LeBron James' Ultimate Training Camp Checklist for 2013-14 Season

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistOctober 1, 2013

After two straight NBA championships, the sky appears to be the limit for LeBron James' career.
After two straight NBA championships, the sky appears to be the limit for LeBron James' career.Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

For LeBron James, it'd be pretty easy to grow complacent after winning back-to-back NBA championships.

The two-time reigning regular-season and Finals Most Valauble Player won't be afforded that luxury in 2013-14, however.

Ever since entering the league, LeBron has been compared to all-time greats like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. If his comments during the Miami Heat's 2013 media day are any indication, he isn't shying away from those comparisons.

Heading into the 2013-14 season, there's no denying it: James is the NBA's best player, and it's not really even close. Kevin Durant likely will continue to narrow the gap over the coming years, but James' burgeoning post game has helped him become nearly unstoppable.

That doesn't mean he's perfect, though. Even following a season in which he posted ridiculous per-game averages of 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.9 blocks, James still has room for improvement.

If he masters these four things, there may be no stopping James' ascent to greatest-of-all-time status.


1. Bring His Free-Throw Percentage Into the 80s

If James had one Achilles' heel in the 2012-13 season, free-throw shooting was it.

He recorded career highs in both overall field-goal percentage (.565) and three-point shooting percentage (.406), but his trips to the charity stripe weren't nearly as fruitful.

James knocked down 75.3 percent of his free-throw attempts throughout the regular season, just barely above his career average of 74.7 percent. The problem particularly reared its ugly head in November, when he drained only 64.9 percent of his free throws.

LeBron's tendency to bend his knees and "dip" while he shoots free throws "puts the ball in a weird position," his teammate Ray Allen told NBA.com's Couper Morehead back in May.

Here, you can see James' old free-throw form in action during a game against the Indiana Pacers in the second round of the 2012 playoffs:

James' struggles at the line appeared to be affecting him mentally in the early part of the 2012-13 season, as he sometimes appeared reluctant to drive into the lane and draw contact. He only averaged 5.9 free-throw attempts per game in November, far lower than his career average of 8.6 FTAs per game.

"The only weakness in [LeBron's] game right now is at the line," said an anonymous NBA scout to ESPN's Brian Windhorst in December 2012. "There is basically no way to defend him, he will beat every look and every system. But if there’s a chink in the armor, and it’s a small one, it's at the line."

After working with Allen, who touts the fifth-best free-throw-shooting percentage in NBA historyJames began to rectify his subpar shooting at the charity stripe. He drained 80.9 percent of his 8.5 free-throw attempts per game in February, 73.2 percent of his 8.1 tries in March and a season-high 87.5 percent of his 6.0 attempts in April.

Here's a month-by-month breakdown of James' total number of free throws made, free-throw attempts and free-throw percentage:

It's pretty evident, based on these month-by-month free-throw shooting percentages, that Jesus Shuttleworth's intervention made a dramatic impact.

Once James started standing more upright throughout the entire free-throw shooting process, he became far more accurate at the line.

Just take a look at this free-throw attempt from the Heat's second-round playoff series against the Chicago Bulls in 2013:

James recognizes that free throws are his final major frontier to conquer.

If he can begin drilling a higher percentage of his free throws, it'll make opponents think twice about fouling him in the paint. 

To James' credit, he's aiming to shoot at least 80 percent from the free-throw line in 2013-14, according to Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald.

If he manages to accomplish that goal, it would only help him transform into even more of an unstoppable force of nature offensively. 


2. Make Better Use of Screens

Remember that NBA scout who told Windhorst that LeBron can "beat every look and every system?" That wasn't hyperbole.

During the 2012-13 regular season, James ranked among the league's top 50 in points per possession for every possession type but one, according to Synergy Sports.

His one and only outlier? Coming off screens.

James only recorded 77 possessions coming off screens last season, according to Synergy. He averaged 0.88 points per possession on those plays, which ranked 76th overall in the league.

