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LeBron is The Best Postseason Basketball Player We Have Ever Seen

Getty Images
Getty Images

You don’t need numbers to prove LeBron’s postseason greatness. You just need YouTube — see here, here, or here. These clips confirm what we already knew: LeBron James is very good at basketball, especially in the playoffs.

But do you know how LeBron’s postseason numbers compare to those of his fellow all-time greats on a year-by-year basis? I’m guessing you have an idea, but because you’re (presumably!) a human, not a graphing calculator, you probably don’t know exactly how LeBron stacks up historically. That’s OK. The folks at Polygraph have provided us with some handy charts that make two things clear: (1) LeBron is no ordinary superstar, and (2) despite running up well over 1,000 games on his career odometer, the 31-year-old’s playoff dominance shows no signs of having an expiration date.

Let’s start by examining LeBron’s postseason PER vis-à-vis those of four all-time greats: Michael Jordan, Kevin Garnett, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Tim Duncan.

Matt Daniels, <a href="http://poly-graph.co/">http://poly-graph.co/</a>
Matt Daniels, http://poly-graph.co/

KG, Kareem, and Duncan’s postseason PERs peaked around Years 6 to 10, and then steadily declined. This is typical, even for first-ballot Hall of Famers. Father Time doesn’t play favorites. Despite the occasional late-career resurgence (think KG in 2008), nothing gold can stay.

MJ’s career played out a little differently. Though his postseason PER peaked in Year 7, it didn’t dip much, either. Of course, it makes sense that the G.O.A.T. would be the exception that proves the rule. But LeBron is about to shatter the rule altogether.

His postseason PER is hovering above 25 for the seventh time in eight years, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Though he’s 31, LeBron is still in his prime. The only question is: When will it end?

But we know that PER isn’t an all-encompassing stat. For further proof of LeBron’s astounding longevity, take a look at how his postseason win shares stack up against the aforementioned all-timers.

Matt Daniels, <a href="http://poly-graph.co/">http://poly-graph.co/</a>
Matt Daniels, http://poly-graph.co/

Though LeBron hasn’t quite matched the insane figures of his 2012 and 2013 postseasons, he’s currently holding steady at an impressive 3.2 win shares. This marks his sixth straight postseason at 3.0 or above, which helps explain how he’s made six consecutive trips to the Finals. Of course, the relative weakness of the Eastern Conference hasn’t hurt, either.

Since all good things come in threes, let’s wrap up with a similar chart, this time for Box Plus/Minus (which excludes Abdul-Jabbar, because the stat wasn’t available for the first four seasons of his career).

Matt Daniels, <a href="http://poly-graph.co/">http://poly-graph.co/</a>
Matt Daniels, http://poly-graph.co/

LeBron’s current postseason BPM of 12.0 is his highest since 2009, when he registered an absurd 18.2. There is no end in sight to his playoff reign.

Maybe there is something to those liquid nitrogen chambers? LeBron has consistently bulldozed through the NBA playoffs, and he’ll likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future. He’s redefined the concept of an athletic prime, and for all we know, his best postseason days may be yet to come. Sure, that sounds crazy now, but LeBron has built a career out of making unprecedented things seem ordinary.

For more data visualizations, check out Polygraph’s website.