For the past decade or so, LeBron James has been considered the best basketball player in the world. Even for those who hate him, that much isn’t up for debate.
But the year is 2016, and King James’ reign over the NBA is steadily losing its grip. He’s still one of the game’s elite players and will be until his final days in the league, but the days of “LeBron then everybody else” are long gone.
In fact, right now, you could make the case he’s not even the fifth best player in the NBA.
His three-point shooting has gotten worse for the fourth consecutive season, and his free throw shooting issue from last season hasn’t gone anywhere. After averaging at least 27 points per game for ten seasons, James has been at 25 for the last two. Yeah, it’s only two points, but that’s how slim the margins are between the NBA’s elite.
Basically, LeBron James has gotten old. The four other players to finish top five in voting for last season’s MVP – Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook (all 27), and Anthony Davis (22) – are at least four years younger than James (31).
With Curry’s victory last year and Kevin Durant (27) winning the 2013-2014 MVP race, this is the first time we’ve gone two seasons without James winning MVP since 2008.
For some perspective, this is LeBron James’ 13th season in the NBA. Michael Jordan won his fifth and final MVP award in his 13th season.
Obviously, Jordan played in college and was 34 at that time. So don’t rule out one last Herculean and storybook season for James.
But thanks to people like Curry and Westbrook, plus an emerging paint monster in Sacramento, there’s a decent chance we never see LeBron James crowned as NBA MVP again. Nice.
How Many NBA Players Are Better Than LeBron James?
Based on super advanced stats like Real Plus-Minus (RPM), age, postseason success and the standard eye test — our answer is five.
We’re assuming you have disagreements, tweaks or general feelings on the topic; so please exercise your first amendment below.
1. Stephen Curry
There’s nobody in American professional sports playing at a higher or more consistent level than Steph Curry has through 45 games this season. And he won the MVP last year.
He’s already the best shooter in the history of the game, has proven it in the playoffs, and the Warriors are an absurd 41-4 as of this writing. Shit, Draymond Green almost made this list simply because of how good they are as a duo.
Essentially, Curry is the reason the title of this article starts with “how many.”
2. Kawhi Leonard
There’s nothing sexy about this, and of all the players included this one will probably be the most controversial. But this isn’t fantasy basketball. Defense does matter.
And Kawhi Leonard is a better basketball player than LeBron James right now.
The reigning DPOY has taken ridiculous leaps in his offensive game this season, and without question is the best two-way player the Association has to offer.
He’s also the one player on this list that’s known to give LeBron the most fits head-to-head.
3. Russell Westbrook
The video below is about the only argument Russell Westbrook needs. Westbrook has redefined the terms ‘willpower’ and ‘fearless’ by the manner in which he’s put the Thunder on his back over the last season and a half.
During that time period, Russ leads the NBA in triple-doubles with 16.
A slightly better defender but not as polished offensively as Curry, Russell Westbrook has easily established himself as the league’s second-best point guard.
4. DeMarcus Cousins
‘Boogie’ Cousins is the best big man in basketball, and he’s been the stable (yes, stable) force for a rising Sacramento Kings team currently holding on to the eighth playoff spot out West.
In fact, Cousins became only the fourth player in NBA history to net 100+ points and 25+ rebounds in a two-game stretch and the last since Antwan Jamison in 2000.
His 56-point bullying of the Charlotte Hornets Monday night was the highest total in the NBA this season, edging Curry and Jimmy Butler’s 53-point games.
5. Kevin Durant
Long known as the clear second-best NBA player to James, Kevin Durant seemed to have finally cleared that hurdle with his MVP award two seasons ago.
Then the Thunder lost in the Western Conference Finals and an injury limited KD to just 27 games last year. In his absence, Curry took over the world and Durant’s wingman Westbrook reached a new level.
Now, he’s relatively healthy again and the league’s second-best offensive player after Curry according to Offensive Win Shares. Less talked about than the deadly jump shot, Durant has also shown improvement in his rebounding, passing and defense this season.
And when Westbrook is too tired or needs a break, or whatever, Kevin Durant is right there. It’s hard to really say which one of the two is better, but right now – they’re both better basketball players than LeBron James.