FanHouse's Tom Ziller argues his ranking of the top 50 players in the NBA.
For all the accolades and endearment offered to Kobe and KG, Chris Paul and Tim Duncan, Wade, Yao and Dirk ... there is simply no player alive who more often strikes awe in of a wider swath of fans, analysts and peers than LeBron James.
Other players, including most of the league's Top 10, do many things well. LeBron does everything extraordinarily well. He's a tweaked video game star in real life, a dream come true. All the hype from high school to his NBA debut ... all that hype undersold LeBron. The King isn't "the closest thing we have to a perfect player" -- I'd argue he is a perfect player.
Oscar Robertson's triple-double season will never ever be duplicated. That's because of two things: Robertson was an absolute dominant player in his time, a level of which we have only seen once in the modern era, and the standard units of game measurement are completely different. The first point needs no discussion: The Big O is one of the top five players ever, he was an incredible talent and (by all accounts, including "common sense") an extremely hard worker, a man with unassailable ambition in training and on the court. The second point is a vital slice of semantic discussion: O's Royals had 5,665 rebounds in 80 games in 1961-62. LeBron's '07-08 Cavaliers had 3,655 in 82 games ... and was the best rebounding team in the entire league. The pace in '61-62 was much, much faster (the Royals averaged 105 FGAs a game [!], the Cavs 82) and a majority of the players couldn't shoot, leaving a ton of rebound opportunities. Ten rebounds a game in 1962 is roughly 14-15 rebounds today. Apples and tangelos.
(Again, this errata isn't explained in order to slight Oscar -- I'm a fricking Kings fan, for Kleine's sake; we have very few jerseys hanging from the ARCO Arena rafters, and Oscar's the most prized. I adore Oscar Robertson. I named a goldfish after him. The goldfish only made it 23 hours, but that's beside the point. If I had another goldfish who promised to live forever, I would name him Oscar Robertson.)
Instead of casting LeBron as another in the line of wannabe Swiss Army Knives, we need to put his current performance in current perspective. Oscar, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan -- the greatest are renowned because of the degree to which they dominated their peers. For Wilt, that came with a 100-game and a 50/25 season. For Russell and Jordan, evidence stems from dynastic reigns atop the NBA. What has LeBron done against the modern league?
Let's glance at where King James falls percentile-wise in the most important production statistics. We're doing per-game here -- per-minute is my weapon of choice, but we know LeBron and everyone else in the top 20 will be playing max minutes. (Apologies to Carl Landry -- I know you're good, but I'm not top-5ing you until you convince your coach to slip you in there 20 minutes a night.) Each stat has a meter which measures what percentile of NBA players who recorded 1,000 minutes of game time in '07-08 LeBron exceeds in said stat. For instance, in the first line, LeBron (the league's leading scorer) produces more points per game than 99% of the league. (It's actually 99.6%, but whatever.)
We all know LeBron can score and create, that's no revelation. But did you realize LeBron earns more rebounds than 85% of the league? More assists and steals than 96% of NBA players? More blocks -- as a small forwards -- than 85% of the NBA? Even shooting efficiency, his supposed weakness ... LeBron ranks in the 72nd percentile there. (I used True Shooting percentage, which is actually a disadvantage to LeBron compared to field goal or effective field goal percentage.)
See what I mean about King James as the only real video game player? If you created LeBron in NBA2k9 or whatever, you would be creating a fictional, idealized player. A player with these stats in this NBA, a man who scores more than anyone and gets more assists than all but 4% of his contemporaries ... that is a dream, not reality. But here he is, folks, carrying a team deep into the playoffs and not winning MVP awards. This is the white whale.
If you'd rather have Kobe taking your buzzer beaters, fine. If you'd pick Dwight Howard or Chris Paul first in some league reset draft, I won't begrudge your decision. But from my seat, it seems pretty damn clear who the best player in the NBA is and will be for foreseeable future. It's LeBron James.