Posted February 28, 2013

LeBron James’ month for the ages

LeBron James, Miami Heat, Rob Mahoney
LeBron James

LeBron James shot 64.1 percent from the field in February. (Jim Young/Reuters)

By Rob Mahoney

LeBron James has been so fantastic this season that his supernatural play has gone from headline story to steady undercurrent. For many, there’s simply no revelation to be found in a transcendent player doing transcendent things. LeBron is expected to be great, and the fact that he lives up to — and exceeds — even the wildest expectations doesn’t resonate in the same way that his failures to do so might.

And so even though James’ excellence is universally acknowledged at this point (which in itself is a relief, given the bile and vitriol that brewed over his first two seasons in Miami), his exploits are still underappreciated. His recent six-game streak of at least 30 points and 60 percent shooting was incredible, but that kind of record run packages his on-court brilliance as a piece of trivia rather than a statement of dominance.

So let’s attempt to recontextualize, this time around another statistical measure: In their 12-1 February, the Heat scored an outrageous 120.4 points per 100 possessions with James on the floor. That’s almost 10 points better than Miami’s league-leading mark for the season, and thus on a completely different plane relative to the NBA as a whole.

That makes James’ continued ascent register in a holistic way. His added scoring comes at no cost to his teammates, as evidenced by Miami’s bloated efficiency when James is on the court and Dwyane Wade’s corresponding explosion. LeBron’s rebounds and assists are also producing an additive effect rather than a cannibalistic one. His perimeter shooting has been terrific, his in-between game is used sparingly and his frequent trips to the rim have resulted in this kind of inconceivable efficiency this month:

LeBron february

It’s easy to gloss over the specifics of that shot chart for its lush greens, but it borders on unbelievable that a player like James — who shoots around the basket so consistently — could complete 80 percent of his attempts from less than eight feet. With one day left in February, Wade (70.2 percent) has been the only high-volume shooter in that area to come even remotely close to James’ mark this month. Beyond him are the rest of the league’s best finishers and penetrators, eclipsed by the statistical product of James’ physical dominance and immaculate judgment.

Preventing James from getting to the basket is a hugely difficult task, but actually stopping him from scoring — or making a play that leads to a score — once he gets there may be even tougher. We’ve heard the freight train metaphors, but those devices rob James of his improbable finesse and control. Though he may have the momentum of a locomotive, LeBron shouldn’t soon be confused for an engine that needs to run on a straight-line track. He makes his own way — be it over, around or through the defenders who happen to stand in his path.

That freedom of movement en route to the rim gives James all manner of options, with his complete game allowing him to take full advantage of every opportunity. From his first step toward the paint, LeBron grasps at the attention of the entire defense, knowing full well that nothing his opponents do in response will really matter. Opposing big men slide over to preempt his drive. Defenders begin to cheat off of perimeter shooters to help obstruct his path to the basket. Every opponent is wary of what James might do, and yet utterly incapable of stopping him from going where he pleases or scoring as he will. February elevated the dialed-in James to a state of pure inevitability.

That’s just about the only way to explain how a player could score 29.7 points per game this month in the most discerning fashion possible, as James’ shot-creating superiority allowed for him to pick and choose his attempts as wisely as ever. He averaged just 16.2 field-goal attempts in February (down from 19 in the first three months of the season) because that was all that was really needed.

After losing to the Pacers on Feb. 1, the Heat rattled off 12 straight victories based on the axiom that James could shift gears to take over any game at any point against any caliber of competition. They were right. One could blame that same mentality for the Heat’s inconsistent defense, but Miami’s premise was nonetheless confirmed by James’ near-perfect month and punctuated with his demolition of the Kings in a double-overtime explosion on Tuesday:

That level of basketball potency can be quantified (by calculating James’ unearthly Player Efficiency Rating for the month, among other methods), but perhaps not in a way that can be totally understood. After all, putting this kind of power in context is like trying to wrap your head around our country’s massive national debt, or attempting to comprehend the distance from our puny planet to the edge of the universe. We can use different markers as reference points and understand the concepts behind those unrelatable numbers, but ultimately the scale is so large that we have trouble fathoming the full extent of what those values represent. Crazy as it seems, James’ play throughout this month has verged on that same unapproachable scope.

