LeBron James: Dominant and Efficient
By Brian Martin
On Sunday, LeBron James became just the fifth player in NBA history to win four MVP awards -- joining the elite company of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6), Michael Jordan (5), Bill Russell (5) and Wilt Chamberlain (4). James earns the honor for the second consecutive year and the fourth time in five seasons.
The only other player to win the award in four of five seasons is Bill Russell (1961, 62, 63, 65). And if we go beyond basketball, the only other league MVPs to win four in five years are Wayne Gretzky and Barry Bonds.
In winning his fourth MVP, James had the best season of his already legendary career. Sure, there have been seasons that saw him score more points, dish out more assists and block more shots, but from a standpoint of efficiency and dominance over the competition, James has never been better.
He led the Heat to a league-best and franchise-best 66-16 record and was the only player in the NBA this season to lead his team in scoring (26.8 ppg, 4th in NBA), rebounding (8.0 rpg, 21st in NBA) and assists (7.3 apg, 10th in NBA). He shot a career-high from the field (56.5 percent, 5th in NBA) and from 3-point range (40.6 percent, 27th in NBA) and led the NBA in score differential (+9.5) and player impact estimate (22.1 percent).
He also had the NBA record streak of six straight games scoring at least 30 points and shooting 60 percent or better from the field from Feb. 3-12. That streak is a symbol of James' new-and-improved game. He averaged 30.8 points while shooting 71.7 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from 3-point range. A look at his shot chart shows how he scored from all over the court, but did most of his damage at the rim (50 of his 92 total shots coming inside the restricted area). The result was six straight wins for the Heat to open their 27-game winning streak, the second longest in NBA history.
LeBron James -- Per Game Statistics -- MVP Seasons
Since arriving in Miami, James' scoring averages -- 26.7 points (2010-11), 27.1 (2011-12), and 26.8 (2012-13) -- have been the three lowest of his career after a 20.9 points per game average during his rookie season (2003-04). It's not that he's not still scoring at an elite level -- this season's 26.8 points per game was good for fourth in the league. But the drop off from earlier in his career makes sense. With the help of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, there is less emphasis on James to score than there was during his time in Cleveland.
LeBron James -- Shooting Statistics -- MVP Seasons
But while he may have scored fewer points in these past three seasons, his shooting has improved dramatically. Prior to arriving in Miami, James had one season where he shot better than 50 percent from the field -- his final MVP season in Cleveland when he hit 50.3 percent of his attempts. Since arriving in Miami, James has consistently improved as a shooter -- hitting 51.0 percent in 2010-11, 53.1 percent in 2011-12 and 56.5 percent this season. After spending most of his career with a 3-point shooting percentage in the low 30s, James shot 40.6 percent from three this season, his first time eclipsing the 40 percent plateau.
A year after developing a strong post game to add to his offensive repertoire, this season James became a reliable outside threat as well. When you add that to his ability to get to the basket at will, the question for the opposition becomes "what do you try to take away?" If you lay off of him because of his threat to drive, he can pull up for the three. If you guard him close, he can blow by the defender and either get to the rim, or draw the help defense and find sharpshooters like Ray Allen and Shane Battier posted in the corners for open shots. If the outside shot isn't falling, or if he has a favorable size matchup, he can take his man into the post and either create his own shot or again draw the defense and kick it out to open shooters.
LeBron James -- Shooting By Zone -- MVP Seasons
|In the Paint (Non-RA)||49.4%||43.5%||42.5%||41.4%|
|Left Corner 3||33.3%||37.5%||35.7%||36.1%|
|Right Corner 3||54.8%||27.3%||41.2%||33.3%|
|Above the Break 3||38.9%||36.9%||33.1%||35.1%|
LeBron James -- 2012-13 Shot Chart
Comparing James' MVP seasons shows that he shot better from every zone on the floor this season with the exception of the left corner 3-pointer (33.3 percent).
James also posted the best offensive rating of his career -- as the Heat scored 113.4 points per 100 possessions with him on the court. Combined with his defensive rating of 99.3, the Heat outscored their competition by 14.1 points per 100 possessions with James on the court. James has only surpassed that Net Rating once in his career, his first MVP season in Cleveland in 2008-09 (+14.7). He also eclipsed the 60 percent mark in effective field-goal percentage for the first time in his career (60.3) and posted the highest rebounding percentage of his career (13.1%).
LeBron James -- Advanced Statistics -- MVP Seasons
While he had a slightly higher Net Rating and PIE Rating and posted more triple-doubles during the 2008-09 season in Cleveland, James' dramatic improvements as a shooter -- a 7.3% improvement in effective field goal percentage from then to now -- and his increase in overall offensive efficiency while using fewer possessions this season show that James is playing better than he ever has right now.