LeBron is 11 years into his career and as always the comparisons to Michael Jordan during the off season are at an all-time high. Both have proven to be great players in the tenure in the NBA and both have dominated the game from different aspects and in different ways.
NOTE: All statistics mentioned are accurate as of 16/06/ 2014, 12:00PM GMT and are given to one decimal place unless otherwise stated.
NOTE: This is a lengthy blog post that compares the two throughout various aspects of their career, enjoy!
MJ: 5 – Finished 2nd three times, 3rd twice and was in the top 5 in MVP voting 10 times out of 10 full seasons at the Bulls.
LBJ: 4 – Finished 2nd twice, 3rd once and has been top 5 in MVP voting 9 times out of 11 full seasons in the NBA.
MVP Award Shares:
MJ: 8.138 – 1st all-time
LBJ: 6.100 – 3rd all-time
MVP and Finals MVP in the same season:
MJ: 4 – ’91, ’92, ’96, ’98
LBJ: 2 – ’12, ’13
MJ: 6 in 6 tries
LBJ: 2 in 5 tries
MJ: 10 – led the league in total points 11 times.
LBJ: 1 – has never led the league in total points.
Rookie of the Year:
Defensive player of the year:
Defensive Player of the Year voting:
MJ: Finished in the top 10 in DPOY voting 10 times (’87 – ’93 & ’96 – ’98)
He also finished in the top 5 seven times.
LBJ: Finished in the top 10 in DPOY voting 6 times.
Has finished in the top 5 three times.
MJ vs LeBron; Scoring
Both Jordan and LeBron have proven to be dominant scorers in their respective tenures in the NBA. Let’s compare and see who comes out on top.
Regular season point per game average:
MJ: 30.1 – 1st all time – 10 scoring titles
LBJ: 27.5 – 3rd all time – 1 scoring title
Post season point per game average:
MJ: 33.4 – 1st all time – Lead the post season in points per game 10 times and total points 8 times.
LBJ: 28.0 – 5th all time – Lead the post season in points per game 2 times and total points 4 times.
NBA Finals point per game average:
MJ: 33.6 – 1st all time
Regular season FG%, 3PT% and FT%:
MJ: 49.7% FG, 32.7% 3PT, 83.5% FT
LBJ: 49.7% FG, 34.1% 3PT, 74.7 FT
Post season FG%, 3PT% and FT%:
MJ: 48.7% FG, 33.2% 3PT, 82.8 FT
LBJ: 47.9% FG, 32.5% 3PT, 75.4% FT
NBA Finals FG%, 3PT% and FT%:
MJ: 48.1%FG, 36.8% 3PT, 80.6% FT
LBJ: 46.3% FG, 31.2% 3PT, 73.9% FT
Regular Season high scoring vs defences
In MJ’s 4 regular season 60+ pt games vs:
Top 10 defences: 3 (75%)
Middle 10 defences: 1 (25%)
Bottom 10 defences: 0 (0%)
In LBJ’s 1 regular season 60+ point game:
Top 10 defences: 1 (100%)
Middle 10 defences: 0
Bottom 10 defences: 0
In MJ’s 39 regular season 50+ pt games vs:
Top 10 defences: 23 (59%)
Middle 10: 11 (28%)
Bottom 10: 5 (12%)
In LBJ’s 10 regular season 50+ pt games vs:
Top 10 defence: 2 (20%)
Middle 10: 1 (10%)
Bottom 10: 7 (70%)
In MJ’s 211 regular season 40+ point games vs:
Top 10 defences: 95 (45%)
Middle 10 defences: 65 (31%)
Bottom 10 defences: 51(24%)
In LeBron’s 60 regular season 40+ point games vs:
Top 10 defences: 20 (32%)
Middle 10 defences: 21 (34%)
Bottom 10 defences: 21 (34%)
Post Season high scoring vs defences
In MJ’s 1 post season 60+ point games vs:
Top 10 defences: 1 (100%)
Middle 10 defences: 0
Bottom 10 defences: 0
LeBron has no 60+ point games in the playoffs.
In MJ’s 8 post season 50+ point games vs:
Top 10 defences: 6 (75%)
Middle 10 defences: 1 (12.5%)
Bottom 10 defences: 1 (12.5%)
LeBron has no 50+ point games in the playoffs.
