There’s a dirty little secret in the NBA: Every championship team has a star who can perform a particular move automatically, whenever a score is absolutely needed.
That move? The contested jumper.
LeBron James does not have a consistent jumper in his repertoire.
And although one of his new teammates (Dwyane Wade) does, coach Erik Spoelstra has proven that when the Heat desperately needs a bucket, LeBron gets the ball and everyone else clears out (Let’s move on past the grammatical awkwardness of singular team names like the Heat).
There’s a reason that LeBron is simultaneously an unstoppable regular season force and a dud when the playoffs roll around. Playoff basketball is a completely different game.
Tough defense becomes the norm. The pace slows down to a crawl. Easy transition points are few and far between. Teams are in a perpetual race against time to get a quality shot off within 24 seconds.
Whenever a LeBron-laden team needs a basket, defenses know what to expect. Generally, LeBron will get the ball at the top of the arc, a screen will come to his left just above the free throw line, he’ll try to get free by going left through the screen, then he’ll barrel in and try to get a shot off before time expires.
Sometimes it works, sometimes he picks up a foul, but the most common result is a dejected LeBron complaining to the refs and/or telling the fans how spoiled they are as a result of his greatness.
It’s not a championship move. It’s not a shot you want when the outcome of your playoff series hangs in the balance.
Compare LeBron’s signature gotta-have-a-bucket move with those of the great championship NBA teams gone by:
Michael Jordan’s push-off and step back jumper over Bryon Russell to beat the Jazz in the 1998 Finals. Kobe Bryant’s fade-away over Grant Hill in the 2010 Western Conference Finals to eliminate the Suns.
You’d be hard-pressed to pare the list of epic playoff jumpers Robert Horry has hit down to make a top 10 list. They don’t call Chauncey Billups “Mr. Big Shot” because of all those game winning layups.
When defenses lock in, championship teams always have that player who knows he can get to his spot and sink a jumper. LeBron _ames (as in no “J”) isn’t that player.
Fortunately for the rest of the league, he thinks he is, so Wade hasn’t sniffed the ball in decisive moments.
Unless LeBron spends a summer adding a consistent jumper or decides that Wade should be taking the last-second shots, he’ll continue to be sent home fishing before June rolls around.
Rather than wasting time with decisions and pre-championship championship parties, he worked on his jumper.