Commentary

Who's better: LeBron or Jordan?

Comparing two of the best NBA players ever in 10 categories

Originally Published: June 5, 2011
By Chris Palmer | ESPN The Magazine
Michael Jordan & LeBron JamesGetty ImagesLeBron James, left, and Michael Jordan can finish on the break.

Let's not pretend the Michael Jordan-LeBron James debate is going away. It'll rage as long as LeBron dares to push the boundaries of how good an individual player can be. Jordan is the standard for basketball excellence, so it's only natural when an audacious, game-changing star comes along that he's measured against the best ever.

First things first, this isn't about greatness or legacy. It's not about either player's place in the game or how we'll remember him. It's about basketball, ability and who does what better.

So put aside your allegiances, biases and flights of sentimentality as we compare the skill sets of these two greats to see who's better.


Shooting

Jordan's midrange pull-up was devastatingly accurate and how he scored most of his points after his game evolved from its early slasher origins. The fluid motion seemed effortless, and a sliver of space was all that was needed to free up Jordan's pull-up, which was close to automatic from 17 feet as the league has seen. Jordan's turnaround jumper from the midpost and baseline were equally effective, making him one of the most difficult ever to defend. He could spin to either hand -- allowing him to turn away from potential double teams -- and create space by taking a wide step to the side as opposed to falling straight backward. Ironically, as MJ's jumper improved his field goal percentage began to dip. He shot .517 during the first three-peat and .482 over the second.

At 25, James' midrange game, while much improved over previous years, is still a work in progress. The good news is that he can create a shot virtually any time. Now he must work on consistency. In the games in which James explodes for 40 or more, he's usually hitting the midrange jumper with regularity. The quick pull-up after driving hard to the left is emerging as his preferred shot. Even though he rarely needs to, James likes to fade back on 18-to-20-foot jumpers, which no doubt affects his percentages. His progress is also stunted because his great athleticism simply gives him more reliable options, and he's shooting a hefty 4.2 3-pointers per game for his career. James is a solid midrange shooter but next to Jordan he simply doesn't stack up.

Jordan: 10
James: 8


Ballhandling

Chris Palmer

ESPN the Magazine