During his senior year of high school, LeBron James averaged 31.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 4.6 assists.

Less than a year later, he stepped onto an NBA basketball court, faced off against a team of professionals that would go on to post a 55-27 record, in a nationally televised game and scored 25 points, grabbed 6 rebounds, and dished out 9 assists.  He would go on to average 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists over his rookie season.

My question is this: If he was able to do all that in the NBA, why didn’t he average 75 points and 30 rebounds a game in high school?  I realize assists might be hard to pile up because they’re dependent on your teammates and that the high school game is shorter than the NBA game.  But points and rebounds?  Given that just a few short months removed from high school, he went up against elite NBA-caliber competition and put up above-average statistics, I’m surprised he didn’t put up incomprehensible numbers against high school kids.


One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.


  1. I think you mostly answered your own question, but a couple of other things I can think of
    – the high school basketball game is shorter (32 minutes of playing time generally)
    – everyone in Northern Ohio knew what a superstar James was when he was playing, so coaches may have specifically adjusted for him in their game plans.
    – on a similar thought you can double team (and triple team) players in high school in ways that would get you (as a team) killed in the NBA.
    – basketball performance and stardom is more than just people able to go from one end of the court to the other by yourself a la Teen Wolf.

    • All good points. I didn’t watch any of LeBron’s high school games, so I don’t know if his playing style was substantially different. I do believe he was used much more as a PG, which could have had an impact. I just wonder what he might have done there had he played the same way there that he did during his rookie year (which admittedly was but a shadow of the player he would soon become).

      • Perhaps James would have had even more spectacular numbers if he’d played every minute and handled the ball every possession, but his coach wanted the rest of the team to be able to play too, and perhaps took him out when the game was won to avoid totally humiliating the opponents.

        • Interesting point. If James was asked to limit his game to avoid humiliating his opponents, did his coaches do him a disservice in pursuit of sportsmanship? And is that appropriate?

          I ask this question sincerely… I can see argument either way.

          • Once he’s demonstrated that he can score at will, I don’t see that it’s a disservice to let him do it for only 20 minutes instead of the full 32. But I think the purpose of high schol sports is learning teamwork and sportsmanship, and neither of those comes from letting the best player in the country outplay everyone else on the floor while they’re mostly reduced to watching.

          • I think I agree. I think it behooves them to give him *some* opportunity to develop all aspects of his game, including his scoring. So if the coach told him not to shoot all game, I think I’d have a problem with that. But telling him to play SF for 20 minutes and to be a pass-first PG for 10… that might actually be best long term. And we can’t underestimate the value of teamwork, sportsmanship, and leadership, which I think LeBron was well-equipped to excel at as it was.

            In some ways, I think this exposes some of the flaws of our amateur and professional systems. LeBron probably shouldn’t have been playing high school basketball those last two years. He might not have been ready for the pros, and perhaps college wasn’t ideal (and he wouldn’t have been eligible for it even if it was). We really hamstring a lot of kids, which is unfortunate. LeBron might have been an MVP-caliber player even earlier than he ultimately was if he had the opportunity to play in a lower-level professional league, like they have in Europe (as I understand the system).

  2. Let’s assume that in order to score 70 points a game, high school James makes an average of 10 free throws, 10 three-point shots, and 15 two-point shots per game. Let’s image that he shoots 80% from the free throw line, 40% from 3, and 60% from 2, meaning he would have to take 12.5 free throws, 25 threes, and 25 twos, or 50 shots from the floor and 13 (rounded) free throws per game. In a 32 minute game, this would mean 1.5 shots from the floor per game, and then the free throws. Basically, he’s taking a shot every time his team has the ball, assuming they’re not playing against a VCU-style offense.

    It’s uncommon, but not unheard of for high school players with little in the way of supporting talent to average 40+ points a game, but these teams usually aren’t very successful, because all you have to do is guard that one player, knowing he’s going to get points but making it as difficult as possible without having to pay much attention to the other players (box and one is still a pretty common defense in high school, e.g.). Lebron was on one of the best high school teams in the country in his senior season, with a roster loaded with talent (they played at an extremely high level even when he was unable to play). For Lebron to have averaged much more than he did on such a team, he would essentially have had to take his teammates out of the game, which would have meant they’d have played less effortfully on defense, and on offense as well (meaning Lebron would have had to create almost all of his points himself).

    • Great points, Chris. DaJuan Wagner was a very different player than LeBron and Camden High a very different team than SVSM.

      • I played basketball in high school, and one of the guys we played against twice a year every year I played (he was a year behind me, but he started on the high school varsity team as an 8th grader) average around 40 points per game during his senior and maybe his junior year. I can’t remember his name, but I remember him very well, because he was 6’10” (our tallest player varied from 6’5″ to 6’7″, depending on the year). The first time we played him we lost 48-45, and he scored 46 points (this is me remembering something that happened over 20 years ago, so those numbers are proportional, if not exact). His teams were generally awful, and I don’t think they ever finished in the top 5 in our division. I can’t remember his name, but man did I hate that kid at the time.

        • How would your team have gone about defending a 17- or 18-year-old LeBron James? Even if he was the only talent on his team, what would you guys have done? What would you have done knowing he had other phenomenal talent surrounding him?

          • Kazzy, I never played against a Lebron James caliber player, because there was no such thing in Middle Tennessee in the early 90s, but I did play against a player who was the #1 ranked player in high school class, higher than Garnett, Vince Carter, and other future NBA All Stars, who scored 20 points in the 1996 NCAA national championship game, was drafted 6th in the 1997 NBA draft, and was First Team All-Rookie (his career fizzled after that). He, Ron Mercer, was a sophomore when we played him, so he wasn’t yet as good as he would be, but he was better than anyone on the court by far (I believe he was named Mr. Basketball in Tennessee that year). It was a summer league game, but we all took summer league games pretty seriously back then. Though we played different positions, I had to guard him on a few positions as a result of defensive switches. I didn’t fair well.

            Anyway, his teammates were good but not great, and our coach knew going in that he was way too good for any one of us to guard, so we tried a box and one, we tried double teaming him, we tried putting bigger people on him, we tried putting smaller, faster guys on him. Nothing really worked. I think we lost that summer league game by 25 or 30 points. He didn’t just score on us: we paid so much attention to him that they kept getting wide open shots in the paint. I don’t know if he could have scored 70, but he could probably have scored 50 on us if it weren’t for the fact that half of the time all he had to do was pass it to a wide open guy on one of the blocks so that they could get a barely contested layup. I don’t know how many points he had, but it was well into double digits, though probably less than 40 (I’d guess between 25 and 30).

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