LeBron James must play power forward for the Miami Heat this season for two reasons: It's the only way he can improve on his MVP campaign from a year ago, and ore importantly, it gives his team the best chance to repeat as NBA champions.
James would become an even more efficient scorer this season if he completely embraces the move to power forward. He would open up shots all over the perimeter for the collection of capable shooters that now surround him. Ultimately, he'd also maximize the Big Three's effectiveness in the process.
At the Heat's Media Day, James indicated a willingness to move his game closer to the basket. The term point forward was used to describe this new role. Scottie Pippen and Magic Johnson were referenced as comparables.
Regardless of what it ends up being labeled, LeBron must play the power forward position in its truest sense.
Catching the ball less than 10 feet away from the basket where he's simply unguardable would benefit the whole team.
This isn't as dramatic a change as one might initially think, either. James will be always be listed as a small forward, but he has been inching his offensive attack closer to the rim since arriving in Miami.
He played the best basketball of this life last season because of it.
James took fewer three-pointers last season than he ever had before. On the year he averaged 2.4 three-point attempts per game. In the previous five seasons combined he averaged 4.4.
That was step one.
Similarly, this season his number of shot attempts in a range 16 to 23 feet away from the basket must also come down. According to Hoopdata, LeBron James attempted approximately 5.6 shots per game last season from that area of the floor. Converting at a 39 percent clip from 16 to 23 feet, he made an average of 2.2 per night.
Moving into the area of the floor traditionally occupied by power forwards, from zero to nine feet away from the basket, LeBron took an average of 8.8 shots per game last season. He converted a staggering 69 percent, making six field goals per game from zero to nine feet away.
You don't need Matt Damon's character from Good Will Hunting to understand this equation.
LeBron James increases production as a basketball machine by decreasing shot attempts from 16 to 23 feet away and replacing them with that same number of shots taken inside 10 feet.
Or more directly, LeBron increases his scoring production by moving closer to the basket and taking shots traditionally taken by power forwards.
Posted up in that high post area, there is not one person in the world who can stop LeBron James. Just ask Cory Maggette.
Opposing teams will need to send two or even three defenders to help when James has the basketball in the area similar to where he caught it in this video example with Maggette.
If they send that help from the perimeter, James will find open three-point shooters all over the court, the likes of which he's never played with before.
Ray Allen might not be the player he was five years ago, but he did shoot 45 percent from three-point range last season, which is the highest percentage he's ever shot from three during any season of his career.
The year before that Allen shot 44 percent, which was his second-highest percentage to date. He's trending upward in that category entering his first season with James in Miami.
In total, Allen made 106 three-pointers last year in 46 games. The average of 2.3 he made per contest was his highest figure since 2009.
Mario Chalmers led the Heat in three-point field goals made last year with 101 in 64 games. Mike Miller, Shane Battier and James Jones each made 53, 62 and 46 threes respectively. Those four players return this season for Miami.
They'll also add a 39 percent career shooter from three-point range in Rashard Lewis.
James will have options if defenses chose to collapse on him in the painted area. He'll find shooters just like he found Mike Miller last season in this video.
LeBron assisted on 1.6 three-pointers per game last season. Playing as a power forward, with Allen and Lewis now in the fold, LeBron could see that number potentially double.
This change will also create easy scoring opportunities for Chris Bosh in the low post, something Bosh hasn't seen much of since arriving in Miami.
While never being a true low-post presence throughout his career, Bosh did make over 49 percent of the 9.2 shots he attempted from less than 10 feet away during his last season in Toronto. This past year Bosh only attempted 6.8 of those shots, making 35 percent.
If defenses decide to send help from the post, instead of dropping down and leaving those three-point shooters open, James will find Bosh wide open at the rim.
Bosh's shooting percentage will increase, and he'll eventually combine with James to create the interior presence that's been missing in Miami.
There are 14.2 shots per game available for Chris Bosh. That's how many he averaged last season and they won the NBA Championship. If Bosh, like James, could simply move those shots he's already taking up closer to the basket this year, he'll increase his value dramatically, especially considering how open he'll be with the attention James requires inside.
LeBron's move to power forward would also help Dwyane Wade indirectly.
When they first came together, Wade, James and even Bosh seemed to all play the same position. But with LeBron now playing a true power forward role, and Bosh as the center, Wade will be afforded the space necessary to do what he does from the perimeter.
Wade's comfort level on the offensive end will improve and increased production will follow. The Big Three would become collectively bigger than they were last season. But like everything else in the NBA universe, it all starts with LeBron James.
He must commit to playing power forward first.
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