There's no denying it: LeBron James hasn't been himself through three games of the NBA Finals. Even he wouldn't argue that.
We're going to figure out just how bad it is, though, by evaluating LeBron in the key areas of the game and then ultimately assigning him an overall grade. Now, these grades are determined relative to expectations of him entering the finals, which certainly isn't going to help James' cause here.
Last time LeBron James played three consecutive games with less than 20 points in each game? Games 3, 4, 5 of 2011 Finals.— Jeff Zillgitt (@JeffZillgitt) June 12, 2013
It's been quite some time since we've seen James struggle to this degree on the offensive end. He hasn't topped 20 points in a game yet. It says a lot about James' offensive woes that the San Antonio Spurs' Danny Green is outscoring him in this series.
LeBron has long been a model of basketball efficiency, especially this season. But after shooting 56.5 percent from the field in the regular season, James is shooting just 38.9 percent in the finals.
The Spurs have basically dared LeBron to shoot jumpers. They're playing off of him more than anyone has in a really long time, and it seems to have messed with James' head. He's been both hesitant to attack the basket and take a jumper, which has resulted in a lot of dribbling around.
LeBron is going to have to play with the confidence offensively that he played with all season long to turn things around.
Defense and Rebounding
LeBron hasn't been as far below his norm on the defensive end as he has offensively, but he needs to be better on that side of the ball as well.
The Spurs didn't face enough pressure and shot the Heat to death in Game 3. While that's not all James' fault or even primarily (we're looking at you, Dwyane Wade), he's the team's best defender and needs to increase the pressure.
As for rebounding, James is putting up great numbers in that department, averaging 12.3 boards per game. At the same time, the Heat would be better off if James could keep Kawhi Leonard off the glass a bit more.
LeBron's decision making has had some ups but mostly downs this series. He's done a great job at times finding the open man with impressive passes. However, as we talked about earlier, the Spurs' defensive strategy has thrown James.
James, likely confused by the strategy given that his jumper is now one of the game's best, is thinking too much, which has led to some awful decisions at times.
Whether the Spurs' defense has been set or not, he's hesitating and taking too much time to make a decision.
Take a look at this play:
James doesn't attack the basket immediately when he sees Tiago Splitter. He dribbles out. Then, when the defense is settled, he dribbles in, only to then dribble it back out moments later.
Ironically, James has to stop thinking so much so that he can start making the right decisions.
LeBron hasn't been able to be the great leader he's developed into on the court because his game just hasn't been there. When he's playing tentative like he is, that doesn't exactly instill confidence or lift the play of teammates.
Still, immediately following the Game 3 loss, James exhibited strong leadership by taking responsibility for the Heat's performance going forward.
LeBron: "I got to be better. If I'm better, we're better. I'm putting it on my shoulders."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) June 12, 2013
And that attitude continued in his Wednesday press conference.
This LeBron press conference is a clinic in taking responsibility— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) June 12, 2013
That's how the Heat want and need LeBron to be thinking. If the Heat are going to win this series, James has to lead them to victory. He knows that.
Final Grade: C
Again, James' grade suffers based on what we're accustomed to seeing from him. And unfortunately for James, this is probably the worst time to grade him. As we just went over, James seems highly motivated to be better in Game 4.
The Heat watched the Game 3 tape, and you can count on LeBron, one of the NBA's smartest players, figuring out how to counter San Antonio's strategy. But that's then and this is now. And to the this point, James has underperformed.