Bernucca: Is LeBron Better than Jordan? Read This Before Answering

Remember that streak of games hot-shooting LeBron James put together last February?LeBron James

Well, he’s doing it again. Much earlier in the season. And for a longer stretch.

And if he keeps it up, it will become historic. Because since the ABA-NBA merger, no wing player or point guard has scored this much while shooting this well. Not Dr. J. Not even Michael Jordan.

Yes, really.

Through the first month of the season, James is third in the league in scoring at 26.2 points per game and second in field-goal percentage at .598.

“I’m in a very, very comfortable position right now with my game,” James said.

Among the others in the top five in scoring, no one is shooting better than 47 percent. Among the others in the top five in shooting, only Brook Lopez is averaging 20 points per game. The others – Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard – would lose a free-throw shooting contest with Stevie Wonder.

Historically, here’s what the numbers show: If you have a high shooting percentage, you are (a) a big man who plays close to the rim, (b) someone who doesn’t shoot a lot or (c) both. And if you have a high scoring average, you (a) shoot too much, (b) don’t pass enough or (c) both.

What James is doing right now – ranking in the top five in both scoring and shooting while playing a perimeter position – simply has not been done before. In the merger era, there is only one other “small” player besides James who has come close to defying this logic.

And it’s not Jordan.

The following is a list of wings or points who have finished in the top five in shooting since the merger:

PlayerTeamSeasonFG PctFGA PGLeader?
Cedric MaxwellBOS1979-80.6099.4Yes
Mike McGeeLAL1983-84.5947.6No
Cedric MaxwellBOS1980-81.5889.3No
Bernard KingGSW1980-81.58715.4No
Cedric MaxwellBOS1978-79.58410.1No
Bobby JonesDEN1977-78.57810.1Yes
Cedric CeballosPHO1992-93.5768.9Yes
John StocktonUTH1987-88.5749.6No
Bobby JonesDEN1976-77.57010.7No
LeBron JamesMIA2012-13.56517.8No
Chris MullinGSW1996-97.55310.0No
Tony ParkerSAS2005-06.54814.2No

 

Most of the players on the table were second and third options on their teams and took most of their limited number of shots near the rim. Tony Parker did average 20.0 points in the 2005-06 season but was nowhere near the top five in the league.

If you notice, James is already on this list, having finished fifth in shooting last season, when he was also fourth in scoring at 26.8 points. And not only is he doing it again this season, he’s even better.

For the record, Jordan’s best field-goal percentage was .539 on 21.8 shots in the 1990-91 season, when he won his fifth scoring title, second MVP and first championship.

Certainly terrific numbers, but not as efficient as King, whose 15.4 shots per game in the 1980-81 campaign are just under the 15.5 that James is taking this season. King was fourth in shooting but outside the top 10 in scoring, averaging 21.9 points.

That started a run of five seasons in which King – a small forward, like James – scored at least 21.9 points while shooting at least .528 from the field. His shots per game climbed as high as 23.7 in 1984-85, when he led the NBA with 32.9 points while shooting .530.

MJ/LeBronThe 3-pointer wasn’t part of King’s arsenal; he made four (in 27 tries) during those five seasons. In contrast, James has made four 3-pointers in a game twice this season – which makes his shooting percentage all the more remarkable.

Starting with the 2009-10 season, James has raised his overall shooting almost 100 points from .503 and his 3-point shooting from .333 to an astounding .481, which currently ranks eighth.

Since his arrival in Miami, James has averaged between 26.2 points and 27.1 points each season. At the same time, his shots per game have dropped from 18.8 to 15.7.

James isn’t even in the top 20 in shots per game. Some of the perimeter players taking more shots than James  include Rudy Gay (19.3 shots, .383, Kyrie Irving (19.1, .401), Evan Turner, (17.4, .470), John Wall (16,3, .419) and Kemba Walker (15.9, .376).

In a league where perimeter scorers increase their production simply by increasing their volume, how many other perimeter players could reduce their shots by 16 percent and see virtually no change in their scoring? 

For the record, Jordan couldn’t.

TRIVIA: How many active coaches have taken teams to the NBA Finals? Answer below.

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  1. Jon says

    Sure James may have the stats to say he is a “better scorer” but there are a few problems. The main problem is the era. So many rules have changed since Jordan, such as the defensive hand checking rule which now frees up offensive players.

    To be honest, you shouldn’t really bother trying to compare players from different eras. There are so many factors that have influence on data that it ends up being difficult to make positive comparisons.

    Here’s a stat you may have missed: Jordan had 23 games where he score 45+ points. LeBron: 7. Sure I’m using a stat to go against my previous comment, but it highlights how Jordan demonstrated the importance his skills during the playoffs, where really, that’s where it matters most.

    I also don’t think Jordan would have had a game during the latter stages of his career where he scored a measly 7 points in a playoff game.

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