The LeBron James Guide to Being the Lone Wolf
Before LeBron James won multiple MVP awards as a member of the Miami Heat's Big Three, he was winning multiple MVPs as the lone star on the Cleveland Cavaliers.
While he was similarly dominant with both teams, the way James went about attacking the opposition was different in Cleveland than it is now in Miami.
Driven out of necessity, James carried more of the overall offensive burden with the Cavaliers than he does now in terms of ball-handling, playmaking and dictating tempo.
Playing alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, for example, James can now rely on his superstar teammates to create their own scoring opportunities at times. As a member of the Cavaliers, frankly, James' teammates didn't afford him that luxury.
Now trailing 3-1 to the Memphis Grizzlies, Durant could benefit from taking a page from LeBron's guide to being the lone wolf.
That guide, popularized by James during his time with the Cavaliers, includes a consistent focus on being the primary ball-handler, using the pass to manufacture playmakers and avoiding getting stuck in the half-court by pushing tempo at all costs.
Assume the role of primary ball-handler
LeBron James was the de facto point guard on every Cleveland Cavaliers team he ever played on.
While players like Jeff McInnis, Eric Snow, Damon Jones, Delonte West, Daniel Gibson and even Mo Williams assumed the role in title, it was James who brought the ball up the floor when it mattered most.
It was also James who led his team in assists each year from the 2004-05 campaign through 2009-10, James' final season in Cleveland.
With Russell Westbrook now sidelined, after leading his team in assists from the point guard position, the Oklahoma City Thunder need Kevin Durant to be the primary ball-handler as much as possible—just as the Cavs needed the ball in LeBron's hands during his time in Cleveland.
Use the pass to manufacture playmakers
LeBron James dished out more assists as the lone wolf in Cleveland because he did not have teammates who could create their own shots.
During the playoffs specifically, as highlighted by the chart above, James' four highest assists-per-game averages came as a member of the Cavaliers.
Prior to this season, where James is currently averaging 7.3 assists, he had dished out only 5.9 and 5.6 as a member of the Miami Heat.
Players like James and Durant—no matter how good they are—can be collectively stopped in the postseason if defenses are not concerned with the other four players around them.
While Durant's assists are up to 6.6 in the playoffs without Westbrook, after a previous postseason career high of 3.7, he has to continue to help make his teammates better for a chance to win.
Avoid getting stuck in half-court offense
It becomes increasingly difficult to score the basketball when defended by five players focused on stopping one superstar specifically in a half-court set.
This is what the San Antonio Spurs ultimately did during the 2007 NBA Finals to stop LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers after forcing the pace into a half-court game.
On this particular play, one of many just like it in the four-game sweep, James was first defended by Bruce Bowen. After getting by Bowen, Tim Duncan was less than one step away to help on the drive.
Even the shot that James later makes in the video above (at the 3:08 mark) is a three-pointer he's forced into taking two feet behind the line by the Spurs defense.
Run at all costs
As the lone wolf, more than anything else, space is needed to operate offensively.
In a one-on-one situation, there isn't anyone who is capable of defending a player like LeBron James or Kevin Durant. The only place those situations exist, however, is in transition offense.
Whether it's by collecting the rebounding and pushing out into a one-man fast-break, or running out and receiving the outlet pass like James does on this particular play, the mentality must be run-first for a lone superstar.
When James was able to get out in transition with the Cavaliers, they were unstoppable. When the game got dragged down into a series of half-court sets, those chances of winning decreased dramatically.
The same now goes for Kevin Durant and his Russell Westbrook-less Thunder.
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