Lebron James enjoying unprecedented Season 15

Lebron James has done the seemingly impossible.  No, that’s not make it out of the streets of Akron, Ohio, raised only by a single mother to become arguably the second greatest basketball player of all time … instead, he has managed to get better in year fifteen of his career.

Better might be an overstatement, but he clearly is showing off an improved shooting stroke this year, coupled with a zen mastery of basketball knowledge, while only slightly losing some of his otherworldly athleticism, which has seen him at least return to MVP form (and possibly lead the MVP race).

However, just to show how rare what Lebron James is doing I’m going to compare him to the greatest to ever play the game at year fifteen in their respective careers.  The numbers speak for themselves and Lebron is truly showcasing the kind of unique athletic specimen he truly is.


Points Per Game (PPG) is often a stat people look to in order to see the dominance a player has over a game.  Sometimes a misperceived stat as it is over glorified, it is still the main aim of the game, put the ball through the hoop.  Lebron is miles ahead of his Hall of Fame counter-parts, almost 3 points ahead of his nearest rival as seen in the graph above.  Legendary scoring machine and widely considered the best basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan, only averaged a 20 PPG for a lowly Washington Wizards team that didn’t even make the playoffs.  Albeit, Jordan was 39 years old at the time, while Lebron only turns 33 at the end of December (although Lebron has played more games than Jordan).


Not only is he scoring more than all of these other great players at this stage of their career, he is also shooting it at a better rate than any of them.  The graph above shows the players True Shooting Percentage (TS%), which according to Basketball-Reference.com, is a “measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals and free throws”.  Again, James leads this category by a healthy margin with a TS% of 65.7 percent, which trumps Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s percentage of 60.8 percent.  He’s a full five percent better than a 7”2 giant, who had the most unstoppable shot of all time and also got most of his points within five feet of the basket.

apg 15.png

While Lebron is a scoring machine, he is better known for being able to do everything on the basketball court, he can dominate a game with more than just his scoring.  James is known as a gifted passer, often compared to the great Magic Johnson for his court vision.  The chart above shows that only assist king, Steve Nash (11.4), bests him in this category.  Not even all time great point guard John Stockton could muster up more assists than ‘The Chosen One’.  Nash of course had the advantage of playing full time point guard with his only real job to set up team mates, whereas Lebron is averaging 8.3 assists while also averaging 8.3 rebounds.  Lebron isn’t particularly close to the top of the rebounding pile, however, as shown in the graph below, he is above the mean.  He is bested only by some of the best big man rebounders to ever play the game.

Lebron also stuffs the stat sheet on the defensive end.  Combining steals and blocks Lebron sits in 3rd with 2.4 per game.  One of the best defensive players ever, Hakeem Olajuwon, obliterates the competition with 4.1 per game.  However, Lebron James shows his versatility on the basketball court by being near the top of all of these categories.



Lebron James not only dominates traditional statistics, he’s an advanced stats mercenary.  Lebron by any metric is great, hence being considered one of the best players ever, but when compared to all of these great players, it’s not even a contest.  Player efficiency rating (PER), is widely regarded as a stat that can truly quantify how valuable a basketball player is on the court.  According to basketball-reference.com, PER,  ‘The Player Efficiency Rating (PER), is a per-minute rating developed by ESPN.com columnist John Hollinger.

In Hollinger’s words, “The PER sums up all a player’s positive accomplishments, subtracts the negative accomplishments, and returns a per-minute rating of a player’s performance while adjusting for pace.”  ‘The King’s PER in year 15 is just astounding, it is a full four points better than his closest rival Karl Malone, who in all honesty is the only one who came close.  Karl Malone, revered for how well he kept his body during his career, was the pinnacle of fitness later in his career.  That James has easily outperformed him is a testament to the work that Lebron has put into keeping his body in phenomenal condition even at this late stage of his career.  The only way to compare his PER in this season is to compare it to the all-time single season PER.  Wilt Chamberlain holds the record of 31.82 in his fourth season in the league while he was 26 years old, and averaged a mere 44.8 PPG and 24.3 RPG.  Lebron, at nearly 33 years old in his 15th season, would have the 9th highest PER ever if the season ended today.



