With the NBA Finals over, I think it is fairly obvious that LeBron James is the best basketball player in sneakers right now.
Any arguments to the contrary just sound silly when a guy scores 30+ points, 10+ rebounds and 8+ assists for a six-game series.
Still, when anyone starts to use the GOAT title, I start squirming. You know, GOAT = Greatest Of All Time.
At first I used expressions like, “Sure, he’s good, but he hasn’t shown me that he has done it long enough.”
That’s no longer true. During the Finals, it was pointed out that because of all the playoff games LeBron has played, King James now has played more total minutes than Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Allen Iverson played in their entire careers.
Is the reason I hesitate to call LeBron GOAT because he’s like Iverson in another way? A player who looks really impressive, but when you crunch the numbers, he just isn’t that efficient?
No, can’t say that. Using advanced metrics, LeBron has put together string of player efficiency ratings that no player but Michael Jordan has ever accomplished.
According to ESPN’s PER, getting a 15.0 in player efficiency is normal. Then 20 is good, 25 is very good and 30 is amazing. This is based on a number of stats such as assist-to-turnover ratio, rebounds and assists per minute played and shooting percentages from all ranges (2-point, 3-point and foul shots).
James has finished four seasons with a rating of 30, and he topped 29 in two other seasons.
He has shown the whole package, scoring inside and outside, playing defense on players from point guard to power forward. So why do I resist?
I still have a Sports Illustrated issue from a dozen years ago where the cover says simply, “The Chosen One.”
LeBron has certainly been an outstanding player, and yet I feel like he’s missing a little something.
Speaking of the Chosen One, I am reminded of a scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
The bad guy, Voldemort, has searched the world over for this fancy weapon, the elder wand. Yet, when he gets it, he doesn’t feel any different.
“You have performed extraordinary magic with that wand,” Snape says to Voldemort.
“No, I have performed my usual magic. I am extraordinary.”
You see, that’s how I feel about LeBron in crunch time. He is this extraordinary player capable of greatness; yet when the game is on the line, and he could become transcendent, I feel like LeBron is just his usual magical self. He doesn’t get even better.
Let me put it another way, LeBron shots 35 percent from 3-point range this season. And I feel like if were in the last two minutes of the game, and the Cavs needed a three, LeBron would probably still have a 35-percent chance of the shot going in.
And yet, there are players who have excelled at heroics.
Robert Horry’s nickname was Big Shot Rob because he came through the clutch so many times. Derek Fisher was more likely to hit the big basket than Kobe Bryant. Chris Webber was the leader of the Fab Five, but it was Kings’ teammate Mike Bibby who killed the Lakers in the playoffs.
I almost feel like LeBron is the Peyton Manning of the NBA. Peyton has long been a record-breaking quarterback and is always in the discussion for football’s GOAT along with Tom Brady and Joe Montana.
Yet, despite being a great QB, Peyton hasn’t been as successful in the playoffs as his little brother Eli. No one would say Eli is a better QB than Peyton, but when it comes to the playoffs, Eli steps up his play, he transcends.
LeBron’s numbers in the Finals shows that he did everything he possibly could to turn a mediocre team into a champion. He hustled, he drove himself to the brink of exhaustion. He showed tremendous heart.
But he also shot 39.8 percent from the field, 31.0 from 3-point range and 68.7 percent at the foul line. He didn’t transcend.
He now has a 2-4 record in the Finals. And one of those championships was only possible by a last-second heroic shot not by James, but by Ray Allen.
In the 2013 Finals, in a do-or-die sixth game, LeBron had a great second half to bring the Heat back against the Spurs.
But then in the closing moments, he missed three straight shots and had two turnovers in a span of a minute and a half.
When it came time for the winning shot, it wasn’t LeBron who rose up for the shot. No, he passed it off to a guy with a better chance of making it.
That kind of awareness makes LeBron a great player. But the fact that he was NOT the guy with the best chance of winning the game tells me he can’t be my GOAT.