Miami Heat: LeBron James 2012-’13 Season Rivals All-Time Greats

As the buzzer sounds to conclude another Miami Heat victory, eyes immediately shift to the final box score to take one more look at an otherwise typical LeBron James’ statline.

24 points on 12 shots, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 turnovers, and 1 steal in 34 minutes, 51 seconds of playing time.

Rinse and repeat. Another game concludes and James is left with another robust line that only he can achieve on a consistent basis. He’s the only player averaging 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists per game and he just finished sixth in field-goal percentage, finishing with a mythic .565 field-goal percentage.

James’ previous career-high came last year when he shot 53 percent. He has a higher field-goal percentage than the likes of Kenneth Faried, Omer Asik, and Blake Griffin, yet he took 664 shots from outside of ten feet and stands at 6’8″.

It helps when you convert 45 percent of your shots in the 16-25 foot range. Coaches have always told their players to allow LeBron James to take jumpers rather than allowing him to get a head of stem, but that idea may be eradicated with this season-long string of hot shooting.

James also set a career-high from beyond the arc in converting 40 percent of his three-point attempts. Not bad for someone who shot 33 percent from the same area in their first season with Miami.

Also not bad for a former rookie that converted 29 percent of the same shot.

LeBron ended up averaging a full three-point attempt per game more than last season when he converted a then career-high 36 percent from the perimeter. The Miami Heat recognize that they are at their best when James is attacking and getting to the rim, but they certainly won’t prohibit him from taking jumpers when he’s making at a percentage that nearly rivals Kevin Durant.

Remember when Durant was supposed to challenge for the MVP this season? Kevin’s putting up career numbers across the board and he may end up not receiving a single first-place vote in the MVP race and not one person will complain about it.

That’s the power of LeBron for you.

Because LeBron is putting up numbers that rival that of legends in Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. If you haven’t been desensitized by LeBron’s greatness yet, you may have failed to notice that he’s having as good a season as any player has in the history of organized professional basketball.

The PER rating was designed to be a statistical representation of a players’ per-minute productivity. Here’s creator John Hollinger’s explanation:

To generate PER, I created formulas — outlined in tortuous detail in my book “Pro Basketball Forecast” — that return a value for each of a player’s accomplishments. That includes positive accomplishments such as field goals, free throws, 3-pointers, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals, and negative ones such as missed shots, turnovers and personal fouls.”

Wilt Chamberlain holds the highest all-time PER, a gargantuan 31.82 he achieved when averaging 44.8 points on 53 percent shooting, 24.3 rebounds, and 3.4 assists in 47.6 minutes of action per night. For comparisons sake, the league average is 15.

Chamberlain also holds the second-highest PER, which came the year before when he averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds while taking 39 shots per game and playing in over 48 minutes per night.

Michael Jordan’s 31.71 in the 1987-’88 season comes in third. It was in this season where Jordan averaged 35 points on a then career-high 53 percent from the field, while also averaging a league-high 3.2 steals per game.

You’re starting to get the point? It takes a special kind of person who can put up video game numbers on a nightly basis to be even coming near the PER ratings Chamberlain and Jordan ended up with over their careers.

In the top ten of PER, Jordan and Chamberlain take up all but three of the spots. Can you guess who has those three?

I’m certainly not writing this article about Kobe.

Before this season, LeBron had finished with the ninth best PER in his final year with Cleveland and tenth last season. Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Kevin Garnett are the only other active players to have finished in the top 25.

Wade’s 30.36 in the 2008-’09 season was the highest of any player in the past ten years outside of LeBron, of course.

Fresh off his first championship victory, however, the 2012-’13 season had a feel to it that we never experienced. We should have expected it, but we had no idea what LeBron without pressure was capable of.

80 games later and LeBron’s PER is a few near triple-doubles away from being the highest of all-time. He’s going to best his previous career-high he set in the 2008-’09 season after putting up a PER of 31.75.

Second place goes to Kevin Durant, who finished with a seemingly pedestrian 28.17.

LeBron will now have four of the 11 highest PER ratings in NBA history, and he’s going to do it averaging career-highs in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, true-shooting percentage, field-goal efficiency, offensive rating, and win-shares per 48 minutes.

Admit it: you thought there was no way LeBron was capable of besting himself after what he did last season. Even if he was entering the cream of his prime and fresh off a title, the numbers he put up last season were believed to be the pinnacle.

But we just keep rising. This mountain has no peak. He had no post-game and now he does; he had no three-point shot and now he does; he took too many low-percentage jumpers and now he’s setting career-highs for field-goal efficiency.

Oh, yeah, and he’s going to be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year. Again.  He won’t win it, but it’s just another feat to add to the all-around abilities of LeBron James, who only continues to improve in his tenth season.

LeBron ranks 11th in assists per game and is only one of three players to be averaging at least 20 points and seven assists per game. The closest small forwards to him are Paul Pierce and Nicolas Batum who are averaging 4.9 assists.

I don’t think there’s any more need to get into what separates LeBron James from other small forwards, as well as every other player in the league. You won’t mind any other small forwards with the speed of a point guard, shooting touch of a two-guard, versatility of a three, strength of a four, and post-game of a five, at least in the traditional sense.

It’s safe to say that LeBron bought entirely into that “positionless” basketball preached by his coach over the past three years, the same coach who brought James his first title through an experiment that had never been seen before in basketball.

According to 82games.com, James has played 46 percent of his minutes at the power forward position and has a PER of 34.8 when playing the position. For comparison, his PER is only 29 as a small forward.

Have you realized that LeBron just started buying into playing at the four? This isn’t something that James has worked his career for. He was told to play more minutes at the four due to the absence of Chris Bosh in last year’s playoffs and now he has a higher PER playing power forward than any other player in the league.

That post-game he just added on? He ranks 14th in points per possession, according to SynergySports, and it has now become nearly 12 percent of his total offensive output.

No, this isn’t just another year for LeBron. Because this isn’t the LeBron James in Cleveland that was satisfied with simply being a great all-around player and arguably the best player in basketball.

There was more, and he didn’t find that out until the humbling experience that was the 2011 Finals.

Since that fateful series, LeBron has become an exponentially better shooter from everywhere on the court, is picking-and-choosing his shots and taking jumpers with confidence, and a post-game that enables him to facilitate without relying on isolations that start 25 feet from the basket.

As a result of LeBron’s darkest time, the NBA is now blinded by the shining beacon that is the 2012-’13 season for LeBron James leading a Miami Heat team that recently toppled a franchise record for wins that had stood since 1997.

Oh, yeah, and there’s also that little 27-game winning streak thrown into the mix. You know? It was only the second time in the history of basketball where a team has won so many consecutive games, you should remember.

After their win against Chicago, the Heat are winners of 34 of their past 36 games. They are the championship favorites and it is becoming impossible to concoct a possible scenario that doesn’t involve a devastating injury where they fall in a seven-game series.

LeBron’s going to most likely sit out tonight’s game against Cleveland and Wednesday’s season-finale against the Orlando Magic. A few days from then they’ll begin their championship journey with a Game 1 at home against a sub-500 Milwaukee Bucks team.

Funny. To think that the regular season isn’t even in the meaningful season. Don’t tell that to LeBron James, though, who is going to secure his fourth MVP in five years following a seemingly effortless campaign.

What’s even more funny, or terrifying if you’re on the other end? LeBron is saving his best for last.

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