LeBron versus Michael. King James vs Air Jordan. Current great vs the greatest ever?
It’s a question that basketball fans will never tire of debating, but as LeBron James edges closer to rounding off his 15th season in the NBA, which matches Michael Jordan’s career total, it has has never been more relevant. So is LeBron the better overall player?
Let’s say you had first pick in a fantasy game against your boss for a big promotion; who are you picking Jordan or LeBron? I’m picking LeBron every single time, and I’m about to give my reasons why.
Firstly, one of the reasons this debate is so hard to settle is that Jordan played a different position to James, so we’re going to look at some stats on the fundamentals but seeing as we’re talking about positions, it’s only right that this is thrown out there first.
Although LeBron is a forward, he plays every position in the game more than proficiently, Jordan on the other hand and as versatile as he was, was more of an outfield player and would have never been able to hold his own beyond the small forward role. I know that’s not a proven fact – so sue me…
With the help of Basketball-Reference.com, let’s look at some of their regular season stats:
Field Goal percentage: Of course, Jordan was more than an efficient shooter, but James’ record has the slight edge with James hitting 50.4% of his career shots while Jordan retired at 49.7%.
Assists: This is another vital part of the game where LeBron has the edge. James is well-known for his passing ability, as we mentioned earlier he plays every position of the game more than proficiently, and despite being a small forward he averages 7.2 assistants per game, the highest for a small forward in NBA history and higher than Jordan’s 5.3 average.
Rebounding: Thanks majorly to his height and size advantage, James has a significant edge over Jordan when it comes to defensive rebounds, sitting on 7.3 to Jordan’s 6.2. It is worth noting, though, that Jordan has a slight edge over James when it came to offensive rebounding.
Three-point percentage: Despite not being the strongest part of James’ game and something he is often critiqued for, he is a deadlier three-point shooter than Jordan ever was. James is currently sitting on a 34.3% average while Jordan retired at 32.7%.
Triple Doubles: Although this isn’t really a stat that should decide who a better player is, it definitely helps illustrate the dominance on a court a player possesses to be able to post double figures across a combination of three key stats – points, rebounds, assists, blocks or steals. James sits on 71 so far in his career while Jordan retired on 28.
Now let’s look at some post-season stats:
Play-off win shares: This stat is one of the stats that illustrate how detailed stats get in the NBA today. It’s an estimate of how many play-off wins a player is individually accountable for with a combination of points, assists blocks, steals etc.…considered.
LeBron has a significant edge over Jordan on this one, with him currently on 45.8 while Jordan retired at 39.8. James and Jordan hold the top two spots for this stat in NBA history which makes James the only player to ever reach and breach 40.
Finals reached: Not only has LeBron reached two more finals than Jordan already with eight to Jordan’s six, it is also worth noting that LeBron has been to six finals consecutively while Jordan only managed three in a row. LeBron is also more than likely to reach a few more finals before he retires which – at the age of 33 – is looking like a long way off.
Play-off assists: Despite how often in the playoffs LeBron has had to carry his team on his back and produce most of the points, he maintains his regular season ability to elevate his team means and produce good scoring opportunities for them averaging 6.9 assists per game in the playoffs to Jordan’s retired average of 5.7.
Play-off rebounding: Like in the regular season, James’ rebound average takes the cake over Jordan’s in the play-offs with 8.8 to Jordan’s 6.4. The fact it is more significant in the post-season also shows how LeBron levels up when more is on the line.
Play-off triple doubles: Again, not a stat that says James is a better player but one that highlights how much more versatile his game is to post double numbers across 3 key stats in the game. LeBron’s playoff triple double total of 19 again goes beyond eclipsing that of Jordan who retired with 2 playoff triple doubles.
Play-off blocks: I will never forget when the Miami Heat faced the San Antonio in game two of the 2013 NBA Finals, and 6ft 10in Spurs big guy, Tiago Splitter took flight for an open windmill dunk finish in the paint only for LeBron to pop up out of nowhere to stop the ball mid-air with such power it nearly floored his opponent.
Besides saving them conceding the points, the show of sheer dominance boosted Miami’s morale, and they went on to win the game 103–100. Such is the importance of this defensive part of the game which again LeBron takes the edge over Jordan with 209 to 158.
With all these stats in mind, and LeBron’s clear dominance in terms of versatility all-round, it should be clear why I choose LeBron every time as my all-time best basketball player.
Most individuals on the Jordan side of this debate base their argument on finals record which yes Jordan is six for six while LeBron is currently on three of eight.
‘Of course, all the stats in the world can’t prove that LeBron is a better player than Jordan as it’s impossible to know how they would have faired up against each other’
It’s a fairly strong argument, but don’t get lost in the sauce and fail to notice that LeBron has reached two more finals than Jordan did in his career. And this needs to be put into the context of the much harder competition he faces in today’s game, with majority of teams looking like contenders.
LeBron has also never played with a team as strong the ones Jordan played on.
I know the Jordan torch-bearers will read this and still say ‘Yes, but he still has more rings than LeBron’.
But if it was down to the number of rings, then LeBron’s and Jordan’s combined total don’t even add up to Bill Russell’s, who won 11 championships in his 13 years with the Boston Celtics.
Of course, all the stats in the world can’t prove that LeBron is a better player than Jordan as it’s impossible to know how they would have faired up against each other.
But they definitely show that LeBron, in many aspects of the game beats Jordan and is the better all-round player and for me, the guy who will win me that promotion my tight boss is making me play for!