LeBron James' Playoff Production Is on a Historic Pace
Early on, it wasn't as easy to see the focus that LeBron James carried into the NBA Playoffs. Despite a 4-0 sweep in the first round, he and his Cleveland Cavaliers had some troubles with the Indiana Pacers. They won by an average of just four points while surrendering 108.8 points per game.
However, James was busy averaging 32.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 3.0 steals and 2.0 blocks in 43.7 minutes. Still enamored with the likes of Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard, that ridiculous performance went overlooked. We dismissed it as James dominating an inferior Pacers team.
Then, the second round happened. That's where the Toronto Raptors were expected to put up more of a fight, but the series turned out to be anything but competitive. The Cavaliers delivered four straight punches to the mouth, completed a straight sweep with an average margin of victory of 15.3 points.
During the brief second-round bout, James was out of this world yet again. In 41.1 minutes per contest, the 32-year-old produced 36.0 points on 57.3% shooting from the field, 48.1% from three and 83.3% from the free throw line. This prompted DeMar DeRozan to say that LeBron looks even bigger and faster than he was a year ago.
James' dominance left a trail of broken souls in Toronto, but how true were DeRozan's comments? Has James' performance thus far been better than his play in the Cavs' 2016 title run?
|Playoffs||Win Shares per 48||Win Shares||Player Efficiency Rating|
Not only has James been better than he was last year -- on a 48-minute basis, he's been more valuable than all but one of his previous 11 playoff appearances. His fourth postseason -- at the age of 24 -- is the only one that holds strong to this day. And as for player efficiency rating (PER), his mark of 31.0 is the third-best of his career.
When you put the two together, here is what James' efficiency rates look like over the years.
As you can see from the yellow point amid the above sea of red, LeBron's current pace is his second-best when combining PER and win shares per 48 (WS/48). We have certainly come to expect nothing less from The King, though.
Via win share totals, James already owned five of the top 20 individual postseasons and three of the top five, but he looks poised to make it one more.
James has 2.1 win shares across eight games and 339 minutes so far. However, when we're dealing with these types of efficiency numbers -- with win shares measured down to three decimals -- it's good to be a little more precise.
In re-calculating his box score minutes, James has played an actual total of 339.4 minutes for an average of 42.425 a game. If we utilize his win shares per 48, we can then re-calculate James' total win shares. Here's what that math looks like.
(339.4/48) x .293 = 2.072 actual win shares [*rounded to three decimals]
Now, at maximum, James can play 14 more games in the final two rounds. He might not, but for argument's sake, let's say he does, and continues to play at this rate.
Taken over a total of 22 games, James' projected minutes would be 933.35 minutes at a rate of 42.425 per. Again, we could see that number jump -- especially in the Finals, where he saw an increase of 6.1 minutes from his regular season average -- but let's keep it simple and assume he couldn't handle anymore than he's already taking on.
If we follow the same process as above, James would total a projected 5.697 win shares, rounded to an estimate of 5.70 for the entirety of the postseason. Based on previous research, that would position him third all-time behind Tim Duncan (5.94 win shares) and his own 2012 campaign (5.82 win shares). In both instances, their respective teams won the title and they were rewarded with Finals MVP honors.
This might not be predictive of the final outcome for these playoffs, but it just speaks to the historic pace James is operating at. A pace that has many wondering whether this is the best LeBron has ever played.
As of right now, it isn't, but it's not far from it. If he has one more level yet to be unleashed -- one he's reserving for the Finals -- LeBron has the ability to finish this postseason with the best individual playoff performance we've ever seen.