Its close, but Michael Jordan slightly better than LeBron James

Scottie Pippen put his stick into a Windy City hornet’s nest on Friday, and he is getting repeatedly stung. Pippen committed Chicagoland heresy by suggesting that LeBron James might be a better basketball player than Michael Jordan.

I applaud Pippen for his candor, but I ran the comparable MWS numbers for both players, and if you compare apples-to-apples, MJ is still the slightly more valuable basketball player (I am not qualified to speak about who is more skilled, I am only comparing the two in terms of wins and losses produced).

First, I present a chart showing the careers of both Michael Jordan and LeBron James.

JORDAN WS oppWS MWS W% W__L W>0.5% Value
84-85 13.53 6.24 3.65 1.131 14.7__(-1.7) 8.2 22.9
85-86 9.32 7.68 0.82 0.649 1.2__0.7 0.3 1.5
86-87 11.74 6.21 2.77 0.979 13.3__0.3 6.5 19.8
87-88 15.51 5.57 4.97 1.349 18.5__(-4.8) 11.6 30.1
88-89 18.76 6.37 6.21 1.559 21.1__(-7.6) 14.3 35.4
89-90 17.29 7.21 5.05 1.359 17.9__(-4.7) 11.3 29.2
90-91 17.05 5.12 5.97 1.519 19.1__(-6.5) 12.8 31.9
91-92 14.94 4.73 5.11 1.369 17.5__(-4.7) 11.1 28.6
92-93 14.72 5.76 4.48 1.269 16.1__(-3.4) 9.8 25.9
94-95 8.98 5.11 1.94 0.831 2.3__0.5 0.9 3.2
95-96 14.57 4.14 5.22 1.388 17.8__(-5.0) 11.4 29.2
96-97 12.78 4.48 4.15 1.207 15.6__(-2.7) 9.1 24.7
97-98 9.41 4.18 2.61 0.945 12.4__0.7 5.8 18.2
2001-02 5.86 6.41 -0.27 0.457 4.0__4.7 -0.3 3.7
2002-03 7.72 5.81 0.96 0.665 8.3__4.2 2.1 10.4
TOTAL 12.81 5.67 3.58 1.112 199.8__(-20.1) 114.9 314.7
               
LEBRON WS oppWS MWS W% W__L W>0.5% Value
2003-04 6.27 5.75 0.26 0.546 7.0__5.9 0.6 7.6
2004-05 12.99 7.14 2.92 0.998 14.0__0.0 6.9 20.9
2005-06 12.42 6.56 2.93 0.999 14.0__(-0.1) 7.1 21.1
2006-07 11.12 5.97 2.57 0.934 12.3__0.9 5.7 18.1
2007-08 14.67 6.69 3.99 1.179 14.7__(-2.2) 8.5 23.2
2008-09 17.11 5.53 5.79 1.485 18.6__(-5.9) 12.3 30.9
2009-10 17.25 7.26 4.99 1.349 16.6__(-4.3) 10.5 27.1
2010-11 14.82 5.82 4.49 1.267 16.2__(-3.4) 9.8 26.1
TOTALS 13.33 6.34 3.49 1.095 113.4__(-9.1) 61.4 175

As you can see, the two have nearly identical career Marginal Win Scores. I had not realized that. Of course, that chart compares Jordan’s entire career to LeBron’s mid-career. That’s not fair to Jordan. His career numbers include his declining seasons, seasons LBJ has not yet endured. 

On the other hand, it would be unfair to James if we simply compared each player’s first eight seasons, because James entered the Association out of high school, Jordan entered after his junior season at the University of North Carolina.

So the best comparison would be to disregard James’ first three seasons and instead compare Jordan’s first five seasons to James’ last five seasons. Here we go:

JORDAN WS oppWS MWS W% W__L W>0.5% Value
84-85 13.53 6.24 3.65 1.131 14.7__(-1.7) 8.2 22.9
85-86 9.32 7.68 0.82 0.649 1.2__0.7 0.3 1.5
86-87 11.74 6.21 2.77 0.979 13.3__0.3 6.5 19.8
87-88 15.51 5.57 4.97 1.349 18.5__(-4.8) 11.6 30.1
88-89 18.76 6.37 6.21 1.559 21.1__(-7.6) 14.3 35.4
TOTAL 13.77 6.41 3.68 1.133 68.8__(-13.1) 40.9 109.7
               
LEBRON WS oppWS MWS W% W__L W>0.5% Value
2006-07 11.12 5.97 2.57 0.934 12.3__0.9 5.7 18.1
2007-08 14.67 6.69 3.99 1.179 14.7__(-2.2) 8.5 23.2
2008-09 17.11 5.53 5.79 1.485 18.6__(-5.9) 12.3 30.9
2009-10 17.25 7.26 4.99 1.349 16.6__(-4.3) 10.5 27.1
2010-11 14.82 5.82 4.49 1.267 16.2__(-3.4) 9.8 26.1
TOTAL 14.99 6.25 4.36 1.243 78.4__(-19.1) 46.8 125.4

By this comparison, one can see that each player has had a spectacular peak to his career.  You can see that each player sustained a Marginal Win Score great enough to produce negative losses.  You also notice that LeBron James had the superior MWS, a better Winning %, a better win-loss record, more Wins Above 0.500%, and more Value.

