Outstanding Performances by LeBron James in Recent Seasons

LeBron James’ Season-by-Season Highlights: Cementing King James as the 21st Century’s Greatest Player

It’s been a long ride for LeBron James in the NBA. Since entering the league almost 20 years ago, James has consistently been one of the best players in the league, with a playoff resume that some players dream about. James took the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers from the bottom to the top in just his fourth season. He became a villain of the world by joining Miami, where he won two championships. James was a hero when he returned to Cleveland and helped the team win their first championship in team history. Now, he is among the best of the best in Lakers franchise history, joining the likes of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant as champions.

Like those players, they were generational players that were the best of their time. James has been the best for many years, including making runs at the MVP Award and taking less money to help construct championship teams. The one constant remains that James is at the center of it all, with 10 appearances in the NBA Finals and 18 selections to the All-Star Game and All-NBA Team. James turns 38 years old today and remains a top player in this league. To celebrate his birthday, it’s only natural to look at his accomplishments per season. 

2003-04 NBA Season

Accolades and Awards: Rookie of the Year, All-Rookie First Team

Stats: 20.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.9 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.7 BPG

The Cavaliers selected LeBron as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. He was immediately the best young player in the league. All of the hype surrounding LeBron was that he was the “next Michael Jordan.” By winning Rookie of the Year, he started his career on the right foot.

James scored 25 points in his NBA debut, setting a record for the most points scored by a prep-to-pro player in NBA history. It was the third time in league history that a player averaged at least 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists during his rookie season. The Cavaliers won 18 more games compared to last season but had a winning record. With that said, James became the first Cavalier player to win Rookie of the Year. 

2004-05 NBA Season

Accolades and Awards: All-Star, All-NBA Second Team

Stats: 27.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 7.2 APG, 2.2 SPG, 0.7 BPG

Despite being 20 years old, James quickly rose to stardom. James set a new single-game record for the Cavaliers by scoring 56 points against the Raptors. He also nearly averaged 30 points per game during the season in his sophomore year. At 20 years old, James was the youngest player in the MVP voting.

The Cavaliers won 30 of their first 50 games on the season but had an epic fall in the last 32 games. The team went 12-20 down the stretch to finish 42-40. The Cavaliers missed the playoffs, but James made his first All-Star and All-NBA appearance.

2005-06 NBA Season

Accolades and Awards: All-Star, All-Star Game MVP, All-NBA First Team

Stats: 31.4 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 6.6 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.8 BPG

In his third season, James didn’t just make the All-Star Game, but he was also the best player among the league’s best. He scored 29 points to lead the East to a win. James also played at an MVP level when he averaged 31.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.6 assists. Despite an impressive line, James finished second to Steve Nash in the MVP voting. With this kind of line, he might have won the MVP in any other year had Nash not made the 50-40-90 Club.

For the first time since 1998, the Cavaliers qualified for the playoffs. In his first postseason game, James recorded a triple-double in a win over the Wizards. The playoff run also featured his first-ever game-winning shot in the playoffs. In the second round, his playoffs were cut short by the Pistons. 

2006-07 NBA Season

Accolades and Awards: All-Star, All-NBA Second Team

Stats: 27.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 6.0 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.7 BPG

Because James set the bar so high, some believed that he regressed this season. If regression is 27.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 6.0 assists, most teams would still take the “damaged goods.” Nobody thought James was damaged, though, because he remained an elite player but missed out on All-NBA First Team. It was also a historic finish to the season as James led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals.

James led the Cavaliers to the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. For the first time in his career, James qualified for the NBA Finals. At the time, his surrounding cast featured Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejao, Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, and Daniel Gibson. The Spurs overmatched James in four games as the trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili were too much. 

2007-08 NBA Season

Accolades and Awards: All-Star, All-Star Game MVP, All-NBA First Team, Scoring Champion

Stats: 30.0 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 7.2 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1.1 BPG

After four years in the league, the Cavaliers made sure to sign James to an extension to keep him in Cleveland. James signed a four-year, $60.3 million contract to remain with the Cavaliers. James lived up to the contract in his first year of the extension by leading the league in scoring and winning the All-Star Game MVP. James earned All-Star Game MVP for the second time in his career with 27 points, eight rebounds, and nine assists. He also moved past Brad Daugherty as the all-time leading scorer this season.

James won the scoring title with his 30.0 points per game average. Despite individual accomplishments, the Cavaliers stumbled to the four seed. The team made it to the second round of the playoffs, but it was the first year of the Boston Celtics’ big three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. The series stretched to seven games. In the final game, James scored 45 points in the loss.

