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

Mary Raleigh
02/10/2023

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 excellence over the course of two three-peats with the Bulls, it reinforced the belief that 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 passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

The 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 May 23, 2023)

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Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James: Regular season stats

On a per-game basis, 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 38.

Jordan Per Game LeBron
30.1 Points 27.2
6.2 Rebounds 7.5
5.3 Assists 7.3
2.3 Steals 1.5
0.8 Blocks 0.8
2.7 Turnovers 3.5
38.3 Minutes 38.1
49.7 Field goal % 50.5
32.7 3-point % 34.5
83.5 Free throw % 73.5

Now that James is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, one question remains: Will he put the record out of reach? There’s a very good chance that James blows by 40,000 career points. Could 45,000 be in play?

Jordan Totals LeBron
1,072 Games 1,421
32,292 Points 38,652
6,672 Rebounds 10,667
5,633 Assists 10,420
2,514 Steals 2,186
893 Blocks 1,073
2,924 Turnovers 4,966
41,011 Minutes 54,093

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 27.2
116.1 Value Over Replacement 146.6
9.2 Box Plus/Minus 8.8
214.0 Win Shares 255.1
56.9 True Shooting % 58.8
33.3 Usage % 31.6

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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 that 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.

Jordan Per Game LeBron
33.4 Points 28.5
6.4 Rebounds 9.0
5.7 Assists 7.2
2.1 Steals 1.7
0.9 Blocks 1.0
3.1 Turnovers 3.6
41.8 Minutes 41.3
48.7 Field goal % 49.5
33.2 3-point % 33.1
82.8 Free throw % 74.1

 

Jordan Totals LeBron
179 Games 282
5,987 Points 8,023
1,152 Rebounds 2,549
1,022 Assists 2,023
376 Steals 471
158 Blocks 270
546 Turnovers 1,015
7,474 Minutes 11,654

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 27.9
24.7 Value Over Replacement 35.4
11.1 Box Plus/Minus 10.0
39.8 Win Shares 57.9
56.8 True Shooting % 58.3
35.6 Usage % 31.8

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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.

Jordan Accolades LeBron
6 Championships 4
5 MVPs 4
6 Finals MVPs 4
11 All-NBA 19
9 All-Defense 6
14 All-Star 19
10 Scoring titles 1

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