Wednesday, October 10, 2012

HEAT Check: LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan at 27

The rhetoric is entertaining, but how do LeBron James' numbers compare to Michael Jordan's numbers at age 27?

This article uses the Win Score and Wins Produced stats created by sports economist David Berri. Average players produce 0.100 Wins per 48 minutes (Est.WP48) because an average team produces a 0.500 winning percentage. Star players produce +0.200 Est.WP48 and great players produce +0.300 Est.WP48. See the HEAT Produced Page for more information.

Using data from, we can calculate the Win Score for both players at age 27. LeBron produced a 12.9 Win Score per 48 minutes (WS48) last season at age 27. Jordan produced a 13.9 WS48 in 1991 at age 27. Jordan's Win Score advantage translates to 2 more wins produced than LeBron if his stats in the lockout-shortened season are projected over a full 82-game season.

The interesting difference between the two is that LeBron posted better defensive numbers and Jordan posted better offensive numbers but Jordan's the one with a Defensive Player of the Year Award (he won it at age 24).

Here's how they compare in each offensive category of the box score:
  • Scoring: Jordan, +4.4 points per game
  • Shooting efficiency: LeBron, +0.7%
  • Free throws: Jordan, +0.1 attempts per game
  • Free throw shooting: Jordan, +8%
  • Offensive rebounds: LeBron, +0.1 per game
  • Assists: LeBron, +0.7 per game
  • Turnovers: Jordan, -0.9 per game
  • Offensive Win Score: Jordan, +1.8 per 48 minutes

On offense, Jordan was a better scorer, free throw shooter and ball-handler than LeBron at 27. Here's how they compare in each defensive category of the box score:
  • Defensive rebounds: LeBron, +1.8 per game
  • Steals: Jordan, +0.8 per game
  • Blocks: Jordan, +0.2 per game
  • Fouls: LeBron, -1.3 per game
  • Defensive Win Score: LeBron, +0.8 per 48 minutes

In order for LeBron to become a better player than Jordan, he will have to improve offensively. Is that as possible as Charles Barkley said on NBA TV's Open Court?

Scoring: Last season's scoring average ranked 5th in his 9-year career and his shot attempts ranked 6th. He won't be able to increase his scoring average by taking more shots on a team with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh so he'll have to become more efficient.

Shooting efficiency: Good news for LeBron fans. He produced the highest shooting efficiency of his career at age 27. Jordan posted the 2nd-highest shooting efficiency of his career at age 27 and his 5th-best at age 28. If LeBron spends more time in the paint this season like he promised, then he'll have to improve the shooting efficiency in his post-game.

Free throws: LeBron took the the 4th-lowest attempts per 36 minutes of his career last season. Maybe spending more time in the paint will increase his free throw rate, but that means he'll have to take a lot more punishment.

Free throw shooting: Last season was the 2nd-best free throw shooting percentage of LeBron's career. Becoming a more accurate free throw shooter is nice, but it won't mean much in terms of catching Jordan if he doesn't get to the line more often.

Offensive rebounds: LeBron produced the 2nd-best offensive rebounding numbers per 36 minutes in his career last season. More time in the paint could lead to more work on the offensive glass.

Assists: Last season was the 4th-lowest in assists for LeBron. In his 1st year with the HEAT, most of his assists went to Wade and Bosh. Maybe Ray Allen can help him find a good third option for racking up assists this season.

Turnovers: LeBron's first 2 seasons with the HEAT have been the two worst seasons in his career for turnovers. Maybe chemistry and familiarity with the offense will start to bring those numbers down, but maybe not. He's got to learn where Ray Allen likes the ball and how he likes to get it this season. That learning curve could keep LeBron's turnovers numbers up this season, too.

Personally, I don't think LeBron will end up being a better player than Jordan, but the HEAT don't need him to be. They just need him to be the best forward in the NBA long enough to win #Not5Not6Not7...


  1. well lebron averaged .1 more turnovers last year than his career average so i don't exactly see that as an issue. his assists dip was surprising but not really a cause for concern as he played more big man than he has before in his career. as opposed to a perimeter player who can play pick and roll, or drive hard to the rim and find cutters.

    1. The problem with LeBron's turnovers is their so much higher than Jordan's that he won't be as productive as Jordan unless he takes better care of the ball or shoots an insane percentage.