There is one very specific and distinct reason the greatness of Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James always comes into question.
LeBron James is an all-time great. You don’t need a degree or me to tell you this to already know that.
At the incredibly young age of 31 James has accomplished things in the NBA that many could only dream of.
His blend of unique talents and quickness to go along with a beastly 6’8”, 250 lbs. frame is something none of us has ever laid eyes on before.
He’s simply amazing, and it’s this amazing quality that’s naturally spurred on comparisons to Michael Jordan – the man, who in many eyes, is the greatest to ever lace them up on the hardwood.
There’s just one tiny problem with this comparison: There is no comparison.
After two NBA Titles, two Finals MVPs, four NBA MVPs, a Rookie of the Year, and 10 All-NBA first teams, James’s place in history among the Top 10 is cemented. Where he should be placed in this Top 10 is the question.
— Elite Sports NY (@EliteSportsNY) June 10, 2016
The reason for the ghastly confusion has nothing to do with some of his questionable off-the-court decisions, such as “The Decision.” It has nothing to do with flopping or his perceived whining on the court.
It all comes down to his shooting ability.
That’s right. The idea that LeBron doesn’t possess a picturesque jump shot confuses many of the fanboys who love and adore MJ and Kobe Bryant. It’s a simplistic notion that holds true from every angle.
Think of MJ’s career. Early on he was all flash and dash while showcasing incredible athleticism near the hole. His Chicago Bulls teams really struggled against the powerhouse Boston and Detroit teams in the late 1980s. It wasn’t until Scottie Pippen matured and Jordan developed his mid-range game that Chicago started reeling off NBA titles.
This model was so popular among youngsters that it spurred on an entire generation of imitators. One of these copycats includes Kobe:
Furthermore, just take in how eloquent the mid-range game is for both guys. The fadeaway and quick-pivots all from a mid-range post or face-up is now a mythical quality thanks to Jordan and his six NBA Championships. All of those signature moments just kept adding to the legacy.
LeBron James, on the other hand, has none of these mid-range qualities at his disposal. In fact, he’s a completely different player all together.
This is OK. Say it with me, “this is OK.” James doesn’t have to be the beautiful shooter you believe an NBA great needs to be. He does it differently.
First and foremost, erase any notion that you may have about Kobe being a better scorer than LeBron.
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In every instance Jordan is first, James is second, and Bryant is third. In the case of a scorer’s true performance mark – field goal percentage – only one is devastatingly behind the other two (Bryant).
Why would anybody be considered a better scorer than another player who boasts a far superior shooting percentage? This is the mark that reveals just how efficient a player is when shooting the ball.
This is not to diminish Bryant’s flat-out stud-like ability to score the basketball. The man has proved his entire career he can score in spades. But when thinking about ranking Kobe ahead of LeBron in the overall scoring category, these numbers have to make you think twice.
James doesn’t do it the mid-range way. If he had the ability to, nothing would stop him. He does it in a variety of other ways such as playing facilitator and barraging his way to the hoop.
Kobe is more comparable to Jordan, but it doesn’t mean he ranks closer to him in terms of greatness. LeBron is more of the Magic Johnson–Oscar Robertson ilk, two guys who needed teammates around them so they can flourish with their dominating court vision and basketball IQ.
Where this lack of a picturesque shot really hurts James is when the game needs a hero. LeBron – thanks to his specific skill-set – doesn’t have that mid-range/long-distance game that can allow him to play the role of a pure closer. It is this reason why many feel LeBron shouldn’t be considered one of the 10 best to ever do it. This idea mixed with LeBron so close to the brink of losing his fifth NBA Finals are the main reasons.
But why? This is the ultimate question.
James’s brilliance put three Cavs teams in the position to play in the NBA Finals when they had no business being there. His greatness has hurt his own cause in the eyes of many uneducated basketball onlookers.
Moreover, it’s my contention that Jordan changed everything. When we saw him completely take control of high-pressure games in the 1990s, everything we knew about a great NBA player changed. No longer could an NBA great have their own unique style of play. They had to have that closer’s mentality or ultimately pay the consequences as LBJ does to this very day.
In the mind of all basketball purists, this is incredibly wrong. It’s a travesty among all travesties.
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What Magic Johnson and Larry Bird did in the 1980s was the idea of basketball. These guys dominated the game without needing to even hoist a shot up. Sure they were butchers on the defensive end at times, but the hall of fame talent around them covered them up nicely.
LeBron James is better than those two guys. He just doesn’t possess the right pieces around him that allow his unique and phenomenally talented skill-set to flourish 100 percent of the way.
Kobe Bryant, on the other hand, could be argued as a one-trick pony who capitalized on what NBA fans think should be a great player – the closer.
Sadly, however, most fans need to understand that closing is only part of the game. The same needs to be said about the mid-range game and that picturesque shot Kobe and MJ fanboys idolize.
If LeBron James had the mid-range game of MJ or Kobe, he’d be the best basketball player who has ever graced planet Earth.