In March of 2019, I took a look at LeBron James‘ amazing career statistically. I talked about the Grand Triple-Double (10,000 each of points, assists, and rebounds; based on his career averages, LeBron will reach that mark sometime during the 2021-22 season if he stays healthy.) I talked about his chances of passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time scoring list—he has 4,147 points to go to get to 38,388, and at his career scoring rate of 27.1 points per game, he’ll do that in two seasons, maybe early in a third if the NBA truncates the 2020-21 season to 60 or 66 games as seems likely with the way negotiations are going over when and how to run next year with COVID-19 still raging.
If we go purely by regular-season dominance over the course of a long career, LeBron’s status as the greatest of all time seems all but assured; he has a heck of an argument even if he never plays another game.
But where LeBron truly shines in terms of being without peer in his career statistical accomplishments? You have to look to the postseason for that.
Pipe down. I’m not talking about wins and losses in the Finals, especially since sure, one of those Finals Miami absolutely should have won (2011) and the other one, they had a pretty good shot that you could argue “if LeBron was so great, they’d have won it” (2014).
If you want to make arguments about the Finals, how about LeBron twice dragging a friggin’ G-League team (the ’07 and ’18 Cavs) to the championship round? Or the Warriors needing to get Kevin Durant in order to win in 2017? Or, for that matter, LeBron going full Magic Johnson in Games 5 through 7 in 2016 to beat a 73-9 Warriors team for the chip? And that 2015 Finals? Kevin Love was hurt and the Warriors looked like a team of destiny that year.
No, I’m talking about a career playoff legacy that involves 28.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 7.2 assists per game over the course of over three full regular seasons’ worth of games (LeBron has 260 career playoff games; 3 times 82 equals 246.)
That’s 7,491 points, 2,348 rebounds, and 1,871 assists just in the postseason. Add that to his regular season totals and you’re up over 40,000 career points, almost 12,000 boards, and over 11,000 assists.
Nobody has played more playoff games than LeBron—he passed Derek Fisher‘s 259 in the championship-clinching Game 6 of the 2020 Finals.
Nobody has played more playoff minutes than LeBron—Bron is the only player ever to play over 10,000 minutes in the postseason, and he’s more than 1400 minutes (almost 30 full games’ worth!) ahead of Tim Duncan.
Of all the players in league history who are not Bill Russell and never had Russell as a teammate, LeBron is tied with Kareem for most Finals appearances with 10.
Of all players in league history who never played for the Celtics, only LeBron has gone to 8 straight Finals. His longtime teammate James Jones went to 7 but wasn’t around for 2018. No other non-Celtic has even gone to 5.
He’s second in assists behind only Magic Johnson; he passed John Stockton during this year’s playoffs.
He’s even tops in steals (and the two guys behind him are Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan) and 12th in blocks, one behind Dikembe Mutombo and tied with Ben Wallace. Sure, blocks weren’t counted as a stat before 1974, which undoubtedly keeps Russell and Chamberlain off the list, but of all the guys in front of LeBron, only Julius Erving wasn’t a center or a post-presence power forward.
But you know how we feel about counting stats on this site. What about the advanced stats?
LeBron is third in playoffs PER behind Michael Jordan and George Mikan. The top 3 are at 28.60, 28.51, and 28.41 respectively; in fourth is Shaq at 26.13. That’s a big gap.
He’s fifth in playoff usage rate; Jordan, Allen Iverson, Russell Westbrook, and Tracy McGrady are ahead of him, and when 3 of the 4 guys in front of you are ball hogs, maybe you don’t want to put too much stock in that.
LeBron is first by a mile in career playoff Win Shares; his 55.27 dwarfs Jordan’s 39.76.
Per 48 minutes, Bron drops back down to third behind Jordan and Mikan and my gods, George Mikan’s as underrated a player as the NBA’s ever had. People understand he was one of the first great players in the league and was responsible for the Lakers’ best times in Minneapolis before moving to Tinseltown, but the mind-bending level of dominance he had over his era is right up there with Jordan and Bron themselves.
LeBron is second in career playoff Box Plus-Minus, again only behind His Airness, and those two are light-years ahead of Kawhi Leonard in third.
And finally, there’s career playoff VORP; LeBron’s at 33.25, which works out to 10.5 VORP per 82 games. And that’s in the playoffs, against the best teams and best players in the league in any given year.
Last time we had an 82-game NBA season, James Harden led it in VORP at 9.3. 10.49 VORP (that number from before out to a second decimal place) would be LeBron’s second-best regular season and would rank 8th in NBA history behind five scattered Jordan years, LeBron’s 2008-09 season (11.79), and David Robinson‘s best year in 1994 (11.36.)
And again. That is in the playoffs.
You get the point yet? The greatest regular-season player who ever lived, a guy who’s doing things that nobody has done before and that nobody might do again—40,000 career points, a career “triple-double”, all of that is in reach in the next couple of years—has been unfairly slandered in the playoffs because he played on teams that were on five separate occasions “LeBron James and a bunch of scrubs who somehow not only made 5 Finals but even won a title for a cursed city.”
LeBron played in the East and made 9 Finals and people said “so what, he came through the East.”
So he went West, made another Finals, and someone out there’s probably saying “well, great, he beat an East 5 seed in the Finals in a bubble. Asterisk!”
Shut up. We already established Bron’s regular-season legacy.
Now we’ve got the data for his playoff legacy as well.
And while you can make a real good argument that Michael Jordan still rules this roost, the race isn’t as wide as you think it is. This is going live on November 3. Want to put it to a vote?