Wednesday, February 24, 2010

LeBron On Pace To Shatter Forward Assists Record

I've become so accustomed to the 30-7-7 stat line which LeBron James has routinely accumulated on a regular basis in recent years that it's hard for his statistical accomplishments to surprise me at this point. But when I checked his season stat line recently, the 8.5 assists per game jumped out at me, as it sure seemed very high, even by LeBron's standards.

Sure enough, when I plugged in a request to Basketball Reference, asking for the most assists per game by a forward in a single season, I was startled by the results. Here are the top 15 single seasons by a forward:
    1. LeBron James, '09-10: 8.5
    2. Larry Bird, '86-87: 7.6
    3. Larry Bird, '89-90: 7.5
    4. John Havlicek, '71-72: 7.5
    5. John Havlicek, '70-71: 7.5
    6. Grant Hill, '96-97: 7.3
    7. Larry Bird, '90-91: 7.2
    8. LeBron James, '07-08: 7.2
    9. LeBron James, '04-05: 7.2
    10. LeBron James, '08-09: 7.2
    11. Scottie Pippen, '91-92: 7.0
    12. Grant Hill, '95-96: 6.9
    13. Larry Bird, '85-86: 6.8
    14. Larry Bird, '91-92: 6.8
    15. John Havlicek, '69-70: 6.8
LeBron is on pace to not just break this mark, but shatter it - almost a full assist per game ahead of Larry Legend's best single-season mark. Also, note that only one of the top nine forward assists-per-game seasons was accomplished in fewer minutes per game than James' 39.0 so far this season (Bird, '90-91, 38.0).

Obviously, the big catalyst in pushing LeBron's assists up to another level has been the spate of injuries to the Cavs backcourt, most notably to point guard Mo Williams, which has increased James' responsibilities as a distributor.

LeBron was ahead of Bird's pace prior to Mo's injury, as he was averaging 7.7 assists per game in the first 43 games, but then took a big jump when Mo went out:
    LeBron James 2009-10 assists
    Before Mo injury: 43 games, 7.7 apg
    During Mo injury: 11 games, 10.5 apg
    Since Mo's return: 4 games, 10.8 apg
LBJ has continued his passing hot streak since Mo has returned and tried to acclimate himself back into the lineup, averaging 10.8 in the 4 games since Mo came back, after dishing out 13 dimes in Cleveland's win over the Hornets on Tuesday.

Further, James' assists have proven to be even more valuable because he is especially adept at finding players for three-pointers. While LeBron ranks 6th in the league in assists per game overall, he is 3rd in assists per game which lead to three-pointers, at 2.7 per game, according to Hoopdata, trailing only Chris Paul (3.1) and Steve Nash (2.7).

All told, it's been a monster February for LeBron, as he's averaged a 32-7-11 on 50% FG in carrying the Cavs through their stretch of injuries. When all is said and done, I think LeBron James' 2009-10 season will go down as the greatest passing season by a forward ever, though I suppose that shouldn't be surprising, because LBJ is not too far away from having the greatest season ever by a forward, period.


At 2:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You could make a pretty strong argument that LeBron is a in fact a guard. Yes, he is 6-8, yes he may often play with two smaller guard-like teammate, but when it boils down to it he spends a lot time with the ball on the perimeter.

This is no way a negative towards LeBron, just using the word forward to group players doesn't really mean that much.

At 2:42 PM, Blogger christina said...

I agree with Anonymous. Sticking feathers up one's butt does not make one a chicken!

At 2:44 PM, Blogger NFN said...

if you want to make arguments about position, magic johnson could be on this list, dominating it.

regardless. lebron is stud duck.

At 2:52 PM, Anonymous Dude said...

Wow...I had no idea I would see Grant Hill's name on this list.

At 3:58 PM, Blogger Brandon said...

I can't really agree with that statement bcuz jus bcuz u have ball handling skills doesnt make u a guard. U cant go by peoples abilities and make them gaurds. He plys the position as a forward jus like Magic played as a PG. Look at Scottie Pippen, Lamar Odom and Kevin Durant. They are Forwards but also control the ball. Jus give Lebron Credit 4 having those abilities.

At 4:09 PM, Blogger Doug said...

To all of you who want to diminish LeBron's numbers by turning him into a Guard, how about this? Among Guards, he's #1 in the league in scoring, #1 in rebounding, #2 in blocks, #4 in field goal percentage, #6 in assists, and #8 in steals. In other words, the best Guard in the league.

At 5:29 PM, Anonymous Michael said...

I wasn't diminishing LeBron by saying he plays like guard (sorry I accidentally posted first as Anonymous). I agree, he is having an incredible season no matter what position you say he plays.

My point was that defining people as either forwards or guards is no longer clear in the modern era (and in particular when describing players like James or Pippen etc).

In my eyes, LeBron is a swingman and in reality could probably play positions 1-4, so labeling him as a position and claiming records is tricky.

At 5:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lebron is great but he runs the offense 80's of the time. Birds assists numbers are much more impressive in my opinion, so are Havlicek's actually. With that said, Lebron is great and this is not meant as a shot at him, but he basically has the ball all game.

At 6:07 PM, Blogger Matt Glassman said...

I don't think it's accurate to say that Lebron "runs the offense 80%" of the time. I think the offense might GO THROUGH Lebron 80% of the time, but the same could be said for superstar big men like Duncan, Shaq, and Garnett in their respective primes. Most Cavs half-court sets start with a point guard (usually Mo or West) with the ball and Lebron more-often-than-not, first receives a pass below the free throw line. Late shot clock situations and late game situations are different, but I would say that in most offensive sets, Lebron is correctly labeled as a three.