The closest that most will come to really recognizing this absurd level of efficiency is in measuring the shadow that LeBron casts over the rest of the league. He’s been so outstanding that it’s hard to imagine what a month of better basketball might look like, and yet with James showing no signs of slowing down, we may well be privy to that very sight.

Statistical support for this post provided by NBA.com. Video via Beckley Mason of HoopSpeak.

30 comments
6marK6
6marK6

I know that James and Jordan each having a clothing line with Nike has nothing to do with this story, that seems to make its way to espn and cnnsi every day. I get it, James and Jordan are the only two players that have ever mattered. Where do I buy their gear?

GuffAbbottJr
GuffAbbottJr

The tired argument of who is the greatest basketball player of all time is just pointless.  No one talks about the greatest football player of all time -- it's by position (QB, RB, WR, DT, etc.)

 

That's the only way to handle the greatest basketball player of all time, as well.

 

My all-time team (in which I include only players I've actually watched play):

 

PG - Magic Johnson

SG - Michael Jordan

SF - Larry Bird

PF - LeBron James

C - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 

 

Center is the only position for which I have any hesitation.  I could also pick Olajuwan or Shaq, but I give the nod to Kareem.  As a Celtics fan, It's hard to put 2 Lakers on my team, but they're legit.

tycho
tycho

Let me know when LeBron gets as good as Kyrie Irving. I'll be waiting.

KevinWalker
KevinWalker

 bharper@demilune.net Wilt played with some outdated slow players. The time for the 100 meter dash in 1960 was GOLD Armin Hary, GER 10.32. Pretty friggin slow by todays standards. Every athlete in every sport has better training now, compared to back then. Athletes are faster and stronger. From the top of the line up to the bottom. Apples/Oranges.

lionoah
lionoah

Lebron is the greatest basketball player of this generation. Kobe included. Wilt was the greatest of his generation. You cannot compare the two except in superficial ways that are an exercise in futility. The closest we can come is to be able to say we saw a level of domination (with another title or three) that matches or exceeds that of WIlt in his time. Or Jordan in his.

Eric70
Eric70

Wilt's great but not sure what bharper using for the average. It's actually closer to 55 points per game for the last 10.

 

LeBron is amazing right now and I have not seen anyone play like that since Jordan, where you knew he was going to do what he wanted at the end of a game. Heck, LeBron never did that before.

Marsh the Great
Marsh the Great

 bharper@demilune.net. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you shoot the ball 40 times a game from a distance of 10 feet or less. Look, Wilt Chamberlain is one of the three most important players in the history of the game and nothing will ever take that away from him but citing his stats to discredit a current player is both petty and short-sighted. I get that many people don't like LeBron but you can't rightly discredit how dominant his performance has been during this month. Citing 50 year-old statistics damn sure doesn't do the trick.

bharper@demilune.net
bharper@demilune.net

Before he becomes the greatest player of all time, review the 1961-62 season stats and focus on the final 10-11 games of the season when Wilt Chamberlain averages over 70 points per game!  Then check out how he changed the

 game for the future.

AaronDunckel
AaronDunckel

 @6marK6 its human nature to talk about the "best" at something - people want to be the best at whatever they do

 

this is just the basketball version of that - no big deal

 

Mr. J
Mr. J

 @GuffAbbottJr Hate to break it to you since you are a Celtic Fan but by the the time Lebron is done he will be the greatest small forward of all time hands down.. ..and Duncan should be in the power forward spot. Center I might choose Wilt, Shaq or Kareem...The Truth!

AaronDunckel
AaronDunckel

 @tycho *ponders joke about "let me know when cleveland gets a championship in any major sport*   *thinks on harshness*  *decides to pass over joke*

lorritjcoyle@hotmail.com
lorritjcoyle@hotmail.com

r u serious!!!  Let me know when Kyrie Irving is good enough to pick up LeBrons jock strap!

azathoth
azathoth

 @lionoah Thank you, Mr. Sensible.  Sports in general, and basketball in particular, change about every 20-30 years.  20-30 years from now there will be a new phenom, and people will compare him with Lebron saying, "But Lebron only had to deal with [whatever]."  Like Wilt was so much taller than everyone, or Jordan wasn't good until he got Pippen.

