LeBron James is really really good.
You knew that of course. He nearly had a triple double tonight, and twice already this season he's reached 30 points, 13 assists, and 13 rebounds in a game. Now in his fifth season, he’s averaging career highs in rebounds, assists, blocks, and three point percentage.
And he’s just 22.
There are many people out there with short memories who are already anointing King James as “The Greatest Player Ever.” I lived in Chicago during Michael Jordan’s prime and I know who the greatest is. Of course, a generation earlier Philadelphians might have said it about Dr. J. Or a few generations before that it was Wilt and Russell.
For as long as basketball fans exist, this argument will continue. There’s no way to prove that Hakeem Olajuwon was a more dominant big man than George Mikan or that Magic Johnson was better than Oscar Robertson.
LeBron’s age stuck with me. Twenty-two. Is he the greatest NBA player ever at age 22? You might think he is. If you don’t, you might have some idea who would top him. You’d be wrong.
The best player in NBA history at age 22 was…Bob McAdoo.
Yes, this is the same Bob McAdoo that barely missed making the top 50 NBA players list in 1996 and only made the list when the NBA selected ten more players a decade later.
In 1973-1974, in his second year in the league, McAdoo averaged 30.6 ppg, 15.1 rpg, 2.3 apg, 3.3 bpg, and 1.2 spg . He shot 55% from the field and 79% from the line. Comparatively, James, now in year five, is at 29.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 8.0 apg, 1.7 bpg, and 1.8 spg, and is shooting 47% from the field and 67% from the line.
I took a look a look at the age 22 year for the all of the top 60 NBA players, and throwing out 18 of them who weren't even in the league at 22 (including Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Pete Maravich, David Robinson, and Elgin Baylor), I determined these to be the best age 22 seasons:
Bob McAdoo (30.6 ppg, 15.1 rpg, 3.3 bpg, 55% from the field)
Oscar Robertson (30.5 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 9.7 apg)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (28.8 ppg, 14.5 rpg, 4.1 apg, 52% from the field)
Julius Erving* (31.9 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 4.2 apg, 2.5 spg, 1.8 bpg)
Rick Barry (35.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 88% from the line)
Shaquille O’Neal (29.3 ppg, 11.4 apg, 2.4 bpg, 58% from the field)
Magic Johnson (18.6 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 9.5 apg, 2.7 spg, 54% from the field)
Charles Barkley (20.0 ppg, 12.8 rpg, 2.2 spg, 57% from the field)
Kobe Bryant (28.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 5.0 apg, 85% from the line)
Hakeem Olajuwon (20.6 ppg, 11.9 apg, 2.7 bpg, 54% from the field)
*Age 22 season was in spent in the ABA
You might also include Bill Russell (19.6 rpg), Wes Unseld (18.2 rpg) or even Dolph Schayes (16.4 rpg) on this list, but none of them were all that great offensively that season, at least compared to what we’re used to now. Michael Jordan probably would’ve made the list but his age 22 season (sandwiched between his brilliant rookie season and his first MVP season) was shortened by injury and was his worst season in a Bulls uniform.
LeBron has his work cut out for him to stay with this group, but if he keeps up his numbers all season, it could be one of the top five seasons all time for someone his age.
Posted by Kenn Ruby at 11/16/2007 9:49:00 PM