At 6:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How does pace factor into it? Those Celtic guys played faster, didn't they?

At 9:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To me Lebron is simply having a typical year (by his lofty standard) as far as passing is concerned. A pass no matter how terrific is only as good as a converted basket. The difference this year is that Lebron has guys like Shaq, Anthony Parker, Antawn Jamison, Jamario Moon to pass the ball instead of noted bricklayers like Eric Snow, Larry Hughes and an ancient donyell Marshall.

Likewise Lebron is having a personal high in turnovers because a lot of his passess goes to JJ Hickson who though very athletic has bad hands. Often, errors are credited to the passers instead of receivers.

At 9:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Larry Bird is the best in-bound passer of all time, guards included. But I supposed passing the ball to Robert Parish and Kevin McHale both of whom were nearly 60% gives you a better chance of racking up assists total.

And I guess all of these abberations is what makes the guy special -He is a state of the art hybrid - too big and strong to be labeled a shooting guard or small forward, too good a scorer to be confined as a point guard, too good a passer to be labeled a pure forward,and too quick to be
categorized as a power forward.

However there is another category where Bird surpasses James -rebounding. Bird is the finest rebounding small forward ever (Dennis Rodman was a power forward)This is impressive considering Bird was a puny can't-jump, can't run forward with the body of Peyton Manning.

At 10:23 PM, Blogger Colin Zvosec said...

A lot of people forget this, but in LeBron's first year with the Cavs, the team had him play point guard as he was the best option.

LeBron is the evolutionary Magic. He can play every position, but he has ridiculous athleticism to boot.

At 3:42 PM, Blogger Jason Nedrich said...

Amazing that he could be considered a guard. That only speaks to the freak that he is. His 6'9" 260 lb chiseled frame reminds me of Karl Malone in his prime. Now Malone was one of the top 3 to 5 players of his era. Take him and give him a guard's passing and ball handling skills and more speed and athleticism, then you have LeBron!

At 3:46 PM, Anonymous The Sports Rivalry said...

It is really tough to compare stats across generations, and it is really as simple as that. The NBA is nothing of the caliber it was back in the early 90s or the 80s. To bad these days we're so worried about who is better than who, and what great isn't looking so great now. Kobe is amazing, he isn't MJ. Lebron is amazing, he isn't Bird or Johnson. He's a powerhouse wrecking ball, no doubt, but there are some magical players that will never be touched ever because of some of the things they''ve done. Most of the people commenting on Lebron, or writing posts like these (not saying you are one of them) never even saw Bird play, or the old school Celtics. I invite you to go check it out, you can find youtube videos. The Celtics played ball like a 100% well oiled machine, team work, it was all team work.. everyone was a star because they functioned that way. Something LBJ doesn't do, and it is something that Kobe has learned to do late in his career.

At 3:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

LeBron, simply put is the greatest forward to ever play the game.. Just because he has the skill set of a guard doesn't make him a guard. I think that instead of saying he's more like a guard, he should be given credit for having a guard skill set, as a forward. It is absolutely incredible to watch, and the scary thing is he's only going to get better. Whether you label him as a guard or a forward, I think some day we'll be saying he was the greatest physical specimen the NBA, or any other professional league for that matter, has seen.

At 4:03 PM, Blogger mkagney said...

I think we give 2 much credit 2 someone who hasn't won anything yet. He has the ball most of the time, the offense is ran through him he should put up these type of numbers.

At 4:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regardless of wether Lebron runs the offense 80% or less, my point was to say that he HAS the ball all game regardless of wether he is isolating from half court or not. I don't remember Bird having the ball nearly as much, so I guess I am talking about possessions. The reason Birds teammates shot such a high percentage is because they were really good but Bird also got them easy shots. Check out his passing on pick n rolls. Crazy. I know he gets his teammates open 3's but I think Bird was far more impressive. Check out Parish's stats on G.S. I love Lebron.

At 5:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can't claim that james is a selfish player, and turn around claim that kobe isn't selfish. Secondly you can't claim bird was better just because he was your hero growing up, of course it would seem he's the best. Your being just as biased as someone who says james is the best. That said i'm a lebron fan but in my opinion the only thing bird could do that lebron can't is shoot consistently , and he isn't as mature. But his shootings been improving and even though he has his moments , he's becoming more mature. Just my .02 though

At 5:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can't claim that james is a selfish player, and turn around claim that kobe isn't selfish. Secondly you can't claim bird was better just because he was your hero growing up, of course it would seem he's the best. Your being just as biased as someone who says james is the best. That said i'm a lebron fan but in my opinion the only thing bird could do that lebron can't is shoot consistently , and he isn't as mature. But his shootings been improving and even though he has his moments , he's becoming more mature. Just my .02 though

At 8:06 PM, Blogger Jason Wojciechowski said...

Just a quick note:

LeBron at home: 9.6
LeBron on the road: 7.4

I have no idea if this is normal, if it can be explained by a more efficient home offense, etc. But it's certainly worth noting.

At 1:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@jason woj, it is interestin so i looked into it, on the road he takes 2.6 more shots a game (and avgs 2.1 more points a game) than at home. maybe on the road he just feels like he should be more aggressive while at home the rest of the team is more comfortable so he passes the ball around a little more.

At 9:15 PM, Anonymous オテモヤン said...


At 2:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 3:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like to label King James as a Point Forward. His vision and playmaking ability is what really sets him apart from the other elite players in the NBA. This season so far, LeBron is averaging around 8.2 apg, but per 48 minutes, that average jumps up to around 10.2.. To put that into perspective, CP3, JKidd, and Deron Williams all average around 11-14 apg per 48 minutes..

Simply amazing.

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