LeBron James Proving He's Crafting the Perfect All-Around Game
Show me LeBron James' weakness and I'll show you the definition of fictitious.
The Miami Heat superstar has used the playoffs to showcase his now otherworldly arsenal. He has taken any and all perceived weaknesses and turned them into strengths and a means to achieve success.
And it's working.
Through three games of the Eastern Conference finals alone, LeBron has managed to impact the game in every way imaginable.
Where does it end? It doesn't.
From defense to offense and everything in between, his transcendence knows no bounds.
Part I: Been There, Done That
LeBron has never been considered a poor defender. He's actually never been considered anything less than elite.
The Chosen One finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting behind Marc Gasol, and while that would have satisfied just about anyone, LeBron isn't just about anyone.
Per Synergy Sports (subscription required), LeBron allowed just 0.85 points per possession and held opponents to 37.9 percent shooting during the regular season, which, again, is nothing new for him. He's always been revered for his ability to affect the game on both ends of the floor.
An easily underrated aspect of his defensive aptitude, however, is his shot-blocking.
At one point or another, we've all bore witness to one of his chase-down blocks. They're incredible. Not nearly enough is made of his ability to contest opposing towers, though. Roy Hibbert would attest to that.
LeBron's precision-based timing and superior leaping ability allow him to make plays on opponents that have beat him or one of his teammates. If he wasn't constantly tasked with defending the opposition's best perimeter scorers, there's no doubt he'd be averaging well over 0.8 blocks a game for his career.
But how about those perimeter players LeBron suffocates?
His lateral footwork has always been a thing of coordinated beauty. He forces opponents to over-dribble and they then often 1) get frustrated deep into the shot clock and hoist up a low-percentage shot that clangs off the rim, 2) toss an ill-advised pass that LeBron or a teammate can intercept or 3) get pick-pocketed by The King himself.
It's not just LeBron's footwork either. He's so good with his timing (once again) and hands. He'll steal the ball off an entry pass, a cross-court heave or even on the catch. That's just what he does.
Stardom is so frequently measured by a player's offensive dominance, perhaps too much. Superstars like Carmelo Anthony are proof you can be both exceptional and one-dimensional, that one dimension usually being offense (scoring in particular).
With offensive performance trumped up, it's easy for LeBron's defensive prowess to get swept under the rug when, really, it shouldn't be.
Everything he does on the defensive end is calculated and not necessarily aimed at forcing turnovers or blocking shots. Sometimes it's as simple as forcing the ball out of his opponent's hand or just keeping a team's best penetrator outside the paint.
Whatever it is he does, it's near flawlessly crafted.
Part II: Anything I Used to Do, I Can Now Do Better
LeBron was never considered an inefficient scorer or even close to one. He's shooting 49 percent from the floor for his career, and the only year he converted on under 40 percent of his field-goal attempts was during his rookie season.
Since joining the Heat, LeBron has taken his economic scoring displays to new heights, because why not?
He has connected on at least 51 percent of his shots the last three years, and the 2012-13 campaign, in particular, has been one to remember.
During the regular season, LeBron shot a career-best 56.5 percent (40.6 percent from deep), becoming the only player in NBA history to average at least 25 points and seven assists per game while knocking down 55 percent or more of his shot attempts.
His efficiency party hasn't tapered off in the playoffs either. He's hitting on 53 percent of his shots overall. Every time he releases the ball, you just expect it to go in.
Incredible doesn't even begin to describe what LeBron has done. Or what he can still do.
LeBron says he could shoot 50/40/90 if he wanted to, and we have no choice but to believe him.
Few players in the league are as skilled a facilitator as LeBron, point guards included.
He knows how to use his angles, reads defenders well and has developed some sort of an ESP with his teammates.
Upon joining the league, he emphasized involving his teammates. He's never averaged below 5.9 dimes per game during the regular season and is currently the only player in NBA history to average 25 points a night while assisting on 34 percent or more of his team's baskets when on the floor.
He's the ideal playmaker; he always has been.
Getting to the Rim
To be sure, LeBron has always excelled at getting to the rim, but it's just never seemed so effortless.
I mean, who hits game-winning layups as frequently as LeBron? No one.
Per hoopdata.com, more than one third of LeBron's shot attempts came at the rim this season. Which is scary.
Why? Because it means he knows he can be stopped about as often as a runaway freight train, and because he hit on 78.3 percent of his attempts at the rim this year, his best mark since 2007.
LeBron understands he can score from wherever (spoiler), but he also understands he's been reaching the rim without much resistance since 2003. There's no use ceasing now.
And he hasn't, nor will we.
There is only one word that can describe LeBron's transition offense: Awesome. Or unstoppable. Take your pick.
It seems everyone in the league has been on the wrong end of a LeBron transition dunk. That's how frequently he gets out on the break.
