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I know the LeBron conversation is getting old and older, but I wrote this article for my Bleacher Report and they won't let me post it because I'm not authorized yet so I want to post it somewhere. Let me just preface it by saying that I put a lot of time into this, and I'm not doing it because I want to beat a dead horse. I genuinely love studying the game, so I hope you can receive this well, whether or not you agree with my points. One of the paragraphs I posted in a post here originally. Here goes:
Lately it has become fashionable to say that LeBron can no longer be mentioned in the same breath as Kobe or Michael. This is for one of several reasons:
1) LeBron hasn't won yet. At 25, LeBron has yet to win a ring. Jordan has 6 and Kobe has 5.
2) LeBron doesn't have the "killer gene." LeBron can't hit big shots like Michael or Kobe.
3) LeBron left Cleveland before winning a ring. Michael and Kobe never went anywhere before winning a ring.
4) He went to play with Dwyane Wade, so now he will be a Scottie Pippen.
My problem: In a search to label the best active player, people compare LeBron's career to Kobe's career. This is wrong. Kobe has the better career, but the issue is over who is better today, not five years ago. We are looking at a Kobe who has lost a step since 2005. That doesn't mean he can't be better than LeBron, but it's important to note. There's no doubting James' dominance throughout a game, as has been proven by back-to-back 60-win seasons with incredible stats. But the questioning comes with regard to LeBron's clutch performances, notably in the playoffs.
LeBron is statistically the best player in basketball during the regular season. The argument by many, however, is that Kobe is better than LeBron because of his clutch gene and playoff performances. LeBron's detractors claim he lacks said clutch gene and in general isn't as good as Kobe in the playoffs. Through a Machiavellian lens, there is a straight answer: Kobe is better because he wins the Finals. To most, sports are indeed Macheiavellian and the end justifies the means. But there is always a story in the middle. The end may very well be consistent with the middle, but in this case it isn't. Kobe's numbers and team record have been inferior to LeBron for the past two years. These are facts. The argument then becomes: Kobe is superior in the playoffs, LeBron in the regular season.
First I wanted to look at LeBron's end-of-game performances in the regular season. This table from 82games.com shows that LeBron, as of 2008, has more made shots in end-of-game situations than any player in the league. http://www.82games.com/gamewinningshots.htm
Since then, Kobe has hit shots against the Heat, Bucks, Kings, Celtics and Grizzlies. Kobe is the best finisher in basketball. My goal is not to say LeBron is a better finisher than Kobe. But the fact that it's even close shows there is a huge misconception about LeBron's ability to finish. So I wanted to take a look at LeBron's end-of-game performances in playoffs, and also his performances during key losses in general. Since Kobe has won two years in a row, I want to note the playoff performance of Kobe vs. LeBron and also the playoff performances of LeBron's teammates compared to Kobe's teammates.
First, I want to establish two types of clutch:
1) End of game clutch. Dominating and unstoppable performance in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Ex) LeBron against the Pistons 2007, LeBron and Pierce trading shots in Game 7 2008.
2) Last possession clutch. A shot in the last possession that either ties or wins the game. Ex) LeBron's missed and made threes against the Magic.
I wanted to take a look back at LeBron's playoff performances in general, noting every close loss to find blame while ignoring for the most part close wins. The key here is not to prove LeBron is clutch, but rather to find evidence that he is not clutch, that he does not have a "killer instinct," or that he is unreliable at the end of games. In particular, I want to pay close attention to the number of opportunities LeBron had to win games, for there is no logic in claiming he isn't clutch down the line if in a vast majority of games his team has either won handily or is too far back to compete in the final minutes. That is to say, he cannot be not clutch if he doesn't have significant opportunity to be clutch.
1) If the game comes down to the wire, LeBron's actions will tell us everything, i.e. crucial turnovers, missed vs. made shots.
2) If the game is out of reach, LeBron's numbers, the numbers of his teammates and to some degree opponents will show who is responsible for the outcome.
3) If the game is won handily, LeBron's numbers, the numbers of his teammates and to some degree opponents will show who is responsible for the outcome.
Apr 25, 2006, GAME 2 LOSS, WIZARDS: I decided to check out the 89-84 loss between the Cavaliers and the Wizards where LeBron had shot poorly. He had 10 turnovers on the night. It was a close game and I wanted to see if LeBron had missed a big shot with little time left or somehow made an end-of-game mistake. Any evidence to back up his reputation of not being clutch.
"Hughes’ jumper made it 87-82, and James made two more free throws with 20 seconds left to pull Cleveland within three. Billy Thomas then missed a pair of free throws for Washington, and the Cavs looked as if they would get closer.