In MJ’s 38 post season 40+ point games vs:
Top 10 defences: 27 (71%)
Middle 10 defences: 8 (21%)
Bottom 10 defences: 2 (8%)
In LBJ’s 12 post season 40+ point games vs:
Top 10 defences: 7 (58%)
Middle 10 defences: 3 (25%)
Bottom 10 defences: 2 (17%)
Jordan’s scoring records include:
- Most scoring titles (10)
- Most consecutive scoring titles (tied with Wilt Chamberlain for 7)
- Most times leading the league in total points (11)
- Highest point per game average in the; regular season, post season and NBA Finals.
- Most points in the first half of an NBA Finals game (35)
- Most times leading the NBA playoffs in points per game (10)
- Most times leading the NBA playoffs in total points (8)
- Most 50 point games in the playoffs (8)
- Most 40 point games in the playoffs (38)
- Most 30 point games in the playoffs (109)
- Most 20 points games in the playoffs (174)
- Highest point per game average in a single NBA Finals (41.0ppg in ’93)
Scoring Title and MVP in the same season:
MJ: 5 – ’88, ’91, ’92, ’96, ’98
Scoring Title and Finals MVP in the same season:
MJ: 6 (Only person to do it multiple times) – ’91, ’92, ’93, ’96, ’97, ’98
Scoring Title, MVP and Finals MVP in the same season:
MJ: 4 – ’91, ’92, ’96, ’98
Scoring Title and All NBA Defensive 1st Team in the same season:
MJ: 9 – 88 -’93 & ’96 – ’98
Scoring Title and Steals Title in the same season:
MJ: 3 – ’88, ’90, ’93
Conclusion: LeBron has proven to be a great and efficient scorer throughout the regular season (3rd in ppg all time) and post season (5th in ppg all time) however his scoring in the NBA Finals has proved to be far below average. On the other hand Jordan’s continued domination throughout the regular season, post season and NBA Finals as well as his ability to score more consistently against top defences not only places Jordan as a better scorer than James, but as the best scorer of all time.
MJ vs LBJ; Passing
Regular season assists per game
Post season assists per game
NBA Finals assists per game
10+ assist games in the regular season and post season
MJ: 68 and 20
LBJ: 132 and 19
7+ assist games in the regular season and post season
MJ: 297 and 63
LBJ: 445 and 76
5+ assist games in the regular season and post season
MJ: 531 and 109
LBJ: 681 and 120
LeBron passed MJ in total regular season assists while playing 256 fewer games.
LeBron is 4 assists away from passing MJ in total post season assists while playing 21 less playoff games.
Conclusion: While Jordan has been a great passer throughout his career it’s clear that LeBron has dominated the NBA from a passing aspect at a higher level as he boasts higher assists per game averages across the regular season, post season and NBA finals, as well as surpassing MJ in total assists in less games.
MJ vs LBJ; Rebounding
Regular season rebounds per game
Post season rebounds per game
NBA Finals rebounds per game
It will take LeBron approximately 81 more regular season games (based off his career average of 7.2 rebounds per game) to pass MJ in total rebounds. He would have achieved this in approximately 149 less total games than Jordan.
10+ rebound games in the regular season and post season
MJ: 139 and 21
LBJ: 173 and 50
7+ rebound games in the regular season and post season
MJ: 399 and 84
LBJ: 482 and 111
5+ rebound games in the regular season and post season
MJ: 680 and 129
LBJ: 705 and 140
Conclusion: Again, while Jordan has been a great rebounder throughout his career it’s clear that LeBron has dominated the NBA from a rebounding aspect at a higher level.
Defence is more than just steals and blocks, and therefore, while this section will include Jordan’s and LeBron’s steal and block numbers it’s important to remember that unlike other per game statistics there is not always a strong positive correlation between an increase in per game averages and ability.
Through watching both of these players play it’s clear that they have both been great defenders in their tenure in the NBA.
