where he scored his points in his last Miami season (2013-14) compared with his final Cleveland season (2009-10).

James became a more efficient shooter from just about every location besides the right angle. Most noticeably, James turned into the most devastating rim finisher in the NBA, taking a higher percentage of his shots at the basket than ever before. James also shot 36.9 percent on three-pointers in Miami, compared with 32.9 percent in Cleveland.

Of course, James is a different player at 30 than he was at 25 and his role will vary depending on what happens in the next month regarding a possible trade for Kevin Love. With this current Cleveland roster, you should expect James to continue to spend significant time in the low post, while also delegating ballhandling duties to Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters.

And since every James post requires the obligatory Michael Jordan comparison, let’s take a look at Jordan’s post-retirement, after switching back to No. 23 from the No. 45 he briefly wore in the 1994-95 season. The numbers below are for Jordan’s last three Bulls seasons. Jordan was 32 years old during Chicago’s record-breaking 72-win season and retired in 1998 at the age of 35.

With James making a 180-degree turn on his previous comments regarding a league-wide retirement of No. 23, it will be interesting to see how his post-30 numbers compare to Jordan’s, assuming he spends the rest of his career wearing No. 23 in Cleveland. Safe assumption, right? Not like he has an opt-out at the end of next season.

Thomas Johnson is a reporter.
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