James rushed the ball up the floor, but instead of calling a timeout or trying a game-tying 3-pointer, he passed inside to a wide-open Anderson Varejao."
May 19, 2006: 84-82 loss to Detroit.
"With his team needing a 3-pointer to tie, Cleveland coach Mike Brown screamed for his team to call a timeout, but before the Cavs could, James was fouled with 1.4 seconds to play. James, who went 15-of-18 from the line, swished the first.
He pushed the second one left on purpose and Zydrunas Ilgauskas—with an unlikely assist from Billups—nearly got a miraculous bounce off the top of the glass."
May 17, 2006: 86-84 Cavs over Pistons.
Cavaliers take the lead with 9 minutes left and never let go. James led the league in votes for the All-NBA team...The 21-year-old phenom scored 22 first-half points on 9-of-17 shooting
May 21st, 2006. 79-61 DET
Game 7 loss to DET, who had home-court advantage. 27 points on 46% shooting, 8 rebounds 2 assists and 3 turnovers. Other Cavs: Big Z - 8 points, 3-8 FG, Larry Hughes - 10 points, 2-6 FG, 6 rebounds, 5 assists. Eric Snow - 4 points, 1-5 FG, 0 assists.
Summary: LeBron plays well for two series, getting double-digit help in several games from Z, Gooden and Varejao. Larry Hughes was dealing with the death of his brother. In general, the help came spread meagerly throughout the Cleveland bench, and when it didn't come the Cavs scored in the 60's. LeBron gets a pass for losing in the second round because it's his playoff debut.
May 21, 2007: 79 76 Loss to Pistons
An unimpressive game for Lebron. Key word: For LeBron. 10 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists. 4 steals, 1 block. 33% shooting and 2 turnovers. Z steps up with 22 and 13, Hughes (30.7%) and Varejao put in 13 each. Next highest scorer is Pavlovic with 9 pts (28.5%). This is a game where LeBron's shortcomings offensively could be blamed for CLE being too far back to compete in the 4th, yet it still came down to a chance for LeBron to prove he wasn't clutch. Did he this time?
"LeBron James dribbled at the top of the key, drove toward the basket and everybody watching in person and on TV probably thought he was going to shoot.
He dished and the decision backfired."
May 24, 2007: 79 76 Loss to Pistons
Another downer for LeBron, 19 points (36.8%), 7 assists, 6 rebounds and 6 turnovers.
Here is Clutch Fail #1.
"James missed a shot with 7.9 seconds left, allowing Detroit to escape again with a 79-76 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night and a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals."
May 30, 2007: 108 107 2OT Win against Pistons.
In response to his first failure to be clutch in the playoffs, LeBron scores all of the Cavs last 25 points and shoots 54.5%. It is one of the most clutch performances in NBA history, but it doesn't take the form of one last second shot and can't be put into a single highlight.
Note: Clutch Fail #1.5: LeBron airballs a three as the shot clock expires in the end of OT 1 and the game goes to 2OT.
Game 1 FINALS, 85 76 LOSS
James is 14-7-4 on 25% and the Cavs roster does good in general but Cleveland can't hang.
Game 2 FINALS 103, 92 LOSS
LeBron plays less than three minutes in the first quarter after early foul trouble, Spurs go up by 25 at halftime.
Game 3 FINALS, 75 72 LOSS
LeBron: 25 points (39%), 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 turnovers. Z: 12. Gooden: 13. Pavlovic: 13. After that: 4, 3, 2, 0, 0.
Clutch Fail #2: LeBron shoots a three short in the final seconds.
Game 4 FINALS 83 82 LOSS
LeBron: 24 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds, 6 turnovers, 33% FG. Duncan steals the ball from James with 2 minutes left and Oberto scores to make it 74-66. LeBron hits a three, 76-69. Manu responds with an easy runner. LeBron makes another three. Manu makes four free throws in the final seven seconds.
Series summary: LeBron steps up to the biggest stage in basketball and falls short to a dynasty. He hits big shots in game four but it isn't enough.
Playoffs Summary: LeBron misses two game-tying shots and often shoots poor from the field. But this really was a case of San Antonio shining more than anything. Cleveland's roster, though terribly average on paper, performs and gives LeBron adequate backup. He tries and falls short, but all of his negatives are rightfully forgotten as he carried his team to the NBA Finals in his second playoffs. Maybe he is the King?
