One Thing Each Rising NBA Star Could Learn from LeBron James
LeBron James has gone through the growing pains that came with him upon his entrance to the league.
Those pains only dwelt on him for the first nine years of his career, before finally winning that first illusive NBA championship. The three league MVPs, multiple All-Star game appearances, All-NBA First teams and All-NBA Defensive team nominations hardly meant anything compared to the prospect of winning the most important piece of hardware that came with being an NBA player.
Luckily for our sanity, James has finally won the championship and he can officially move on with his life without having a heavy burden on his shoulders, or the constant shadow of failure that had built over him since his final years in Cleveland.
Now the attention shifts elsewhere—to a new player that the media will surely cite some problem with that's holding them back from reaching another level. It's only natural that we find a new scapegoat to all things NBA, similar to how LeBron James was cast almost as a pariah. It'll shift to someone new and that player's fans will then have to defend their star player.
If any rising star faces or encounters a problem of the sort, they need to take a lesson from LeBron James and how he elevated his game through the scrutiny and criticism that comes with being one of the league's best players.
Five different players were put to the test and we found how LeBron's history could possibly aid them in their future conquests.
Kyrie Irving: Know Your Organization
A few weeks back, I made a jab at the Cleveland Cavaliers organization where I stated the Miami Heat would be waiting for Kyrie Irving when he leaves Cleveland.
Deservedly, I received a lot of flack. However, the idea isn't that far-fetched, and it goes far beyond Kyrie Irving. The No. 1 pick was taken by the Cleveland Cavaliers following an awful 19-63 season in the team's first year without LeBron James since drafting him. With Irving on the team, the Cavs went from a .232 winning percentage to .318.
There's no doubt that Irving is a special player and will end up playing in many All-Star games. His speed is amongst the fastest in the league and his fearlessness in pressure situations is remarkable for a 19-year-old who only played 9 games at Duke.
Throw in the fact that he's an excellent slasher and shoots 40 percent from beyond the arc and you have a franchise player worth building around.
So, what exactly have the Cavaliers done this offseason to give Irving hope for the future? Not much.
They drafted Dion Waiters and traded for Tyler Zeller in their draft, signed C.J. Miles and re-signed Alonzo Gee. They were also believed to be included in the original deal that would have sent Dwight Howard to the Brooklyn Nets, but backed out following Kris Humphries reluctance to sign a short-term deal.
Give Cleveland the credit for creating a backcourt with more potential than any other in the league, but be disappointed that they made no big-time splashes and failed to make a notable free-agent signing outside of Miles, who was extremely disappointing with the Utah Jazz last season.
Irving needs to learn from LeBron James by knowing his organization.
LeBron spent seven years holding out hope that Cleveland would bring him in the necessary talent to help him win a title, yet only came away with Mo Williams, 34-year-old Antawn Jamison and 37-year-old Shaquille O'Neal. Irving needs to be the one to push his organization to make the moves that will make him want to stick around.
Kyrie has superstar potential, and it would be a waste to have him utilize that talent with a team that isn't looking for his greater interests in winning a title.
If Cleveland hasn't learned from their mistakes of not enticing LeBron with blockbuster trades to bring in a fellow All-Star, then they won't learn in the future when Kyrie's contract eventually runs out.
John Wall: Don't Allow Immaturity to Impede Your Progress
If there was one thing that was a huge step in the right direction for LeBron when he joined the Miami Heat, it was the strictly business attitude he took towards the game.
He isn't the same person we remembered in Cleveland. James isn't dancing on the sideline or constantly in the press because he had something to say. No, LeBron is staying out of the spotlight because he has recognized that he should keep his image on the court. He goes out every night and plays with whatever drive it takes to win games.
When LeBron decided to join the Heat, he joined to win championships, not to have fun with new friends.
A player who has received a lot of flack for their immaturity has been John Wall, who failed to push his game to another level last year.
Wall greatly impressed in his rookie year and was a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year if not for it also being Blake Griffin's unofficial rookie season. We expected Wall to make the leap to stardom, however, he got stuck in old habits and approached the game with the same zeal he did in his rookie season.
There were no improvements. In fact, Wall only regressed. His assist numbers went down and his turnovers went up—averaging 3.9 turnovers per last year—and he also found the resounding ability to miss a lot of his three-pointers.
Wall managed only 30 percent shooting in his rookie year, yet trumped that with a staggering percentage of .071 percent after converting only three of his 42 three-point attempts.
Wall did manage to improve his shooting percentage, converting the 41 percent he shot in his rookie year to 42 percent in his sophomore year.
There are maturity issues concerning Wall on the court. He still doesn't "get it." He didn't show any sign of improvement, and he continued to conduct himself in a manner on the court that was far too similar to the player we saw at Kentucky and in his rookie season in Washington.
Wall needs to cut the dancing down and keep his life focused solely on the game of basketball. While I have no doubt that Wall is spending countless hours in the gym perfecting his craft, he also needs to be able to transition that to the actual game itself. His game itself has the potential to have no limits.
But the only way we see Wall's game without limitations is if he can tone down the gimmicks and just play basketball the way it was meant to be played.
Russell Westbrook: Don't Listen to the Critics
Needless to say, Russell Westbrook's Game 4 of the NBA Finals was a thing of beauty.
At the end of the day, Westbrook recorded 43 points on 20-of-32 shooting, no three-pointers and only three converted free throws, seven rebounds, five assists, one steal and three turnovers in 45 minutes worth of action.
