LeBron James – Stat Chaser?

Contrary to appearances, with no love lost for LeBron in Rip City, this headline is more than clickbait. It’s a legitimate question worthy of discussion.

Clear back in mid-January of this year, I couldn’t take it anymore, so to Twitter I went in hopes of starting a conversation seemingly no one else was having about LeBron James’ pursuit of the all-time scoring record.

But alas, with a very rudimentary X following, both then and now, I couldn’t get the convo off the ground.

Thankfully, I now have an outlet (courtesy of Oregon Sports News) through which I can revisit such things, so without further ado, here are my Tweets from back then:

  1. “K TwitterVerse, if we define a stat chaser as someone who gets theirs, but their efforts don’t translate to wins, why is LeBron not being discussed as such? Wasn’t Michael Jordan a stat chaser when he played for the Wizards?” (https://twitter.com/JasonPerpoul/status/1482952322988736512
  2. “I think of Jordan as the GOAT, but he certainly wasn’t when he played for the Wizards. And it should be OK to say he wasn’t. LeBron is getting his for sure nowadays & is being universally praised for it, but his team isn’t very good. I just find this fascinating!” (https://twitter.com/JasonPerpoul/status/1482953333186838529

Yes, you read that right, “I think of Jordan as the GOAT,” but he is ‘MY’ GOAT. A legitimate argument could also be made that LeBron is the GOAT. And depending on who ‘YOUR’ GOAT is, such arguments are inevitably going to fall flat. No one and I mean no one, will convince you or me that ‘OUR’ GOATS are not ‘THE’ GOAT.

But, if we’re truly honest with ourselves, who ‘OUR’ GOATS are is informed mainly by our formidable basketball years, whenever those were or are. Mine were during Michael Jordan’s heyday. Hence, he being ‘MY’ GOAT (as much as this pains me to say, given he was chiefly responsible for ruining the Trail Blazers last last-best chance at winning a 2nd championship back in 1992).

While entertaining and perhaps even fun (so long as they don’t get overly contentious), such debates are often futile as we are all biased, i.e., having our ‘OWN’ GOATS who we ride and die with. We needn’t worry, though, so long as our biases don’t get in the way of calling a spade a spade.

Jordan, for example, obviously wasn’t chasing championships as a player for the Washington Wizards, so what was he chasing if not stats?   I remember him saying his goal in coming out of retirement a 2nd time was to teach his new Wizard teammates how to win. With the benefit of hindsight, we can safely say a lesson not learned!

Despite Michael Jordan being ‘MY’ GOAT, he’s not and shouldn’t be above reproach. The same logic should be applied to James and his pursuit of the all-time scoring record –a singular statistic, mind you. Hence, leading with LeBron James – Stat Chaser. He literally was trying to chase down Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and yet was roundly praised for it, even though it was obvious to anyone who was watching the Lakers play that scoring was Bron’s priority. Winning Time it was not!

While admittedly antidotal, Anthony Davis’s reaction to James actually breaking the scoring record told me all I needed to know about where LeBron James’ focus was:

For those of you needing a refresher (and/or aren’t interested in reliving the moment by clicking on the link above), Davis sat stoically on the bench while the rest of his teammates lost their minds.

If a pic is more your speed, this one comes courtesy of @NBAMemes:

A couple of days later, AD attempted to clear the air, but unwittingly also spoke to the team’s, and by extension LeBron’s focus, not being on winning: “At first, when asked about Tuesday, Davis didn’t want to talk about it, saying ‘ya’ll know me and [LeBron’s] relationship.’ But then he gave more context to the situation. 

“It was nothing, upset about the game,” Davis said. “We lose to the Oklahoma City Thunder, a game we needed. I was pissed off that we were losing. It’s that simple. It had nothing to do with [LeBron] he knows that. Everybody else outside looking in, that’s their opinion, but I was pissed off that we were losing the game.”

“Davis further explained that he just walked back from the tunnel when the video caught him, where he was letting off steam over the frustration of losing in the game.”


Meanwhile, a teammate of theirs at the time, Russell Westbrook, was often blamed for the team’s lack of success, which is part of this whole saga I found both fascinating and frustrating, maddeningly so even. How could most of the blame be laid at Westbrook’s feet while James was being widely praised and Anthony Davis was somehow flying under the radar of the blame game?

The answer lies in the power of the label of stat chaser, which by very definition, LeBron James was at the time and yet was damn near universally praised for it. Russell Westbrook, not so much! Not after he had become the poster child for the label.

Then things got really interesting, post-LeBron surpassing Kareem as the all-time scoring leader, as viewed through the prism of the Notorious STA.[t-chaser], even Russell Westbrook.

He was traded (to the Jazz), waived, and finally completed his round-trip journey by signing with LA’s other team, The Clips. His new team, however, didn’t expect him to be something he wasn’t. They weren’t going to pound this round peg into a square hole. The Clippers were going to let Russ cook!

