Thought I’d have a little throwback fun this week. Who’s tired of the Jordan vs LeBron debates? Yep. Me too. Jordan never lost a finals! LeBron hasn’t lost a conference finals in 8 years! Look at his teammates! Look at HIS teammates!… blah, blah, blah. Here’s the real question we care about in our world: Who was the better fantasy player? Now, it’s not quite the same argument as greatest of all time, because there are at least a handful of other players that have been more valuable fantasy-wise than one or both of these guys, but lets see if we can make some sense out of their fantasy careers. Thanks once again to Basketball Monster for having historical player raters.
I went with 9-category per-game rankings by season (including player rater values). The player rater actually does a great job of adjusting for era, since it weighs the players’ stats against those of his contemporaries that season. So, league-wide changes like increased threes are accounted for. What’s nice in this exercise is that Jordan’s last season happened right before LeBron’s rookie year. So, for fun, I included the top fantasy player from each season since Jordan came into the league (with hair). I also had some fun (hey, I like fun) coloring the players with their team colors, so that’s why it looks like that. There sure was a good run of teams with purple and teal in there. Jordan even blocked out the main offenders from the 90s in that regard. Remember when the Spurs added pink and teal to their silver and black? Anyway, here we go:
So, .84 to .62. That’s a decent one-number comparison, I guess. It weighs Jordan’s injury-shortened second season and his rounding-into-form baseball-shortened season too much. Plus, there are the Wizards years we prefer to forget. That’s why I provided the .96 (and 1.07) to .62 through age 34. We’ve also got Jordan with seven first-place finishes and three seconds. LeBron with one first and three seconds. I didn’t run the numbers on a free throw punt, but LeBron might be close to neck and neck with MJ in that scenario.
All of this, of course, ignores playoffs, which almost entirely trump all this regular season stuff in the real-life debate. Also interesting is that Jordan played in just 1251 games (1072 regular season + 179 playoff) while LeBron’s already played in 1409 games (1170 regular season + 239 playoff). LeBron will likely have played 50% more games than Jordan by the time he’s done. But… with no minor league baseball stats to speak of.
I grew up watching and worshipping MJ. Yet, I often find myself defending LeBron against illogical arguments in Jordan’s favor. There are plenty of logical arguments you can use for Jordan. Just pick those. And there are plenty of good LeBron arguments, too. I know it’s fun to debate, but can’t we all just get along and appreciate them as the two GOATs?
Cue the Wilt and Russell fans out there…
This week’s classic fantasy line:
In keeping with last week’s theme of most extreme category performances, here are LeBron James’ and Michael Jordan’s best finishes in any one category per the historical player rater.
1986-87 — 3.75 rating in Points with 37.1 PPG
1987-88 — 3.68 rating in Steals with 3.16 SPG
1987-88 — 3.58 rating in Points with 35.0 PPG
2012-13 — 3.51 rating in FG% with 56.5% on 17.8 attempts
2013-14 — 3.13 rating in FG% with 56.7% on 17.6 attempts
2009-10 — 3.05 rating in Points with 29.7 PPG