Although the Oklahoma City Thunder still ended up losing, Westbrook's performance was admirable, considering the situation the Thunder were in being down 2-1 and with a Game 5 in Miami looming.
The Thunder ended up losing because Westbrook had nothing left in the tank, he didn't receive the necessary help from Kevin Durant and James Harden, LeBron James converting five points on one leg and Mario Chalmers going berserk.
But who received the blame the next day? Russell Westbrook. Nobody else. Not Durant shooting 9-of-19 nor Harden shooting 2-of-10.
The loss came squarely on Westbrook's shoulders. Why? Because he isn't a media darling like Durant and Harden, and it's a lot easier to blame a point guard who doesn't play like a point guard.
It's sad to say, but he ended up getting more criticism for his performance in that game, rather than the 4-of-20 clunker he had in Game 5.
Because Westbrook isn't your typical point guard, he's going to receive the brunt of the blame since every analyst on ESPN's staff now decide that losses in basketball happen because of one player ruining it for everyone else.
However, what Westbrook needs to understand is that this criticism can either make him or break him. He can either continue to play with ferocity in an effort to prove people wrong, or he can take the criticism in stride and use it to better himself.
LeBron first used the criticism to prove people wrong, and it ended up costing him a title. Once he settled down and began ignoring the criticism, he became a completely different player, and it ultimately resulted in him winning a title.
Westbrook is a part of the second-best team in the league, with the second best player in the league. He could win a championship as soon as this year. However, in order to do so, he's going to have to avoid letting the criticism get to him.
And that goes for Kevin Durant, too. Responding to Skip Bayless is exactly what he wanted. Why else do you think LeBron James goes through life acting as if he doesn't exist?
Blake Griffin: Broaden Your Horizons
Anyone that knows anything can see greatness in Blake Griffin.
The exaggerated build and the overwhelming athleticism Griffin possesses are second-to-none when stacked up against an opposing power forward. His ability to get to the rim, as well as the heights and lengths he can reach in his attempts to reach the rim are unmatched by 6'10", 251-pound players—because Griffin happens to be of another planet. That's the only reasonable possibility.
Although Griffin is putting up fantastic numbers in the scoring and rebounding columns, there is still so much left to be desired.
For one, Griffin's defensive repertoire is extremely limited. He can't keep his man in front of him and he has horrific tendencies when it comes to pump fakes and being taken of the dribble. Perhaps the most underwhelming stat of his belongs on the defensive end, where he has averaged 0.5 and 0.7 blocks per game in the first two seasons of his career respectively.
As athletic as Griffin is, he should not be sending back less than shot per game as a starting power forward.
Also much to be desired in Griffin's repertoire deals with outside of his performance within a few feet of the rim. In his first two years, Griffin has struggled immensely with his jumper, shooting only 32 percent on jumpers in his rookie and sophomore seasons. Perhaps the most troubling stat is his shooting from 10-to-15 feet, where he shot 30 percent and 28 percent respectively.
Luckily for Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers, he's only 23 years old and has no problem in learning more facets of the game.
One of Griffin's biggest problems when it came to his shooting ability was that he wasn't catching and shooting in any rhythm. He would second-guess himself into every jump shot, hardly taking a confident approach to shooting.
Griffin needs to begin making defenders pay for leaving him open; the same way LeBron failed to make his opponents pay in the post. James dabbled throughout his career, but only in the 2011-12 season did he primarily and consistently use it. Once James began learning new ways to complement his game, he became a far better player because of it.
Because if Blake finds a jumper where he can convert at least 40 percent in the mid-range, the Clippers may just end up usurping the throne in Los Angeles.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: Know Your Body
Two months from now, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will be just getting into the groove of being an NBA player for the first time in his basketball playing career.
Prior to being drafted by the Charlotte Bobcats with the second pick in the 2012 draft, Gilchrist was a standout at the University of Kentucky. Gilchrist found immense success playing alongside the likes of Anthony Davis, and would reach his plateau of winning a national championship in his lone season with the Wildcats.
In his short time there, Gilchrist impressed enough to be nationally recognized and believed to be worthy of utilizing a No. 2 pick on.
In his one season, Gilchrist averaged 11.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. He shot 49 percent from the field and 25 percent from beyond the arc, although he only attempted 51 three-pointers.
Gilchrist is a small forward that stands at 6'7" and weighs in at 232 pounds. With the tools and athleticism he possesses in that frame, he has the potential to become one of the league's most well-rounded players.
Naturally, like any other rookie, Gilchrist has plenty to work on, especially on the offensive end. There's no doubt that he has the potential to become the next Andre Iguodala or Gerald Wallace, but there's also some LeBron James potential in there as well.
While that type of talent only exists in certain players like LeBron, there is nothing holding Gilchrist back from becoming a standout in Charlotte with his current and potential talent.
Gilchrist gets out on the break as well as any other wing player and gets to the line just as much as any wing player also, according to DraftExpress.com. However, they also cite problems in his jump shot and his ability to hit the mid-range and perimeter jumper. Gilchrist can get to the rim with little resistance, but his jumper will keep defenders from playing on him.
This will have to come to Gilchrist over the years through tireless work and changes in his mechanics. Until then, however, he needs to know how to utilize his physical assets to a heavy advantage. He's arguably the most athletic player in this year's draft class, but will need to do far more than simply being athletic to become a success in this league.