Win Shares per 48 minutes (WS/48), is a stat which directly correlates with the player’s direct impact on his team winning a game.  Again, Lebron shows he is not just a superior player but absolutely vital for his team to succeed even in the regular season.  The graph above shows that Karl Malone is Lebron’s only true challenger when it comes to comparing players in year fifteen in their respective careers.  However, this is one time ‘The Mailman’ can’t deliver as ‘The King’ rules over all when it comes to players a decade and a half into their respective careers.  The graph below is simply an amalgamation of all the stats mentioned throughout this article to show his utter dominance in every aspect of the game.

So, what does any of this even mean?  We already knew Lebron is one of the best ever to play the game and his longevity has always been a big factor in that.  It seems though that even comparing him to past greats isn’t fair.  So who better to compare Lebron to other than, well, Lebron James!  James’ tenth year in the league, when he won his second NBA championship and fourth MVP trophy is widely regarded as the greatest Lebron James season, statistically anyways.  This was when Lebron was in the prime of his career at 28 years old and was playing for a powerhouse Miami Heat squad.

James slid to the power forward position and Coach Eric Spoelstra was using James masterfully to get him easy chances around the basket.  This was pinnacle Lebron, the apex predator, the cerebral assassin, the final evolution.  However, it seems Lebron still had more growing to do as a player and has developed even further.  The graph below compares these two seasons.  Lebron this year trumps his past self in points, rebounds, assists and TS%.  In the 2012-13 season, James was one vote shy of becoming the first ever unanimous MVP.  This year is comparable, if not more impressive.  Is Lebron going to make history again and become the first player ever to win an MVP fifteen years into his career, five years after he won his last one?

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Stats taken from Basketball-reference.com, Lebron James stats as of December 2nd 2017.

By Lee Shields

Markelle Fultz, All stardom and the number one pick

Basketball die-hards had followed the 2017 draft’s top trio of Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball and Jayson Tatum since before these prospects were old enough to watch Die Hard. As the build up to the draft reached its boiling point, those three names began to become the consensus top-trio. Fultz, a 6-6 wing out of Washington, looked every bit like the James-Harden/Dwayne Wade crossbreed comparisons that he was drawing. Scouts raved about his potential, team insiders gushed over his ability. Every draft-board had him pegged as the number-one overall pick.

When the Boston Celtics drew the chance to pick him at the draft lottery in New York on Wednesday May 9th, it seemed written in the stars. Fultz would go to Boston to bolster an already-hardened backcourt of Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley. He would join fellow Washington alumni and mentor Thomas and start a dynasty with them. Everything was falling into place. The Lakers secured the number-two overall pick, with General Manager Magic Johnson licking his lips at the prospect of stealing home-town star Lonzo Ball. The 76ers rounded out the trio with the third overall selection.

The draft was due to take place on Wednesday May 16th, one week after the Celtics had secured the top spot. On Saturday the 12th of May, the unthinkable happened.

‘The Boston Celtics and 76ers are in advanced talks to send the number 1 pick to Philadelphia,’ Adrian Wojnarowski, the voice of Yahoo Basketball tweeted. 76ers fans erupted with glee. Celtics fans grimaced. This was the first time the Celtics had won the draft lottery. This was meant to be the transcendent talent that elevated them from middle-of-the-pack to contender status. Fultz was the guy. And then he was gone. The Celtics received the third-overall pick from Philadelphia along with the Lakers 2018 pick (as-long as it landed between 2 and 5) which the 76ers also owned. Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge was bombarded with tweets and questions from reporters. When the 76ers drafted Fultz, the Lakers snagged Ball and the Celtics ended up with Tatum, Ainge calmly explained his reasoning: “We would have taken [Tatum] first overall. We believe he was the best player in the draft.”

Then, a shift began. There were questions about Fultz’ attitude. There were questions about his jump shot. There were questions about whether or not he could perform at this level. Lacklustre summer league performances fuelled these worries and three games into this young season, they continue. Fultz is averaging seven points, two rebounds and one assist. A lowly stat-line compared to his contemporaries. Ball is averaging thirteen points, nine rebounds and almost nine assists while Tatum has averaged twelve points, nine rebounds, two assists and a block.

