Mar 10, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) dunks the ball prior to a game against the Indiana Pacers at American Airlines Arena. Miami won 105-91. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Playing With Numbers: The Real Difference Between LeBron James and The Rest of the NBA

Fact: LeBron James is the best player in the NBA

But how much better is he, really?

According to the Hollinger PER rating scale, the difference between LeBron and Kevin Durant is about the difference between James Harden and J.J. Hickson, at least — or the difference between listening to Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City with Beats headphones and whatever Nickelback’s newest crap is with airline ear buds, according to the Goldberg Yeah-That’s-Right-Vampire-Weekend-Was-Just-Compared-To-LeBron-James scale.

[Boring stuff coming up. Skip ahead four paragraphs.] PER stands for Player Efficiency Rating and measured a player’s productivity per minute, and so is used to compare players who don’t play the same amount of minutes (for instance, if you wanted to compare Luol Deng, who led the NBA with 38.7 MPG, and Martell Webster, who played 28.9 MPG).

The rating is calculated using a complex formula that John Hollinger briefly teased in a 2011 article.

To generate PER, I created formulas — outlined in tortuous detail in my book “Pro Basketball Forecast” — that return a value for each of a player’s accomplishments. That includes positive accomplishments such as field goals, free throws, 3-pointers, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals, and negative ones such as missed shots, turnovers and personal fouls.

PER is by no means the only way to rate players. It fails to recognize players for excellent defense in ways other than blocks and steals and also works under the assumption that players who play 20 minutes per game could play at the same level for 35-40 minutes per game, as the better players in the NBA tend to do.

But it does give us a glimpse into how players perform and effect their respective teams while on the floor, which is a very valuable statistic when trying to measure the general effectiveness of every player.

I already told you the difference between LeBron and Durant. LeBron’s PER of 31.67 and Durant’s of 28.25 are the top two ratings in the NBA. The difference is 3.32, slightly greater than the difference between Harden, 23.00, and Hickson 19.71. (I’ll do the math for you. 3.29.)

Apr 5, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) shoots over Portland Trail Blazers center J.J. Hickson (21) at the Rose Garden. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

And that’s between the two best players in the NBA. How about the difference between LeBron and the third best player, Chris Paul? Let’s throw LeBron’s 31.67 and CP3′s 26.73 into the calculate-and-compare machine. Buzz buzz buzz. Ding.

The difference between LBJ and CP3 is 5.24, about the same difference between Tony Parker and 2013 (not 2003) Vince Carter. Parker’s 23.10 and Carter’s 17.87 comes out to a difference of (ding!) 5.23.

Finally, we’ll compare LeBron and the only other person to get an MVP vote, Carmelo Anthony.


Buzz buzz buzz. Ding.

LeBron (31.67) – Melo (24.83) = 6.84.

Tim Duncan (24.45) – Carl Landry (17.60) = 6.85.

So, the difference between LeBron and Melo is about the same as the difference between the greatest power forward of all time and Carl Freaking Landry. Oh, okay. And that’s not even fully taking into consideration the difference between LeBron’s superhuman defensive skills and Melo’s nonexistent ones.

There you have it. The difference between LeBron and the rest of the NBA. About the same as Daniel Day Lewis and Zac Efron.

(Okay, maybe not that big a difference, but you get the point.)

Tags: Hollinger PER Lebron James Miami Heat NBA Rankings