LeBron James doesn't really have bad nights, but the Miami Heat's lack of size requires him to be both a primary big man and a point guard, meaning James and coach Erik Spoelstra's classification of an underwhelming performance for him is held to a different standard.
James needs to have power forward-like rebounding numbers, get to the line often and post very few turnovers for the Heat to be successful at the highest level. When those things aren't happening, Miami is likely not clicking.
James leads the team in scoring, rebounds and assists, and posts near triple-double numbers on a nightly basis.
So while a subpar performance by the three-time MVP might not look bad on a box score, as James routinely puts up the league's best numbers, the amount of responsibilities James takes on as the leader of the Miami Heat is extraordinary.
All statistics are from Dec. 18.
The Heat Need James to Rebound at a High Level
LeBron James is the only player in the NBA leading his team in scoring, rebounding and assists currently. But it's his skill on the glass that is most crucial for a Miami Heat team that is 29th in the league in rebounding.
LeBron is averaging a career-high 8.6 rebounds per game, and the Heat need every bit of it they can get.
When James grabs 10 or more boards this season, the Heat are 7-3. Conversely, in three of the Heat's six losses this year, James has had seven or less rebounds.
That's no fluke.
James has the ability to post the rebounding stats of a center, evident throughout last season's playoffs (three 15-plus rebound games) and continued into this season.
As the Heat continue to employ their small-ball game without a traditional center, James will be heavily relied on to rebound on both the offensive and defensive glass. While the Heat still sit at the bottom of the league in rebounding, James continued evolution on the boards will be key come playoff time.
LeBron Needs to be Attempting Free Throws
The Miami Heat rank in the bottom 15 in free throws made, and they are only No. 11 in free throw attempts despite having a trio of All-Stars.
LeBron James' ability to penetrate and draw fouls is also an essential part of the Heat's offense. When James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are getting to the free throw line often, Miami is a dangerous team.
This season, James is averaging a career low in free throw percentage (67.5) and his second-fewest attempts per game (6.0) at the charity stripe.
In four of the Heat's six losses this year, James has had six attempts or fewer at the stripe.
With Wade also averaging the second-fewest free throw attempts (5.6 per game) of his career, Miami isn't nearly as imposing getting into the lane and drawing fouls as the last two seasons. And considering Wade is still recovering from offseason knee surgery and just starting to get back into his rhythm, James getting to the line is significant for the Heat.
James has scored at least 20 points in all of Miami's 22 games this year, but most of his scoring hasn't come from free points.
LeBron's one flaw this year has been his poor free throw shooting. He shot below average in last season's playoffs (73.9%) and it has decreased this year to a woeful 67.5 percent.
James has missed critical free throws both last season and this season, and will need to fix this issue before it matters most.
Post Little-to-No Turnovers
Most people look to a team's total turnovers in a box score as a determination of how they performed. However, sometimes an individual players' turnovers can set the tone for a team and be more detrimental.
While James' 2.6 turnovers per game are the lowest of his 10-year career, he leads the Heat in miscues this season. Obviously, that is a large product of him handling the ball much more frequently than the rest of the team, but James' turnovers have proven to be costly for the Heat this year.
LeBron has had four or more turnovers in three of the Heat's losses this year, including five turnovers in a 20-point defeat against the New York Knicks in the beginning of the season.
While James rarely makes mental mistakes, it just proves how important he is to the Heat when he actually (rarely) plays "bad."
In some cases, the turnovers may be a result of a teammate making an error, but James playing mistake-free basketball is important for setting the tone in a game for the Heat.
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