Big Bang Theory: the theory that the universe [new era of basketball] originated from the cataclysmic explosion [the draft of LeBron James in 2003] of a small volume of matter at extremely high [level of production] density and temperature. In layman’s terms, the style of play and level of efficiency that we are seeing from LeBron James has the potential to change the NBA forever.
There are a lot of ways to describe greatness, but the general NBA fan prefers to look at points scored. It’s a “sexy” and simple stat that is visually appealing to watch (in most cases) and easy to appreciate. Ultimately, the goal of the game of basketball is to score more points than your opponent, making it natural to associate point totals with greatness.
Now, I’m not saying points scored aren’t a valuable statistic, but when LeBron James recorded his 20,000th point against the Warriors, it wasn’t his most impressive accomplishment of the evening. He set up Dwayne Wade for a two handed flush early in the first half, a pass that resulted in his 5,000th career dime. Much has been made of James’ career scoring trajectory (needs to average roughly 22 points over his next 10 seasons to become the NBA’s all time leading scorer), but instead of looking ahead, let me help you appreciate what we have already seen.
I used the beginning of the 2006-2007 season as my starting point as it was the season after James’ first career playoff appearance and now evident that this man would go on to do great things. Since that point in time, he has handed out 3,453 assists that have lead to 7,973 points. That’s more than was scored by Steve Nash (7,310), Ray Allen (7,855), Chauncey Billups (6,871), Paul Millsap has scored (6,175), or Luol Deng (7,446) over the same span of time. Some in the advanced stats community devalue the assist. But even if we only credit LeBron with 1 point for each assist leading to a 2-point basket and two points for each assist leading to a 3-point basket we still end up crediting him with 4,528 points being scored by his teammates. That total still means the Kings has created more points via pass than Tyson Chandler (4,256 points), Andrew Bogut (4,435), Kyle Korver (4,436), or Andrew Bynum (4,523) has scored.
Let that sink in for a minute. That’s an impressive group of players, yet by either scoring system James has passed for more points than any one of them have scored since 2006. Add in the fact that he has himself scored 13,739 points over that stretch, and it is becoming clear just how revolutionary of a talent James truly is.
A big part of James’ point production via the pass is his ability to set up his teammates who are positioned behind the three point line. Tom Haberstroh wrote a nice piece on where all of James’ passes have gone, and upon looking deep into the advanced statistics, a remarkable 31.1% of his assists (1,075) since 2006 have resulted in three points. That means that The King has assisted on more three pointers in his last 489 games than Allen Iverson made (1,059) in 914 career games. Danny Ainge (1,002 career three pointers), hall of famer Scottie Pippen (978), and sharp shooting Mark Price (976) also made less triples in their storied careers than LeBron has assisted on since 2006.
Last but not least, consider this little tidbit. If the season ended today (remember that we still have 44 games left in this regular season), LeBron James would end the season in which he turned 28 years old with 2,384 more assists than Steve Nash at the exact same age. Sure, James has played more games, but it is hard to deny his potential to rank among the very best passers when all is said and done. He needs to average just 5.7 assists (has never averaged less than 5.9 assists) over the next 10 seasons to become the sixth member of the 10,000 assist club.
So the next time you turn on the TV and see the LeBron James highlights, try to appreciate what he does for his teammates. This isn’t an elite scorer who stumbles into assists; this is a point forward that is changing the path of the NBA.