On the heels of his second NBA Championship, and as many NBA Finals MVP Awards, looking back at the jump shot that LeBron James used to possess is almost as dynamic as looking back at the entire career of some players.
Through seven games, 341 minutes of basketball and two weeks between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, the most telling shot of all came when LeBron countered Tim Duncan's missed scoop-hook with a 19-footer.
Mario Chalmers set a screen on Kawhi Leonard, who looked first to go under it and switch off, like he had done all game and all series long. Tony Parker covered him as Leonard collected himself, but the Spurs gave him space to get it off, and the shot fell.
If Duncan and LeBron found themselves in the same back-and-forth during the 2007 series, it would have likely been flipped the other way around.
Over the past five years, LeBron's jump shot has evolved, not into perfection, but into a realm where it's more of a strength than a weakness.
During Game 7, he went 12-for-23 from the floor, but more importantly, James made nine of his 20 jump shots.
While the Spurs clogged the lane all series long, keeping him from getting to his most efficient spots, LeBron confidently stepped back and hit shots in the final game. His mentality to turn opponents defenses against themselves has always been there, but the ability to hit long jumpers has not.
Going back to that 2007 series when the Spurs tried a similar tactic, forcing LeBron to shoot, James was somewhat less than proficient in the closeout game of the finals.
Of the 20 jumpers James took in Game 4 of that series, James made just six, and those he missed were missed badly.
We can look all the way back to his first training camp with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Hype surrounded him like no other high school basketball player before, yet, nobody really knew just how good he could be in the early days of his transition into the league.
Then-Cavs head coach Paul Silas seemed prophetic in those first days as LeBron went through the preseason in 2003:
His shot has a little of what we call 'play' in it. When he brings it up and locks it in, he's fine, but sometimes, he doesn't lock it in right away, and that's the reason you get the waver in it.
When Michael (Jordan) first came in, he was not a real good shooter. Kobe (Bryant) was not a real good shooter, and both those guys worked and worked and worked, and with the confidence and the hard work they put in, they became excellent shooters.
LeBron himself even had a Nostradamus moment before ever playing in a professional game:
When I first started, it was elbows out and all, so it's evolved a lot. It gets better every year.
That first year was definitely a rough one. While he was winning over Cleveland (which took about six seconds), LeBron was busy filling his shot chart with more red than anything else.
Moving a few years down the road to 2007 and his first appearance in the NBA Finals, not a ton had changed. He nailed down that corner three-pointer and found a bit of a mid-range shot, but it was still more of a detriment than anything.
In 2010, his final year in Cleveland, the tide had started to turn for the better. While he was utterly dominant at the rim, everything else fell in right around the league average, a definite improvement in most areas.
Perhaps, most interesting is what happened when he left for Miami. James dominated on the left side of the floor, but he couldn't seem to figure out the right side. It wasn't really a trend, just a strange season adjusting to a new set of teammates, as well as a superstar teammate in Dwyane Wade.
Finally, there was this miraculous season from LeBron: 72 percent shooting right at the rim, a distinct advantage on straightaway jumpers, along with a dead-on look from behind the three-point line on the right side.
Just comparing his shooting form from 2007 to 2013 shows how different he is compared to just six years ago.
Earlier in his career, LeBron was inconsistent on his release point, sometimes letting go too high on the jump, other times letting go earlier, all to varying degrees of success.
He was wilder on his selection, attempted long jumpers with defenders in his face and mostly drove to the rim on offense. Here he is in a great game against the Mavericks in 2007, mostly action at the rim, but some jumpers falling and looking a bit different on every attempt.
This year, there's been consistency in his best games but still some yips here and there.
Taking a look at his form, you can see it's far from perfect, but he takes good attempts and gets shots off over the top of defenses.
A popular opinion about James earlier in his career was that his game would suffer with loss of athleticism at an older age.
If he continues to develop his game, working on his jumper and developing post moves, he'll be fine well into his 30s.
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