Is LeBron James the Best Player in the NBA?
Whew! I didn’t think I would have to ask myself this question for a very, very long time. At most, I thought I would ask the general sports-viewing audience, and even then, I didn’t think many more people needed any persuading. But all of a sudden, I too, am no longer sure whether or not LeBron James is the best player in the NBA.
Issues with LeBron’s off-court actions and statements aside, when James entered the 2011 NBA Finals, he was the best player in the NBA. There’s very little wiggle-room with that statement. He was the most efficient offensive player in the NBA this season. He was the best perimeter defender in the NBA this season. And did I mention he was the two-time reigning MVP?
But what a difference six games make!
I know the NBA Finals is a small sample size, but it’s the most imperative sample size. Not to mention, while it’s convenient to call a series a small sample size, I and many others, have always contended that seven games is enough to determine the better team—so why wouldn’t it be enough to determine the better players?
That’s not to say that Dirk Nowitzki is better than LeBron James, but for six games he was, and if that’s capable of happening, that says something about LeBron James.
The other amazing thing about LeBron and these past NBA Finals is that he was horrible in the fourth quarter. Stats be damned, he looked like a guy who wanted no part of the basketball in the determining minutes of the game. As many people say, the first three quarters count as much as the last one, but that’s on the scoreboard, not on the stat sheet.
You can score crapola in the first three quarters, but if you make just 10 points in the fourth quarter (ala Dirk Nowitzki), then you’re the Finals MVP.
Hell, I can even take it a step farther than that. If you make the final go-ahead shot of the game, and those points are your first points, you’re still the person everyone talks about; ala Steve Kerr, who’s still riding the success of that final shot.
Sorry to say it, but great players have to be great at great moments. When it comes to measuring stature, ability and performance, what you do in crunch time is far more important than what you do when the game is not on the line. And that’s not specific to basketball, it’s specific to life. Do you have any idea how many “A” students go on to become paper-pushers in life? Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but C students like George Bush Jr. (not the greatest politician ever) are running the country because he came up big in the moments leading up to the election.
But I digress.
I could sit here and give you stat after stat to prove that no player in the NBA is as productive and efficient at the game of basketball as LeBron James is. Over the past two seasons, only Dwight Howard even compares. Shot-for-shot, pass-for-pass and defensive possession for defensive possession, LeBron James gets it done collectively better than anybody in the game.
However, when LeBron’s efficiency suddenly fades in the greatest moment of the greatest stage of the greatest season of his life, can I still call the NBA’s most efficient player the best player?
I don’t think I can.
Michael Jordan isn’t Michael Jordan without the Finals performances. Magic Johnson isn’t Magic Johnson without them either. Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, even Big Shot Chauncey Billups are nobodies if they don’t dominate the NBA Finals the way they did. So while I could sit here and be the big, boring stat guy who is out to prove that LeBron is still the best player in the NBA, I’m not going to do that today. I need time to reflect. Time to decide just how much the fourth quarter, the NBA Finals and the ability to win championships really factors into a player’s productivity.
I will tell you one thing; those who say players do not need rings to validate their careers, I’m rejecting your theory out of the blocks. In a game where one player can control so much about the outcome, and in a game where anybody who has even been considered the greatest has won at least one championship, I have to put weight on winning championships. How much weight that is remains to be seen. I just know winning weighs enough to knock LeBron James off the top of my top list.