CLE VS SAS VERDICT: UNWINNABLE. The Cavs had no shot at winning this series, no matter how well LeBron played. The Spurs were a dynasty picking up its 4th ring.
2008 THE BIG 3
28.2 ppg (41% FG), 7.8 rpg, 7.6 apg, 1.7 spg
Game 5 LOSS Wizards, 88 87
Clutch Fail #3: LeBron misses lay-up at buzzer. Some argue there was contact, but seeing as how this is a controversial statement, I am on the side that it was clean. LeBron is 34, 10 and 7 and takes responsibility for the loss.
Game 1, LOSS 76 72 Boston.
LeBron has a bad night. 12, 9, 9, 9 TO. He missed his last six shots, mostly lay ups.
Game 7, LOSS 97 92 Boston
LeBron has 45 to Pierce's 41 as they trade shots. But...
Clutch Fail #4: LeBron misses a three with 4.4 seconds left.
The line from Yahoo! that sums up LeBron's 2008 playoffs:
"'That is why we have three superstars,' said Celtics center Kendrick Perkins, who had 12 rebounds.
And Cleveland only has one."
Series summary: Pierce, Ray and KG at the end of their primes with a budding superstar point in Rondo and a defensive specialist in Perkins is overwhelming for LeBron and the second-best Cav Big Z.
CLE VS BOS VERDICT: SEVERELY OUTMATCHED, BORDERLINE UNWINNABLE. LeBron could have played better, but nobody was stopping the Celtics.
LeBron v Celtics (Conf Finals): Loss. 7 games: 26.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 6.4 apg, 33.9% FG (11% game 1), 5.3 TO/g (10 in game 1) Kobe v Celtics (Finals): Loss. 6 games: 25.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 5 apg, 40.65 FG%, 3.8 TO/g.
GAME 1, LOSS 107 106 MAGIC
LeBron: 49 pts, 8 assists, 6 rebounds. Mo Williams misses last second jumper. James shoots 66% in a loss.
GAME 4, LOSS 116 114 OT MAGIC
LeBron: 44 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists.
Clutch Fail #5: With the Cavs down two, James takes a three that looks good but falls short. Van Gundy: “We had two guys on him and he made a move like a tight end, caught the ball and still got off a reasonable shot. This guy is unbelievable.”
[B]Series Summary:[B] Dwight. Howard. Big Z had 2 points compared to Dwight's 40 in the last game of the series. LeBron was offensively countered on the perimeter by Rashard and Hedo while the Cavs had no one down low. LeBron's numbers indicate that he couldn't have done more during the series, and 1:1 ratio of missed game-winning-three and made game-winning-three is far from bad. He maybe could have scored more instead of averaging 8 assists a game, but the Cavs lost the three games in which he scored over 40. Other than that his only other realistic critique could be to turn the ball over less. LeBron was the best player on the floor every night but the Magic were a better team. Mo Williams and Z were unreliable throughout the series, each missing huge shots off of LeBron drive-and-kicks.
Notes: The presence of a big to counter Howard proved to be too much for the Lakers to handle. Gasol shot 60% for 18.6ppg, but more importantly Howard scored 15.4 ppg on less than 50% from the field. The presence of Odom and occasionally Bynum also made the Lakers too much to handle for Howard, who easily played with the Cleveland front court.
CLE VS MAGIC VERDICT: OUTMATCHED IN THE PAINT, BUT WINNABLE. Winnable only if LeBron and Mo make their end-of-game shots. Other than that, LeBron did as well as he and thus anyone could do for the series, averaging 38-8-8 and shooting 50% for three-point game-winners.
2010 THE KING IS DETHRONED?
29.1 ppg (50% FG), 9.3 rpg, 7.6 apg, 1.7 spg, 1.8 bpg, 3.8 TO/g
GAME 3, LOSS 108-106 CHICAGO
LeBron hits a three with eleven seconds left to make it a two point game. Anthony Parker shoots a halfcourt shot to win the game and misses. LeBron: 39 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 turnovers, over 50% FG.
GAME 2, LOSS, 104 86 BOSTON
LeBron: 24 points (46.7% FG), 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks, 5 TO.
Jamison: 16 points, 6 rebounds.
JJ Hickson: 13 points in 19 minutes.
Shaq: 9 points, 4 rebounds in 19 minutes.
GAME 4, LOSS, 97 87 BOSTON
LeBron: 22 points (38.9%), 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 7 TO, 2 steals, 1 block.
Jamison: 14 points, 6 rebounds
Shaq: 17 points, 5 rebounds
Mo Williams: 13 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds
Anthony Parker: 10 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists JJ Hickson: 0 points in 5 minutes.