However, I can hear Chicago Tim already. “Jordan’s second season was washed out by injury. You’re not comparing full seasons.”

I would agree. If you compare each player’s first five full seasons at a near comparable point in each player’s career, you get a result that slightly favors Jordan. Here it is:

JORDAN WS oppWS MWS W% W__L W>0.5% Value
84-85 13.53 6.24 3.65 1.131 14.7__(-1.7) 8.2 22.9
86-87 11.74 6.21 2.77 0.979 13.3__0.3 6.5 19.8
87-88 15.51 5.57 4.97 1.349 18.5__(-4.8) 11.6 30.1
88-89 18.76 6.37 6.21 1.559 21.1__(-7.6) 14.3 35.4
89-90 17.29 7.21 5.05 1.359 17.9__(-4.7) 11.3 29.2
TOTAL 15.36 6.32 4.53 1.275 85.5__(-18.5) 51.9 137.4
               
               
LEBRON WS oppWS MWS W% W__L W>0.5% Value
2006-07 11.12 5.97 2.57 0.934 12.3__0.9 5.7 18.1
2007-08 14.67 6.69 3.99 1.179 14.7__(-2.2) 8.5 23.2
2008-09 17.11 5.53 5.79 1.485 18.6__(-5.9) 12.3 30.9
2009-10 17.25 7.26 4.99 1.349 16.6__(-4.3) 10.5 27.1
2010-11 14.82 5.82 4.49 1.267 16.2__(-3.4) 9.8 26.1
TOTAL 14.99 6.25 4.36 1.243 78.4__(-19.1) 46.8 125.4

Look at how close the two are in nearly every category! Remarkable, considering James plays a mix of the two forward postions whereas Jordan played a mix of shooting guard and small forward. Based upon this comparison, Jordan is the slightly better and more valuable basketball player, but it is SOOO close.

One thing, though. Pippen said Jordan was the better scorer, and James the better defender. That is probably correct. Each has about the same Win Score average and Opponent Win Score average but Jordan, as mentioned, played a positional mix that would not be expected to produce as high a Win Score as the positional mix played by James. So Jordan’s Win Score is more impressive, while James Opponent Win Score is more impressive.

The bottom line is, they are both great players. But, unlike Kobe (who has been proclaimed the “New Jordan”), James’ production is actually on par with Michael Jordan. And now it seems that he has found his Scottie Pippen and his Horace Grant/ Dennis Rodman.  Look out!

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5 Responses to “Its close, but Michael Jordan slightly better than LeBron James”

  1. Donavan Taylor Says:

    …Not close!

  2. Honesty Says:

    Excellent analysis, however, when did Scottie claim that LeBron was a better defender than MJ? I hope you’ll get back to me even though this is an old post.

    - well wishes

    • tywill33 Says:

      Wasn’t it last season during the playoffs? I believe he made a comment to that effect on Chicago’s ESPN 1000, and created a huge controversy. Correct me if I am wrong.

      • Honesty Says:

        Thank you for very much for responding even though this is a old article!

        It took me a while but I was able to find Pippen’s comments from ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike in the Morning:

        “LeBron James may be the greatest player to ever play the game.”

        “No guy on the basketball court is not a threat to score with LeBron James out there. Not only will LeBron dominate from the offensive end as well, but he’s also doing it on the defensive end, which really makes him the complete package.”

        “He’s able to get in those passing lanes, shoot those gaps and create transition opportunities where he is pretty much unstoppable.”

        He clarified his position by saying “Don’t get me wrong, MJ was and is the greatest. But LeBron could by all means get to his level someday,”

        It’s kind of hard to tell what he’s implying because Michael and LeBron are virtually identical at both ends of the court. What I think Pippen was talking about is longevity, that is, no one can compare to the combination of how early James entered the league and what he has already accomplished at a young age.

        LeBron may very well retire setting some absurd records. Think about it, what if he retires with over 40,000 points, 12,000 assists, 12,000 rebounds, 1,500 steals, 1,000 blocks, 5 MVPs, and a couple of Finals MVPs?

        People would have a hard time arguing he isn’t the greatest all around player the game has ever seen.

        I apologize if I somehow came off as an incredulous MJ fan who was questioning your credibility.

  3. kileer7 Says:

    Excellent analysis! However, when did Pippen claim that LeBron James was a better defender than Michael Jordan?

    I posted a similar comment earlier today, but it appears that it was not posted. Recently I’ve been having problems with my internet connection, so that my be the cause. I apologize for re-posting the comment.

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