2008-09 NBA Season

Accolades and Awards: MVP Award, All-Star, All-NBA First Team, All-Defensive First Team

Stats: 28.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 7.2 APG, 1.7 SPG, 1.1 BPG

For years, fans believed that James was the best player in the league. However, in recent years, James came up short in the MVP voting to Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kobe Bryant. That came to an end this season when he was the best player in the league. James won the MVP Award and finished second in the Defensive Player of the Year voting.

James led the Cavaliers in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks this season. With his play, the Cavaliers won a franchise-record 66 games. The team was one game away from setting an NBA record for home wins. In the playoffs, the team made the Conference Finals against the Magic. James was one point away from scoring 50 points in a Game 1 loss. He followed that with a game-winning shot in Game 2. Everyone was hoping for the Cavaliers to make it back to the NBA Finals as it would have been a LeBron vs. Kobe Finals, but the Magic prevailed in six games. James averaged 38.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8.0 assists for the series. 

2009-10 NBA Season

Accolades and Awards: MVP Award, All-Star, All-NBA First Team, All-Defensive First Team

Stats: 29.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 8.6 APG, 1.6 SPG, 1.0 BPG

Back as the league MVP, James had all of the world looking at him this season. Not only was he the best player in the world, but he could leave the Cavaliers after the season. If the team did not win a championship, there were rumors that James would leave Cleveland. James led the Cavaliers to the best record in the league for the second year in a row. James won the MVP Award once again after averaging this impressive stat line. There were times that James played point guard due to injuries on the team. Needless to say, James was the best all-around player in the league.

Despite playing like the best in the world, the supporting cast of Boston was superior to Cleveland. The big three in Boston took down James for the second time in three seasons. At one point, James was booed by Cleveland fans in a Game 5 loss. Then, James recorded nine turnovers despite finishing with a triple-double in the Game 6 loss. Going into the offseason, there was a lot of anxiety about the future of James’ career. 

2010-11 NBA Season

Accolades and Awards: All-Star, All-NBA First Team, All-Defensive First Team

Stats: 26.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 7.0 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.6 BPG

The entire summer featured James going from beloved to villain. “The Decision” resulted in James “taking his talents to South Beach.” With the Miami Heat acquiring James and Chris Bosh to pair with 2006 Finals MVP Dwyane Wade, the Miami Heat were pegged as the favorites to win the championship. It was the first time the reigning MVP switched teams since Moses Malone in 1982.

In the playoffs, James finally got the last laugh over the Celtics, and the team qualified for the NBA Finals just like everyone thought they would. In the Finals, James averaged 17.8 points as the Dallas Mavericks upset the Heat to win the title. James was mocked across the world for the fact that he said the Heat would win up to seven championships before ever playing a game for Miami. It set up for a legendary 2012-13 season.

2011-12 NBA Season

Accolades and Awards: NBA Champion, Finals MVP, MVP Award, All-Star, All-NBA First Team, All-Defensive First Team

Stats: 27.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 6.2 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.8 BPG

After a humbling experience, James took the world by storm. James won his second MVP Award in his career during the lockout-shortened season. During the offseason, it was said that James worked with Hakeem Olajuwon to help improve his post moves. With a new skillset, James helped the team win 18 of their first 24 games, and the team never looked back.

The playoffs featured some great moments as well. That included the second-round series with the Indiana Pacers, who took a 2-1 lead. James moved to power forward and led a small ball lineup that helped the team make the Conference Finals. Even when Bosh came back, the Heat continued to use this lineup. James met his nemesis in the Celtics in the Conference Finals, who owned a 3-2 lead. In Game 6, James avoided elimination with 45 points and 15 rebounds. After a Game 7 win, the Heat dropped their first game to the Thunder but then rallied to win four straight to clinch the first championship of his career. James was named Finals MVP when he averaged 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists. 

2012-13 NBA Season

Accolades and Awards: NBA Champion, Finals MVP, MVP Award, All-Star, All-NBA First Team, All-Defensive First Team

Stats: 26.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 7.3 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.9 BPG

Looking to defend his title for the first time in his career, the Heat ran the show in the NBA. This was the best overall team out of the four-year run in Miami. James was the best overall player, and that was evident in winning his fourth MVP in his career. The Heat won 27 consecutive games at one point, which is the third-longest winning streak in NBA history, and ended the season with a franchise record for wins with 66.

The playoffs featured another strong push from the Pacers in the Conference Finals. The series went to seven games, but James consistently stepped up to help the team make the Finals against the Spurs. The Spurs held a 3-2 series lead and nearly won the series in Game 6. In the game, James recorded 16 fourth-quarter points to lead the comeback. Then, he tied the Finals record for points in a Game 7 victory with 37 points. James averaged 25.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, 7.0 assists, and 2.3 steal in the Finals to win his second Finals MVP Award. After back-to-back seven-game series, James remained supreme as the best in the NBA. 

