LeBron James is a rare character. An undeniable force on the court and a standout human being off it. His historic greatness cannot be denied and whether or not he’s the greatest of all time is still much-debated, but one thing is true, James has mastered the art of impact.
A perfect example was his influence on Wednesday’s match-up with the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers. Few players ever get the chance to enter the top five on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, let alone achieve a monumental 40+ point game.
LeBron, however, has always been different. And it was no surprise that by the close of play in the Lakers’ 126-117 victory over the Blazers, the self-proclaimed king had the 39 points needed to pass Wilt Chamberlain for fifth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. In fact, he didn’t just have those points, he had everything else. It was the LA’s fourth straight victory and LeBron’s greatest performance in a Lakers’ jersey to date.
44 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and three blocks is, in many people’s eyes, the sort of performance we have come to expect from LeBron James. A performance that reinforces his claim as the most impactful player of all time.
Note I said most impactful player, not greatest player.
LBJ puts up 2k points a season. Came into this yr just over 31k. Barring injury / drop in form will be close to MJ this season, overtake him & Kobe by the end of next season. It would be the 2021-2022 season and LBJ would be 37 to reach Kareem. Feels like he could play until 40? pic.twitter.com/R5hDaGFpsf
— Nick Whitfield (@Njwhitfield) November 15, 2018
But surely being the most impactful player is the game’s greatest ever player?
A player who has as much influence on the outcome of his teammate’s performances, as he does his own. A player whom, despite the ability to light it up, each night, quite often favours to do the so called ‘mediocre’ things. Rebounding, blocking and stealing aren’t just another statistic for LeBron, they’re pivotal components to executing on the court. It is an impact that starts from tip-off and grows, like an impending doom, throughout the game.
This season LeBron’s Player Impact Estimate (PIE) is 19.3, ranking him third. That’s 0.1 behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and 0.9 behind Joel Embiid, both of whom are under 25 years of age playing basketball in the weaker Eastern Conference. But it’s not just this season where LeBron has proven the impact he has on his teams and the league.
His scoring efficiency since he entered the NBA in 2003-04, has been outstanding. In 13 years, he has posted a shooting percentage of better than 50% in every season, except one, his first in South Beach. And if you take the 2017-2018 campaign for example, when, at 33 years of age, LeBron played all 82 games and took his team back to the NBA Finals, he became the first player ever to average more than 27 points, nine assists and eight rebounds while also shooting better than 52% over the course of a full season. Undeniable impact.
Michael Jordan never did that, the ‘greatest player of all-time’ never averaged more than eight assists, or more than eight rebounds, or shot above 54% from the field. But he did a lot of other things in his illustrious campaign: six championships, one Space Jam and three years of retirement.
— Wunderkind (@Carnage45__) November 11, 2018
Admittedly, LeBron’s lack of effort on the defensive end has been a critical point of the Lakers’ season thus far – as highlighted in the tweet above – but no other player in the history of the game has had this ability to affect momentum on both ends of the court, as and when he chooses.
Stephen Curry can single-handedly win a basketball game in around five minutes. Michael Jordan could take over for periods of a game when it was required of him. But what LeBron James does, is something differently entirely (and don’t even think of bringing up that whole ‘Kobe was a better scorer than LeBron’ argument – it’s wrong, and I can say that, sitting here next to my Bryant jerseys, SLAM Presents KOBE and The Mamba Mentality: How I Play by Kobe Bryant.
Kobe’s career true shooting percentage is 44.7%.
LeBron’s is 50.4%. Enough said.
This season he’s shooting 51.7% and he’s not showing any signs of slowing down. The King is also posting his lowest usage rate since 2004; a testament to the still young, but increasingly more reliable talents mustered around him on the Lakers.
LeBron will likely end his career ranked in the top-theee all-time in points and assists. Not to mention a few other things:
- Scored more points than Julius Erving, Shaquille O’Neal and Oscar Robertson
- Named to the All-NBA First Team 12 times in his career, an all-time record
- Holds the NBA’s highest career scoring average in Game 7s at 34.9 points per game
- Made more assists than Jerry West and Bob Cousy
- Finished in the top five in MVP voting in each of the past 13 seasons,the longest such streak in league history
- Grabbed more rebounds than Willis Reed and John Havlicek
- Has more game-winning buzzer-beaters in the playoffs than any player in history
- Knocked down more three-pointers than Larry Bird and Kevin Durant
- Has more 35, 8, 8 games in the postseason than Jordan, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Wilt Chamberlain… combined
- Has more career regular season and postseason Win Shares than Jordan
- Powered Cleveland to arguably the greatest comeback in league history after trailing the 73-win Golden State Warriors 3-1 through four games
- In that series, he became the first and only player ever to lead both teams in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals in a playoff series
- He has more career steals than Isiah Thomas, Kevin Garnett and Magic Johnson
- You get my point…
Is he the greatest player of all time? It’s more than likely, but is he the most impactful player to have ever set foot on a basketball court?
That may just be undeniable.
Featured photo – via Getty Images / USA Today / Double Clutch illustration