Wednesday, November 28, 2007

It's Okay to Praise the King

LeBron James has started the 2007-08 campaign like a man possessed and I'm waiting for someone to take notice. Last year he took a beating in the media for not going 100% during the regular season and for adopting what appeared to be the Shaq Blueprint for playoff success (read: pace yourself and then unleash legendary performances like Game Five in Detroit). I thought he was unfairly criticized, whether it was on ESPN or TNT or just in run of the mill fantasy leagues. I mean, the guy had been basically playing year round because of International play, he was waiting to see if the roster would change (read: whether he would get a real point guard), and he was ailing at times. Sure, he seemed to step back just a bit and I know that was disappointing, but he was still just 22 years old. It seemed like he deserved a break.

But I'm getting off point here, because the thrust of this post is to suggest that while people were quick to bash LeBron for what they believed to be lackluster play, they aren't exactly firing up up their laptops to heap praise on him. Which is exactly what they should be doing. While everyone talks about KG for MVP and Dwight Howard's emergence and how sick Chris Paul is (all valid, by the way), nobody is paying any attention to the man who is currently destroying the NBA. Maybe we're bored of LeBron? Maybe we're overlooking him because the Cavs kind of blow (although their four-game winning streak and win over Boston hint that maybe they will still be solid)? I'm not sure what the answer is. But here are the facts:

- LeBron is playing 41 minutes a night and shooting 49% from the floor despite taking a tremendous amount of difficult shots - most notably the fadeways that he has to heave when his Cavalier teammates freak out and hand him the ball with the shot clock winding down.

- He already has five triple-doubles in 15 games and was an assist shy in two other contests. And some of these trip-dubs haven't even been close. 32-15-13 in a narrow loss at Utah. 39-13-14 in a one-point loss to Orlando. 37-12-12 in a win over Toronto. Are you kidding me? These aren't your 14-11-11 triple doubles that Jason Kidd tosses up (no disrespect to Kidd, the Bionic Man, who is sweet).

- LeBron easily leads the league in scoring at 31.3 points per game.

- Oh and despite all that scoring, he's still seventh in assists at 8.1 per, ahead of point guards such as Chauncey Billups and T.J. Ford.

- Oh, and he's pulling down 8.8 boards per night, which is more than Amare Stoudemire (I'm not sure if that says more about Bron or Amare, but there you have it).

- In other words, while he's still a ways off and unlikely to keep up the pace, he's within reasonable striking distance of actually being the second guy to ever average a triple double. He would join Oscar Robertson in doing so, but it would actually be far more impressive in this day and age, as the Big O would have only averaged somewhere around 7.5 rebounds in today's NBA (it's a long story, but basically there were far more possessions back then and therefore more missed shots to grab - I've got some complicated "elite player averages" research that I could break out to back this up, but that would just bore us all to tears so it stays in the Excel file where it belongs). I know LeBron isn't going to average a triple double, but it is fun to watch him flirt with it.

- Last thing. A while back I did this fairly rudimentary calculation which measured "points created" by combining scoring and assists to figure out just how effective players were at creating points through traditional statistical measures. You can read all about it here, but the point is that LeBron is currently creating 47.5 points per game for the Cavs, which puts him on pace for one of the top six seasons of the past 25 years based on this (admittedly rudimentary) statistical measure.

- (Oh, actually, this is the last thing. If Drew Gooden could make a layup, Donyell Marshall didn't suck, and Larry Hughes knew how to shoot a jump shot, LeBron would be averaging about 11.5 dimes per night. Trust me.)

Anyway, it's time to give LeBron the spotlight again. Everyone got their shots in last year when he was down, then they lionized him again in the playoffs, and now it just seems that no one can summon the energy to even talk about the guy. But what he's doing is amazing. He's carrying an atrocious Cavs team, he's improving all aspects of his game (especially his defense where he's averaging 2.1 steals and 1.6 blocks and becoming a much better defender both on-the-ball and in the passing lanes), and he's putting up numbers that approach "ridiculous" territory.

The man is sick. So go ahead and talk about it, even if it isn't novel.

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