The National Basketball League has provided Americans with the highest quality expositions of athleticism and strength for nearly 75 years. The game has recreated itself from decade to decade gifting viewers with the never before seen scoring ability of Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain in the 60’s, or the invention of the Skyhook from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 70’s, or perhaps the magical passing vision of Earvin “Magic” Johnson in the 80’s. Nevertheless, the game of basketball in the NBA has made its own additions and subtractions through the years, one major addition being the introduction of advanced metrics in the 1990’s. Advanced metrics or advanced statistics, allow coaches and general managers of sports organizations to have a better understanding of wins and losses.
By using advanced statistics to analyze how a player’s shooting percentages have declined over the last month’s stretch of games, action can be taken within the organization to help the player improve his jump shot. In 2005, a more complicated type of advanced metric called PER, or Player Efficiency Rating, was popularized. Created by John Hollinger, current VP of Basketball Operations for the Memphis Grizzlies, “…the Player Efficiency Rating is used to communicate the value of a player to the team and the return value of their negative and positive accomplishments throughout the progression of a basketball game” (Harris W). Some players such as Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors point guard, have benefitted from the new emphasis on advanced metrics. Curry’s ability to shoot the ball from range with such accuracy is seen as nothing short of a miracle to a statistician.
Over his 9 year9-year career, Steph Curry has attempted 5700 3 point3-point field goals and made 2500 of them placing him roughly around 44% in total 3 point3-point percentage (“Michael Jordan Overview” 1). His deadly accuracy has given him a boost in overall PER which is currently 24.1 for the 2018-19 season. Curry currently has the 17th highest rated Player Efficiency Rating in NBA history and is undoubtedly bound to be one of the greats of the game. But how exactly does PER correlate to the two most dominant legends of NBA basketball? Michael Jordan has the highest PER in professional basketball history, so one could ask, how does his PER push him above the second rated LeBron James in the debate of the greatest of all time.
There are 3 components of Jordan’s game that solidify him as the most efficient basketball player of all time: these are his impact, meaning the overall effect on franchise representation and wins and losses with a team, his shooting, meaning the efficiency of his shot selection, and finally defense, meaning his defensive efficiency and notable recognition for exemplary defensive play. It was those elements of Michael Jordan’s game that now help make his case in the longstanding GOAT debate.
Firstly, Michael’s impact on the Chicago Bulls franchise as a whole waswas something the league hadn’t yet seen. Impact is the effect on franchise reputation and wins and losses. United Press International stated in 2008, when Michael was 5 years removed from the league, his jersey was the top seller when the NBA Store revealed its list of top 10 all-time best sellers (“Jordan Leads All-Time NBA Jersey Sales” 1). Jordan’s career PER, which is an all-time best 27.9, allowed him generateto generate an offense that was electrifying to watch for Bulls fans and depleting for the opposing team’s lineup on any given night (Posnanski 1). The Bulls offense, in their 1996 championship winning season, had a league best offensive efficiency rating of 112.4 and Jordan’s efficiency rating was a league best 29.6 (“Michael Jordan Overview” 1). The Bulls finished the 1996 season with 69 wins and only 13 losses. That just goes to show that when it comes to Jordan’s ability to effect wins and the business of game, the numbers don’t lie. Comparatively, LeBron James’ current career PER is 27.7, just .2 under Jordan’s (Posnanski 1). As far affecting wins, in championship winning seasons, Jordan’s Win Share Percentage, which is the estimated amountnumber of wins contributed by a player, was 20.4 in 1996 compared to James’s 19.3 in 2013 (“Michael Jordan Overview” 1). Another aspect of impacting the game can be traced in a players Usage Rate. Usage Rate is the estimate of the number of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor (“Michael Jordan Overview” 1). Jordan’s 8-time league leading usage percentage was a compelling factor in the Bulls achieving 60 or more wins in the regular season from 1995 to 1998 (“Teams General Advanced” 1). Michael was able to rule the 90’s and dominate his opponents due to his efficient playstyle and the efficiency of the offensive and defensive sets Coach Phil Jackson ran through Michael.
