As if you needed any more evidence that Lebron James is already one of the greatest players ever there comes this little bit of information.
Neil Paine, who writes a blog for Basketball-Reference, wrote a story looking back on the 1961-62 season in the NBA. Of course, that season is famous for producing Wilt Chamberlain's 100 point game AND Oscar Robertson averaging a triple-double for an entire season(30.8 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 11.4 APG). That last stat has been connected to LeBron James since he came into the league. He has said he would like to do it. Whether he can or not is the question.
When asked during an interview with Magic Johnson a few days ago, LeBron admitted he would love to do it but doubted that it could, or even should, be broken. Now, we all know that the game has changed immensely over the past 45 years or so, so it begs to question, could James do it, and how would Robertson fare in today's game?
Paine looks at it, and the results are truly staggering --
In ‘62, the average team took 107.7 shots per game. By comparison, this year the average team takes 80.2 FGA/G. If we use a regression to estimate turnovers & offensive rebounds, the league pace factor for 1962 was 125.5 possessions/48 minutes, whereas this year it’s 91.7. Oscar’s Royals averaged 124.7 poss/48, while Wilt’s Warriors put up a staggering 129.7 (the highest mark in the league). On the other hand, the 2009 Cavs are averaging a mere 89.2 poss/48. It turns out that the simplest explanation for the crazy statistical feats of 1961-62 (and the early sixties in general) is just that the league was playing at a much faster tempo in those days, with more possessions affording players more opportunities to amass gaudy counting statistics.
Let’s say LeBron ‘09 could switch paces (note that I didn’t say “places”, which is another argument entirely) with Oscar ‘62… That means we would have to scale down the Big O’s per-game numbers by multiplying them by .715, giving Robertson a far more reasonable line of 22.0 PPG, 8.9 RPG, & 8.1 APG — which are still really good numbers, to be sure, but not as crazy as they looked at the breakneck pace of ‘62. By contrast, we have to multiply LBJ’s stats by a factor of 1.4 if we want to see what they would look like if he played at a 1962-style pace. The results: 40.1 PPG, 10.3 RPG, & 10.0 APG!! As you can see, those 35.5 extra possessions per game really make a huge difference when comparing the two players’ stats.
So, no, LeBron probably will never average an Oscar-esque triple-double in today’s NBA… but it’s more a consequence of the league’s pace than any failing on his part. Just like we wouldn’t say a .400 hitter in the 1894 NL (league BA: .309) was as impressive as Ted Williams hitting .406 in the 1941 AL (league BA: .266), basketball fans should keep in mind that the league’s pace factor has gone down steadily since its inception, and with those fewer possessions come fewer chances to put up monster stat totals. This isn’t meant to denigrate Oscar and Wilt in any way, but it does mean that their eye-popping stats from back then are, in reality, not quite as impressive as they appear at first glance.
Think about that for a second. If LeBron played his game at the pace the NBA played at in 1961, he would average 40-10-10 every night! On the flip-side, Oscar would average around 22-9-8 in today's NBA(staggering in its own right).
These excercizes are nothing more than something fun to do during an off-day, but it also proves just how damn good LeBron James is, even now.