LeBron James is without a doubt one of the all-time greats, and he will enter his 19th season as once again the player who can do most on the floor. James is not only a great scorer and playmaker, but he is a tremendous leader who makes everyone around him better. Adding in the fact that he holds 4 NBA titles and 4 Finals MVPs, he is often compared to Michael Jordan whenever the best player ever is concerned.
When looking at LeBron’s stats, it is clear that The King has a compelling argument as the best player ever. James is on the leaderboards for 5 major advanced stat categories: player efficiency rating, win shares per 48 minutes, total win shares, plus/minus, and value over replacement. While the majority of people will normally refer to the eye test when comparing James and other great players, it is amazing to see how The King has topped these advanced statistical categories.
Player Efficiency Rating (PER): 27.39 (2nd)
Out of all the advanced stats, PER might be the most respected. It includes all the major stats (points + rebounds + assists + blocks + steals - missed FG - missed FT - TO). This includes all a player’s positive contributions on the court less the negatives, signaling a player’s overall impact in a particular game. Among all-time players, LeBron James is ranked 2nd all-time behind Michael Jordan.
Jordan holds the highest PER rating for a career at 27.91, which is not very surprising since the shooting guard is regarded as the closest to perfection on the court. Michael was simply a more dominant scorer than LeBron along with being a more consistent defender. James grabs more rebounds and assists, but his free-throw shooting is a negative that may have held James back. Still, finishing 2nd all-time in this major category is very impressive.
Win Share Per 48 Minutes: 0.2321 (6th)
Out of all the most important advanced statistical categories, James ranks “lowest” in his career in win shares per 48 minutes albeit by a slim margin. The all-time leader is Michael Jordan with 0.2505, followed by David Robinson at 0.2502. Wilt is right behind them with a 0.2480 rating, while Neil Johnston and Chris Paul round out the top-5 with 0.2413 and 0.2409 respectively.
LeBron is 6th, ranking higher than the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson. LeBron is normally the main reason his teams win games, and it is unsurprising to see The King rank in the top-10. No matter what people might say about LeBron James, being a valuable player is an attribute that cannot be denied.
Career Win Shares: 242.04 (3rd)
In career win shares, LeBron is 3rd behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain. James and Wilt (247.26) are well behind Kareem (273.41) in the all-time rankings, so the 6-time MVP is alone in this advanced stat. But the fact that James is above Michael Jordan (5th) and Tim Duncan (7th) is a sign of his greatness as a winner.
LeBron does so much right on the floor, and his floor leadership is a reason why winning games comes easily to him. The King does not have to force shots, force passes, or deal with inefficient offenses. Rather, LeBron runs the offense himself and will make the right play 99% of the time. It is no wonder LeBron once again appears on the all-time leaders’ list of advanced stat categories.
Box Plus/Minus: 8.89 (2nd)
Other than PER, overall plus/minus might be the most respected advanced stat. This shows the point differential a team has when a particular player is on the court, basically indicating if a player causes a positive contribution. In box plus/minus, LeBron is 2nd all-time behind Michael Jordan (9.22). James is also far ahead of 3rd placed Magic (7.54) and 4th placed David Robinson (7.48).
It is very hard to place LeBron over Michael because the latter was so incredibly dominant during his era. Jordan won 10 scoring titles, signaling he was the best scorer in the NBA by a large margin but also won Defensive Player of the Year while making 9 All-Defensive Teams. The Bulls legend dominated his era in all areas, giving him a boost in plus/minus.
Value Over Replacement: 137.3 (1st)
The Value Over Replacement signals “a measure to estimate each player’s overall contribution to the team, measured vs. what a theoretical “replacement player” would provide, where the “replacement player” is defined as a player on minimum salary or not a normal member of a team’s rotation” as defined by Basketball-Reference. This basically indicates a player’s value to his team should they be replaced.
Unsurprisingly, LeBron ranks 1st all-time ahead of Michael Jordan (2nd) and John Stockton (3rd). James is widely regarded as the greatest regular-season player of all time and he could have realistically had 10 MVP Awards because of the way he carries teams. James does everything on the floor well, meaning his value to a team cannot be replaced by any player. Of course, there is more to basketball than statistics, but the indication that James is the most valuable player over every other superstar is some ammo for The King in the GOAT debate. But based on all the advanced stats as a whole, it might not be enough.
LeBron James is a special athlete because few players in any sport can show The King's kind of consistency every season. Going on 19 years, James has a chance to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's scoring record, something almost unfathomable. But these advanced stats consistently show that LeBron James is not quite ahead in the GOAT debate.
Rather, he is still far behind Michael Jordan. The Bulls legend has 6 championships to LeBron's 4, has 10 scoring titles to LeBron's 2, and a Defensive Player of the Year trophy. In major advanced stats, Jordan was simply a better player than James. He scored the ball at a much greater clip, dominated the defensive end, and won games doing it.
This is no knock on LeBron because no player truly comes close to Michael Jordan as a basketball player. For now, LeBron has a case for being the 2nd greatest player ever but the 1st place spot is currently untouchable and even the advanced stats prove that.