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Thursday, March 06, 2014

Pass First Players Do Not Score 61 Points in a Game

LeBron James scored a career-high/Miami Heat franchise single-game record 61 points in the Heat's 124-107 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday. He shot 22-33 from the field--including 8-10 from three point range--and 9-12 from the free throw line while accumulating seven rebounds, five assists and just two turnovers. James is the 23rd player in NBA history to score at least 60 points in a regular season game; Larry Miller (67 points), Zelmo Beaty (63 points), Julius Erving (63 points) and Stew Johnson (62 points) accomplished this feat in the ABA. A journeyman NBA player can get hot and score 40 points and most All-Stars are capable of dropping 50 points under the right conditions but the 60 point plateau is hallowed ground for a scorer: most of the players who scored at least 60 points in a game have either already been inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame or else are certain to be inducted as soon as they become eligible; the few exceptions are the aforementioned Miller, Beaty and Johnson, plus Tom Chambers and Gilbert Arenas: Miller was a good player who had an exceptional game, Beaty made the All-Star team five times in two leagues, Johnson earned three ABA All-Star selections, Chambers was a four-time NBA All-Star and Arenas made the NBA All-Star team three times.

Many of the members of the 60 Point Club were/are great playmakers in addition to being great scorers but none of those players could accurately be called a "pass first" player. James often refers to himself (and is frequently described by others) as a "pass first" player, a contention that I have repeatedly disputed: after James ransacked the Boston Celtics for 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in Miami's 98-79 victory in the sixth game of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, I wrote, "Contrary to what so many people have written/said, James is not a 'pass first' player; he is a prodigious scorer who is also a gifted passer. Magic Johnson was a 'pass first' player and it was major news when he scored more than 40 points, a plateau he only reached six times in his regular season career (three times hitting exactly that number) and four times in his playoff career; James has scored at least 40 points 48 times in the regular season (including nine 50 point games, seventh on the all-time list) and 11 times in the playoffs. It is understandably confusing to James' teammates (and outside observers) when he spends the first three quarters of a game looking like one of the greatest scorers in NBA history and then spends the final 12 minutes standing in the corner; that is not being unselfish or being a 'pass first' player: that is failing to accept the responsibility associated with being an MVP level player and that is worthy of criticism, regardless of what Mike Breen or Jeff Van Gundy say."

James has outgrown his reticence to take over as a scorer in playoff games against elite defensive teams and it is no coincidence that after he accepted that responsbility he led the Heat to back to back championships. James always had the ability to pile up points by bulling his way to the hoop but now he has added a solid post up game and a reliable perimeter shot to augment his athletic ability and size. He has also vastly improved his shot selection. When James is taking good shots and when his perimeter game is flowing he is unguardable; even when he takes bad shots and his jumper is off it is no picnic to check him but at least in those situations he is not getting dunks, layups and free throws.

James has assembled an impressive resume as a scorer:
  1. James ranks third in ABA/NBA regular season history with a 27.5 ppg scoring average, trailing only Michael Jordan (30.12 ppg) and Wilt Chamberlain (30.07 ppg). 
  2. James ranks third in ABA/NBA playoff history with a 28.1 ppg scoring average, trailing only Jordan (33.5 ppg), Allen Iverson (29.7 ppg), Jerry West (29.1 ppg) and Kevin Durant (28.6 ppg).
  3. James has averaged at least 26.7 ppg for 10 consecutive seasons after scoring 20.9 ppg as a rookie entering the NBA straight out of high school.
  4. James won the 2007-08 scoring title with a 30.0 ppg average and that is not even his single season career-high; he finished third in the NBA with a 31.4 ppg average in 2005-06.
  5. James has ranked no lower than fourth in the league in regular season scoring average in each of the past 10 seasons; in addition to claiming the aforementioned 2008 scoring title, he also finished second three straight years (2009-11).
  6. James has scored at least 50 points in 10 regular season games, ranking seventh on the all-time ABA/NBA list behind only Chamberlain (105), Jordan (30), Kobe Bryant (24), Elgin Baylor (14), Rick Barry (13) and Iverson (11). 
  7. Early this season, James reached double figures in scoring for the 500th consecutive game and his still active streak of 551 games ranks fourth in NBA history, trailing only Jordan (866), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (787) and Karl Malone (575).
  8. James ranks 33rd in ABA/NBA regular season history with 22,614 points. At his current pace, he will vault into the top 10 in less than three years.
  9. James ranks 10th in ABA/NBA playoff history with 3871 points. If he continues to score prolifically while leading the Heat on deep postseason runs then he will move into fifth place in two years.
Some commentators seem to take offense when anyone praises James' scoring prowess but it is not an insult to describe James as one of the greatest scorers in pro basketball history--and it is much more accurate to characterize him that way than to act like he is the only elite scorer who allegedly favors passing over shooting. James is unquestionably a great passer--but it is disingenuous to suggest that scoring is an afterthought for him and/or that his scoring ability is not a major aspect of his greatness; it is fair to say that James did not become an NBA champion until he fully embraced the idea that he not only needed to be a big-time scorer in the regular season but that his team needed him to fill that role against elite opponents in the playoffs.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:25 AM

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At Tuesday, March 11, 2014 2:37:00 AM, Anonymous Old School said...

He has the ability to score, the body to do it, the almost 60% from the floor, the help of the officials but he believes he has the responsibility to pass the ball as if he were a point guard. Wrong! If you're great at scoring, don't feel ashamed of doing it, like it is bad for your team. "I'm so great I don't need to score. I'm gonna find my shooters"
His mentality does not nor will ever reach that of Jordan, Bryant, Dantley, Chamberlain, West or Bird.
He's the best of today, but his desire to be an all-around player does not allow him to be in the starting five of all-time.
Keep up the good work!

 

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