Star in the Making Already Lights It Up

Thomas Boswell, in a column that mostly praises LeBron James, has a reality check, too.

Against the brilliance James showed last night, let’s look at the hard statistical evidence of his first 11 NBA games so we can get some balance. Basketball has an excellent stat for measuring a player’s total contribution to his team. Red Auerbach may have cooked it up first. It’s not a tool for making subtle distinctions between players but rather for identifying the general level of a player’s whole game.

You add up all the good things a player does, subtract all the bad things, then divide by the minutes he played. The good: points, rebounds, assists, blocked shots and steals. The bad: missed shots and free throws and turnovers. Then divide by minutes played to measure actual effectiveness, not just court time.

All the great players jump right to the top. And those who do not belong do not come anywhere close. For example, the career averages of Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley are .798, .798, .793, .775 and .768. The average NBA regular ranks far lower — usually in the .450 to .550 range. The Wizards have three players over .500. Through Sunday’s games, Tim Duncan led the league this year at .796. Finally, for reference, the career bests of Garnett, McGrady and Bryant are .792, .731 and .676 — all set last year.

After last night, James’s production average was .450.