Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James: The key stats you need to know in the GOAT debate

Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James: The key stats you need to know in the GOAT debate

The ESPN documentary series “The Last Dance” showed a younger generation of NBA fans that Michael Jordan is much more than a guy who sells retro sneakers. For those who witnessed Jordan’s greatness over the course of two three-peats with the Bulls, it reinforced the belief he is the greatest player to ever touch the court.

A current star has complicated that GOAT (greatest of all time) conversation, of course. There is an argument to be made for putting LeBron James over Jordan, and James’ case only grew stronger after he led the Lakers past the Heat in the 2020 NBA Finals.

MORE: The greatest MJ game you definitely don’t remember

Sporting News’ Bill Bender has a helpful guide with the most important talking points if you’re ready to discuss MJ vs. LeBron, but we’re simply here to provide the facts you need to justify your choice. Don’t be the person yelling “six rings” with no backup plan.

Here’s a closer look at where the GOAT debate stands . . .

(All stats current as of June 4, 2021)

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Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James: Regular season stats

Jordan is superior in the scoring department, but James grabs rebounds and dishes out assists at a higher rate. While both players are known for tenacious defense on the wing, Jordan finished first in the league in steals three times in his career. James has not yet claimed a steals title.

In terms of longevity, James holds a clear advantage. The gap in total numbers will widen as long as James stays healthy, and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down at age 36.

JordanPer Game LeBron
30.1Points27.0
6.2Rebounds7.4
5.3Assists7.4
2.3Steals1.6
0.8Blocks0.7
2.7Turnovers3.5
38.3Minutes38.2
49.7Field goal %50.4
32.73-point %34.5
83.5Free throw %73.3

 

JordanTotals LeBron
1,072Games1,310
32,292Points35,367
6,672Rebounds9,751
5,633Assists9,696
2,514Steals2,063
893Blocks982
2,924Turnovers4,592
41,011Minutes50,055

Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James: Regular season advanced stats

It’s all about which category you choose when it comes to advanced statistics. VORP and Win Shares favor James, but PER and Box Plus/Minus go to Jordan.

Pick a side, nerds! (That’s a term of endearment.)

JordanAdvanced LeBron
27.9Player Efficiency Rating27.4
116.1Value Over Replacement137.3
9.2Box Plus/Minus8.9
214.0Win Shares242.0
56.9True Shooting %58.6
33.3Usage %31.5
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Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James: Playoff stats

The playoff statistics mirror what Jordan and James produce during the regular season. Despite James’ increased usage and efficiency from beyond the arc over the course of his career, it’s worth noting he shoots about the same percentage as Jordan from 3-point range.

Oh, and the lazy narrative claiming James shrinks in big games — his postseason lines are often more impressive than his regular-season performances. That’s not a smart way to argue against him.

JordanPlayoffs Per Game LeBron
33.4Points28.7
6.4Rebounds9.0
5.7Assists7.2
2.1Steals1.7
0.9Blocks0.9
3.1Turnovers3.7
41.8Minutes41.5
48.7Field goal %49.5
33.23-point %33.7
82.8Free throw %74.0

 

JordanPlayoff Totals LeBron
179Games266
5,987Points7,631
1,152Rebounds2,391
1,022Assists1,919
376Steals454
158Blocks252
546Turnovers975
7,474Minutes11,035

Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James: Playoff advanced stats

Jordan is the all-time playoff leader in PER and Box Plus/Minus, and he has the highest usage percentage. But James tops everyone in VORP and Win Shares.

So yeah, these guys are pretty good.

JordanAdvanced LeBron
28.6Player Efficiency Rating28.2
24.7Value Over Replacement33.9
11.1Box Plus/Minus10.2
39.8Win Shares55.7
56.8True Shooting %58.3
35.6Usage %32.0
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Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James: Accolades and awards

And here’s the big one. Jordan fans have championships in their back pockets. MJ went a perfect 6-0 in the NBA Finals and never needed a Game 7 to win those series.

James has gone 4-6 in his 10 NBA Finals appearances, but he also controlled the Eastern Conference with the Cavaliers and Heat for almost an entire decade.

JordanAccolades LeBron
6Championships4
5MVPs4
6Finals MVPs4
11All-NBA16
9All-Defense6
14All-Star17
10Scoring titles1