Why LeBron James Must Play Power Forward Permanently

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Why LeBron James Must Play Power Forward Permanently
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

When a basketball player has as unbelievably gifted an all-around game as Miami Heat forward LeBron James, it often leads to basketball pundits arguing over his abstract "natural position."

While James has played all five positions in both his NBA and Olympic careers, an overwhelming number of his minutes have been as a small forward.

But during LeBron's reign in Miami, the team has tried utilizing James at different positions dictated by the team's surrounding cast.

And in his first season with the Heat, James essentially took over the point guard position between November and December. That move proved futile though, as the team realized it was better when James got the ball in half-court sets over bringing the ball up the floor.

Last season, however, James' new post game may have answered the "natural position" question for good: LeBron James is a power forward.

Due to familiarity issues, it's highly unlikely that he's ever listed at the position.

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Tim Duncan has always been a center, we've just never recognized that hidden truth.

Regardless, if coached correctly, this situation will almost mirror how the San Antonio Spurs handled Tim Duncan's career.

Before the 2012 NBA playoffs, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked who the starting center would be in Game 1 against the Utah Jazz.

He replied (via Sheridan Hoops), “Tim Duncan, like we have for the past 15 years.”

That subtle quote from Popovich exposed the worst-kept secret in Spurs history. Duncan, recognized by us breathing folks as "the best power forward ever," is and always has been (other than the David Robinson years) a center.

Could we be headed toward a similar situation with James, where he's recognized as a small forward but will truly be a power forward?

If Heat coach Erik Spoelstra knows what's best for his team, the answer is yes.

Here's a breakdown of why:

 

James Has Elite Strength and Smarts in the Post

In this particular setup, James is working the two-man game with small forward Shane Battier.

When Bobcats defender Gerald Henderson crashes on the initial entry pass, LeBron instantly fires the ball back to Battier for an open three.

As Henderson closes and Battier passes up the three, James re-establishes his position and Battier feeds him the ball for a true iso against Corey Maggette.

Before last season, LeBron would have likely taken two meaningless dribbles and fired up an ill-fated fadeaway jumper.

But here, LeBron uses his strength to overpower Maggette and finishes him with a dynamic spin and left-handed hook for the finish.

Anyone who watched Miami regularly became accustomed to that move, as defenders became helpless to an infinitely more devastating James.

 

James at Power Forward Makes Chris Bosh a Huge Matchup Problem at Center

Dominant traditional centers are as abundant as Circuit City stores in today's NBA.

So simply because James and Bosh would be labeled as "power forward" and "center" in Miami's starting lineup doesn't mean they have to revert to archaic stereotypes of the position.

In this particular set (called the elbow stagger), James and Bosh stick to the exterior and give the Oklahoma City Thunder an offensive clinic.

As the offense takes shape, it's clear that James was never the primary option here.

Bosh's screen was always designed for LeBron to pass off the pop. But simply having James as the primary ball-handler commands enough respect from Kendrick Perkins that Bosh has enough space to ball fake and blow past the slow-footed center.

That play proved vital for the Heat, as the offense sometimes stagnates when they overuse isolations. However, that form of the elbow stagger is reliant on Bosh being quicker than his defender.

At power forward, Bosh is usually quicker. With Bosh at center full-time, the Heat could be legendary.

Plus, Bosh at center keeps Joel Anthony off the court as much as possible. And that's always a good thing.

 

Miami's Roster Dictates the Move

The additions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis in free agency this offseason means even more post play for James.

And according to an interview with Hoopshype, LeBron knows it and welcomes the change.

I can see [becoming more of a post player]. I feel very comfortable down there, more comfortable than I've ever felt in my career. So I would see myself down there a lot more, and work my game from there.

For Allen especially, James being a post player can only pay massive dividends.

In Boston, nearly all of Allen's threes came off hard screens. In the video, Allen comes off of a screen laid by Kevin Garnett but still had to fire quickly with two defenders closing. At 37, fighting through screens to fire off tough shots can only work to break a body down.

With LeBron working his game from the inside out, Allen won't have to come off nearly as many screens.

In each of these cases, LeBron's low-post prowess dictates that the opposition rotate a defender over to help out. And nearly every time, James finds the correct player for a wide-open jumper.

If James makes the permanent move to power forward and uses his post dominance in the ways shown, Allen could have a renaissance year as the Heat become the most deadly offense in basketball.

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