Jordan's 50th Birthday: Too Soon to Compare LeBron?

Jordan's 50th Birthday: Too Soon to Compare LeBron?

As Michael Jordan prepares to celebrate his 50th birthday, and LeBron James seems to be taking his game to a new level with the “no championship” monkey off his back, is it too early to compare the two again? LeBron had averaged an extra three-point bucket, assist and rebound per game than Jordan at the same age. Jordan averaged one more free throw made and steal, but while he hit three more two-pointers a game he also missed three more three-pointers a game. Here is the side-by-side:

Stat Edge Jordan at 28 Per Game Lebron at 28 (now) Per Game
2-pointer % Jordan slight 53% 53% 53% 53%
2-pointers Made Jordan 6881 11.7 6295 8.6
3-pointer % Lebron 28% 28% 34% 34%
3-pointers Made Lebron 206 0.3 983 1.3
Assists Lebron 3507 6.0 5077 6.9
Blocked Shots Split 623 1.1 623 0.8
Free Throw% Jordan 85% 85% 75% 75%
FT Att. (Fouls Drawn) Split 5456 9.3 6395 8.7
Points Split 19000 32.3 20309 27.6
Rebounds Lebron 3697 6.3 5326 7.2
Steals Jordan 1594 2.7 1269 1.7
Turnovers (lower better) Jordan 1799 3.1 2438 3.3

The experts and former players seem to have no doubt that Jordan was the best, and unless LeBron adds a few championships, there will not be a serious comparison. In fact, when a reporter asked Kobe Bryant after Sunday’s game if LeBron and Dwyane Wade were a better combo than Jordan and Scottie Pippin, he responded, “Come on dude, seriously … you can’t argue with six championships.”

However, if you can get past the 6-1 edge in championships, both sides have enough stats to argue.

LeBron has an edge in 3-pointers made, 3-point percentage, assists and rebounds. Jordan has an edge in 2-pointers made, free throw percentage, steals and less than a percentage edge in 2-point percentage.

It gets a little more confusing on the other stats. LeBron is on pace to retire with more blocked shots, getting to the line by drawing fouls and points.  However, in all of those categories Jordan has a better per game average.

Luckily Arpad Elo did the work of combining all of the stats and developed a system (the Elo Player Rankings) that combines all stats. 

He ranks LeBron James as the sixth greatest player of all time, indicating he still has to pass Tim Duncan, Moses Malone, Julius Erving (Dr. J) and Larry Bird before being even one of the top two players in the history of the NBA.

For now, no comparison – Michael Jordan is still the undisputed king as he prepares for his 50th birthday.

As LeBron’s three-pointer and post game make him better and better, only time will tell if he can win multiple championships and continue to improve enough that statisticians and former players debate the issue.

But as of today the answer to the question is, “Yes, too soon.” Jordan will celebrate his 50th birthday as indisputably the greatest player of all time.