Foot speed / defensive slide:
Jordan on the defensive end had quicker feet than LeBron and thus had a quicker and better defensive slide. His quick feet and lighter body frame allowed him to move laterally faster than James and allowed him to recover on defence more rapidly. While LeBron moves laterally very fast for someone of his body frame there are some limitations on what he can achieve due to him being the size and weight that he is.
Playing the passing lanes:
Jordan was one of the best ever at playing the passing lanes in a stealthy yet disciplined fashion. Players like Allen Iverson have been great at playing the passing lanes however haven’t had the same discipline that MJ had, thus hurting their team by frequently being out of position. LeBron has proven to play the passing lanes well throughout the career however Jordan excelled in this category undoubtedly.
LeBron’s 6″8, 250lb body frame is rare and one that’s given him the ability to guard power-forwards at times. As good as a defender that Jordan was, very rarely did he guard big men. While I do think that LeBron’s ability to guard elite PFs in the NBA has been inconsistent at times there’s no doubt that he is a more versatile defender than Jordan (position wise). Jordan could guard the 1-3 effectively, LeBron can guard the 1-3 effectively and every now and then guard a PF (eg: David West, 2013 ECF).
Weak side / help defence / roaming:
This, to an extent, ties in with playing the passing lanes however also includes coming over from the weak side to play help defence and just generally being aware and active on the defensive end. Jordan was excellent at coming over from the weak side to block shots or steal the ball from the post (eg: on Karl Malone, game 6)
So good in fact that it helped him (along with playing the passing lanes) to lead the league in steals 3 times. Additionally Jordan also had 4 seasons averaging 1.0 or more blocks per game (1.0, 1.2, 1.5, 1.6). Jordan led his team in blocks in ’87, ’88 from the shooting-guard position, which is extremely rare.
While LeBron has proved to be a great roaming defender, often causing disruption by his quick close-outs and ability to come over from the weak side, Jordan out-matches him again.
Who’s the better defender? Jordan. His ability to come over from the weak side to block your shot, steal the ball, play the passing lanes and play great on-ball defence consistently though-out his career from start to finish gives him the advantage here.
Jordan (along with Kevin Garnett, Gary Payton and Kobe Bryant) have an all-time record of 9 all defensive first teams. LeBron on the other hand only has 5. Jordan never made / fell to all defensive second team, LeBron did in 2014. Additionally, Jordan boasts having a defensive player of the year award as well as finishing in the top 10 in defensive player of the year voting 10 times (every full season as a Bull aside from his rookie year) and top-5 seven times. LeBron didn’t finish in the top 10 in defensive player of the year voting until his sixth year in the league in 2009 and has finished in the top 10 six times and top-5 three times.
PER: (Player Efficiency Rating – A measure of per minute production)
MJ: 27.9 (1st all time) – Led the league 7 times
LBJ: 27.8 (2nd all time) – Led the league 6 times
WS/48 (Win Shares per 48 minutes) – An estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player per 48 mins – league average is approximately .100)
MJ: .250 (1st all time) – Led the league 8 times
LBJ: .243 (5th all time) – Led the league 5 times
Win Shares (Total all time) – An estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player
MJ: 214.02 (4th all time) – Led the league 9 times
LBJ: 168.4 (18th all time) – Led the league 5 times
Offensive Win Shares (Total all time) – An estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his offence
MJ: 149.88 (4th all time) – Led the league 8 times
LBJ: 117.0 (13th all time) – Led the league 4 times
Defensive Win Shares (Total all time) – An estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defence
MJ: 64.1 (21st all time) – Has never led the league
LBJ: 51.5 (44th all time) – Has never led the league
PER: (Player Efficiency Rating)
