LeBron James is the best player in the world. At this point, that is undeniable. He has championship rings, Olympic gold medals, numerous MVP Awards, and has been to the NBA Finals five straight years with two different teams. Nobody in the game today can boast this list of accomplishments, and LeBron is only 30 years old.
Now, he faces a tough hole to climb out of. His Cavs are one loss away from yet another heartbreaking season. Everybody is talking about how great of a series he is having, and saying that he should win the Finals MVP, even in a losing effort. At quick glance, I would have to agree. But if you dive deeper into the numbers you will realize that this series has not been that great for LeBron.
We can talk all day about how he has nobody to help him. Kevin Love has been hurt since the first round. Superstar point guard Kyrie Irving went down in Game 1 of the Finals. The beaten and battered Cavs have mostly played a 7-man rotation because they have nobody else at the end of the bench. But this is actually not all that uncommon for teams who make the NBA Finals. The 82 game regular season is grueling enough, and when you add on the even more intense postseason games these teams play, it’s no wonder most teams that reach this point have very little left in the tank.
LeBron has done a lot to carry this Cavs team. He is averaging 36.6 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game. He has scored over forty points in three of the five games, including two triple-doubles. That looks like he’s having a great series, right? Well, lets take a closer look at the numbers.
LeBron seems to be scoring at will, but the truth is, he is struggling with his shot. He has taken 163 shots total. The issue is that he has missed an NBA Finals record 98 shots, and we are only five games in. This is reminiscent of Allen Iverson’s performance in the 2001 NBA Finals. Iverson, like James, had a cast of stragglers and nobodies. In 5 games he scored 178 points (35.6 ppg). During that series, critics and fans alike said that Iverson was shooting way too much even if he didn’t have any help. In those five games, he took 162 shots, one fewer than James.
Iverson also had a higher shooting percentage in his series, shooting 40.7% as opposed to LeBron who is shooting 39%. LeBron is actually shooting the lowest percentage of anybody in Finals history who has taken over 100 shots. The difference is that I don’t hear anybody saying James is shooting too much, and in fact he is being praised for carrying the team. There is a double standard for LeBron and Iverson.
Not only is LeBron shooting poorly in these finals, he is shooting his worse at crunch time. He is currently shooting 4-for-19 (21%) from the floor over the final three minutes and overtimes of games this series. And remember, he had a shot to win Game 1 in regulation, but instead of taking it to the basket where he had not been stopped, or trying to work to get another player an open shot, he settled for a deep, contested fade away 3-pointer.
So yes, at a quick glance, LeBron’s numbers look phenomenal. But the truth is, he is struggling. Maybe it is because he is trying too hard, maybe it is because he has to if Cleveland has a chance. But I find it difficult to give the MVP to somebody who is not getting it done in the biggest moments with the game on the line. Especially if the Cavs don’t win the series.