Not surprisingly, Cleveland Cavaliers legend LeBron James was all over ESPN’s list of the top 74 individual seasons of all-time.
It really can’t be overstated just how impressive Cleveland Cavaliers legend LeBron James has been in his career. The King, who is now a Los Angeles Laker, has been a 16-time All-Star, of which 10 came with the Cavs, to go with being a four-time NBA MVP, six-time member of the NBA’s All-Defensive squad and being a three-time NBA champ.
To me, while everybody has their takes and I’m inherently biased, if I could pick one player in their prime in NBA history to start a franchise with, assuming all were in their respective primes, I’d go with James.
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Anyway, with the league’s 2019-20 season currently suspended and it being uncertain if we will see the Cavs and other teams at some point again down the road this season, it was interesting for fans that ESPN ended up ranking the NBA’s top 74 individual seasons of all-time.
This was based on Kevin Pelton of ESPN’s “championship added” formula, of which you can view more on that at the previous link detailing each individual season, which ranked each best individual regular season campaign in NBA history. Input from other ESPN writers was featured, too.
Furthermore, on this list, you could see obviously plenty of instances where that seasons’ MVP was in said spots, but there was some overlap in seasons, too, but whether or not that was the said MVP at his spot, LeBron was all over that ESPN list. That’s anything but surprising, as James is arguably the best NBA player ever.
There were a number of appearances from the all-time greats, such as one of the most unstoppable forces in league history in Wilt Chamberlain, one of the original point forwards in Larry Bird, one of the first NBA legends in George Mikan, along with the consummate team player in Bill Russell, and many others.
Michael Jordan, most notably, had what ESPN considered to be the best individual season in 1995-96, when he led the Chicago Bulls to a then-NBA record 72 wins in the regular season and they ended up winning their fourth NBA title. He had 30.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.8 steals per game in the postseason then, per Basketball Reference.
While it’s tough to really debate who has had the best individual season in NBA history, factoring in both the regular season and postseason, LeBron again being featured throughout this ESPN list just further stamps his place as one of the best players in league history, and arguably the best.
James was featured eight times in that top 74 at #45, 34, 33, 27, 23, and had what ESPN considered the ninth, eighth and third-best individual seasons of all-time.
“In this lockout-shortened season, LeBron and the Heat looked to bounce back from a disappointing 2011 campaign. LeBron shouldered a heavier load for the Heat in his second season, leading the NBA in RPM and earning his third MVP award. He really stepped up in the playoffs, producing a historic Game 6 effort when down 3-2 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals with 45 points on 73.1 FG%, 15 rebounds and 5 assists to lead the Cavs to the season-saving win. They would go on to win the championship, his first, with LeBron as the Finals MVP.” — Snellings
Snellings meant to say the Cavs there, but anyway, LeBron having the weight of the world on his shoulders in that season with Miami and coming through with the season he had just again proved how special he truly is and has been for so long, even with so much pressure on him his entire career. Miami and LeBron ran through Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games in the NBA Finals, too.
The next-best season, in terms of ESPN’s perspective, for James came in 2008-2009, when LeBron captured his first league MVP, and of which the Cavs recently flashed back to on Monday.
James was unbelievable that season, and despite a good defensive group and some decent contributors such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Mo Williams, Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, Daniel Gibson and Anderson Varejao around him as other options, James clearly had his stamp on everything on both ends. LeBron had 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks per game that year, and was unreal in the postseason, too.
Here was Pelton’s take on that season landing at #8.
“Having teased his potential the previous two playoffs, James led the Cavaliers to the NBA’s best record at 66-16 and won his first MVP. After sweeping the first two rounds, Cleveland was upset by Orlando in the Eastern Conference finals despite a historic series from James, who averaged 38.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 8.0 assists and hit the game-winning 3 at the buzzer of Game 2. LeBron’s 37.4 PER was the highest ever in a playoff run of more than one series by nearly four points.” — Pelton
No, we didn’t get a Kobe Bryant-LeBron NBA Finals matchup that year, but it was again, one of LeBron’s best and overall best individual seasons in NBA history, and it’s far from shocking that that was deemed as being the case.
Last but anything but least, James’ best individual season, according to ESPN, came in at #3 all-time, and only MJ’s aforementioned ’95-96 season and Chamberlain’s 1966-67 season with the Philadelphia 76ers were above LeBron’s 2012-13 season. That was James’ fourth MVP, his second consecutively and the Heat were back-to-back NBA champs, in which they were victorious over the San Antonio Spurs.
Here was Snellings’ rationale for that ESPN rank for James.
“The Heat posted their most dominant regular season during the Heatles era with 66 wins, the best record in the NBA by six games. LeBron had the most efficient shooting season of his career to that point, hitting 60.2% of his 2-point shots and 40.6% from downtown. He dominated the impact stats, lapping the league in real plus-minus (RPM), and earned a career-best 99.8% of the vote for his fourth MVP award. The Heat went on to win their second straight championship, with LeBron garnering his second consecutive Finals MVP.” — Snellings
James is again perhaps the best player in the history of the league, with his ability to make his teammates better arguably better than anyone else I believe, combined with his unique size/strength/explosiveness package, and while he isn’t the biggest Jordan fan, former Detroit Pistons (and Bulls rival) big Bill Laimbeer is of that firm belief regarding James.
Moreover, James being on this ESPN top 74 list of the all-time best individual seasons, whether they were from those years’ MVP or not, further proves how LeBron has had such amazing longevity and that he’s been at or near being the league’s top player for so long.
Granted, Jordan’s ’95-96 individual season being considered the best by ESPN in the history of the league is something I can definitely acknowledge.
Either way, though, as a Cavs fan, words can’t truly describe how grateful I’ll always be for LeBron, who again, spent 11 seasons with the Wine and Gold and is forever a hometown hero, being from nearby Akron.