Ranking LeBron James’ Best Playoff Campaigns

This LeBron James guy is pretty good.

After helping his Cleveland Cavaliers end a 52-year title drought at the expense of the Golden State Warriors, he’s expanded his trophy collection to include three rings, three Finals MVPs and plenty of impressive playoff statistics.

But was 2016 his best postseason ever? Let’s turn to our total points added metric and find out, beginning with his worst run through the playoffs.


11. 78.84 TPA in 2006

Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

Age: 21

Per-Game Stats: 30.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.7 blocks

Results: Lost to Detroit Pistons in Eastern Conference Semifinals (3-4)

Superior TPAs: Dwyane Wade (160.55), Dirk Nowitzki (143.86), Elton Brand (85.25)

Barely old enough to consume alcohol legally, James made his first playoff appearance and didn’t disappoint. By the time the Detroit Pistons had knocked him and the Cavaliers out of the competition, he’d accumulated enough TPA to trail only three players in the entire field.

Again, as a playoff rookie.

“It’s a great class to be in,” James told reporters after his first postseason contest, per ESPN.com’s Chris Sheridan. He was referring to the exclusive club he joined with a triple-double—32 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists—after opening his playoff career with an air-ball.

No one since Magic Johnson had debuted with such a performance. No one has since this 21-year-old, either.

James wouldn’t look back, even if his team wasn’t strong enough to survive a Game 7 against the talent-laden Pistons.


10. 99.35 TPA in 2010

Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

Age: 25

Per-Game Stats: 29.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.8 blocks

Results: Lost to Boston Celtics in Eastern Conference Semifinals (2-4)

Superior TPAs: Pau Gasol (109.06), Kobe Bryant (101.66)

The only reason James’ 2010 playoff performance doesn’t rank higher is that the Cavaliers didn’t give him enough opportunities to shine. It only took five games to beat the Chicago Bulls in the opening round, and the Cavaliers couldn’t advance past the Boston Celtics in the next.

He played two fewer games than in any other postseason, as well as 92 fewer minutes. And when we’re looking at total points added, volume certainly matters. Advancing deeper into the playoffs is inherently advantageous.

Still, James made his minutes count.

He was devastating against the Bulls, following up 40- and 39-point showings with 37 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists, two steals and a block in Game 4. Perhaps most notably, he knocked down six triples in that outing, torturing the opposition with a multi-faceted attack that couldn’t be stopped. None were better than his third-quarter buzzer-beater, which came just inside the halfcourt stripe.


9. 111.64 TPA in 2008

Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

Age: 23

Per-Game Stats: 28.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.3 blocks

Results: Lost to Boston Celtics in Eastern Conference Semifinals (3-4)

Superior TPAs: Kobe Bryant (113.66), Kevin Garnett (113.02)

Though James has always been a two-way asset, he’s rarely been better on the defensive end than he was in 2008. He posted a 4.3 defensive box plus/minus during that postseason—the third-highest mark of his playoff career, trailing only the numbers earned during each of the last two runs.

That’s even more impressive when you consider the matchups.

In the opening round against the Washington Wizards, James was often asked to guard Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, both of whom were in the prime of their careers and coming off All-Star regular seasons. He even had to switch onto the high-scoring Gilbert Arenas.

After dispatching that trio, he was forced to play against the Boston Celtics. The Cavaliers fell in Game 7, but James helped hold Paul Pierce to just 19.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists on 40.4 percent shooting from the field.


8. 129.32 TPA in 2011

Team: Miami Heat

Age: 26

Per-Game Stats: 23.7 points, 8.4 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.2 blocks

Results: Lost to Dallas Mavericks in NBA Finals (2-4)

Runner-Up TPA: Dwyane Wade (116.15)

Even though the Miami Heat made it to the NBA Finals, James was still trying to figure out his new role in South Beach. Dwyane Wade hadn’t yet backed off and assumed his spot as Robin to James’ Batman, which led to the two superstars alternating possessions and working on their chemistry in the middle of games.

James’ individual numbers looked great, but he actually produced the lowest offensive box plus/minus of his playoff career, as well as one of the worst DBPMs. Volume was his friend here, since he and Wade still helped carry the Heat onto the sport’s biggest stage.