MJ: 28.60 (1st all time) – Led the post season 6 times
LBJ: 27.60 (3rd all time) – Led the post season 3 times
WS/48 (Win Shares per 48 minutes)
MJ: .2553 (1st all time) – Led the post season 7 times
LBJ: .2433 (3rd all time) – Led the post season 3 times
Win Shares (Total all time)
MJ: 39.76 (1st all time) – Led the post season 9 times
LBJ: 33.09 (4th all time) – Led the post season 6 times
Offensive Win Shares (Total all time)
MJ: 27.32 (1st all time) – Led the post season 7 times
LBJ: 22.20 (3rd all time) – Led the post season 5 times
Defensive Win Shares (Total all time)
MJ: 12.44 (6th all time) – Led the post season 1 time
LBJ: 10.89 (11th all time) – Led the post season 4 times
All NBA Teams
All NBA 1st Team
MJ: 10 – ’87 -’93 & ’96 – ’98
LBJ: 8 – ’06, ’08 – ’14
All NBA 2nd Team
MJ: 1 – ’85
LBJ: 2 – ’05 & ’07
All NBA Defensive 1st Team
MJ: 9 – ’88 -’93 & ’96 – ’98
LBJ: 5 – ’09 – ’13
All NBA Defensive 2nd Team
LBJ: 1 – ’14
NBA Finals Breakdown
1991 NBA Final: 31.2ppg, 6.6rpg, 11.4apg, 2.8spg, 1.4bpg, 56% FG, 50% 3PT, 84.8% FT
Jordan played point-guard in this NBA Finals and was matched up against Magic Johnson, who finished second in MVP voting that year. MJ averaged 11.4 assists per game, just over twice the 5.5 assists per game he averaged that year in the regular season and the highest by anyone in an NBA Finals series not named Magic Johnson. As well as passing the ball extremely well Jordan continued his dominant and efficient scoring averaging over 31 points per game on 56% scoring. MJ missed the potential game winning shot in game 1 of the finals. In game 2 Jordan set an NBA Finals record with 13 consecutive made field goals. In game 3 Jordan hit the game-tying floater to send the game into over-time, the Bulls would go on to win the game and the series 4-1.
1992 NBA Final: 35.8ppg, 4.8rpg, 6.5apg, 1.7spg, 0.3bpg, 52.6% FG, 42.9 3PT%, 89.1% FT
Jordan faced Drexler in this finals, who also finished second in MVP voting. Jordan continued his dominant scoring averaging almost 36 points per game on near 53% shooting. The most noticeable memory from this finals was game 1 in which MJ scored an NBA record 35 points in the first half and a then NBA record 6 three pointers in the first half (a record later broken by Ray Allen.) Jordan also had 46 points in game 5. This was Jordan’s best series defensively. He took Drexler out of his game offensively, so much so that Drexler’s shooting %’s fell from 47% FG and 33.7% 3PT in the regular season to 40.7% FG and 15.0% 3PT in the Finals. The Bulls went on to win their second straight NBA championship winning the series 4-2.
1993 NBA Final: 41.0ppg, 8.5rpg, 6.3apg, 1.7spg, 0.7bpg, 50.8% FG, 40.0% 3PT, 69.4% FT
The ’93 Suns were led by the reigning MVP Charles Barkley. Jordan averaged an NBA Finals record 41.0ppg in the ’93 finals, a record which still stands today. Additionally he set a record of 4 consecutive 40-point games in the NBA Finals. The Bulls went on to win the series 4-2 after John Paxon made the game winning 3-pointer in game 6. Jordan became the first person in NBA history to win three consecutive Finals MVPs.
1996 NBA Final: 27.3ppg, 5.3rpg, 4.2apg, 1.7spg, 0.2bpg, 41.5% FG, 31.6% 3PT, 83.6% FT
Jordan faced the reigning defensive player of the year in Gary Payton and had his worst shooting and scoring performance in an NBA Finals Jordan scored 22 points (5/19) in the closeout game. The Bulls would win this series 4-2.
1997 NBA Final: 32.3ppg, 7.0rpg, 6.0apg, 1.2spg, 0.8bpg, 45.6%FG, 32.0% 3PT, 76.4% FT
Although Jordan’s first three NBA Finals reign supreme this one was undoubtedly his best from the second three-peat. Jordan made the game winning play three times in 6 games in this finals including a game-winning, buzzer-beating shot in game 1, 38 points and the game-winning 3-pointer with 25 seconds left in game 5 (also known as the flu game) and the pass to Steve Kerr in game 6.
1998 NBA Final: 33.5ppg, 4.0rpg, 2.3apg, 1.8spg, 0.7bpg, 42.7% FG, 30.8 3PT%, 81.4% FT
Jordan averaged almost 34 points in this series but only 2.3 assists per game as Ron Harper and Pippen did the majority of the distributing. The Bulls were able to prevail behind 45 points from Jordan in game 6 and one of the shots for the ages.
