At the moment I am working on Win Charts for every single NBA team for the 2009-2010 season. I have 10 done. When I am done, I will begin posting analysis.
One of the teams I am finished with is the Cleveland Cavaliers. So I thought it would be fun to revisit the age old question: who’s better, LeBron, Kobe or Michael?
Well, I can’t say definitively. No one can. But from the statistical evidence I can make two statements with some certainty: its either Michael or LeBron, and I’m leaning toward LeBron. Its not Kobe.
As you can see from the charts, by Marginal Win Score win production analysis, Kobe simply is not in the same class as either Michael Jordan or LeBron James. That is not to diminish Kobe, but rather to exalt LeBron and Michael. Few will ever be in the class of the latter two.
The seasons produced by LeBron last year at age 24, and Michael Jordan in 1992-93 at age 25 (the last season before his “baseball” hiatus… that season therefore is to Jordan what the “Cleveland Williams fight” was to Muhammad Ali) have to stand as the greatest seasons ever produced by non-centers. In fact, I would go so far as to consider them the “Bob Beamon marks” for perimeter players. I do not think any perimeter player will ever be able to outproduce his counterpart perimeter players to a greater extent than those two did in those two seasons. I just don’t think its humanly possible.
Sure, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul Jabbar have had better individual seasons in which they recorded higher Marginal Win Scores (click on any of the 3 great centers to see an example). But you have to remember Professor Berri’s “limited supply of tall people” argument. Because there are few humans who can meet the minimum physical requirements to play center in the NBA, there will always be a certain “stiff bonus” that any great center will enjoy that the Jordans and LeBrons of the world will never enjoy. The competence threshold at the big man positions will always be a little lower… actually a lot lower.
That’s why what Michael Jordan did at the age of 25 is so unbelievable. Jordan plays the two positions — SG and SF — where there is always the greatest pool of talent. And he dominated it to an extraordinary extent. He dominated players you simply should not be able to dominate to the degree he did.
Nevertheless, “relativity” points don’t translate into wins. Russell, in my book, is still the greatest win producer in basketball history, and probably will always be for the reasons stated above.
But when comparing the bar stool favorites, Jordan, James, and Bryant, all I can say is its too close to call between James and Jordan, and Bryant finishes a distant third.
CORRECTION: Michael Jordan was 25 years old in 1991-92, the season before his last pre-baseball hiatus season. If you want to look at Jordan’s performance in 1992-93 season, I did a Win Chart for all of the Bulls that season, and you can see it by clicking here.)