Unless you're just tuning in, or your name is Kobe Bryant, you know LeBron James is the best basketball player on the planet and has been for a while. But James is not just better than everyone else, he's playing a different game. He comes to the American Airlines Center for the only time this season tonight looking to add to another impressive performance to another spectacular season.
If there's one player in the NBA worth the price of admission on a night in and night out basis, it's James. Checking in at (at least) 6'8" and 260 pounds with more quickness than any player in the league, he's a physical marvel. Combined with his unparalleled feel for the game and the selfless way he plays the game, James is one of the most gifted human beings ever to grace a basketball court. He knows how to both manipulate the game with his mind and dominate it with his talent.
What most people don't realize is that James is not a scorer. He's not a smooth operator with an extensive repertoire of refined moves designed to manufacture space. He's an 18 wheeler with Ferrari handles -- he creates space when he wants to. He scores through sheer physical domination. On top of that, he can get hot from the outside (shooting 42.3% from outside) and devastate you. But be clear, he's the most unstoppable player in the league whether he's on or not.
In fact, James is probably at his most effective in the post. Given his dominant physical stature, 2s and 3s simply have no answer for him on the block. Switch a big onto him, and he's still the most explosive player in the league when he faces up. It's a no win for the defense when he has the ball in his hands.
The best part about James is how consistently and efficiently he puts points on the board. He's scored 20 or more in 43 straight games going back through last year's playoffs, but he's not taking a Carmelo amount of shots to get there. James is shooting 54% from the floor this year -- good for 10th best in the league -- as a roaming point guard. The reason is twofold. For one, James can get any shot he wants anytime he gets the ball (barring a not unprecedented triple team). But just as important is the way he plays the game. He knows where the best shot is and is eager to get it there; he almost never forces up a bad shot.
That's what makes James special on the offensive end. He can score, but he affirmatively lifts the rest of the team too. He sets a selfless tone and is probably the most gifted passer in the game. Not only can he see the floor and anticipate where his teammates will be, he has the physical ability to put the ball where it needs to be -- from any angle, to any spot on the floor. When the ball is in his hands, the respect he commands from the defense opens up the entire floor, and he's willing and able to exploit that -- something that puts him on a different level than the Carmelo Anthonys and Kevin Durants of the world (though Durant is a much improved passer).
But where James really thrives is on the defensive side of the ball. The most physically gifted athlete in sports, James is both an endurance and explosive athlete. What that means in basketball terms is that at his size, he can lock down anyone in basketball and do it all game. With his physical profile, James has rare defensive talent.
That allows him to guard point guards through centers -- something he's done in single games. Really, the versatility and understanding of each defender's role on the court tells you all you need to know -- that the league's Defensive Player of the Year award should belong to James every year -- just like the MVP.
There are players that can do one or even a couple of the things LeBron does if they're really special. What makes LeBron one of the greatest players of all time is that he does everything at such a high level that his game is legitimately flawless. That "'Bron can't shoot" refrain? One, he doesn't need to. Two, he's in the top 30 in three-point percentage this year.
This is the prime of the greatest player since Michael Jordan. Love him or hate him, don't spoil the peak of his career with anymore talk about his character and The Decision. That Samsung commercial should have taken care of those concerns anyway. Show up, turn it on and enjoy a true master at work.