Every NBA Title Contender's Best Option for Stopping LeBron James
LeBron James is playing the best basketball of his three-time MVP-winning life right now.
In eight games during the month of February, James is shooting 66.9 percent from the floor.
In three of those games, he shot over 70 percent, and against the Charlotte Bobcats, he shot 92.9. He's averaging 31.5 points in the process.
Despite his overwhelming dominance, however, there are options that every NBA title contender can explore for stopping James as much as possible in the future.
For each NBA title contender—with a winning percentage over .600 at the All-Star break—that option for stopping James does include the hope shared by all defenses that he simply misses.
At the same time, though, specific strategies unique to each team can help entice James to miss far more often than he has lately.
Indiana Pacers: Force Mid-Range Jumpers
LeBron James is shooting 56.5 percent from the floor overall this season.
According to Hoopdata.com, however, he's converting only 43.3 percent of the field goals he attempts 10-15 feet away from the basket. Similarly, from 16-23 feet, James is also shooting 43 percent.
The Indiana Pacers' best option for stopping James is to maximize his shot attempts from these areas of the floor.
This strategy of forcing James to shoot mid-range jumpers is certainly easier to design than it is to actually execute, but the Pacers do have pieces to help get it done.
Collectively, Indiana is leading the NBA this season with a defensive efficiency rating of 95.9.
Paul George, specifically, has enough athleticism to stay near James on the perimeter. He is also supported inside by bigs like Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough who could help cut driving lanes off as much as possible.
Additionally, the Pacers are also forcing teams to shoot an NBA-worst 32.5 percent from three-point range. The combination of this leaves the mid-range as a point of least resistance for James.
Denver Nuggets: Extend Minutes with Depth
The Denver Nuggets have won over 60 percent of their games this season by attacking opponents in waves.
They currently employ nine players averaging more than 18 minutes per night who are also scoring at least eight points per game.
As a comparison, only four members of the Miami Heat are averaging more than eight points on the season right now.
There are also only seven Heat players—in total—averaging more than 18 minutes.
The Nuggets' best option for stopping James is to capitalize on their team depth and force him back out onto the court for extended minutes.
In two games this season against Denver, James is shooting 47.5 percent—his lowest shooting percentage against any team in the NBA he's played at least twice thus far.
In each of those matchups—which the Heat won by a total of only eight points—James played more than the 38.5 minutes he's averaged on the season.
New York Knicks: Make James Defend Anthony
The New York Knicks cannot allow LeBron James to rest on the defensive end of the floor.
In a potential Eastern Conference playoff matchup with the Knicks, the Miami Heat will attempt to defend Carmelo Anthony with Shane Battier.
In theory, this would reserve James' energy for the offensive end as much as possible.
The Knicks' best option for stopping James, however, is for Anthony—the NBA's second-leading scorer at 28.6 points per game—to not allow himself to be guarded by a role player like Battier.
Anthony's performance must dictate that James spends the majority of the game defending him specifically.
The more energy James is forced to use chasing Anthony on the defensive end, the better the Knicks' chances become of stopping the most unstoppable player in the game.
In order for that to happen, though, Anthony needs to shoot better than the 35.7 percent he used to score 30 points in his only matchup with James and the Heat this season.
Memphis Grizzlies: Minimize Shot Attempts at Rim
It's easy to say: Don't let LeBron James attempt point-blank field goals at the rim.
According to Hoopdata.com, James is shooting 78.8 percent on shots at the rim this season.
He is the NBA's best finisher and has increased his efficiency from inside three feet over each of his previous two seasons in Miami.
But while it is generally easier to communicate this plan than it is to execute, the Memphis Grizzlies do have a tandem of bigs who are capable of defending the rim as well as anyone in the league.
Led by Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies are behind only the Indiana Pacers with the second-best defensive efficiency rating in the NBA at 97.7.
They are also tied for first in rebounding rate with the Pacers at 52.5.
Structuring their defense to defend the rim first—and everything else on the floor second—would keep James away from the basket as much as possible and maximize the Grizzlies' ability to stop him.
Los Angeles Clippers: Rebound and Run
The Clippers' roster is loaded with athleticism, and they currently feature the best bench in the NBA.
This, in addition to the game's best point guard in Chris Paul.
In order to stop the fast break, however, and dictate tempo themselves, the Heat would need to rebound the basketball.
Despite a career-high average of 8.2 rebounds from James this season, Miami currently ranks last in the NBA as a team with only 38.2 per game.
If anyone on the Heat is going to invade "Lob City" and collect critical rebounds, it's going to be James, who currently leads his team in that category.
The more he is required to crash the glass as Miami's primary rebounder, however—and not receive the outlet pass himself—the better the Clippers' chances of slowing James down become.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Force James to Guard Durant
Like the New York Knicks with Carmelo Anthony, the Oklahoma City Thunder are best served by forcing LeBron James to defend Kevin Durant for 48 minutes.
Durant is leading the NBA at 29.2 points per game while scoring from all over the floor. If not for James, he would be the unanimous choice for league MVP thus far.
The Thunder's best option for stopping James would be to do everything in their power to force him to guard Durant for as long as possible. Specifically, though, the Thunder would want to help Durant get off from the perimeter.
While shooting 42.7 percent on the season from three-point range, Durant only connected on one of his five attempts from long-range against the Miami Heat just prior to the All-Star break.
Despite scoring 40, his Thunder lost 110-100 as a result.
If Durant can make James defend 20-plus feet away from the basket moving forward, though, the Thunder would create their best option for stopping him.
San Antonio Spurs: Attack Paint with Parker
Tony Parker is converting four of the 5.7 field goals he's attempting per game at the rim this season according to Hoopdata.com.
He's also averaging 7.6 assists per game to go along with scoring 20.8 points.
The offensive attack for the San Antonio Spurs' begins with the NBA's most underrated point guard.
In a potential matchup with the Miami Heat, Parker will be at an advantage against the Heat's collection of point guards. Once he's able to get past his defender, he will also have an opportunity dictate offense from the painted area.
In this situation, LeBron James would be forced to help down on Parker.
As James pinches down to help defend at the point of attack, he becomes less likely to get out as quickly and run free in transition.
The Spurs cannot allow James a free run to the basket if they hope to have any chance of stopping him.