Where does LeBron’s performance put him among the NBA’s greats

  1. LeBron confirms himself as one of the five best players and the best small forward in the history of basketball

On Sunday night, LeBron was able to dethrone the previous champion, best the two-time MVP, become the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit, and defeat the team with the most wins in NBA history. However, none of those accomplishments were as significant and impressive as bringing a title to Cleveland for the first time in 52 years. Although LeBron did not play or compete at an MVP level during the first two games of the series in Oakland, he significantly improved his overall level of play and took charge of the series. Even though LeBron posted incredible statistics, LeBron cemented himself as one of the five best players in NBA history because he was simply able to win and claim the MVP. Although LeBron has 4 NBA Finals’ defeats, he has 3 rings and 3 Finals MVP and defeated some of the greatest players in NBA history. Even though Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, and Steph Curry have all won regular season MVP and will stake claim as some of the best players in NBA history, LeBron has been able to defeat each of these NBA greats when the title was on the line. Many of LeBron’s critics will point to his disappointing effort against the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals. However, many other NBA superstars such as  Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, Elgin Baylor, and Shaq have suffered devastating defeats in the Finals. In addition, no other NBA athlete has ever been under the same amount of scrutiny and pressure as LeBron since he entered the league as an 18 year old teenager. Although LeBron’s resume will never match Jordan’s resume, he has the statistics, individual hardware, and rings to rival any other player that has stepped on the court. It is difficult to compare LeBron against centers such as Chamberlain, Abdul Jabbar, O’Neal, and Russell, but his latest ring places LeBron over every other guard or small forward besides for Jordan. Although Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird have more championships than LeBron, he was never able to play with great players during their primes like O’Neal, Jabbar, Worthy, Parrish, and McHale and he has better all around statistics and talents that put him ahead of his peers. Dwyane Wade is an all-time great player, but he was frequently injured during the playoffs. Although many will claim that Oscar Robertson is a better player because he possesses better statistics, he does not have the longevity like LeBron and he only won one title. During the Big O’s only title, he was not even the best player because Abdul-Jabbar dominated the series.

2. Kyrie Irving distinguished himself as one of the best point guards

Even though many prognosticators were concerned that Irving could not stay with Curry, by the end of the series, Curry was the player that could not compete against Uncle Drew. During the first two games of the series, Irving was noticeably uncomfortable as he averaged only 18 points per game while shooting under 35% from the field and 15% from the three point line. However, after the disastrous effort in the game 2, he averaged 31 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds while shooting over 50% from the field and 45% from three. Although his statistics are impressive, they do not show his true value. Even though LeBron played great and accumulated MVP worthy statistics, Irving was the player that made the clutch shots and was nearly unstoppable over the final few games. LeBron led the Cavs to the fourth quarter, but Irving, like Wade, was the closer and scored the baskets during the most pressure filled possessions. During the third quarter of game 5 and 7 in Oracle, Kyrie carried the Cavaliers’ offense, which gave them the difference. In addition, Irving hit the biggest shot of the series when he pulled up for three over Steph Curry and hit the eventual game winner when the game was tied at 89 with 1 minute left in the fourth quarter. Although it is incorrect to over exaggerate and place Irving over Curry, he demonstrated that he can score against any defender, has an incredible handle, and displayed a knack for hitting clutch shots. Unfortunately, he does not have great passing skills or elite defensive talents, which keeps him from entering the same tier as Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, and Steph Curry.

3. Golden State’s depth and three point shooting ultimately failed them during the final three games of the series.

During the entire season and the first few games of the series, the Warriors heavily relied on their bench. Steve Kerr would frequently use 9-10 players during the year because Kerr trusted Iguodala, Ezeli, Varejao, Barbosa, Livingston, McAdoo, and Rush. However, when the Warriors desperately needed a boost from their bench due to fatigue and injuries, they did not respond to the challenge. Especially when Bogut went down due to a knee injury, Ezeli and Varejao were terrible and could not stay on the court, which forced the Warriors to play small and allowed LeBron to dominate the paint. Besides for Barbosa, who was incredible the entire series, Livingston, McAdoo, and Rush did not give consistent minutes against the Cavaliers’ inferior bench. Along with their disappointing bench, the Warriors did not shoot at the same level as they did throughout the season. The Warriors shot only 37% from the three point line and were never able to hit the clutch threes in the 5th or 7th game. Throughout the season, the Warriors could rely on Thompson and Curry to carry them during the final minutes of the game, but during the finals, Curry bricked numerous three point shots and Thompson experienced similar troubles. Outside of game 4, Curry never had a ‘Curry-like’ game and could not dominate the game with his shooting ability. Although the Cavaliers deserve credit for their defense and physical play on the duo, the players looked fatigued and exhausted, which impacted their ability to shoot from behind the arc. After playing almost the entire season, hurting himself in the first two series, and needing 7 games to defeat the Thunder, Curry look lost throughout the series and did not have the same spring in his step.

4. The Warriors should attempt to sign Kevin Durant

The Warriors have incredible chemistry and cohesiveness, but they could use a boost this offseason. The obvious and most dynamic NBA free agent this offseason is Kevin Durant. Although it seems impossible for the best regular season team in NBA history to sign one of the three best players in the league, the Warriors can create the cap room necessary to sign Durant without significantly hampering their roster. In order to land KD, the Warriors must part ways with Ezeli, Barnes, and Bogut or Iguodala. In addition, they may have to let Livingston, Barbosa, Speights, and Rush departed this offseason. Although it is an incredibly difficult decision, Iggy should be dealt instead of Bogut. Even though Durant is not the same defensive player as Iguodala, he plays good defense and Green can assume many of his responsibilities. During the Finals, the Warriors were a different team without Bogut as their anchor and rim protector. Although many will question if there are enough shots for Curry, Thompson, Durant, and Green, they are all great shooters and do not need 20 shots per game to impact the game. Durant would give the Warriors another option so that Curry and Thompson would not have to carry the team. In addition, Durant would instill a new sense of purpose because he would be incredibly determined to win his first title.

 

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