So the Finals just ended about a week ago, so let’s stay on that tack. I took the time to compare LeBron’s career Finals PERs to Kobe’s (and MJ), and in the process whipped up a few charts. And why not? Sports and charts go together like Photoshop and After Effects.
And for those who may not know, PER refers to Player Efficiency Rating. No, it isn’t perfect, but it is useful in some cases as a general guide. I think it actually underrates players that like to score via the pass (like LeBron and Magic), but that’s a different talk for another day. So let’s take a look at some letters, numbers, lines and colors!
Isn’t it crazy that LeBron has already been to 5 finals? Jordan only went to 6 – and he was 35 by the time he made it to the last one. James is only 29 and has been there 5 times. LeBron could end up going to the Finals 8 or 9 times. Something to think about.
As we can see in the line chart, James got off to a slow start but has hit his stride since. His level of performance in his 3rd, 4th and 5th Finals exceeds the efforts of both Jordan and Bryant at the same points. Now, of course, part of that is James making up for his lackluster first two outings – something Jordan never had to do. But, nevertheless, in his 9th and 11th seasons LeBron was producing in the Finals at an exclusively elite level.
You’ll also notice that Kobe Bryant’s best effort (so far) maxed out at 26.92, whereas Jordan and LeBron both breached 32.0, which is just extraordinary play. Basically, anything over 31.0 is MJ-caliber* and not many players get there – since 1986 only Shaq, Magic, Michael and LeBron have crossed that threshold in the Finals. *It would be more accurate to say “Shaq-caliber” but people might get the wrong impression.
And here we have the top 3 Finals PERs for LeBron Raymone, Michael Jeffrey and Kobe Bean:
Once again, Kobe pales in comparison to LBJ and MJ, but that’s nothing new.
Another thing about Bryant and Finals PER metric… Kobe Bean has been to the Finals seven times and has only led a championship team in Finals PER once – in 2009. Pau Gasol actually led the Lakers in PER in the 2010 Finals.
Question – Should Pau Gasol have won Finals MVP in 2010? I know they’re close by this metric, but there were some people in Los Angeles who thought Gasol was robbed (or so I read, I believe, in the OC Register or the LA Times). He is the only Laker in the Phil Jackson era who led his team in Finals PER, won the series and didn’t win Finals MVP.
What really jumps out at me here is that Kobe didn’t play very well in the NBA Finals until his 6th visit. His first 5 trips were underwhelming, not unlike James in his first 2. Actually, 4 of Kobe’s first 5 Finals visits were just plain “meh.” You could probably classify 3 of his first 5 visits as “terrible.”
The other thing that leaps off the page is Shaq’s insane dominance. When you get your PER up above 34.0 that basically means you’ve hacked the universe and have assumed direct control over reality.
But I digress…
If you’re interested in summing this section up in a way that would most irritate a Lakers fan you can simply say, “Kobe was carried for 4 of his 5 rings!” Or maybe something like, “Kobe was coattail riding for all but one ring!” Or, even better, this: “Kobe really only has 1 ring. Shaq and Gasol have the other 4.”
Or you could just say that Pau Gasol was robbed of a Finals MVP in 2010. That statement can lead to a lot of keyboard clacking in the middle of the night in Southern California. But any variation will suffice – you can’t go wrong.
Now, if you’re a known LeBron James fan you should expect to receive a response about LeBron riding Wade’s coattails. You should be prepared to reply with the fact that LeBron led his team in Finals PER for all of his rings (or whatever other metric tickles your fancy).
Kobe Bryant average Finals PER: 19.5
LeBron James average Finals PER: 23.7
Kobe Bryant top Finals PER: 26.82
LeBron James top Finals PER: 32.24
You get the point.
And we’ll see the same results later when I compare their career Finals averages.
One last thought while I’m here: There are actually Kobe Bryant fans who try to argue that there was a 1A-1B situation going on with Shaq during Kobe’s first three rings. They claim that Kobe wasn’t merely a sidekick, or that Kobe wasn’t Robin to Shaq’s Batman. They may even cite some of Bean’s averages, which is odd because they don’t stand a chance next to Shaq’s – so obviously the 1A-1B notion couldn’t be further from the truth. Kobe was indeed Shaq’s sidekick, and it irritated him to no end.