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

Sporting News

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 will only grow stronger as he continues to rise up individual leaderboards and chase championships in Los Angeles.

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

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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 ...

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lebron-james-030520-ftr-getty

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 35.

Jordan

Per Game

LeBron

30.1

Points

27.1

6.2

Rebounds

7.4

5.3

Assists

7.4

2.3

Steals

1.6

0.8

Blocks

0.8

2.7

Turnovers

3.5

38.3

Minutes

38.4

49.7

Field goal %

50.4

32.7

3-point %

34.4

83.5

Free throw %

73.5


Jordan

Totals

LeBron

1,072

Games

1,258

32,292

Points

34,087

6,672

Rebounds

9,353

5,633

Assists

9,298

2,514

Steals

2,011

893

Blocks

951

2,924

Turnovers

4,402

41,011

Minutes

48,329

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.)

Jordan

Advanced

LeBron

27.9

Player Efficiency Rating

27.5

116.1

Value Over Replacement

133.2

9.2

Box Plus/Minus

8.9

214.0

Win Shares

236.1

56.9

True Shooting %

58.6

33.3

Usage %

31.5

Michael-Jordan-021615-FTR-Getty.jpg
Michael-Jordan-021615-FTR-Getty.jpg

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 the same percentage as Jordan from 3-point range (33.2).

Oh, and about 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.

Jordan

Playoffs per Game

LeBron

33.4

Points

28.9

6.4

Rebounds

8.9

5.7

Assists

7.1

2.1

Steals

1.8

0.9

Blocks

1.0

3.1

Turnovers

3.6

41.8

Minutes

42.0

48.7

Field goal %

49.1

33.2

3-point %

33.2

82.8

Free throw %

74.3


Jordan

Playoff totals

LeBron

179

Games

239

5,987

Points

6,911

1,152

Rebounds

2,122

1,022

Assists

1,687

376

Steals

419

158

Blocks

232

546

Turnovers

866

7,474

Minutes

10,049

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.

Jordan

Advanced

LeBron

28.6

Player Efficiency Rating

28.3

24.7

Value Over Replacement

30.8

11.1

Box Plus/Minus

10.2

39.8

Win Shares

51.0

56.8

True Shooting %

57.9

35.6

Usage %

32.2

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Michael-Jordan-091919-GETTY-FTR.jpg

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 3-6 in his nine NBA Finals appearances, but he also controlled the Eastern Conference with the Cavaliers and Heat for almost an entire decade. Another title or MVP would provide a huge boost to his resume.

Jordan

Accolades

LeBron

6

Championships

3

5

MVPs

4

6

Finals MVPs

3

11

All-NBA

15

9

All-Defense

6

14

All-Star

16

10

Scoring titles

1

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