2013-14 NBA Season

Accolades and Awards: All-Star, All-NBA First Team, All-Defensive Second Team

Stats: 27.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.3 BPG

James set the franchise record for points in a game with 61 points against the Charlotte Bobcats. With that said, it didn’t feel like the last two seasons. Injuries hampered the team most of the year, including the playoffs when leg cramps forced James to miss part of Game 1 in the NBA Finals. It was also the last time that James made the All-Defensive team.

The Heat played the Spurs for the second year in a row in the NBA Finals. The Spurs won the series despite James averaging 28.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.0 steals per game. At the end of the season, James opted out of his contract. With two titles in Miami, James accomplished what he wanted to do when he left Cleveland. Now, it was time to go home. 

2014-15 NBA Season

Accolades and Awards: All-Star, All-NBA First Team

Stats: 25.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.7 BPG

When James left the Cavaliers in 2010, fans were outraged. They disowned James, and some burned his jersey. It was a long four years that featured the Cavaliers receiving the No. 1 overall pick in 2011, 2013, and 2014. The 2011 pick Kyrie Irving was a blossoming young player that paired great alongside James, while Anthony Bennett (2013) and Andrew Wiggins (2014) were used in a trade package to land Kevin Love. This new big three gave LeBron a true surrounding cast of All-Star players in comparison to players in the past.

For his tenure with the Cavaliers, James signed two-year deals with opt-outs after the first year to give the team financial flexibility. It also felt like James was taking one year at a time. James battled a left knee injury and lower back strains to play in a career-low 69 games. For the playoffs, he was back to full strength as James led the team to the NBA Finals. The Warriors took down the Cavaliers in six games. James was highly considered to win the Finals MVP Award after averaging 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists in the Finals.

2015-16 NBA Season

Accolades and Awards: NBA Champion, Finals MVP, All-Star, All-NBA First Team

Stats: 25.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 6.8 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.6 BPG

The season was a true rollercoaster, but fans wouldn’t have wanted any other ending. The season featured controversy. James was credited for being a prime reason for David Blatt being fired midseason. The team promoted assistant coach Tyron Lue to head coach, and the Cavaliers finished the season with 57 wins and the best record in the East.

For the sixth year in a row, James made it back to the NBA Finals and took on the Warriors, who had set an NBA record for wins with 73 wins in the regular season. The team also took a 3-1 series lead on the Cavaliers and looked like they would repeat as championships. Instead, back-to-back 41-point games from James set up a Game 7. That game was a magical ride, which featured James posting a triple-double, including “the block” on Andre Iguodala in the final minutes. James was named Finals MVP after appearing with 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals, and 2.3 blocks, leading the Cavaliers in all five categories.

2016-17 NBA Season

Accolades and Awards: All-Star, All-NBA First Team

Stats: 26.4 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 8.7 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.6 BPG

Another year, another All-Star and All-NBA First-Team selection for James. The Cavaliers finished the season with the second-best record in the east, where James set career highs in rebounds, assists, and turnovers. There was criticism during the season despite the success. James and the front office were at odds over the construction of the team, but this team was still good enough to make the NBA Finals for the third season in a row.

The team played the Warriors for the third season but ran into a four-headed All-Star monster in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green. Durant joined the Warriors in the offseason after getting bounced by the team in the Conference Finals with the Thunder. Durant gave James nostalgia as his quick addition to his new team saw him rise to Finals MVP after the Warriors won in five games. With that said, James became the first player in NBA history to average a triple-double in the Finals by posting 33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 10.0 assists.

2017-18 NBA Season

Accolades and Awards: All-Star, All-Star Game MVP, All-NBA First Team

Stats: 27.5 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 9.1 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.9 BPG

The Cavaliers owned a new look this season as the team traded Kyrie Irving to the Celtics. Irving did not want to play with James anymore, so the team relied heavily on James, Love, J.R. Smith, and Tristan Thompson. James reminded everyone he remained one of the best in the league at the All-Star Game. It was his first MVP Award in 10 seasons. James finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists.

During the season, James set an NBA record with 867 straight games with double digits in scoring. The Cavaliers made it back to the NBA Finals for the fourth time, which was also James’ eighth straight appearance in the NBA Finals. However, it ended in a sweep to the Warriors as Durant won his second straight Finals MVP Award. James famously punched a locker after the team’s Game 1 loss, which featured a major miscue by JR Smith. James scored 51 points in the losing effort, but the injury hampered his performance the rest of the series. James averaged 24.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 10.0 assists in the series.