However, what’s truly incredible is that James produced the No. 8 playoff TPA of his NBA tenure, and it still led the field:

If you’re expecting to see any of his remaining postseason campaigns trailing other studs, you’ll be sorely disappointed.


7. 135.49 TPA in 2007

Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

Age: 22

Per-Game Stats: 25.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.5 blocks

Results: Lost to San Antonio Spurs in NBA Finals (0-4)

Runner-Up TPA: Tim Duncan (99.5)

Need proof that James carried the 2007 Cavaliers into the Finals, where they were swept by the vastly superior San Antonio Spurs?

Here ya go:

2007 Cleveland CavaliersOnly three other members of the Cavs had positive TPAs during the postseason: Daniel Gibson (22.97), Anderson Varejao (15.16) and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (6.96). In fact, his supporting cast combined to produce a minus-20.88 TPA.

Now, compare that to the Spurs:

2007 San Antonio SpursLet’s not hold the sweep against a certain superstar who was only 22 years old at the time—especially because he was coming off a series in which he produced the infamous “48 special,” scoring 25 points in a row at the end of regulation and during the ensuing overtime periods: 


6. 142.48 TPA in 2014

Team: Miami Heat

Age: 29

Per-Game Stats: 27.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.6 blocks

Results: Lost to San Antonio Spurs in NBA Finals (1-4)

Runner-Up TPA: Russell Westbrook (125.75)

Forget about the fact James and the Miami Heat lost to the San Antonio Spurs by record margins. The way he advanced to the sport’s grandest stage was still quite impressive, as it involved tearing through the Charlotte Bobcats and Brooklyn Nets before a tough serious against the Indiana Pacers.

It was against Brooklyn that he had one of his true signature performances—exploding for 49 points on 24 shots in Game 4 to make up for the lackluster contributions of his struggling Big Three counterparts.

James’ raw numbers in this postseason won’t blow anyone away. His scoring figures were below his career marks, he recorded fewer rebounds per game than ever and he dished out fewer than five dimes per contest for the first and only time.

But he was still ridiculously efficient, shooting 56.5 percent from the field, 40.7 percent from downtown and 80.6 percent at the line. The 2014 playoffs led to what was easily his best true shooting percentage, and he still managed to lead the field in OBPM.


5. 175.46 TPA in 2015

Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

Age: 30

Per-Game Stats: 30.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.1 blocks

Results: Lost to Golden State Warriors in NBA Finals (2-4)

Runner-Up TPA: Stephen Curry (140.24)

After missing the opening shot of the second quarter, James had begun Game 3 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals with an 0-of-10 shooting performance. Almost four minutes later, the floodgates opened.

When James collapsed after the final buzzer, he’d recorded a sensational 37 points, 18 rebounds, 13 assists and three steals in the three-point overtime victory. He’d logged nearly 47 minutes despite playing with numerous maladies, and he’d even played fantastic defense against every one of his matchups.

The 30-year-old couldn’t take his foot off the gas, though. He still had to win one more game against the Hawks, and the Warriors were eventually waiting in the NBA Finals.

James would have to play the final few contests without Kevin Love (lost in the first round against the Boston Celtics) and Kyrie Irving, whose knee injury knocked him out of the proceedings. He couldn’t will his team past the eventual champions, but his inspired individual efforts almost allowed him to become the first since Jerry West to earn Finals MVP in a losing effort.

Per TPA, he should’ve won the trophy with ease.


4. 178.09 TPA in 2013

Team: Miami Heat

Age: 28

Per-Game Stats: 25.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.8 blocks

Results: Defeated San Antonio Spurs in NBA Finals (4-3)

Runner-Up TPA: Kawhi Leonard (83.93)

This may only have been James’ No. 4 individual playoff run, but he was head and shoulders above the field.

We can only put his sheer, unabashed dominance into perspective visually:

2013 NBA Playoff FieldWe could wax poetic about James’ triple-doubles. We could reminisce about his Game 1 buzzer-beater against the Indiana Pacers. 

But all you need to see is that visual demonstration of his superiority, so long as you also remember his historic performance in Game 6 against the San Antonio Spurs. Though history will remember that contest because of Ray Allen’s series-saving triple, let’s not forget that James kept the Heat alive by throwing up 32 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds while facing elimination.

