Miami Heat: With a Post Game, Has LeBron James Become Unstoppable?
"Linsanity" is on its deathbed and this is one of the quietest trade deadlines in recent history. It's about that time to put LeBron James back in his usual spot under the microscope.
That's what success can do to you. Why would the media want to speak of success? There's nothing worth arguing over if you're winning. Losing is a much better topic for ratings. There are so many things you could talk about if a team is struggling, especially if they're a team that's supposed to be winning games.
The Miami Heat went 58-24 last season, but you'd have no idea of that if you relied on mainstream media outlets for your analysis.
You wouldn't be able to recognize that the Heat won 58 games without Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller, a completely brand new roster and a three-man core that somehow needed time to gel. Talent on paper doesn't always equal success on the court and the Heat proved that early on last season.
The New York Knicks are doing the same this year.
Nobody is talking about the Heat this year because they're completing their regular season goal of winning a lot of games. They're 31-9 and haven't dealt with a five-game losing streak, seven combined losses to the top two teams in the East or a 9-8 start.
What you're seeing this year is the team that Pat Riley envisioned when he re-signed Dwyane Wade and then signed Chris Bosh and James in July of 2010.
Still, they're not even as good as they can be. Haslem still can't consistently make mid-range jumpers, Miller still appears to be limited and they don't have a competent center.
The Heat have won 31 of their first 40 games with a starting center that's averaging three points and four boards per. Why can't they start someone else? Because they don't have a choice.
So what happened in the span of a year? More games between the big three have certainly played a tremendous factor. It's obvious to see that these guys have gotten a better feel for each other on the offensive end. They're moving without the ball well, playing off of each other and, most importantly, forcing the ball inside.
Coming into the season, coach Erik Spoelstra preached the idea of having every Heat possession on offense end up with a shot near the basket. That was directed right at Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, who were limited to a few too many three-pointers last season.
There were too many instances last year where the ball was stuck on the perimeter and shooters who couldn't shoot well were taking shots from 25 feet out.
James was taking nearly four three-pointers and Wade was taking three. The Heat paid a lot of money to these players not for the jump shooter, but for what they're capable of when they're driving to the hoop.
Of course, it didn't help that the Heat were lacking in the shooters department. James Jones was basically the only reliable source of offense from the perimeter, which caused a lot more defensive attention to be focused on Wade's and James' penetration.
Their first year together combined with an unestablished offensive system had the team run into a few problems.
This year, the Heat have been fortunate enough to have Mario Chalmers shooting out of control, Shane Battier getting into a groove and Norris Cole hitting his perimeter jumpers as well.
They might not provide much on the stat sheet, but they help to stretch the floor enough so that Wade and James can drive more efficiently and with less resistance.
With shooters now on the floor, the idea of James taking it inside became even more reinforced. The idea of LeBron taking it to the hoop and attempting a high percentage shot is exactly the opposite of what opposing defenses want to see. For the opposition, the primary objective of defending James it to make him take a jump shot.
Even if he makes it, he's still not going to his strong suit of driving. It also causes him to become more reliant on his jump shot, which ends up leading to James taking wayward shots and not playing as aggressive as he should.
Not to mention that it also fails to tire out the defense. The Heat found so much success in the playoffs last year because their durability and stamina were able to withstand four quarters. The Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics were tired out by the fourth because of chasing around James, Wade and Bosh for 36 minutes.
What James has improved on this year is the exact reason why he is the clear cut MVP and why it's not even close. It all stems from the Heat's failure to execute down the stretch in last year's NBA Finals.
The Mavericks were able to defeat the Heat so easily because they stopped James' drives. The zone defense worked according to plan and James' lost confidence in his jumper made him ineffective.
When he did drive, the Mavericks forced him to play with his back to the basket. Shawn Marion should have been a legitimate contender for Finals MVP for his excellent work on James.
He wouldn't allow him to face up on his drives and would constantly make him play in a post up setting, something that James has never been truly comfortable with.
Think about it, when was the last time you saw James revert to posting up prior to this year? You didn't see it much because James relied on hero ball far too much.
His game would either come down to how easily he was getting to the rim or how well his shot was falling. Against the Mavericks, he wasn't getting to the rim and his shot wasn't falling, basically making him useless.
This is the part where I explain why James is the outright MVP and has become unstoppable, so hold on to your hats.
Instead of sulking at home, eating ice cream and watching movies on Lifetime, James did the smartest thing he could do, which was look for help on improving his game.
It was the first time in his career that he reached out to someone else for guidance and it all stemmed from his disappointing NBA Finals performance.
James recognized that his back-to-the-basket game was abysmal, so he decided to give Hakeem Olajuwon a call. In case you're new to the game, Olajuwon is a two-time NBA champion and one-time MVP who is best known for his outstanding footwork in the post.
Neither of those players showed improvement and efficiency as quick as James has this year. LeBron took the Finals loss and Spoelstra's message of taking it inside to heart and he's transitioned his newly found post game to the actual game.
In turn, James is utilizing that freakishly large frame of his to post up weaker defenders and get near the rim.
When James starts scoring, he starts bringing in double teams. When double teams start coming towards James, he starts passing out to open shooters.
When open shooters get the ball, they tend to make it. When you replace 25 foot jumpers with post-ups 10 feet from the basket, the offense begins to run smoothly as easier shots are taken.
What we're finally seeing is James utilizing his physical and athletic attributes to their fullest potential. For years, we had seen LeBron play his usual game of driving into three players and either coming away with a basket or a foul and shooting three-pointers.