Paul George saw this writing on the wall before The Clips signed Westbrook. Here is what George had to say about his former OKC teammate:

“I just think we, in particular, we got enough shooting to surround Russ, where Russ can be Russ and, you know, I think the floor will be open for him, spacing will be there for him,’ George said. ‘I’m a big believer and fan of what Russ’s work is, having one of my best seasons in my career alongside him. I’ve seen what he can do, night in and night out, and I think he’s still got a lot of game in him and, so I’m biased when it comes to Russ, and I really think he can improve a team. He’s such a big talent. He rebounds, he finds guys, he makes the game easy for everyone.”

(https://theathletic.com/4183690/2023/02/11/paul-george-russell-westbrook-clippers/, subscription required)

And cookin’ is exactly what Russ did!

In 21 games with the Clippers, he shot a career-high 48.9% from the field, including a career-high 35.6% from 3 (albeit on a modest 3.5 attempts/gm), while averaging 15.8 pts, 7.6 ast vs. only 3.4 TOs, 4.9 reb, & 1.1 stl. He was even better in the playoffs, sensational even, with averages of 23.6 pts, 7.6 reb, 7.4 ast, an astonishing 1.4 blk, & 1.1 stl.

As his shot volume went up during the playoffs (due to Paul George being unavailable and Kawhi Leonard only making it through the first two games), his efficiency did suffer, shooting only 41% from the field. Still, he did maintain his accuracy from 3 on two more attempts/gm, shooting 35.7% on 5.6 attempts.

He went on quite the heater, actually beginning with Game 2 against the Suns (which was Leonard’s last) before the wheels came off a bit in Game 5. When it mattered most, he showed out with averages over this 3-game span of 31.7 pts on 54.4% shooting from the field, including 2.7 3pm on 50% shooting, 7 ast, 6.3 reb, 1.3 blk, & 1.3 stl.

Simply put, he was dominant! He also served notice to the rest of the league that he, in fact, wasn’t cooked. I mean, who doesn’t love a good redemption story?!

What he’s not is a stat chaser, any more than James was after surpassing Kareem. And it would seem his Airness, ‘MY’ GOAT, agrees with me. Jordan said this about Westbrook:

“Thirty years ago, that’s me,’ he said of Westbrook. ‘The attitude, trying to prove myself, showing so much passion for the game of basketball. You see it in his play. You can tell he loves the game, he plays with energy and flair.”


What he was, especially as a Laker, was miscast, and virtually everyone saw this coming from a mile away before the season even started. And to say he wasn’t adaptable is just inaccurate after he only started five games for the Lakers.

I’ll leave the closing argument to Paul George:

“He delivered,” George said of Westbrook’s fit with the Clippers. “There was a reason I was willing to stick my neck out and vouch for him. He delivered. He came and was an unbelievable locker room guy, great energy, great leader, and I think what [Lawrence Frank] loved most about bringing him in was he was just very adaptable. His role changed when we first got him, with myself and Kawhi out there, so when I went down, and it was just him and Kawhi, to when Kawhi went down, and it was just him.”

“On Westbrook answering the critics, George said, “I was just proud he answered the bell. Back against the ropes, everybody questioned him as a player… He wowed everybody, he surprised everybody, and he earned that respect back. And that’s what I was most proud of, just as a friend, and a brother, someone who highly supported him.”

“George was adamant that the Clippers re-sign Westbrook, saying, “He proved that he is a leader. He proved that he’s got a lot left in the tank, and for a team like us, the more guys that can be versatile, the better for us. To have a playmaker, have a leader, have a scorer, just a floor general, a rebounder, he just covers so many holes and wears so many hats. He’s everywhere… He’s just so valuable. We saw what it looks like, [and]we know it works. We know it can be successful. We gotta get him back. I want him back.”

Rather than focusing on what Russell Westbrook isn’t, maybe we should better appreciate him for what he is. And if we insist on throwing the label of stat chaser around (here’s looking at you, Ricky Davis), let’s make sure we’re equal opportunity labelers, but most importantly, fair!

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About Jason Poulsen 19 Articles
As a former collegiate basketball player, with a great deal of emphasis on the former, my passion for the game has since led me on quite the journey. Writing for the Oregon Sports News, along with the effort I’m putting in to finally get a long ago developed proprietary basketball performance analytical tool off the ground, represent full circle moments. There have been a multitude of stops & roles along the way, the pertinent ones being Assistant to Director of Basketball Operations, Basketball Operations Assistant, NBA Draft Statistical Analyst, & Sports Writer, & the less pertinent – Store Manager, Lids Sports Group. I suppose one hasn’t really lived unless they’ve worked in retail or so I’ve told myself.