Just How Great Has LeBron James Been This Postseason?
In NBA history, 10 players have made the NBA Finals five straight seasons.
Eight of them were in a Boston Celtics uniform in the 1960's.
In terms of marquee players, LeBron James is the first star to make it to five straight Finals since Bill Russell. Larry Bird did it four times while Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant both made it three years in a row, two different times.
But how has James pulled this off? Has he put up career bests in many statistical categories? Has he improved his game in small ways? Or has he just been historically great? Let's break down some stats to showcase how James has gotten back to the Finals yet again.
Contributing in Many Ways
The 2015 playoffs, statistically, haven't been what we usually see from LeBron James. James has notched his worst Offensive Rating (105), scored the fifth-lowest points per game (27.6), and given up the second-highest turnovers per game (4.4) of his playoff career. Even his PER (24.7), Value Above Replacement Player (VORP, 1.7), and Win Shares (2.1) have been below his career average in the playoffs. But that doesn't mean that James has had a horrible playoffs.
It's the opposite, in fact.
In the 2015 playoffs, James' Win Shares total is fourth-best, his PER ranks fifth, and his VORP is tops in the league. On top of those marks, he is still scoring the fourth- points per game. But James' value extends beyond his scoring prowess.
He's ninth in rebounds per game (10.4), eighth in steals per game (1.8), and third in assists per game (8.3) -- and his assists and rebounds per game are career-highs for the playoffs. Cumulatively, he's fifth in rebounds (146), tied for third in steals (25), and second in assists (116) in the 2015 playoffs. Throw in his 18 blocks in the playoffs (eight most so far), and we just start scratching the surface of his impact defensively.
James enters the NBA Finals with a 4.7 Defensive Box Plus/Minus (DBPM), 1.2 Defensive Win Shares, and a 97 Defensive Rating. His Defensive Win Shares are the fifth-best of his career while his DBPM and Defensive Rating marks are both career bests. And in this year's playoffs, James' DBPM is the eighth-best, his Defensive Rating is fourth-best, and his Defensive Win Share total is the top mark.
James may not be scoring 35 points every night out, but his contributions elsewhere are re-writing the history books.
LeBron James is already considered one of the best in the NBA, and objectively, it's unfair to compare him to Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, as all three have had such a different impact on the game and for their respective teams. However, James is constantly etching his name across the history books.
Thanks to Basketball-Reference's Play Index, we can look back in history throughout the playoffs to see how good James' stat line is. Let's start with players in the playoffs who have notched at least 25 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists per game. That leads us to 33 different seasons from 19 different players with that stat line, including Charles Barkley and Larry Bird.
If we increase to all players with 10 rebounds instead of 8, we're left with 14 seasons from 11 different players, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And if we create a baseline that mirrors James' line (27.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 8.3 assists), then the list includes just one other name: is Oscar Roberston.
The historical greatness for James' playoff stat line goes beyond the box score though. From a defensive standpoint, only six players have averaged at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists per game and had a Defensive Rating under 110. And only one other player has averaged those same statistics and had a better Defensive Rating than LeBron James has right now: Tim Duncan.
Two other things that stand out from all these comparisons is James' age and number of playoff games played in a season. Of 11 different players to average at least 25, 10 and 8, only LeBron and two others (Larry Bird and Nate Thurmond) were in their 30's. And Larry Bird is the only other player to average 25, 10 and 8 and play in the NBA Finals.
LeBron James will continue to make a compelling case for being considered one of the best players of all time, especially if he adds another ring to his collection. The 2015 NBA Finals could be one for the ages: a historically great team in Warriors facing a player that could go down in NBA history as the best ever.