LeBron: 15 points (21%), 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 TO.
Shaq: 21 points, 4 rebounds
Anthony Parker: 14 points, 2 rebounds.
Mo Williams: 9 points, 5 assists.
Jamison: 9 points, 6 rebounds. JJ Hickson: 0 points, 4 minutes.
Game 6 Summary: LeBron answers his bad Game 5 with a stat sheet filler but still loses. Mo Williams has a good game on paper but makes terrible decisions with the ball, most notably a fast break with Cavs advantage that ended with him simply running out of bounds. Jamison played one of the worst games of his life. Delonte West had several key turnovers including one pass to LeBron that went off the backboard and another crosscourt pass that went directly to a Celtic. LeBron hits two big threes in the 4th to bring the Cavs closer but dribbles off his foot in a key situation.
VERDICT: WINNABLE... IF LeBRON PLAYS OUTSTANDING EVERY NIGHT. The Cavs could have beaten the Celtics, shown by LeBron's dominating Game 3 performance in which he scored 21 points in the first quarter. If LeBron played outstanding every night a Conference Finals would have been in reach. He was accused of giving up in Game 6 and his dribble-off-the-foot is undeniably unclutch. But there is blame to be distributed. The dissapearance of JJ Hickson is a question for Mike Brown to answer. He started 73 games of the Cavs 61 win season. During the regular season, the Cavs won 2/3 against the Celtics when he started and 0/1 when he didn't. Mo Williams shot just as poorly as in 2009 and underperformed for a player coming off an "All-Star" year. Jamison couldn't have played worse when it mattered. Morever, Garnett was unstoppable in Game 6, burning Jamison repeatedly. Mike Brown is once again to be questioned for that matchup. Varejao guarded him once and got scored on, but played perfect defense. Throw in LeBron's elbow and alleged turmoil in the lockerroom on top of all of that. Usually, an injury to your best player and lockerroom troubles in the playoffs are alone enough to end a team's postseason.
LeBron vs. Celtics: 26.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 7.2 apg, 3.8 TO/g. Excluding game 6, which inflates series rebounding, assists and turnovers:
26.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 6.6 apg, 3.6 TO/g. Kobe vs. Celtics: 28.5 ppg, 8 rpg, 3.8 apg, 3.8 TO/g.
Obviously the argument is that Kobe performed well in the other six games, whereas LeBron was hot and cold. But Derek Fisher was huge in Game 3, carrying the team on his back in the fourth. Ron stepped up and won the Lakers Game 7 (he also shut down the Phoenix series with a game-winner after Kobe shot air). When LeBron slipped up, he had no one to pick him up and carry the team. Varejao was his most dependable teammate. He needed help in the elimination game and got the opposite, whereas Kobe got 20 points from Ron and 19 points and 18 rebounds from Pau (who had a game-winner against the Thunder in Round 1).
LeBron's numbers on the series are good, but his bad Game 5 combined with his dribble off the foot and other key turnovers in Game 6 cancel out his stat line and late-game-potentially-heroic threes. His team generally underperformed, especially in Game 6. But in the end, it is up to LeBron to perform incredibly every night. Takeaway point: If LeBron is at fault for losing this series, it is the first time of his career.
The 82Games.com "Game Winning Shot in the Playoffs" table has Kobe at 4/8 and LeBron at 4/8. LeBron also has one game-winning playoff assist. Since that data was recorded, LeBron has made one three point game-winner against the Magic and missed one three point game-winner against the Magic to put him at 5/9 (55%). Kobe won a playoff game against the Nuggets with free throws, but airballed a game winner against the Suns to put him at 4/9. As a result, LeBron has hit more playoff game winners and regular season game winners than any active player since 03-04. If anything, LeBron is a non-finisher who finishes when he has to. He would much rather draw the double or triple team and pass away, but when he has been forced to shoot he has relatively done a good job. He never had a great jumpshot and until recently never had a threeball (the two things required to finish Jordan-style, which is what everyone uses as the standard for being clutch), yet he has still found a way to finish games when his team needs him to.
