…how absolutely mind-blowingly ridiculous LeBron James has been over the past four seasons? Yeah, LeBron’s the MVP favorite, but he’s on pace for his best season as a pro right now during a lockout season! He’s not recovering as much between games, playing the fewest minutes per game of his career, putting up an absurd stat line and yet the biggest story of the NBA season is some guard from Harvard on a .500 team. Have you looked closely at LeBron’s stat line? You should: 27 ppg, 8 rpg (career-high), 7 apg, 2.0 steals per game (2nd-best in his career), 53% FG (career-high), 76% FT, all while playing a career-low 38 minutes per game. And I didn’t even mention the most underrated part of his line: the 2.2 3FG attempts per game, almost half of his career average of 4.0. LeBron’s not a great three-point shooter (career 33%), so this year he stopped taking as many. The result? A career-high 37% from deep and fewer wasted possessions. When you consider how it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Derrick Rose shouldn’t have won the MVP last year (the Bulls have been winning consistently without him), you could make the case that LeBron could be on track for his fourth straight MVP this year (again, in a ridiculous season in which no one has any business putting up his kind of numbers).
Just for fun, let’s go back in time 50 years and compare James’ 2011-12 season to Oscar Robertson’s famed triple-double season of 1961-62.
James: 27 ppg, 8 rpg, 7 apg, 53% FG, 76% FT
Robertson: 31 ppg, 13 rpg, 11 apg, 48% FG, 80% FT
On the surface, it’s not much of a contest. But you also have to consider several hidden variables. First, Oscar averaged 44 minutes per game to LeBron’s 38. An extra half of a quarter would certainly help LeBron accumulate counting stats. Then consider that games were played at a much faster pace back then, meaning more shots (and thus more points, rebounds, and assists). In 1961-62, teams averaged 108 FG attempts per game, compared to 81 FG attempts this season. Teams averaged 119 ppg in 1961-62; this season, that number is down to 96 ppg. It’s the same story for rebounds: 71 per game in 1961-62 versus 42 per game this season. Obviously, it’s going to be easier to average a triple-double if there are more shots and rebounds available for you to take (it should also be noted that 1961-62 was the same season that Wilt Chamberlain set the NBA record for points per game—50.4—no other player has averaged more than 40 ppg). One (albeit rough) way to compare the two would be to adjust James’ stats for “inflation.” Let’s multiply James’ points and assists by 1.33 (the same as the FG attempt ratio, 108/81, since FG attempts affect both points and assists) and multiply James’ rebounds by 1.69 (the same as the rebound ratio, 71/42). That gives us a new James line of: 35 ppg, 14 rpg, 9 apg. Yeah, it’s inexact, but it’s a pretty good gauge of just how dominant James has been in 2011-12.
…the impact Tyson Chandler has had on two different franchises this season? In a rollercoaster season at Madison Square Garden, Chandler has been the one constant, missing just two games and providing the same sterling rebounding and rim protection he offered last season in Dallas. New York has a lot of problems—poor guard play, a weak bench, and the Stoudemire-Anthony power dynamic (neither of whom seem capable of leading a franchise)—but Chandler’s play at the center position isn’t one of them. Since adding Chandler, the Knicks have jumped from 22nd in the league in defensive rating to 4th, and a large part of that is due to Chandler, the only member of the Knicks’ starting frontcourt fully committed to defense (and yes, the Knicks had still made this jump prior to Mike Woodson taking over). Add in the fact that Chandler rarely takes a shot he can’t make (his 67% FG leads the league by almost 10 percentage points), and Chandler is living up to the four-year, $55 million deal he signed last summer. The team he left, meanwhile, has floundered without adequately replacing its defensive anchor. The defending-champion Mavericks sit in fifth place in the West at 29-22 but have struggled to find consistent success—they have nine separate streaks of either three-plus wins or three-plus losses in a row. Part of that can be attributed to Dirk Nowitzki’s slow start, but a lot of it has to do with Dallas’ inability to replace Chandler at the center position. Last season, there was a clear pecking order, with Chandler as the starter (27 minutes per game) and Brendan Haywood as the backup (19 mpg). It’s been a different story this season, as Haywood (22 mpg) splits time with Ian Mahinmi (19 mpg) and the suddenly-washed-up Lamar Odom (21 mpg). In a season where it’s been hard to get into a rhythm, a known quantity at the center position would have been a welcome blessing for Dallas. And it wouldn’t hurt that the aging Mavericks would get some run out of Chandler’s (relatively) youthful legs.