COLUMBIA, Mo. -

The 2013 NBA Finals are on ABC17.

LeBron James.

Tim Duncan.

Dwyane Wade.

Tony Parker.

Spoelstra and Riley.

Gregg Popovich.

What’s not to love?

1) What does Popovich do with LeBron James?

The first time Popovich’s team matched up with LeBron it was 2007.  LeBron was only 22 years old, four years into his NBA career.  He was also a Cleveland Cavalier.  Not kidding, this is the starting lineup he walked out on to the court with against a two-time NBA champion organization:

PG Daniel “Boobie” Gibson (rookie, 4.6 ppg in regular season)

SG Larry Hughes/Sasha Pavlovic (Hughes averaged 14.9 ppg, but shot 40.0% from the field and a career-worst 67% from the free throw line.  Pavlovic averaged a career-high 9.0 ppg that season)

PF Drew Gooden (11.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg and a “sweet” neck-tuft-mullet thing going on for the former Beaker)

C Zydrunas Ilgauskas (11.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg as a 31-year old, Lithuanian, 7-foot-3 center trying to guard Tim Duncan in his prime)

Michael Jordan might have trouble winning the Chicago Public League title with that collection of “talent.”  He’s definitely not knocking off the Monstars and saving the planet.

Needless to say, the Cavs were overmatched and swept faster than David Stern could veto a Chris Paul trade.  It was the last time the Spurs appeared in the NBA Finals.

In that series, the Spurs went ahead and let LeBron shoot perimeter jumpers.  They worked underneath screens and clogged the paint.  They stuck Bruce Bowen on him to harass him and do nothing else.  Fabricio Oberto and Francisco Elson, essentially, had 12 free shots at him in the paint each game, because it wouldn’t matter if they fouled out or not.

Fast forward seven years and LeBron James has four league MVPs, one Finals MVP, two Olympic gold medals, and a game he estimates to be roughly “40 or 50 times better” than it was in 2007.

Let’s compare some numbers on James from then and now:

Regular Season
2006-07: 27.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 6.0 apg, 47.6% FG, 31.9% 3-PT, 69.8% FT, 24.5 PER
2012-13: 26.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 7.3 apg, 56.5% FG, 40.6% 3-PT, 75.3% FT, 31.6 PER

Playoffs
2006-07: 25.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 8.0 apg, 41.6% FG, 28.0% 3-PT, 75.5% FT, 23.9 PER
2012-13: 26.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 6.4 apg, 51.4% FG, 38.7% 3-PT, 77.2% FT, 28.7 PER

Clearly (and you didn’t need me to tell you this), LeBron is much better now than he was then.  The most obvious improvement has come with his jump shot.  He no longer is a liability chucking perimeter jumpers.

Statistically, he is on par shooting a three these days with his teammate Ray Allen; the same Ray Allen who has made more three point field goals than anyone else in NBA history.

What these numbers do NOT show is how much better James is as a defender, too.  LeBron is unequivocally the best perimeter defender in the NBA, while also being the league’s most versatile.  Ask Paul George what it’s like to be covered by LeBron.

So, what’s Coach Pop supposed to do with LeBron?