Jan 2, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) slam dunks during the first half against the New Orleans Pelicans at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
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Chris Broussard has just two requirements for LeBron James to surpass Michael Jordan.
According to Fox Sports Chris Broussard, LeBron James needs to do two things to surpass levitate himself above the legend of Michael Jordan. James much achieve a three-peat, meaning he has to win two straight NBA Finals so that he’ll have won three straight Finals series. Jordan accomplished that feat twice. He must also continue to be the most dominant force in the game, the best player in the world.
These are two feats which are unfathomable for most players to achieve, yet James is in the unique and enviable position of being able to accomplish both.
Dec 25, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (32) dunks on Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) at Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland defeats Golden State 109-108. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
The Number One Contenders
Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry, who many had determined was the best player in the league, had a chance to reach the legend of the player he was being accomplished to. Now, after a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in which he was both outplayed by Kyrie Irving for most of the series and bullied by LeBron, he’s likely not even considered the best player on his own team. Not that he’s been anything short of stellar, it’s just that Kevin Durant has been better with his ability to score efficiently from all three levels and be a stellar shot-blocker when surrounded by the talented defenders that Golden State possesses.
In a NBA Finals series against the Golden State Warriors, a rematch nearly every NBA fan seemingly wants to see, the Cleveland Cavaliers have a slight advantage because of a significant difference in the styles of the two teams. The Cavs are an attacking team and when they attack the rim against the Warriors, who would preferably use Draymond Green at center than Zaza Pachulia or Javale McGee, they have what no other team in the league has. Two of the best finishers in the game.
Tristan Thompson and DeAndre Liggins will be two of the biggest x-factors in a NBA Finals series against the Warriors. Thompson’s mobility and ability to dominate as an offensive rebounder will put the Warriors in a tough position when he’s on the floor. Even with Kevin Love on the floor, it’s not unlike James would be incapable of playing bully-ball in the paint himself.
With an advantage on the boards and their three best offensive players on the floor, the Cavs will have plenty of chances to score.
At the same time, the Warriors run a scheme devoted to spacing out the floor with three-point shots and the Cavs have a number of defenders suited to slow their rather two-headed three-point attack, starting with Liggins.
Liggins gives the Cavs a versatile defender to throw at any perimeter player of the Warriors. However, his main assignment will be Curry. In a piece penned by SI’s Jeff Fischer, Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach James Posey discusses at length how Liggins impacts Curry’s ability to be an offensive weapon for the Warriors. In essence, Liggins defensive tenacity, physicality and length make it hard for Curry to perform up to his typical level of play. In other words, do the same thing to Curry that they do every year. Even if Curry is the Warriors second-best player, it goes without saying that the Cavs’ ability to play elite defense against a player who contributes to a significant amount of their points with his playmaking ability is going to give them a better chance to win a rematch in the NBA Finals.
Durant, who hasn’t been seen as the number one contender for James’ crown since losing to James in the 2012 NBA Finals and nearly every head-to-head matchup they’ve ever had, would probably play perfectly and win to be considered to be the best player in the game. That Durant hasn’t beat James in a game in nearly three years shouldn’t give the Warriors much faith that he can stop James from getting one this year and next year.
Oct 30, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) looks on during the second half against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. The Spurs won 106-99. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Leonard, who was an elite defender with great work ethic and solid statistics coming out of San Diego State, has become one of the best offensive players in the league at 25 years old. Surrounded by the legendary coach Gregg Popovich, Lamarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli and a solid mix role pieces, Leonard is in a position to win it all this year. The Spurs execute better than any team in the league and have the size inside to make the game difficult for the Cavs.
James wouldn’t be in an enviable position either. In another NBA Finals series against the Spurs, James would be matched up against Leonard, the player who believes James guards him best. The “LeBron Stopper”, although James was never truly ineffective but more inefficient when guarded by Leonard, became the name for Kawhi. There’s a distinct possibility that given a defeat of the Cavs in a Finals series, Leonard could claim the mantle of best player in the league with a strong performance.
Harden and Westbrook, for all their abilities offensively, don’t come up with the game-changing defensive plays that Leonard and James do. Nonetheless, these two are consistently triple-double threats and are taking it upon themselves to make a play nearly every possession. If a Finals series were to take place against either team, there’s a distinct possibility that the Cavs would win by cutting off the head of the snake.
In this case, that would mean putting their best perimeter defenders on Harden or Westbrook. Liggins would be the players guarding Harden or Westbrook for most of the game although James would likely guard either in late game situations, as the best players often do.
Dec 31, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) reacts to a foul called against his team during the first half of the game against the Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
James isn’t guaranteed anything but he does have a chance to both lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to a three-peat and continue to be the best player in the league for the foreseeable future.
Leonard, Durant, Harden and Westbrook each have great chances to be the best player in the league at some point though.
As previously mentioned, Leonard is an elite two-way player. Durant is perhaps the best scorer in the league and is playing elite defense. Harden has the best combination of pure scoring ability and assist numbers. Westbrook is a walking triple-double who doesn’t take a second off on the court
If James wants to continue to be the best player in the game he has to be at least league average on jumpers outside of the paint and free-throws. He also has to continue to develop his post game while remaining continuing to make sensational passes. He may never stop being the most cerebral force in the league.
Chris Broussard is right. LeBron James does have the chance to be better than Michael Jordan. Will he succeed in achieving a three-peat and continue to be the best player in the game?