LeBron James is right, he's a far superior player than he was in 2007.
LeBron James dwells in hyperbole.
He's been the greatest out of high school, the freak of all athletes, and he's king of the NBA. These aren't his words, but it's where he lives.
"I'm a much better player – 20, 40, 50 times better than I was in the '07 Finals," James told the media, according to Yahoo! Sports.
James was already a top-tier talent in 2006-07, his fourth year in the league, when the young Cavalier averaged 28.2 points, 7.6 assists and 7.8 rebounds in the postseason before being swept by the Spurs.
Stripping away the obvious hyperbole—20, 40 or 50 times better—and yes, James is correct. He is a much more enhanced version of what he was in 2007.
Shot selection has been the foundation to explain the dramatic rise of James. Since he can play every position on the floor, James becomes a matchup nightmare for opponents, and his ability to get to the basket was once underutilized.
He settled when he didn't have to settle. In 2006-07, James was still a tremendous 47.6 percent shooter. This past season, James elevated his game to an absurd level, a career-high of 56.5 percent shooting.
Just look at the difference of red splatter between the two seasons, courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
James’ shooting chart from 2006-07:
James’ shooting chart from 2012-13:
Six years ago, James still attacked the basket but finished at a slightly lower percentage. The biggest difference between then and now, however, is actually less jump shots by James.
James hit 33.8 percent of his 1,332 jump shots in 2006-07. But in 2012-13, he hit 42.4% of his much less 975 jump-shot attempts.
Selective shooting—it's a game-changer. James still scores in transition and he has improved his three-point shot, but he doesn't overuse it either. Again, he's selective with it.
James also utilizes his strength with back-to-the-basket post play, or by facing up from the post and attacking the rim. He's too tough to stop on either.
|At Rim||476-of-663 (71.8%)||472-of-620 (76.1%)|
|3 to||97-of-258 (37.6%)||101-of-210 (48.1%)|
|10 to||78-of-229 (34.1%)||70-of-174 (40.2%)|
|16 ft to||167-of-485 (34.4%)||140-of-316 (44.3%)|
|3-pt||120-of-385 (31.2%)||127-of-316 (40.2%)|
|Dunk||126-of-131 (96.2%)||165-of-168 (98.2%)|
|Hook Shot||9-of-18 (50%)||16-of-26 (61.5%)|
|Jump Shot||450-of-1332 (33.8%)||413-of-975 (42.4%)|
|Layup||324-of-489 (66.3%)||308-of-452 (68.1%)|
LeBron shot 55% from the field & 40% from three this season. The only other qualified player EVER do that for a season was Chris Mullin.— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) June 4, 2013
With the change in James' style, it will be intriguing to see how San Antonio defends him this time around.
In 2007, they essentially begged him to shoot outside by sagging off and crowding the paint.
In the four games versus San Antonio in the 2007 finals, James shot 36 percent from the field and was 4-of-20 from three-point range.
James' immaturity in shot selection played right into the Spurs game plan. There are other subtleties of James' game that have changed.
He consistently keeps his elbow in tighter when he does take jump shots, has decreased his fade and he is also taking shots when he has balance. There are far less ugly fall-aways as there were in his younger days.
As he has done for years, James can defend all five positions and does so better than most. He has always had innate basketball intelligence, both defensively and offensively.
His court awareness and his passing skills have always led to high assists numbers.
James has grown his assist ratio (the percentage of his possessions that ended in assists) from 17.7 in 2006-07 to a 23.3 this past season. This is an effect of a more discerning shot selection and, of course, more talented teammates:
@MichaelVPina Crazy part is how much better he is now than he was when I wrote that.— Chris Ballard (@SI_ChrisBallard) June 4, 2013
The thing about shot selection, and why it can't be overlooked, is that it also takes away the guessing game for a player. James has learned where he can earn his best looks, and if they're not there, he knows where the open teammate will be.
It also cuts down on nerves of "creating," an element that helps him thrive in Game 7s:
LeBron's 33.8 ppg avg. in Game 7s is highest in history. 23-pt win was 2nd-largest in a Game 7 of division or conference finals since 1958.— Jared Zwerling (@JaredZwerling) June 4, 2013
The ultimate redemption for James occurred last season, when his first championship became the symbol of his transformation.
You see the change in James in leading his fellow players. He isn't afraid to bark at teammate, but he does it now as the game's best player and as a guy who now understands what it takes to win a title.
This Finals rematch against the Spurs, however, is going to further display just how much James has evolved as a superstar.
If anyone can find and then exploit a weakness, it's San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. Of all opponents this postseason, we might learn most about James through a series against the Spurs.
James already flew through the regular season to collect yet another Most Valuable Player award and quarterbacking a 27-game win streak to help Miami capture the best record in the league. He took the Heat to an 8-1 record through the first two rounds before putting the team on his back in the seven-game series win against the Indiana Pacers.
Now, James' personal dynasty takes on it's next challenge and all that hyperbole is on the line.
Maybe all he has to do is maintain his selective eye.