The G. O. A. T. Chronicles Series 1.4 Michael Jordan vs. Lebron James: Stats & Numbers

The G. O. A. T. Chronicles Series 1.4 Michael Jordan vs. Lebron James: Stats & Numbers

Part IV

Previous posts we have compared league wide scoring averages, strength of opponents, personal awards and accolades.  For this post, we want to get into the heart of the G.O.A.T debate – The Numbers.

If you haven’t read the Adam Fromal Bleacher Report article called Understanding the NBA: Explaining Advanced Offensive Stats and Metrics – then I truly recommend you track that down through a google search.  Amazing breakdown of advanced NBA stats and what they all mean.  

I also recommend adding the Basketball-Reference.com glossary of terms to your bookmarks in case you ever need a quick refresher on some of the advanced stats and metrics being used and discussed in today’s game.   https://www.basketball-reference.com/about/glossary.html

Now, let’s jump into all the juicy MJ and LBJ stats;

Traditional Stats

Regular Season

PlayerPointsAssistsReboundseFG%3 PT FG%
Jordan30.15.36.250.9%32.7%
James27.17.47.454.1%34.4%

Playoffs

PlayerPointsAssistsRebounds eFG%3 PT FG%
Jordan33.45.76.450.3%33.2%
James28.87.29.053.4%33.5%

It’s important to point out  instead of using traditional FG%, I updated that category to be Effective Field Goal%. (eFG%)

eFG%This statistic adjusts for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal. For example, suppose Player A goes 4 for 10 with 2 threes, while Player B goes 5 for 10 with 0 threes. Each player would have 10 points from field goals, and thus would have the same effective field goal percentage (50%). (Courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com)

More Traditional Stats

Regular Season

PlayerSteals / GMBlocks / GMTurnovers / GM
Jordan2.30.82.7
James1.60.83.5

Playoffs

PlayerSteals / GMBlocks / GMTurnovers / GM
Jordan2.10.93.1
James1.71.03.7

Steals, Blocks and Turnovers are all very traditional stats.  I like grouping them together to get a visual of a players defensive impact (steals + blocks) and then comparing that to their turnovers.  

True Shooting Percentage

PlayerReg Season TS%Playoff TS%
Jordan56.9%56.8%
James58.6%58.4%

TS% ; True shooting percentage is a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws.  The formula is PTS / (2 * TSA)   (Courtesy Basketball-Reference.com)

Player Efficiency Rating

PlayerReg Season PERPlayoff PER
Jordan27.928.6
James27.528.4

(PER) is a per-minute rating developed by ESPN.com columnist John Hollinger

PER takes into account accomplishments, such as field goals, free throws, 3-pointers, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals, and negative results, such as missed shots, turnovers and personal fouls. The formula adds positive stats and subtracts negative ones through a statistical point value system. The rating for each player is then adjusted to a per-minute basis so that, for example, substitutes can be compared with starters in playing time debates. It is also adjusted for the team’s pace. In the end, one number sums up the players’ statistical accomplishments for that season. 

Win Shares per 48 minutes

PlayerReg Season WS / 48 minsPlayoff WS / 48 mins
Jordan 2525.5
James23.424.5

Win Shares is a player statistic which attempts to divide up credit for team success to the individuals on the team.  The important thing to note is that it is calculated using player, team and league-wide statistics and the sum of player win shares on a given team will be roughly equal to that team’s win total for the season. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s total of 25.4 Win Shares in 1971-72 is the all-time single-season record.  

Win Shares per 48 minutes is based on 48 minutes because that is the exact length of an NBA game.  As such, the statistic can measure how much the player contributes to a winning effort on a per game basis based on their per minute performance. (Courtesy Basketball-Reference.com)

Box Plus / Minus

PlayerReg Season BPMPlayoff BPM
Jordan9.211.1
James8.910.2

Box Plus/Minus,  (BPM) is a basketball box score-based metric that estimates a basketball player’s contribution to the team when that player is on the court. It is based only on the information in the traditional basketball box score–no play-by-play data or non-traditional box score data (like dunks or deflections) are included.

BPM uses a player’s box score information, position, and the team’s overall performance to estimate the player’s contribution in points above league average per 100 possessions played. BPM does not take into account playing time.  (Courtesy Basketball-Reference.com)

Value Over Replacement Player

PlayerReg Season VORPPlayoff VORP
Jordan 116.1 (0.11 / Game played)24.7 (0.14 / Game played)
James133.7 (0.11 / Game played)33.2 (0.13 / Game played)

VORP – A box score estimate of the points per 100 TEAM possessions that a player contributed above a replacement-level (-2.0) player, translated to an average team and prorated to an 82-game season.

It is a measure to estimate each player’s overall contribution to the team, measured vs. what a theoretical “replacement player” would provide, where the “replacement player” is defined as a player on minimum salary or not a normal member of a team’s rotation. (Courtesy Basketball-Reference.com)

VORP is an accumulative stat.  LBJ has more total VORP both in the regular season (133.7 vs 116.1) and in the playoffs.  However, LBJ has played in more regular season and postseason games.  Therefore, I have divided each player’s total VORP by their games played, to try and make the VORP stats comparable on a per game basis for this exercise.

Traditional Stat Comparison

StatsJordanJames
Points30.127.1
Points – Playoffs33.428.8
Assists5.37.4
Assists – Playoffs5.77.2
Rebounds6.27.4
Rebounds – Playoffs6.49.0
eFG%50.9%54.1%
eFG% – Playoffs50.3%53.4%
3PT FG%32.7%34.4%
3PT FG% – Playoffs33.2%33.5%
Steals2.31.6
Steals – Playoffs2.11.7
Blocks0.80.8
Blocks – Playoffs0.91.0
Turnovers2.73.5
Turnovers – Playoffs3.13.7

Advanced Stat Comparison

StatsJordan James
TS%56.9%58.6%
TS% – Playoffs56.8%58.4%
PER27.927.5
PER – Playoffs28.628.4
WS / 482523.4
WS / 48 Playoffs25.524.5
BPM9.28.9
BPM – Playoffs11.110.2
VORP / Game 0.110.11
VORP / Game – Playoffs0.140.13

For this post we tracked 13 different stats and when you break those down by regular season and playoff stats, we have 26 different categories to compare MJ vs LBJ.

And the winner is… 

Wow, this was close and when you look at each individual category you can see that in many cases there was often very little difference between the two players.  However, the votes have been tallied and the winner is MJ with 13 total categories.  LBJ had the better stats in 11 categories and two of the categories were a statistical tie.

Analytic and basketball experts will all have their own opinions and ideas on how to rank categories and which stats are more important or relevant than others.  We did not do that for this post.  Our totals assume that each category or each statistic is equal to all the others.