Moronic takes like that, meant solely to satiate an inexplicable personal vendetta, conveniently forget Miami was only in position to enjoy Allen’s heroics because the team’s best player scored a staggering 16 points in the final period.


3. 189.28 TPA in 2009

Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

Age: 24

Per-Game Stats: 35.3 points, 9.1 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.9 blocks

Results: Lost to Orlando Magic in Eastern Conference Finals (2-4)

Runner-Up TPA: Kobe Bryant (132.01)

James was never better than during the 2008-09 campaign.

Throughout the regular season, he produced a career-high TPA  (733.72) that still trails only 1988-89 Michael Jordan (822.25), 1987-88 Jordan (797.14) and 1975-76 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (775.51). That excellence carried over to the playoffs, where he simply couldn’t be stopped on the offensive end.

His 14.8 OBPM was not only almost double his No. 2 postseason mark, but it also remains easily the best since 1973, when we can first track the stat:

James added more points on offense than any other player in a single postseason, and his overall BPM was the best throughout the relevant portion of NBA history—again, by a wide margin. It’s only his minutes played that holds him back, and it’s tough to fault this 24-year-old version of James.

Sure, Cleveland fell to Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals. But James was also one of just five Cavaliers to post a positive TPA, and the others—Anderson Varejao (22.59), Delonte West (13.78), Mo Williams (6.79) and Ben Wallace (5.05)—hardly qualified as stars.


2. 196.42 TPA in 2012

Team: Miami Heat

Age: 27

Per-Game Stats: 30.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.7 blocks

Results: Defeated Oklahoma City Thunder in NBA Finals (4-1)

Runner-Up TPA: Kevin Durant (115.34)

2012 was the year of sterling performances that went into the history books as unforgettable outings from James.

First came Game 4 against the Indiana Pacers, when the 27-year-old steered his Heat out of a 2-1 hole with 40 points, 18 rebounds, nine assists, two steals and two blocks.

“LeBron had that look,” Shane Battier told reporters after the outing, per ESPN. “And when he has that look and Dwyane has that look, you want to run through a wall.”

But if he had “that look” in the second round, what would you call his visage in Game 6 against the Boston Celtics? Though the Heat were on the cusp of elimination, far from dispelling the negative vibes that persisted after the Finals loss in 2011, James wouldn’t be denied.

Looking more focused than ever, he reeled off 12 straight makes from the field and submitted one of his most indelible impressions. From the moment he emerged from the TD Garden tunnel, you couldn’t help but know you were about to witness something special:

Shockingly, his cramp game in the Finals—25 points, nine rebounds and 12 assists, including a momentum-swinging triple with less than three minutes remaining in that crucial Game 4—was only his third most memorable outing of the 2012 playoffs.


1. 203.44 TPA in 2016

Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

Age: 31

Per-Game Stats: 26.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 2.3 steals, 1.3 blocks

Results: Defeated Golden State Warriors in NBA Finals (4-3)

Runner-Up TPA: Russell Westbrook (156.43)

James was not going to be denied.

Instead, he did the denying when he flew down the court and swatted an Andre Iguodala fast-break attempt late in the fourth quarter of Game 7. It was the signature moment of his best postseason to date, but it was far from his only stellar play.

Going up against the 73-win Warriors, he became the first player in NBA history to lead any playoff series in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

He produced a championship-clinching triple-double in Game 7, joining Jerry West and James Worthy as the only players to do so. He remembered how to knock down perimeter jumpers when the Dubs dared him to shoot from outside the paint. He served as a leader on each end of the court, even earning the best DBPM of his playoff career.

Both offensively and defensively, he was as good as it got in this year’s playoff field:

2016 NBA Playoff Field  James has never before sustained this level of per-minute excellence and overall endurance.

He’s submitted more efficient numbers while losing in the second or third round of the playoffs. He’s logged far more minutes while playing slightly worse basketball. But this combination was better than ever.

Making this achievement even more staggering is the simple fact that James is 31 years old. He was supposed to be dealing with a balky back, but those health concerns are nothing more than distant memories.

Now, we’re just left wondering what’s coming next.