Breaking Down Why LeBron James Thrives at Multiple Positions
When you think about it, the Miami Heat possess a top-10 player at potentially three different positions.
Because not only is LeBron James the definitive top small forward in the league, but he could also be recognized as a top-10 point guard if he was listed as one in the starting lineup before every game. This had been the standard for LeBron's career, since he essentially was the Cleveland Cavaliers offense, and was fortunate to also be gifted with being a distributor as well as a scorer.
This past season, however, James began adjusting all over the court. He spent time at every position and eventually found success playing at power forward. His speed forces the larger defenders into playing off of him, which ends up leading to James getting open jumpers and a better field of vision, since the pressure from the defender would be limited.
James spent as much time playing at the 4 last season than we've seen in the first eight years of his career. Not only that, but he also spent time playing at the 5 with success in the form of a 38-point outing against the Portland Trail Blazers where his defensive assignment was Marcus Camby.
This entire idea of James turning into this athletic behemoth who is capable of defending every player on the opposing team arose from the fact that he lost. Once again, James' citing of the 2011 Finals being the "best thing to happen to his career" (via ESPN, h/t YouTube) played a significant part in his decision to spend more time at the 4.
It was all part of the process that came with making adjustments and sacrificing for the better of the team.
James learning so much from the Finals is why he came to be the 2012 NBA MVP, as well as why he branched out his game. He knew if he wanted to win a championship, he'd have to make comfort zones out of areas that were usually uncomfortable to him.
The key to him developing these comfort zones of playing against several positions during a game came about because he is one of the league's most skilled defenders.
His role on the Miami Heat isn't just to lead them on offense, but to also be the enforcer on the defensive end as well. He leads the team on both sides of the court, containing the rare mixture of speed, strength and agility to guard every position on the floor.
Miami's need for size at the 4 and 5 led to James, as well as Shane Battier, spending more time at the position than they probably would have expected.
With the success that came out of it, especially in the Shane Battier-Serge Ibaka matchup, the Heat kept going with it, resulting in matchups like Battier defending Ibaka and LeBron playing Kendrick Perkins.
The Heat had grown weary of its carousel at the center position. No player on the roster could effectively get it done on a consistent basis and fit into the system, so the Heat decided to convert their top defenders into "positionless" players. Playing "positionless" meant that James would go from defending Derrick Rose one night to Dwight Howard the next.
With Miami set to start Chris Bosh at the 5 this season, James will be sure to play even more time at the 4.
Even with the signing of the 6'10" Rashard Lewis, the Heat still aren't sure on how he should be used without first knowing how effective he is on the defensive end. On this team, everything comes down to defense—and if you can turn defense into offense, then you're going to find minutes in the rotation.
Lewis hasn't played consistently over the past two seasons, so Miami will experiment with him at the 3 and 4 in order to see where he is better suited. If Lewis is better suited at the 4, then we may end up seeing James' minutes there diminish. However, it's unlikely with James' defense playing such a significant factor in that type of decision-making.
Let's not think of the 14th and 15th players as impact players. Even if one of the spots ends up filled by a 6'11" center in Mickell Gladness, the Heat would much rather have James or Battier on the floor playing at the 4 rather than a 14th or 15th man playing at the 5.
Miami won't have James spent by the end of the regular season, so it's more than likely that we'll see more Lewis, Bosh, Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony at the 4. Not until the postseason will you begin to see James take on players like David West and Kevin Garnett that come with the responsibility of being your team's franchise player and leading them to a title.
He's even spent time playing as the team's shooting guard, going as far as being the recipient of a pick-and-pop. Whichever position the Heat coaching staff feels James is most effective at and benefits the team, he will play that position, including the 2.
LeBron's played point guard enough to already know the story. James has exceptional ball-handling skills for someone his size, has the quick, agile feet to keep up with smaller players and the wide body to keep his assignment in front of him. On the offensive end, he has the mindset of Magic Johnson—utilizing his physical attributes to make his teammates better.
James could average far more than 30 points per game if he had the mindset of the traditional small forward. However, he is always looking for the best available scoring option and he may end up passing to teammates who have an easier shot rather than taking a more difficult shot on his own.
Instead of averaging, say, 35 points and four assists per, he'd prefer to average 30 points and nine assists. It explains why he has such success at playing the point. With the type of mentality to defer to your teammates who have the better shot, James excels in his game as an all-around threat.
Even though James' jumper hasn't shown consistency, defenders still must apply pressure because of how well he can see the floor.
It causes the opposition's entire defense to focus solely on him, which results in James averaging nearly nine assists for an entire season. James only spent one season officially starting at point guard, but he had years of experience running the point because the ball was usually in his hands.
Adding the post game has only opened up new doors when it comes to playing every position on the floor.
Not only can James take smaller defenders, as well as those equal in size, and render them useless, but he also finds a new outlet to expand his role as the team's point guard. Seen specifically in Game 5 against Oklahoma City, James' ability to attract double-teams allows his teammates to get open for easy cuts to the basket and get open along the perimeter.
On 14 three-pointers by the Heat in that game, James assisted on nine of them; he finished with 13 for the night. It can only make you think how dangerous this team is going to be when they have Ray Allen on the same floor with a player who can pass just as well as any point guard and requires a double-team in order to limit his chances.
Preseason for the Heat starts October 7th against Atlanta just in case you forgot.
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