Jordan’s overall average in the NBA Finals (35 games) looks like this:
33.6ppg, 6.02rpg, 5.97apg, 1.77spg, 0.65bpg, 48.1%FG, 36.8%3pt, 80.6%FT
2007 NBA Final: – 22ppg, 7.0rpg, 6.8apg, 1.0spg, 0.5bpg, 35.6% FG, 20.0% 3PT, 69.0% FT
LeBron struggled in these finals, a lack of a second scoring option meant that the Spurs could apply more defensive pressure to him without being beaten by someone else. The Spurs went on to win the finals 4-0.
2011 NBA Final: 17.8ppg, 7.2rpg, 6.8apg, 1.7spg, 0.5bpg, 47.8% FG, 32.1% 3PT, 60.0% FT
This was a terrible finals from LeBron. After leading his team in scoring for the regular season and post season he was out-scored by both Wade and Bosh as well as 6th man Jason Terry from the Dallas Mavericks. LeBron was highly criticised for being a no-show throughout the 4th quarter(s) in this series and set a new playoff career low with 8 points in game 4. The Mavericks went on to win this series 4-2.
2012 NBA Final: 28.6ppg, 10.2rpg, 7.4apg, 1.6spg, 0.4bpg, 47.2% FG, 18.8% 3PT, 82.6% FT
This was a good series for LeBron, after Miami lost the first game away they went on to win the next 4. LeBron averaged near to 29 points on 47% from the field and ended the series in game 5 with a triple double (26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists.) LeBron captured his first finals MVP.
2013 NBA Final: 25.3ppg, 10.9rpg, 7.0apg, 2.3spg, 0.9bpg, 44.7% FG, 35.3% 3PT, 79.5% FT
This was a weird final if ever we saw one, LeBron started the series shooting extremely poorly and flash-backs of the 2011 Finals came to mind. After failing to break 20 until game 4 of the series LeBron then ended the series with a 30-point triple double (32 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists) in game 6 and 37 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists in game 7 and captured his second straight Finals MVP.
2014 NBA Finals: 28.2ppg, 7.8rpg, 4.0apg, 2.0spg, 0.4bpg, 57.1% FG, 51.9% 3PT, 79.3% FT
LeBron played well in this series, with his best game of the series coming in game 2 where he had 35 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists. Although he did have his rough patches where he seemed to be passive he did have have some monster quarters, including 19 of the Heat’s 21 points in the 3rd quarter of game 4. The Spurs went on to win this series in 5 games.
LeBron’s overall averages in the NBA Finals (27 games) look like this:
24.1ppg, 8.77rpg, 6.44apg, 1.77spg, 0.55bpg, 46.26 FG%, 31.2% 3PT, 73.92% FT
Conclusion: Who’s the better finals performer? No doubt Jordan. His first three NBA Finals were legendary and most people would agree they belong in the top 10 NBA Finals of all time. Along with that MJ set 5 NBA records in his first 3 finals, a sign of total dominance. LeBron, on the other hand, has been inconsistent in the finals for his career, his ’07 and ’11 finals were dreadful however he has improved in the last 3 finals series of his career despite varied team results.
Below is a bar chart outlining how many 30 – 39, 40 – 49, 50 – 59 and 60+ win teams Jordan and James have faced thus far in the playoffs.
Both have faced two 30-39 win teams, LeBron has faced more 40 win teams while Jordan has faced more 50-59 and 60+ win teams in the playoffs.
Opponent winning % round-by-round:
The graph shows that Jordan faced, on average, teams with a higher winning % in the 1st round, 2nd round and NBA Finals. James faced teams with a higher winning % in the Conference Finals.
(Please note that I have adjusted the team records [mathematically] for the shortened 2012 lockout season to make this comparison fair. Additionally the ’13 Pacers had a 49 – 32 record due to a game being cancelled, I have given them the benefit of the doubt and bumped them up to a 50-win team.)
In the finals MJ facd 4 60-win teams. LeBron has only faced 1 60-win team.
You can follow me on Twitter: @SwishNBA
Credit to Basketball Reference.