*Since this is such an end-justifies-means league, one could argue that games where LeBron has missed a last second shot that are a part of a series the Cavs went on to win should logically be discounted. That would knock off one against the Pistons in 2007 and one against the Wizards in 2008.*
His dominating stats series after series in the playoffs indicate that he's rarely not showing up. His game-winning track record shows he comes through in the clutch. So why do the Cavs lose in the playoffs? Either A) because of his teammates' shortcomings in games where he played great but the Cavs weren't in reach, or B) through his own shortcomings (which often take the form of triple doubles), particularly Game 5 2010 and Game 1 Pistons 2007, where the team wasn't in reach. However, even when it is B, the stats show that there is almost always teammate shortcomings sprinkled on top. These average stats are actually not even shortcomings, they are instead simply accurate reflections of what his teammates are capable of. Does anyone think Anthony Parker should average more than 10 a game in the playoffs?
On that note, I want to segway to teammates. In the last 30 years, only seven teams have won championships. Almost every one of those teams has had at least 2 of the following, and every team has had one. If they didn't have A, they had both B and C.
A) 1-3 Hall of Famers B) Four or more double-digit scorers C) A dominant big man in his prime (offensively or defensively, or both)
In 94-95 the Rockets had two Hall of Famers (Drexler and Olajuwon), six players scoring over 10 points a game and a defensively dominant big man. *The Bulls first three rings came without a dominant big and with only three double-digit scorers, but the next three came with the defensive Rodman in 15 rpg, 16 rpg and 15 rpg years at the tail-end of his prime. The 88-89 Pistons had six players over 13 ppg and three Hall of Famers, while the 89-90 Pistons had five players over 12ppg and two Hall of Famers. The 82-83 Sixers had two hall of Famers and a dominant big man. The 80's Lakers had a dominant big man, always 5-6 double-digit scorers and at one time three Hall of Famers. The Celtics had four Hall of Famers, 5-6 double digit scorers and two dominating bigs in the 80's. In 08, they had a defensively dominant big and three future Hall of Famers. The threepeat Lakers had two Hall of Famers (and two top 3 players in the league), a dominant big man on both ends of the floor. The back-to-back Lakers had five double-digit scorers and a big man that played with the best center in the league in 2009 and went 18.6 ppg and 11.6 rpg in 2010. They might not have two Hall of Famers, but Lamar Odom is the most versatile sixth man in the league, Ron Artest is one of the best perimeter defenders in decades and Bynum is a top-5 center (admittedly a weak position). The Heat in 06 had two Hall of Famers and Shaq coming off a year where he finished second in MVP voting. It's hard to judge how many Hall of Famers the Spurs have, but they have at least one year of Robinson at the tail-end of his prime and two other years of four double-digit scorers.
LeBron hasn't played with a Hall of Famer anywhere close to in his prime. He has played with two dominant bigs who won rings but they were well out of their primes and shells of their former defensive selves in Cleveland (Shaq and Wallace). Twice in playoff years he played with a roster of four or more ten point scorers (05-06 Larry Hughes and Flip Murray were two of them, 07-08 Larry Hughes and Boobie Gibson were two of them). Seeing as how only seven teams have won championships in the last 30 years, it shows that winning championships is organizational as much as talent-based. Players are very lucky when they get to play for both organizations with great coaches and GMs and with other great players. This is not to say that the player must not be great, but franchises win because of great coaches like Phil (11 in the past 30 years), Riley (5) and Pop (4) and fantastic GMs (Dumars the year the Pistons won), just as much as they win because of great talent. In Cleveland, LeBron had neither a great coach, nor a productive organization above him, nor any seriously talented players around him. NBA history shows us this is a recipe for failure, but yet we expect LeBron to be able to do it.
Here are some examples of LeBron's playoff averages in years that the Cavs either went deep or were expected to go deep in the playoffs. Following are the playoff averages of his second best player.
The three years the Pistons won can't really be displayed like that. Their back-to-back was led by Isiah and five other regular season double-digit scorers (four in 1989-90). A young Dennis Rodman came off the bench. In 2004, the defense was led by 4-time defensive player of the year Ben Wallace and the offense by four regular season double-digit scorers.
We wanted so badly for LeBron to be different, to be the one that can win it by himself. But he can't do it. So in our dissappointment we dethrone him. In Miami, LeBron will play with a primed dominant big man for the first time in his career. He will play with another primed Hall of Famer for the first time in his career (one who is dwarfed by Pippen on the defensive end and isn't as good of a passer). They don't have to match up to Jordan and Pippen, they are an entirely different duo. They are LeBron and Wade. LeBron came to "Wade's team" because that team was the only team that could sign both him and Bosh. If Cleveland could sign both and Miami couldn't, Wade would probably have gone to Cleveland. Same with New York, New Jersey, etc.
All LeBron has done with his move to Miami is put himself in the company of the NBA champions for the past thirty years.
Last edited by quinnthology; 07-15-2010 at 02:56 AM.