The fact that he was taking five three-pointers per in his final season with Cleveland is an insult to everything he worked for.
LeBron's a good three-point shooter, but he's not the player you want taking five three-pointers per game. Leave that for the Rashard Lewises and Antoine Walkers of the league.
Players who have the redeeming qualities and athletic builds like LeBron should not be limiting themselves to being a jump shooter. It's unfair to themselves and the team that their biggest advantage is settling into jump shots.
By adding a post game, you're getting LeBron nearly at his best. I wouldn't say he's at his best yet, though, since he has only just started to learn the art of posting up. It's a learning process to play with your back to the basket. You learn to use your feet more and you find new ways to score.
A player like LeBron has the advantage of being smart enough to learn new ways to score off post ups, while still having the physical attributes to always have the advantage against his defender.
This whole learning how to post up experience is a true testament to how smart and resilient of a player LeBron is. This is a player who could have easily been broken after the worst six game stretch of his storied basketball playing career.
Instead of sulking and wondering what could have been, he only sought to improve his game and how to reach the next level.
In response to being a detrimental piece of the Heat's loss in the Finals, James is in the middle of an MVP season where he's averaging 28 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, two steals and a block per.
But wait, there's more! He also happens to be hitting 55 percent of his shots from the field and 40 percent of his shots from deep. Both percentages are career highs.
That field goal percentage alone is MVP worthy. James is the only small forward in the top five in field goal percentage and only one of two non-power forwards or centers that are in the top 10.
However, not one of those players is averaging 28 points per. Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard are the next highest scorers with a field goal percentage in the top 10 and they're only posting 21 per.
Yes, this has been an unbelievable season for LeBron and it stems from last year's Finals loss. Think about it. If the Heat won last year with James doing his usual tactics of playing hero basketball, would he have ever sought out the guidance and advice of Olajuwon?
If the Heat skated their way through the Finals like they did in the Eastern Conference playoffs, you'd still have an inexperienced team that relied too heavily on three-pointers.
For a fact, you wouldn't see James posting up this much. Therefore, you wouldn't see the Heat at 31-9. The Heat are this good of a team right now because LeBron took the time out of his offseason to actively find ways on how to improve himself as a player, while also looking out for the greater good of his team getting better as well.
With LeBron posting up, you now see a team that's statistically ranked as the league's most efficient half-court offense.
Now wait just one minute. If I wasn't so sure, I would have thought that the Heat were supposed to struggle in the half-court. After all, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James can't coexist since they're essentially the same player.
Egos were supposed to play too large a part in this equation as well. It's ordinary to see egotistical and self-centered players look for ways to help their games after struggling in the biggest series of their careers.
Another theory out the window. What else? Oh, it's a personal favorite relating to the facade that the Heat can't perform well in the clutch. Since the media is all about made-up stats, let's throw an impressive stat in their face: the Heat are 6-2 in games decided by five points or less.
The Heat's propensity for losing close games paired with made up stats was a favorite tactic perpetuated by journalists like Skip Bayless to make the team look a whole lot worse than they actually were.
However, since the Heat are winning close games, you don't see it anymore because success just doesn't bring in the same amount of ratings like failure does.
This whole coming up in the clutch nonsense seems to be the only thing holding critics back from foaming at the mouth and going into convulsions whenever they hear LeBron's name uttered.
Instead of looking at what James does, they instead nitpick and look at all the things he could have done. Score 17 points in a fourth quarter and get criticized for passing it to the open man on the final play. It has become this bad.
However, there is a shining beacon as to why critics now have to relegate themselves to nitpicking James' passing up shots in meaningless regular season games and the All-Star game. They're doing this because they're finding less and less things to poke and prod at in order to look at LeBron in a negative light.
Think about it, what has James done wrong this season that we can constantly look at as a chink in his armor? A few free throws he missed during a rough three game stretch? Some shots he should have taken that he didn't?
You see, it's becoming more and more difficult to find those negative aspects to LeBron's game that we so fiendishly abused last year.
Even in the Heat's win against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday, where James not only hit the three-pointer to send it to overtime, but also hit a three-pointer to cut a five point deficit to two in the final two minutes of overtime, we still have to say that Wade ended up winning the game.
This fascination on who is taking the last shot is being dragged through the ground and beaten to death.
Taking the last shot shouldn't matter. Running the correct offense and getting it to the open man for the last shot is the smart play.
Don't you find it interesting how isolations become celebrated in the final seconds, instead of the team basketball that is preached so heavily? Why should players subject themselves to one-on-one matchups when they could just run a smart offensive play to win?
If you want to put on a show, go to Broadway. This is the NBA and teamwork wins games. Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant can hit all the contested game winners they want, but I prefer to see a team win games by playing smart.
Call me old fashioned, but the appeal of watching two players go at it on the last play simply doesn't entice me.
LeBron James isn't unstoppable. He's missing 45 percent of his shots overall and 60 percent of his three-pointers. There are plenty of ways to stop him.
The point of this article is to point out how close he is to becoming the most unstoppable basketball player to ever step onto the hardwood, as well as why you should learn to appreciate success instead of focusing of failure.
I'm not here to convert atheists into believers.
James' post game has done wonders in helping his progression as a player, as well as greatly assisting the flow and rhythm of a Heat offense that had more struggles than anticipated last season. He's not unstoppable, but he's getting close to that point that will never be reached.
He's finally beginning to use his physical attributes and athleticism to his advantage and the Heat are a far better team because of it.
We'll be able to make our final diagnosis once this season comes to its hotly anticipated close. What does a regular season mean without a brilliant finish?
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