Out of all possession types in which LeBron attempted at least 50 shots in 2012-13, his off-screen shooting percentage (.422) came in dead last. He knocked down only 27 of his 64 shots overall and went just 3-of-10 from three-point range.

James' middling use of screens shouldn't come as a total surprise. He's going to attract defensive attention no matter where he roams on the court, making it more difficult for teammates to free him up.

But that didn't stop two of his contemporaries, Durant and Carmelo Anthony, from making better use of screens than James did during the 2012-13 season.

For a moving freight train like the 6'8", 270-pound James, increasing his usage of screens should only improve the Heat's overall offensive assault.


3. Attempt More Corner Threes

If there's one thing that defined the 2012-13 Heat, it was the corner three-point shot.

Miami led the league in both corner threes made and corner threes attempted in the regular season, according to NBA.com/stats.

As ESPN's Tom Haberstroh explained back in January (subscription required), "shooting from the corners is like using a cheat code." Three-point attempts from the corners are more than a foot closer than those that come from the top of the key, making them the apples of basketball sabermetricians' eyes.

Corner threes generate 118.8 points per 100 possessions, according to 82games.com, the most of any type of shot attempt. And yet, LeBron didn't take full advantage of that cheat code in the 2012-13 season.

Of the 254 three-point attempts LeBron fired last year, only 43 of them came from either the left (12) or right (31) corner. He converted 21 of those 43 attempts (48.8 percent), far beyond the league average of roughly 38 percent, per NBA.com/stats.

He wasn't nearly as efficient with above-the-break three-pointers, however, knocking down only 82 of his 211 attempts (38.9 percent). That mark still stands above the league average, but it's nowhere near his shooting percentage on corner threes.

Below, you can see LeBron's three-point shooting percentage from each section of the court, courtesy of NBA.com/stats

James hardly made use of the left corner three-point shot during the 2012-13 season.
James hardly made use of the left corner three-point shot during the 2012-13 season.

In all fairness, James did shatter his career-high three-point shooting percentage in 2012-13. He drilled more than 40 percent of his attempts from downtown for the first time ever.

His relatively low emphasis on corner threes shouldn't detract from that point one bit.

That doesn't mean that he can't further improve as a long-range shooter, though.

A slight uptick in corner threes and a decrease of above-the-break threes would likely only boost his three-point shooting percentage higher in the 40s.


4. Continue Developing His Post Game

Miami's loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Finals may have been the best thing that ever happened to James' career.

Without a reliable post game for James to draw upon, the Mavericks relegated him to a bystander all too often throughout the Finals. The loss spurred James into action that summer, as he recognized that his physical advantages down in the paint were far too great to continually pass up.

"I knew we needed low-post scoring," James told Grantland's Kirk Goldsberry. "We were more of a perimeter-oriented team my first year here, the year we lost the Finals, and I knew I had to get better, and in order for us to get better we had to be more efficient in the low post, so I took that approach."

James traveled to Houston during the summer of 2011 and trained for a few weeks with Houston Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon, one of the league's best-ever low-post players. 

He came back and unfurled his newly developed post game that next season, helping spur the Heat to win back-to-back championships.

During the 2012-13 season, James recorded 308 post possessions, according to Synergy Sports. He averaged 0.89 points on those plays, shooting 105-of-241 (43.6 percent).

The fact James would even attempt 308 post-up plays suggests a growing level of comfort with his interior game. However, he shot more than 10 percentage points lower on possessions in the post than he did from the floor overall (56.5) in the regular season.

It's difficult to fathom, but if James can boost his post-up shooting percentage to the mid- to high-40s in 2013-14, he could convert a career-high percentage of his field-goal attempts for the seventh straight season.

According to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, James may already be well on his way to accomplishing that goal (via Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press).  

Realistically, James could easily rest on his laurels and he'd still likely be the only player in the league to post a player efficiency rating north of 30. 

To win his third straight championship and continue ascending the greatest-of-all-time ranks, however, he'll need to continue pushing the limits of his game.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics come from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports or NBA.com/stats.


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