LeBron James: Will He Ever Be a Kobe Bryant-Like Closer?
It wasn't until this season that I have seen stats significantly exploit one player's weakness so much.
After every close Miami Heat loss, it seems that the media like to point fingers at who it was on the team that could have saved the team in the final seconds.
In most instances this season, the deciding basket has usually been in the hands of LeBron James.
However, when it comes down to making a shot in the final seconds to either tie the game or win it, James has come up short. From layups to three-pointers, LeBron hasn't always been able to hit.
In fact, his teammate, Dwyane Wade, has been called upon more often when it comes to hitting shots in the clutch. Most recently, Wade was able to hit a few shots late in the Heat's first game of the postseason. Wade hit a couple of free throws and hit a clutch layup with a foul to put the game on ice and give Miami the victory.
Another one of Wade's most notable clutch moments came in the Heat's game against the Los Angeles Lakers, when he went toe-to-toe with Kobe Bryant for five minutes and came out on top by leading his team to victory.
It's no secret that Wade has had plenty more success late in games than James has over this season and their entire careers, so it of course benefits the Heat when they can look to Wade for a deciding basket.
James' struggles late in games are only magnified when the Heat win, thanks to Wade being the go-to guy in the waning minutes. In many of the Heat's close wins this year, they have been able to look to Wade while James plays the role of sidekick.
As much as we'd like to point out James' failures when he is called upon to hit a decisive basket, he has made just as many shots late in games than he has missed. Take, for instance, his huge buckets to erase a deficit in the final two minutes of a win against the Portland Trail Blazers, where he also hit the deciding three-pointers over the course of an overtime which he forced.
James also hit a two-pointer in a February game against Indiana where he gave the Heat a lead in the final seconds.
The only problem is that you wouldn't notice, since one of the key stats that is portrayed is how he and the Heat shoot in the final 10 seconds of a game. James has hit plenty of shots late in a few of the Heat's games to lead them to a victory. James' failures have certainly been magnified more significantly than his successes, but they do have a case for it.
James isn't the best player in the clutch, and it has been obvious this year. Even before this year, it should have been known that Wade was better in the clutch throughout his career than James. Now that Miami has been the talk of the town since Chris Bosh and James took their talents to South Beach, they have been under a microscope that shows a new statistic that only shows off James' failures late in games.
So what can James do in the clutch if he wants to be recognized as a Kobe Bryant-like closer?
On many of his attempts at game-winners, he is driving into a plethora of defenders. They load up around the rim because they immediately realize that James is more likely to drive into his comfort zone than to take a jump shot. With two to three defenders under the rim, it makes the process of scoring a lot more difficult when the attention is focused on the player with the ball.
Not only that, but it doesn't help when the players that the defenders leave open aren't likely to make it if James kicks it out, either.
One of the main problems with this team has been their inability to share the ball late in games. In their most recent loss to Philadelphia, the team had the habit of having the ball stick to one player when the game was on the line.
Instead of sticking to the original principle of sharing the ball and playing as a team, each member of the Big Three reverts back to their prior way of playing by purely running isolations.
For the team to work better in late-game situations, they need to learn how to play as a team. Take, for example, the Heat team from two years ago when Wade turned down the final shot in favor of passing the ball to a cutting Shawn Marion, who won the game on a high-percentage shot.
That team was coached by Erik Spoelstra, and they still are, so it is completely possible for a team to run that play and get other teammates involved.
James needs to be involved in a team offense if they want to have success when the game is on the line. If the team keeps running isolations with either Wade or James, they're going to catch on and they're going to find ways to stop it, which they have done on too many times this season.
Wade and James need to keep playing as the duo they play for 47 minutes as and not revert back to old habits when one of the two are is upon.
LeBron James will need to do a lot more over the next few years to truly become a Kobe-like closer, but he and the rest of the team will need to play as a team and stop playing as five individuals if they want to succeed later on in the postseason when they're playing a better team in a late-game situation.
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