You can even see it in the NFL.  There was a time when the O-Line was taught to basically grab their own jersey as to not get a holding call.  Rules change, players change, etc. 

GuffAbbottJr
GuffAbbottJr

 @Marsh the Great You're right Marsh.  Statistics (even modern ones) don't capture what happens on the floor -- a player's overall impact on the game.  Many times the best player, the one with the most impact, in a game is not the statistical leader.

 

I do not like Lebron, he's a self-centered jerk, but no one could deny that he's a phenom.  He's the most physically gifted player I've ever seen, and I've watched basketball closely since the mid-70's.  He reminds me of Len Bias, who died before he ever got the chance to prove his worth in the NBA.  Bias was a phenom, as well, who was still learning the game at an amazing rate.  He'd just started tapping his real potential.  He absolutely dominated in college while he was at Maryland.  It took a North Carolina team full of college all-stars (who later became NBA all-stars) to beat Maryland, and Bias was the only legit start they had.

 

Lebron is starting to play much more as a team player, which should scare the hell out of everyone else in the league.  If he adopts a Larry Bird-like unselfishness (and he's heading in that direction), then he'll have a legitimate claim to enter the (rather pointless) discussions of Greatest of All-Time.  He does things every week that leave me shaking my head in amazement.  And Miami (my least favorite team in the league) will have a near lock on championships from now until doomsday (unless they have a bunch of in injuries).

KevinWalker
KevinWalker

 @bharper@demilune.net Wilt played with some outdated slow players. The time for the 100 meter dash in 1960 was GOLD Armin Hary, GER 10.32. Pretty friggin slow by todays standards. Every athlete in every sport has better training now, compared to back then. Athletes are faster and stronger. From the top of the line up to the bottom. Apples/Oranges.

OK
OK

 @AaronDunckel  @6marK6 

Da Queen still be Da Queen.

 

Playing with Show Me Da Green or I Ain't Playin' for Da Red, White and Blue and Da Little Bosh Woman.

 

Be-Otches, one and all.

GuffAbbottJr
GuffAbbottJr

 @SeanAtkinson You got me there, but picking the best player overall, rather than by position is just meaningless.  The skill sets are entirely different at each position, and the glamour positions (QB, RB, WR) get all the attention.

 

It makes far more sense to pick the best at each position -- then try to put together a best team (which may not include each of the best players at each position).  A lesser player may be a better fit for a given team comprising mostly all-time greats.

GuffAbbottJr
GuffAbbottJr

 @Mr. J It's hard to go wrong with this list of players.  Arguments can (and will) be made for each person's favorite player.  Did you ever watch Bird and Magic play, not just highlights, but whole games, seasons?  You never know how old someone on these forums might be.  If you're to young to have seen them over many games, you just can't understand their mastery of the game and their dominance.

 

I lived in Boston from 1983-1986 (Bird's peak time -- before his back gave out).  I've never seen anything like him, before or since.  He and Magic saw the game from a perspective way different from anyone else.  Statistics don't begin to show their dominance of the game at that time -- particularly Bird.

GuffAbbottJr
GuffAbbottJr

 @Mr. J I don't really peg Duncan as a power forward.  Though he's listed at that position, he really plays more of a center role.  I'd rather have a team with Bird at small forward and Lebron at power forward.  Lebron really is a phenom, but I like Bird's overall play and ability to get all his teammates rolling.  Until I see someone else play with Bird's basketball IQ and mastery of every aspect of the game, I'm sticking with him.

tycho
tycho

 @AaronDunckel  @tycho  Cavs will get a ring before LeBron gets another... Not a hater.. i like the guy... Just that the Cavs are superior.

GuffAbbottJr
GuffAbbottJr

 @bobdevo  @Mr. J I only listed players I've actually watched play.  Statistics don't tell the whole story, and though Wilt has off-the charts stats, Bill Russell dominated their head-to-head matchups.

DavidosaurusCawston
DavidosaurusCawston

 @azathoth  @KevinWalker  @bharper@demilune.net He is saying that when Wilt was scoring those insane numbers, he was physically ahead of the curve. Now Lebron is ahead of the curve, but the general level has increased to the point where the gap between super human and good players has become much smaller. Makes perfect sense.