In the past five games, LeBron James has had what some are arguing the best stretch by any NBA player ever.
Well, that idea lasted a few hours before a stat revealed Michael Jordan once had a stretch of ten triple-doubles in the span of 11 games. It’s also tough to not include Wilt Chamberlain as someone who has put up some wild statlines in a career that included a 100-point game and a season where he averaged 50 points and 25 rebounds per game.
In terms of the modern era, however, LeBron is having games that rival that of legends like Jordan–he’s the only player analysts can use to downplay James’ recent stretch–and most recently Moses Malone and Adrian Dantley.
By recording at least 30 points on at least 60 percent shooting from the field in each of the past five games, James became the first player since Moses Malone in 1981 to accomplish such a feat. For those who need some historical context, Malone was a center that won three league MVP’s between 1979 and 1983 while snatching up a Finals MVP in between.
Dantley was the only other player to accomplish the feat James just recorded. He was a two-time scoring champion that averaged over 30 points per in four consecutive seasons, while shooting at least 55 percent in each of those seasons. While similar to LeBron at some aspects, he paled in comparison to the facilitator James has been for the duration of his career.
Being swept under the rug during this five-game stretch has been the fact that LeBron is doing it while still grabbing seven boards and dishing out six assists per–all Heat wins.
Let’s take a look at these five games, shall we?
at Toronto: 30 points (10/16 overall, 1/2 from three, 9/12 free throws), eight rebounds, seven assists, two steals, three turnovers. Heat win 100-85
vs Charlotte: 31 points (13/14 overall, 5/6 free throws), eight rebounds, eight assists, two steals, five turnovers. Heat win 99-94
vs Houston: 32 points (11/18 overall, 3/6 from three, 7/10 free throws), six rebounds, five assists, two blocks, four turnovers. Heat win 114-108
vs L.A. Clippers: 30 points (9/11 overall, 4/5 from three, 8/11 free throws), six assists, five rebounds, two blocks, five turnovers. Heat win 111-89
vs L.A. Lakers: 32 points (12/18 overall, 1/2 from three, 7/8 free throws), seven rebounds, four assists, three steals, four turnovers. Heat win 107-97
Take note that the 13-of-14 performance against Charlotte was the second night of a back-to-back that featured LeBron James and the Heat flying in from Toronto the morning of.
He also has a higher field-goal percentage than free-throw percentage in this recent stretch, has shot over 53 percent in seven consecutive games, and has shot over 61 percent in five consecutive games.
Perhaps the most staggering numbers in this recent stretch has been LeBron’s numbers as a jump shooter. In the past five contests, LeBron has converted 9-of-15 from beyond the arc, good enough for a completion percentage of 60 percent. His three-point percentage is now at a career-high 42 percent.
No player in NBA history has ever shot above 55 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc in the same season, because the field-goal percentage is something usually achieved by centers who spend the majority of their time near the rim and the three-point percentage is usually seen by volume shooters who shoot threes and are rarely as effective within the perimeter.
Once again, LeBron has defied those odds. He has the field-goal percentage of a center (a career-high 56 percent), the three-point percentage of a guard, the assist-to-turnover ratio of a fundamental point guard (6.9 assists to a career-low 3 turnovers per), and the rebounding numbers of a power forward (a career-high 8.1 per).
Somehow in all of this, LeBron is attempting a career-low 6.7 free throw attempts per despite having half of his shots come within nine feet of the rim.
Speaking of shots coming at the rim, James is converting 78 percent of his attempts near the rim and is rivaling the staggering numbers a prime Shaquille O’Neal had in the 2000-’01 season. Yes, the 6’8″ LeBron is finishing around the rim as well as a 7’1″ center who is considered arguably the most dominant player to ever step foot onto the hardwood.
Let that sink in for a moment.
LeBron will have two more opportunities before the All-Star break to bump up his averages. He faces a tough contest against a Portland Trail Blazers team featuring Nicolas Batum–the only team this season to hold LeBron under 20 points–and an Oklahoma City Thunder team that features future runner-up MVP Kevin Durant.
Durant has played phenomenal throughout the year, vastly improving his defense and facilitating ability, but it’s going to be impossible for him to win the league MVP when LeBron James is having the best season of his career.
James’ PER is currently at 30.9, a few percentage points better than last year’s 30.7 he posted up.
The most brilliant thing about that particular stat is the fact that we all thought LeBron had possibly reached his peak last season. He shot a career-high 53 percent from the field and became far more aware of where his shots were coming from–taking a career-low 2.4 three-point attempts per.
James is taking 3.3 three-point attempts per this season, but none of the shots are forced nor would they be considered poor shot selection.
Every shot LeBron takes is calculated. If he wants to take a shot from a specific spot on the floor, he’s going to get to that spot and take said shot. His intelligence has been overshadowed by his physical nature and talent level throughout this recent stretch of games.
Going to Miami was the best decision LeBron James ever could have made. Because not only was he granted the aid of having Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and a brilliantly run organization behind him, but it also made him become a smarter player; a player that had to make certain sacrifices and adjustments in order to make things work.
That’s what separates LeBron from guys like Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard: He was willing to do whatever it took to compete for the greater good of winning a title, while the others either adjusted momentarily to their new surroundings or didn’t attempt to at all.
That is something Michael Jordan never had to deal with. He received Scottie Pippen and it was only then that Jordan began to win titles and have the Chicago Bulls considered serious championship contenders, but he hardly had to assimilate to a new culture and environment when guys like Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc or Ron Harper joined the club.
Jordan didn’t have to make the adjustment of going to a new team and playing with two other superstars, while also having to deal with the pressure of a ravenous media that was preying for any sort of negative news to report.
Given that LeBron left on his own will, but he isn’t in the same camp as Jordan who received help in the form of the aforementioned players. James had to go out and get the help himself, even if that meant succumbing to the thought of failing Cleveland and losing millions of fans and admirers in the process.
Judging by the last five games, as well as that NBA championship and Finals MVP he walked away with last year, I’d say that LeBron made the right decision.
As I write this, LeBron has won the Eastern Conference player of the week. His averages:
31.3 points on 74 percent overall shooting and 62 percent shooting from beyond the arc, 6.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1 block per.
Who’s more blessed in this scenario? The guy putting up those stats? Or the masses that get to watch and appreciate these performances on a game-by-game basis.