Markelle Fultz on his first day as a 76er              Photo-Credit: Markelle Fultz Instagram


Was the trade worth it? Is Tatum better than Fultz? Is Lonzo better than than both of them? It’s far too early to tell. We likely won’t know for a couple of years at the very least. What we can look at though is the history of the draft. Historically, do you have a better chance of getting an all-star calibre player with the third pick than with the first pick? Is the second pick likely to be better than the third pick? How likely is it that the first pick becomes an all-star?

Many in-the-know, including Reggie Miller and Bill Simmons, likened last June’s draft to the 2003 draft that saw perennial all stars like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwayne Wade selected. Like every year, fans of lottery-bound teams prayed that the ping-pong balls would fall in their favour and that they would get the opportunity to select a franchise player. LeBron turned out to be one of the greatest ever, Carmelo turned out to be Carmelo (lacklustre, ringless, although still a quality player) and D-Wade went on to win three rings for a franchise that had never won the Larry O’Brien trophy before.

Not every draft will have a Lebron- ‘Melo- Wade top-three. The 2003 draft didn’t have a Lebron-Melo-Wade top three. Many forget that Wade was the fifth pick (one pick after Chris Bosh who went on to storm the league with ‘The Heatles’ to the tune of two championships) and sandwiched in between Lebron at picks #1 and #3 was Darko Milicic. The seven-foot Serbian spent nine years in the league, averaging just six points and four rebounds per game and bowed out in 2012 as one of the biggest ‘busts’ in the history of the draft. He returned to Serbia to become a farmer, leaving behind a red-flag on all prospective European big men who flashed lottery-potential.

Milicic isn’t alone. A top-three pick is one of the most coveted assets in the NBA – with the presumption that it will bring your franchise an all-star calibre player that will eventually bolster your side into contention. Unfortunately, this notion that a top pick will bring you a franchise altering player isn’t true. Since 1991, only five NBA Drafts have had their top three picks become All Stars (1991,1992, 1993, 1994, 1999). There have been seven drafts in that 25 year span that have produced two All-Stars from the top three picks and eight drafts that have produced only one All Star from the first three selections. Only the 1998 draft and the 2013, 2014, and 2015 drafts have not produced any All-Stars from the top three picks, with the latter two being likely to provide multiple all-stars over the coming years as players like Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns mature. Exceptions must too be made for late bloomers like Bradley Beal who will surely bolster the 2012 draft class’s accolades as he continues to improve.

So what does this tell us about the NBA draft? Does getting the number one pick give you a better chance at landing at an All-Star calibre player than the number two or number three selection? What pick historically gives you the best chance at landing a perennial All-Star? Over the past 25 years, the first pick gives you the best chance to land an All-Star, with 16 (64%) of the 25 number one selections making at least one All-Star team. Surprisingly, the third pick is statistically more likely to provide All-Star talent, with 12 (48%) of the 25 selections since 1991 making at least one All Star team. The second pick is far less likely to become an All-Star, with only 8 (32%) of the past 25 selections making an All-Star team. Adding to that, players picked using the first and third picks such as Andrew Bogut, Oj Mayo, Andre Bargani and Ben Gordon often become serviceable role players while the list of busts at the number two picks is lengthy, with guys like Milicic, Marvin Williams, Hasheem Thabeet, Michael Beasley and Derrick Williams topping the bill.

The first and third pick also seem to more frequently provide players with multiple All-Star level talent. Since 1991, the number one picks have 102 All Star appearances between them headlined by Shaq (15) and Lebron (13). The number three picks have significantly less All-Star accolades between them with 57 since 1991. The number two pick again has significantly less chance of becoming a multi-time All Star with just 36 appearances over that 25-year span.

That’s an average of 4.08 All Star appearances for the number one pick, 2.28 appearances for the number three pick and just 1.44 for the number two pick. As can be seen from the table, some of these results are skewed by outliers. Jason Kidd and Kevin Durant, the second choices of the 1993 and 2007 draft classes, combine for half of the All-Star appearances (18) in total for second picks since 1991. First picks of the 1994 and 2003 draft classes respectively, Shaq and Lebron, combine for 28 All-Star appearances, over a quarter of all appearances over the 25 year span. These figures, especially those relative to the second pick, bolster the average All-Star appearances.


