Though the Cleveland Cavaliers are sitting pretty atop the Eastern Conference standings and LeBron James is submitting yet another fantastic campaign, not everything has gone smoothly for the four-time MVP. Despite averaging 25.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game, James has actually been the worst in the NBA at something.
While Stephen Curry has been lighting up scoreboards from all over the floor and taking a prohibitive lead in this year's MVP race, James has struggled mightily outside of the painted area:
NBA.com's John Schuhmann provided a list of the league's worst shooters, one that contains more than its fair share of notable names:
John Schuhmann @johnschuhmann
The worst high-volume shooters from outside the paint, a list topped by LeBron James & Kobe Bryant. https://t.co/Sn4CW6C9O72015-12-29 14:44:54
There are two primary ways of looking at this.
First, we can adopt a negative point of view and justifiably criticize an otherwise phenomenal basketball player for allowing such an important weakness to emerge. James is shooting 48.6 percent from the field, but he's hitting only 24.8 percent of his deep tries and throwing up bricks from virtually every mid-range zone.
Without fail, his shooting percentages on jumpers have plummeted:
After a blowout loss to the Portland Trail Blazers provided an inauspicious encore to a Christmas Day defeat at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, James explained that the Cavs should take the result and "throw it in the trash," per Cleveland.com's Joe Vardon.
Assuming we're sticking to the negative analysis, we can hope James is standing right next to the bin if he's the one doing the throwing. Otherwise, he might get a fine for littering.
But on the other hand, doesn't the poor shooting make his overall performance even more impressive? Every single opponent understands exactly what he must do to shut down the Cleveland superstar—make him shoot jumpers while keeping him away from the basket.
It's not working.
James is still one of only five qualified players in the NBA averaging at least 25 points per game with a true shooting percentage north of 55, joining Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Even with an established scouting report floating around, no one can figure out how to keep this forward away from the hoop. He still makes plays like the one below with far too much ease:
If anything, defenders are having more trouble than ever stopping James from getting into the painted area, where he's been so effective. Despite knowing that jump shooting is James' biggest weakness in 2015-16 (as has also been the case in some previous seasons), opponents are allowing him to take a remarkably high percentage of his shots from within 10 feet.
Looking at the same five-year stretch from before, take a peek at how small a slice of his overall attempts are coming from outside 10 feet:
Though last season interrupted a sustained trend, James is getting to his spots better than ever. A staggering 59.1 percent of his field-goal attempts have come within 10 feet during the current campaign, and that supplants 2013-14's 52.2 percent as the top mark of his career.
So has it mattered that James legitimately can't shoot from outside the paint? You tell me.
His player efficiency rating of 25.6 trails only Curry, Westbrook, Durant and Kawhi Leonard among all qualified players. He ranks 10th in win shares—the natural byproduct of serving as the undisputed leader of a Cleveland team sitting at No. 1 in its half of the NBA.
According to my total points added database (which is explained in full throughout this article), he's on pace to add more value than everyone in the league other than Curry, Westbrook, Leonard and Kyle Lowry. Similarly, ESPN.com's real plus-minus has James behind just Curry, Westbrook and Leonard.
And if that's not enough, the Cavaliers' offense is quite a bit better when he plays.
Without the MVP candidate, Cleveland is posting an offensive rating of only 94.6, which would be 29th in the league-wide standings, ahead of only the Philadelphia 76ers and their putrid 94.4 points per 100 possessions. When James is on the floor, the number skyrockets to a gaudy 111.3—high enough that the Cavs would trail just the Warriors (114.2).
Yes, James has been an atrocious jump-shooter this year, giving ammunition to detractors who love pointing out that his game still isn't nearly as complete as it could be. But even still, he's been pretty darn effective.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.
All stats, unless otherwise indicated, are from Basketball-Reference.com or Adam's own databases and are current heading into games on Dec. 29.