The most prized possession a solid NBA player can have is their ability to shoot the ball at a consistent rate. Jordan was particularly efficient when it came to shooting the ball. Efficient shooting requires that every shot be taken only when its quality exceeds the expected point value of the remainder of the possession (Skinner 1). Michael’s true free throw shooting percentage, which is a measure of free throw shooting efficiency, was .835% over his career, compared to LeBron’s .736% (“Michael Jordan Overview” 1). In seasons with the league best record, Jordan averaged 11.4 FG per game while averaging 29.6 points per game, LeBron made 10.1 FG per game and averaged 26.8 points per game (“Michael Jordan Overview” 1). Michael’s ability to knock down open and contested shots at a spectacular rate increased the team’s efficiency. In comparing two basketball legends such as LeBron and Jordan one must look to the numbers to build an understanding of how their uniquely versatile playstyles earned them a plethora of awards in the prime of their careers.
Jordan earned 1 more than LeBron’s current amount of NBA Most Valuable Player Awards with 5. Jordan has 3 more Finals MVPs, 4 more All-Defensive 1st Team Honors with 9, and 9 more scoring leader honors with 10 (“LeBron James Vs. Michael Jordan Comparison” 1). Michael’s stats were a product of his selective shooting and timely passing. Shooting in the clutch is another defining aspect of efficient shooting. During his career, Jordan was famously known for his ability to knock down game changing shots in clutch time. Clutch time in basketball is generally defined as the last 5 minutes in the 4th quarter or an overtime period. In comparing career playoff game-tying or go-ahead shots in the last 24 seconds of the 4th quarter or overtime, Jordan made an amazing 9/18 shots (50%) in the defined clutch time during the playoffs. Comparatively, LeBron so far has made 8/22 shots (36%) during clutch time (Bains 1).
LeBron has appeared in 94 percent of his team’s games in his career (ESPN). Although that’s a greater percentage than MJ’s 92 percent, it’s worth noting that James has never played in all 82 games in a season, something Jordan did nine times, including in his final season with the Washington Wizards in 2002-03 (ESPN). Part of the allure of Jordan’s game was his elite defensive presence. Jordan earned a total of 9 All-Defensive 1st Team Honors and a Defensive Player of the Year Award in 1988 (“LeBron James Vs. Michael Jordan Comparison” 1). The New York Times emphasized Jordan’s stellar year in 88 stating,”Regardedstating, “Regarded as one of the most exciting athletes in the world, Jordan was voted the Most Valuable Player in the National Basketball Association last year when he averaged 35 points per game for the Chicago Bulls. Things have not changed much this year. Jordan is at the top of the scoring heap once again” (Curry and Yannis 1). Jordan’s offensive dominance was perhaps equally as threatening as his defense. Darko Mihajlovski detailed in a Bleacher Report article,”Jordanarticle, “Jordan had quick hands that he used to strip the ball and cause many fast breaks. Plus his ability to block shots was awesome too. He often locked his man without a problem” (Mihajlovski 1). In his DPOY season in 1988, Jordan averaged a league high 3.2 steals per game (“Michael Jordan Overview” 1). Jordan was able to dominate opponents with his infectious defensive peskiness getting the Bulls to win 68.7% of regular season games he played in from ‘85–98. LeBron has won 67.0% from ‘04–17 (Bains 1).
In comparing two of the greatest professional basketball players to ever play, there are bound to be certain statistics that fall in favor of LeBron James. LeBron’s unmitigated, freakish athleticism captivates the viewers at home and over his career has amassed him a global following like no other athlete has garnered before him. “LeBron’s scoring and efficiency (27.1 ppg on 53.6 FG%) is only matched by Wilt Chamberlain and his playmaking (7.0 apg) is the best everbest by any non-point guard. Not to mention, he can guard nearly every position and finished runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year in 2013” (Bains 1). LeBron’s career 3 point3-point percentage is .343% compared to Jordan’s .327% (“LeBron James Vs. Michael Jordan Comparison” 1). LeBron has the advantage in assists per game averaging 7.2 and rebounds with 7.4 per game. The career totals stack up at 8662 assists for LeBron and 8880 rebounds whereas Jordan earned 5633 assists and 6672 rebounds over his career (“Michael Jordan Overview” 1).
Michael Jordan played 15 seasons in the NBA and LeBron recently completed his 16th season. Certainly, there are aspects of the game that LeBron was greater at than Jordan but ultimately Michael’s impact on franchise representation, his ability to shoot and share the ball at a highly efficient rate, and his defensive prowess and the association’s recognition of it, cements him as the league’s most efficient player of all time. Michael retired with 6 NBA Championship rings and 6 Finals MVP trophies, LeBron currently has 3 NBA championship victories and 3 Finals MVPs. It is my hope that once LeBron is retired, more research will be conducted for the purpose offor revisiting this great debate (“LeBron James Vs. Michael Jordan Comparison” 1).