How great is LeBron James?

Net Gain, which combines points, rebounds and a weighted-assist total, suggests that over his first 175 games, he’s been better than such stellar perimeter players as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and just behind Michael Jordan according to Allen St. John from the Wall Street Journal .

Net Gain adds together all the positive things a player can do on offense — points, rebounds and assists (which are multiplied by 1.5) — and divides that total by the number of games he’s played.

“First, let’s look at Mr. James against the other stars who jumped to the NBA straight out of high school. In that regard, there’s no real comparison. With a Net Gain of 40.5 after 175 games, Mr. James more than doubles the mark of either Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers (19.1) or Tracy McGrady (18.9) now of the Houston Rockets, at the same point in their careers. The somewhat more apt comparison is between Mr. James and Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves (25.3), who shares a certain physical maturity with the Cavaliers star and played for a team that gave him time on the court right from the start.

So while Mr. James has established himself as the pro game’s greatest prodigy, how does he compare to Hall of Famers at his positions — guard and small forward — during their first 175 games? Here again, he more than holds his own. He edges Magic Johnson (40.1), who left Michigan State at age 20 after his sophomore year, and Larry Bird (39.3), who entered the NBA at age 23, after a year at Indiana University and three at Indiana State. And he comes fairly close to future Hall-of-Famer Michael Jordan (44.4), who spent three years at North Carolina before turning pro at age 21. While Mr. James hasn’t scored like Mr. Jordan (24.5 points per game vs. 31.3), his assists (6.4 vs. 5.0) and rebounding averages (6.4 vs. 5.5) beat the early record of the Bulls legend. The one perimeter player who stands head-and-shoulders above Mr. James is Oscar Robertson (57.4), who spent four years at the University of Cincinnati before turning pro at age 22. Mr. Robertson’s Net-Gain figure includes the 1962 season, in which he became the only player in league history to average a triple double, recording 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists per game.

Even when you compare Mr. James at 175 games to the league’s best-ever big men, who have historically had the biggest immediate impact, he fares rather well. His Net Gain tops San Antonio Spurs superstar Tim Duncan (38.2) and isn’t far behind Boston Celtic Bill Russell (42.2), who averaged 24 rebounds per game, and Shaquille O’Neal (43.4). Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (51.2), who led the Milwaukee Bucks to a title in his second season, and Wilt Chamberlain, who averaged close to 40 points and 27 rebounds during his first seasons in the league, clearly outclass the Young King James.”

PLAYER PTS REBS ADJUSTED ASSTS NET GAIN
O. Robertson 5356 1943 2743.5 57.4
M. Jordan 5477 984 1303.5 44.4
L. James 4290 1112 1678.5 40.5
M. Johnson 3349 1517 2152.5 40.1
L. Bird 3718 1848 1306.5 39.3
K. Bryant 2242 551 556.5 19.1