I would like to extend an apology to LeBron James.
- For ever doubting that he stopped being the best player in the world.
- For ever entertaining the idea that this would be the year he'd slow down.
- For ever allowing the notion to settle in that it was someone else's time to shine.
The NBA is in such an incredible spot with the sheer volume of game-changing talent.
Giannis Antetokounmpo hasn't yet turned 25 and is the front-runner to win a second straight MVP.
James Harden has the same number of 50-point games this season that Carmelo Anthony has in his entire career.
Luka Doncic is in the midst of easily the greatest season ever by a 20-year-old.
Kawhi Leonard is barely months removed from delivering one of the greatest postseason runs of all-time.
Anthony Davis is the front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year and just dropped a 50-piece of his own.
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And yet... it's still LeBron's kingdom.
Case in point? ESPN's latest release of Real Plus-Minus for the 2019-20 season.
Grading out as far and away the best player? You guessed it, LeBron Raymone James Sr.
But it's not just that James is leading the league in a stat, it's the manner in which he's doing it.
There's an offensive and defensive component to RPM and he ranks among the elite on both ends. According to RPM, James has been the best offensive player in the league and a borderline top-10 defensive player, currently 11th which is one spot behind Kawhi Leonard.
But being first isn't the reason for pointing out the absurdity of The King's start. By definition, someone HAS to be first.
The truly ridiculous part is the gap between him and anyone else.
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One major caveat with any complicated rate stat? Small sample sizes are the enemy. It's why this stat isn't even released until nearly two months into the season and won't truly take form until around February as there are certainly still some wonky results.
As it stands right now, James rates nearly three full points better than James Harden who ranks second in RPM. This type of gap simply doesn't happen. Publicly available leaderboards exist dating back to 2013-14 and in that time frame, nothing comes close to resembling this type of gap between the top two spots.
|2019-20||LeBron James||+9.70||James Harden||+6.73||2.97|
|2018-19||Paul George||+7.63||James Harden||+7.42||0.21|
|2017-18||Chris Paul||+6.99||James Harden||+6.71||0.28|
|2016-17||LeBron James||+8.42||Chris Paul||+7.92||0.50|
|2015-16||LeBron James||+9.79||Draymond Green||+8.97||0.82|
|2014-15||Stephen Curry||+9.34||LeBron James||+8.78||0.56|
|2013-14||LeBron James||+9.08||Chris Paul||+7.98||1.10|
LeBron James might be in his 17th season, but roughly a third of the way into the season we might be at the point where it's worth considering if this might prove to be the best he's ever been.
ESPN's Real Plus-Minus has been the standard-bearer for catch-all advanced stats for several years running. While there are other reputable ones out there including a FiveThirtyEight model that incorporates Player Tracking Data and will likely prove to be the new standard once it's been through a few seasons and tinkered with a bit more, RPM is widely accepted not only in journalistic circles but also in the eyes and minds of many front-office types. It's not perfect, but nothing is and anyone who claims otherwise is simply lying.
Nobody likes long explanations so if you want to learn more about how it works you can click here. The really short explanation? There's an offensive and defensive component, it's a rate stat and it accounts for the quality of teammates.
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.