Strategies to Stop LeBron James That Backfired

Brendan BowersContributor IIApril 10, 2013

Miami Heat's LeBron James
Miami Heat's LeBron JamesUSA TODAY Sports

Defensive strategies to stop LeBron James have backfired throughout the Association in 2012-13.

In many ways, scheming to defend James is similar to the plans once devised for knocking out Mike Tyson during his reign as heavyweight champion.

As Tyson first reminded us back then, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." 

Similarly, every coach goes into a game with a plan for defending James. Learning from what Tyson taught us, though, it's not often that opposing coaches broadcast this strategy with any degree of pregame confidence.

What those strategies for defending James traditionally include, however—like the one employed by Scott Brooks and his Oklahoma City Thunder—is sending many different defenders at James throughout the game.

Heading into their Christmas Day matchup with the Miami Heat, Brooks summarized his overall strategy by offering the following to Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman

We're going to have different guys on [James] and we have to obviously do a very good job to contain him. When he has the monster games, the triple-double-type games of a lot of assists and points, those are the games that they're tough to beat.

Despite the multiple defensive looks, James responded by eventually finishing with 29 points, nine assists and eight rebounds while helping the Heat to a 103-97 win.

The next time the defending conference champions met on February 14, however, he was even more spectacular with 39 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in a 110-100 Miami victory. 

More than an indictment of Coach Brooks' defensive philosophy—which is about the only option teams have of stopping James in my opinion—this particular matchup is an example of how James' versatility can force any defensive strategy to backfire.

Whether the Thunder defended James with length, size, speed or a combination of all three, each strategy ultimately backfired.

Defending LeBron James with superstar length on the perimeter

Defenses are best served by taking their chances and allowing LeBron James to attempt as many perimeter jumpshots as possible.

Those chances of stopping James only increase when contesting that jumper with length.

The reason this strategy backfires, though, is because James is now shooting a career-high 40.3 percent from long-range.

Even while defended by the 7-foot length of Kevin Durant on this particular play, James is able to rise up and knock the shot down with confidence.


Attempting to slow James down with the size of a center

The next three screenshots are taken from the video above.

On this particular set, after defending James with Durant earlier in the game, the Thunder used center Kendrick Perkins in hopes of mixing him up.

But while Perkins is certainly capable of preventing James from posting up, he has no chance of defending him in space on the perimeter.

There isn't one center in the NBA who has the foot speed to keep up with James, actually, and Perkins falls victim to the MVP on this particular play as a result. 

Countering LeBron's power with speed

Besides LeBron's strength, his speed is equally difficult to match.

While a player like Russell Westbrook is able to match that speed, he cannot compete on the interior.

On this play, James forces the Westbrook matchup inside. He then catches the inbounds pass and scores easily over his shorter defender.


A combination of size, speed and length can backfire against James as well

Serge Ibaka is an elite defender who can guard multiple positions.  

But even defending James with Ibaka's unique combination of size, speed and length—as the Thunder did on this trip—the offensive play ends with a similar result.

While initiating offense from the top of the key, James drove left before stopping on a dime, pulling up and knocking down the mid-range jumper.