Part of what makes LeBron James such an effective basketball player is his understanding of the team concept. He routinely passes up his own scoring opportunities to get teammates the ball, creating a culture of passing and off-ball movement.
What this does, however, is limit his scoring. But what if LeBron simply focused on his own points production? How many points per game could he score?
A recent ESPN 5-on-5 roundtable posited a similar question, asking if James could average 40 points per night. A majority of panelists did not believe so, but John Krolik of Cavs: The Blog reasoned it best:
Even though LeBron is third all-time in career points per game, he's really not a volume shooter at heart. His game isn't perimeter-oriented; if he misses two or three outside shots in a row, he decides to break down defenses by trying to get into the lane or set up his teammates. To average 40, you need that Kobe/Curry/etc. mentality that you're going to make your next deep jumper, even if you've missed your last five in a row, and LeBron isn't wired that way, as we saw in his hot-and-cold Finals performance.
LeBron's style of play is at the crux of this argument.
In a vacuum, sure: LeBron could jack up more shots to average 40, but his assists and field-goal percentage would take a nose dive. The team would also suffer, and the effect of a selfish superstar would likely rub off on teammates.
As we saw in the first year of the Big Three, superstars taking turns on offense doesn't lead to victories. Dallas exposed that in the Finals, and even the Pacers and Bulls saw spurts of that in the previous rounds.
But LeBron, as Krolik notes, isn't wired this way. He's wired to make the extra pass, sacrificing his own two points to involve a teammate. It's this type of unselfish play that also helps to catalyze Miami on the other end; it's always easier to remain engaged defensively when you're scoring, or at least touching the ball on offense.
Compare these two sequences of play in Miami: In the first, LeBron dribbles into the half court and pulls up for an early transition three.
Often the best way to take advantage of a chaos in transition is by driving to the rim and kicking the ball out.
Bigs are too slow to stay in front of wings but are capable of blocking shots from behind after the ball-handler gets to the rim. Defenses, however, will compensate for the drive by sucking in, leaving shooters open on the perimeter.
The chaos of defenders scrambling will usually leave someone open, and multiple ball swings can find the right player.
LeBron doesn't choose that route here and takes a bad shot.
Oftentimes the worst part about poor or selfish shot selection on the offensive end is its effect on ensuing possessions. Defensively, it can suck the energy right out of a team: Why should I give 100 percent effort on defense when I'm invisible on offense?
It's only human to feel this way, and the best teams simply avoid this type of thinking by sharing the ball more.
But it doesn't end there; on the next offensive possession, another player might shoot quickly because he wants to get his own opportunities. He knows he might not see the ball for a while, so he'll capitalize while he can.
The cycle continues endlessly and is a big reason why short runs by one team can often balloon out of control for the opponent. Bad offense leads to bad defense, which leads to bad offense and so on.
Now let's get back to that Miami possession; what happens on the next Miami sequence? After Tim Duncan commits an offensive foul for an illegal screen, Dwyane Wade comes the other way and dribbles off a Chris Bosh pick.
Instead of throwing out of the pick-and-roll due to heavy traffic and open weak-side players, he keeps probing until he gets stuck and travels. That's two possessions in a row without a pass.
Earlier in the game, the Heat cycle through multiple pick-and-rolls with Wade eventually driving to the rim. Instead of forcing up a layup as Manu Ginobili and Duncan surround him, he drags the pick out away from the rim. This subsequently draws Ginobili and Duncan away, allowing Wade to find Bosh for an easy slam.
The next time down, after Battier misses an open three in transition, Miami takes the ball out of bounds. The play leads to a LeBron post-up, with James spinning and looking like he's going to take a fadeaway jumper. Instead, he doesn't and fires a pass cross-court to Battier.
The ball pings around back to Wade, who drives middle. After having watched Wade just hit Bosh, LeBron makes a heads-up play and cuts to the rim. Wade finds him for the layup.
For LeBron, that turnaround fadeaway isn't the worst shot in the world; his length allows him to rise up over the defender, Kawhi Leonard, and take a relatively uncontested shot from 12 feet.
His basketball DNA mostly keeps him away from these types of shots, however. Even though Battier isn't totally open, he's in a much better position to make a play.
It's with these types of shots that LeBron James could average 40 points per night. But it's these types of shots that he usually doesn't take because they don't come in the flow of the offense and take away from what the team does as a whole.
In the long run, we'll probably never see LeBron's maximum scoring output over an entire season. We saw it briefly the other night when he scored 61 against Charlotte, but it got to the point of unending isolations and LeBron working towards a point total.
And that's what makes basketball such a unique sport. Sometimes the whole is greater than its parts, and James understands this more than most.