All-Star appearances 1991-2015

A truer reflection in the search for a perennial All-Star is actually looking at the figures. Fifteen of the first picks have played in All-Star games. Just five second picks since 1991 have become multiple time All Stars while 10 third picks since 1991 have a multitude of All-Star appearances. This too rings true with the data that the first and third picks are more likely to become franchise-changing players while the second pick seems to be more of a toss-up.

There hasn’t yet been an All-Star in the past three drafts. Fultz, Ball and Tatum have played a total of three games. The road to becoming an All-Star is a long one, and it will take much more than a poor Summer League showing or a dodgy introduction to the league to decide Fultz’s fate. History gives every indication that he will rise above this slump and that he is more likely to dominate than his fellow draft class-mates, and at just nineteen years of age, both time and history are on his side.

By Andrew Barnes




Is sport inherently homophobic?

The question of homophobia in sports is something that will always be hard to prove or disprove. Image by: David Michael Morris
The question of homophobia in sports is something that will always be hard to prove or disprove. Image by: David Michael Morris

The recent crackdown on the LGBT community in Russia, along with the recent ban imposed on the planned gay rights parade in Serbia has brought angry finger-pointing from the vast majority of western society.

But when one of the biggest social norms (sport) in western society is examined for homophobia, should the finger really be pointing towards a mirror?

The four most popular professional sports in the US are Football (NFL), Baseball (MBA), Basketball (NBA) and Ice Hockey (NHL). These four sports have a combined annual attendance of 130 million people.

The four most popular leagues – Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A – from the most popular sport in the world, football, generate an annual attendance of 45.5 million people.

That is a combined figure of 175.5 million people visiting stadiums yearly to watch these sports – yet alone the billions of people that view them across the world.

The most recent Super Bowl had a television audience of 164.1 million viewers. That puts the sheer volume of people who consume these sports on a yearly basis into perspective.

But how pro-homosexual are these sports?

Jason Collins became the first openly gay sportsman of the four major US sports when he announced his sexual persuasion earlier this year. And despite big-name NBA stars such as Kobe Bryant congratulating Collins on his decision, the NBA centre is finding a new team hard to come by.

Collins was a free agent after the 2012-13 season, but was expected to be picked-up in free agency, though he has yet to find a suitor for his skills.

Ironically, Bryant was fined $100,000 by the NBA in 2011 for a gay slur that commissioner David Stern called “offensive and inexcusable.”

The highest grossing, and most popular US sport – NFL – has an extremely poor history when it comes to homophobic behavior from its stars.

Prior to the 2013 Super Bowl, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver said, “I don’t do the gay guys, man. I don’t do that, Ain’t got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up outta here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff.”

As idiotic as these comments were, they seem even more so when you consider that Culliver just so happens to play for a team based in the gay capital of America.

Culliver later apologized, but his statements summed up what seems to be the unspoken consensus in sport.

Former 49ers running back Garrison Hearst said, “I don’t want any faggots on my team. I know this might not be what people want to hear, but that’s a punk. I don’t want any faggots in this locker room,” when asked on his opinion of former NFL defensive tackle Esera Tuaolo publicly outing his sexuality.

Baseball has also seen vile hate-statements from players. Pitcher Julian Tavarez called the San Francisco fans, “a bunch of assholes and faggots,” while pitcher John Rocker infamously painted the terrible picture of the New York transport system saying, “imagine having to take the 7 Train to the ballpark…next to some queer with AIDS”.

Homophobic statements are not just specific to the professional sports. The college Ole Miss is currently investigating some of its football players after allegations that they made gay slurs during a play in which one of the characters comes out as gay.

The most famous case involving sport in Europe was that of former Brighton player Justin Fashanu. Fashanu revealed in an interview with The Sun that he was a homosexual. His brother, John Fashanu did an interview later with The Gay Times and claimed that his brother “was offered even more by others who wanted him to stay in the closet. No club has offered him a full-time contract since the story first appeared.”

Most professional athletes come out when they are finished their career, or when it is coming to the end. Those are the few who  must be credited for their bravery, but as of now it would seem that the stimga attached to gays is still rampant in sport.