LeBron James: How the Basketball Robot Became Even Better


LeBron James has been on an unreal tear lately. His last 5 games have been so great that some have acclaimed it to be the best 5 game stretch of all time. I will say that even before this stretch, I thought LeBron was having his best year and he had been doing it sort of quietly. Sure, he is not having his career high in PER (which is a metric for overall performance), but he is doing things that we have never seen. Here are the reasons why James is having his best year right now:

Picking His Spots: For those not familiar with PER, one of the biggest gripes of the metric is that it rewards players who take a lot of shots. The made up formula gives more credit to making a shot, than missing it. Also another stated fact in the metric community is that a possession is normally worth one point in the NBA. To explain it simply, a team on average scores 1 point down the court. So, a guy who doesn’t make the shot is hurting the team at the same degree as a guy who scores two points down the court helps. So on that basis, PER doesn’t detract from a guy missing a shot enough as it isn’t as valuable in the formula as making a shot. That is all I will detract from PER, as John Hollinger honestly did some unreal work with the stat.

Let’s apply this to LeBron, as he is putting up his career best FG%. When James put up his career high in PER in 2008-09, he was taking 1.5 more shots per game than he is this year, yet was still making 0.6 less field goals on average. This leads to LeBron taking 123 more shots over the course of 82 games, and putting the ball in the basket about 50 times less (49.2). If each possession is valued as one point, this clearly shows that James has done a better job this year scoring efficiency wise.

Usage is another metric that defends LeBron this season. In 2008-09 LeBron used 33.8% of his team’s possessions, and in comparison, he is using 30.1% of his team’s possessions this season. James’ usage rate has only been lower in his first two seasons of his career. Considering the fact LeBron played 42.4 minutes per game in his second season, that affects that number a decent amount.

Considering the fact LeBron has his lowest mark in turnovers per 36 minutes, he has been fantastically judicious in deciding what to do with the ball. LeBron’s career highs in Field Goal Percentage, True Shooting Percentage (which accounts for 3’s and free throws), and Effective Field Goal Percentage (accounts for 2’s and 3’s) all reflect that his decision making is incredibly high.

He has destroyed his one true weakness: LeBron has done one thing that is really remarkable. His form may not be top notch, but LeBron’s jump shot can’t not even be considered close to a weakness. First of all, you can look at the fact he is shooting an easy to respect 42.1% from three, which is good enough for 17th in the entire NBA. The thing is, there is an even more remarkable stat. According to synergy, LeBron is scoring 1.47 Points Per Possession for jump shots on the season. That mark is good enough to rank him as the SECOND BEST jump shooter in the league. This is a better mark than Durant (5th) and Steph Curry (3rd) who are both widely regarded as better shooters. Unreal.

LeBron is also posting his highest rebounding totals and percentages of his career. In terms of arguments against him, well we can go back to the pre-metric times and say his points per game isn’t the best of his career. His assist percentage is also pretty average when you compare it to the rest of his career, but I would say that has more to do with the fact he has the ball less.

So, I guess the only place for this made-for-basketball-android to get better in is to shoot 90% from the free throw line? If I was his coach, I would have no idea what else he could even work on in practice. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if James eventually is able to do that, knowing his track record.

Stats from this post were used from Synergy and Basketball-Reference