2018-19 NBA Season

Accolades and Awards: All-Star, All-NBA Third Team

Stats: 27.4 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 8.3 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.6 BPG

After four trips to the Finals, James decided to opt out of his contract. The makeshift of the Cavaliers didn’t appear to be championship ready, so he was sold on resurrecting the Lakers franchise. Plus, it was always rumored that James wanted to live in Los Angeles in the later stages of his career. In his first season, James was expected to turn the team into a contender, but he suffered injuries and had one of the least effective seasons in his career. James played in 55 games, but one has to wonder how much of the 2017-18 season affected him after playing all 82 regular season games and then leading Cleveland to the Finals.

James made the All-NBA Third Team as the Lakers quickly fell out of playoff contention without him. It was the first time in 12 years that he did not make the All-NBA First Team. In the offseason, the Lakers made a trade to acquire Anthony Davis, which set the team up for success next season. James was still recognized for his efforts and received an MVP vote.

2019-20 NBA Season

Accolades and Awards: NBA Champion, Finals MVP, All-Star, All-NBA First Team, Assists Leader

Stats: 25.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 10.2 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.5 BPG

With Davis in the fold and a new coach in Frank Vogel, the Lakers quickly transitioned to the top of the standings. The team featured a new identity as a strong defensive team. Plus, James changed his game and was the team’s primary point guard. That translated into James leading the league in assists.

The season featured James moving past Kobe Bryant on the all-time scoring list, but it also featured two tragedies. The first was the tragic death of Bryant in a helicopter crash. The other was the pandemic that shut down the world and forced the players to play in a bubble. Despite all of this, James led the Lakers to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.

His best performance was Game 5, when he scored 40 points and 13 rebounds in a duel against Jimmy Butler. Despite the loss, James helped the Lakers put away the Heat in six games. James won his fourth NBA Championship and his fourth Finals MVP Award by averaging 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 8.5 assists in the series.

2020-21 NBA Season

Accolades and Awards: All-Star, All-NBA Second Team

Stats: 25.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 7.8 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.6 BPG

There were many individual achievements for James during the season. James became the first player in league history to go 1,000 consecutive games with double-digit points. He also joined Kareem Adbul-Jabbar and Karl Malone as the only players with 35,000 career points. As a team, the Lakers struggled to find consistency. Both Davis and James struggled to stay healthy. James missed 20 games, and the Lakers dropped to the seven seed.

The Lakers took a 2-1 series lead on the Phoenix Suns, but Davis suffered a strained groin. Without Davis, the Suns eliminated the Lakers in the first round. James remained among the league’s best and was named to the All-NBA Second Team, and received votes in the MVP race at 36 years old.

2021-22 NBA Season

Accolades and Awards: All-Star, All-NBA Third Team

Stats: 30.3 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 6.2 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.1 BPG

Before the season began, the Lakers traded their two best outside shooters, Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, to create a big three of James, Davis, and Russell Westbrook, who was coming off of a season where he averaged a triple-double for the fourth time in his career. Unfortunately, the season was an utter failure. The pieces did not mesh well together, and it ended up resulting in James picking up a lot of the slack. James scored over 30 points per game for the first time since he won the scoring title in 2008, but the Lakers stumbled to the No. 11 seed in the West.

James recorded two 50-point games during the season and became the first Laker since Kobe Bryant to accomplish that. James was active in the scoring race but missed time due to injuries. He played in only 56 games and did not qualify for the scoring title. With James aging and a lot of money tied to James, Davis, and Westbrook, it led to a lot of questions going into the 2022-23 season.

2022-23 NBA Season

Stats: 27.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 6.6 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.6 BPG

Before the season began, James signed a two-year, $97.1 million deal. It made James the highest-paid athlete in NBA history with $528.9 million. That surpassed Kevin Durant in all-time earnings. The season has been a disaster from a team perspective, as the Lakers are 14-21 and sliding out of the playoff picture with each loss. With Davis sidelined until mid-January, every game is seen as a playoff game, and that is a lot to ride on the shoulders of a 38-year-old.

Individually, James made the top 10 in all-time 3-point field goals. James recorded his 1,135th game with 20 points, which passed Karl Malone for the most games in NBA history. He recently surpassed Magic Johnson for sixth place on the career assists chart and then passed Wilt Chamberlain for the second-most 30-point games in NBA history. If James continues to play like this, he will likely make the All-Star Game for the 19th consecutive year and record his 19th appearance on the All-NBA Team.

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