According to Synergy (subscription required), LeBron averaged 1.47 points per possession in transition, the sixth-highest mark in the league. He also hit on 76.5 percent of his shot attempts on the break, including a 44.4 percent clip from deep (spoiler, part II).
The reigning MVP is no stranger to dishing while out in the open lane either. Ask Dwyane Wade. He also won't shy away from absorbing contact and attempting finish with an And-1.
How do you stop that? How can you actually contain a player who can expose you in any way, shape or form when running in transition?
You can't, and you won't.
Part III: Weaknesses? What Weaknesses?
LeBron wasn't always considered a strong three-point shooter. Then we blinked.
Prior to this season, he shot over 35 percent from beyond the arc just twice in his career. He then proceeded to bury a career-best 40.6 percent of his treys this past year.
He's drilling just 33.3 percent of his three-point attempts in the playoffs, but that's up from the 25.9 percent he converted on last year. And even though he's been struggling to find the touch from long range, he's not someone you want to leave open. Or partially open. I'm sure the Pacers wouldn't even feel comfortable if he was forced into a contested three off a well-placed double-team. He's become that lethal of a distance shooter.
What was once the most uncertain part of LeBron's on-court skill set is now one of his strengths.
Known for getting to the rim, LeBron was never one to turn his back to the basket. After all, why would he want to face the opposite direction he was supposed to head in?
Since working with Hakeem Olajuwon and assuming more of a power-point forward role, he's become more accustomed to operating on the block. In certain situations, he even prefers it. Watching him in Game 3 against the Indiana Pacers showed us that much.
LeBron didn't have a particularly efficient night. Not for him. He was 8-of-17 from the floor (47.1 percent) for 22 points. But he did manhandle Paul George in the post. Like absolutely bullied him.
"I have to do a better job battling him down there," George said of LeBron, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.
George can battle all he wants, but we're left believing that stopping him on the block is not possible.
The King scored 14 points on 11 post-ups in the game, an average of 1.27 points per possession.
Counting fouls drawn, LeBron scored 14 points on 11 post-ups tonight (1.27 points per possession).— Couper Moorhead (@CoupNBA) May 27, 2013
On the year, he ranked 16th in the league with 0.96 points scored per post-up (subscription required). So yes, that 1.27 is good. Spectacular even.
It's also nothing new. Not incredibly neoteric anyway.
LeBron has taken great strides in the post for quite some time, and it's culminated in what we saw in Game 3.
Take this particular possession when he receives the ball near the left block facing the basket:
Most would expect LeBron to take George off the dribble. Instead, he spins into a post-up set. Seriously, I kid you not:
He then proceeds to back George down further into the paint. Just look at how deep he pushes him:
The result? LeBron spins around yet again for an easy two:
To be fair, he has always had the strength necessary to overpower opponents in the post. That said, he's never actively looked to engage his man in the post like he is now.
And about that scouting report Michael Jordan gave us—you know the one—yeah, that doesn't really apply.
Jordan asserted LeBron was far less effective going left. Not only does he go left here, but he's already hit a game-winner against Indiana by attacking from the left (see: this).
"I think they might try to take away my left in Game 4 now," James said following Game 3. "So I will shoot it with my right."
So much for that.
His improved postgame has also opened up even more possibilities for his supporting cast.
Indiana's defense is forced to converge on him when he gets deeper into the paint with his back to the basket. Being the ever aware-basketball immortal that he is, no-look perimeter pass outs have become a staple of his, something Chris Bosh very much appreciates (see: this).
LeBron can go left. He can score in the post. And he can do it all consistently. Which comes as great news for the Heat. The Pacers? Not so much.
Other, more non-specific aspects of LeBron's game have improved as well.
Although he has never been considered the most accurate of free-throw shooters (74.7 percent for his career), he's knocking down a career-playoff-best 76.5 percent. It seems he's even developed a Ray Allen-esque shooting motion.
If LeBron can improve his free-throw shooting, then there's no reason to believe he can't make 90 percent of his freebies. That's actually something we should watch for next season.
Aside from his subtle foul-line adjustments, LeBron has added a quaint little floater as well.
Those are difficult to make for a player of his size. They take a soft touch; they're the opposite of explosive or, rather, everything LeBron used to stand for.
Now, James is able to switch gears at will. He can play more of a finesse-founded style or rock the rim like the slam-dunk competition actually appeals to him.
And because LeBron's all-encompassing accolades aren't enough already, he's become more deadly in the clutch.
In fact, since entering the NBA, LeBron has been the league's most clutch player in the postseason.
With 24 or fewer seconds remaining in the fourth quarter or overtime, nobody has shot a better game-tying and game-winning clip combined.
This is who LeBron is, someone who is constantly evolving and trying to get better. And he's gotten better. Much better. Better than anyone else currently in the league.
*All stats in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, NBA.com, hoopdata.com and Synergy Sports unless otherwise attributed.
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