Rather than spending time on how LeBron James can look inside to find ways to improve himself, we're going to come up with ways for James to look towards way he can improve himself by observing the games of his former role models and idols that he looked to as a kid growing up in Akron, Ohio. James has been criticized for his duration with the Miami Heat thus far and it's allowed him to give himself some time to reflect and think about how he could find ways to improve himself physically and mentally.
The NBA Finals no doubt proved to be quite the growing up experience for James as he took the majority of the blame for his team's failures to come through with an expected title. After dominating the regular season and postseason with upwards of 27 points per game, James managed to only average 17 points per during the Finals as he couldn't find any way to drive nor hit from the perimeter.
Since then, James has stayed out of the spotlight with the occasional news of his exploits in the many charity games that have been put on during the lockout as well as the reported goings on between himself and Hakeem Olajuwon. James has done the right thing this offseason by staying out of the spotlight and out of the always judging media's eye and it greatly assists the player that needs to strengthen his mentality going into these crucial games and moments.
We took the liberty of looking into who James could possibly look towards for help and we gave him five players and their games that he could look at to improve his overall game.
The art of playing the center position is a dying tradition that is nearing its eventual end. In a league where only two decades ago centers dominated the league and any team that wanted to have a shot at winning a title required to have at least one dominant post presence, the NBA now is down to one premier offensive threat at the center position and his offensive skill set pales in comparison to that of the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Nigerian product Hakeem Olajuwon is the cream of the crop when it comes to offensive minded post players over the history of the sport. What separated Olajuwon from every other center in NBA history was his impeccable footwork and the wide array of post moves that he had to complement his quick and powerful feet. With so many post moves, including the dreaded 'dream shake', post defenders had no chance of guessing what Olajuwon would do next when he was near the basket.
Put it into perspective. Olajuwon was averaging 28 points per on 22 shots attempts per game in 1995 compared to Dwight Howard who just recently averaged 23 points per on 13 shots per game. 'The Dream' may have been getting more shots, but keep in mind that he's posting up 28 points per game during a time where Ewing, David Robinson, and Shaquille O'Neal all called the paint their home.
Howard's biggest competition? Andrew Bynum, Andrew Bogut, and Kendrick Perkins.
It's been no secret over the off season that Olajuwon has recently assisted LeBron James in his inferior post game. Olajuwon has assisted in the post games of Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard since his retirement and has greatly helped improve both players' overall games in the span of an off season. Bryant has dominated guards and forwards with his foot work, while Howard has incorporated a short-range bank shot and a more consistent running hook.
If a player of Howard's caliber who basically relied on his strength and athleticism for six seasons could learn in the span of an off season on how to improve his foot work and post game, then James shouldn't have any trouble either. He showcased in the Miami Heat's NBA Finals series against Dallas that he was greatly limited in the post and the Mavericks were able to take advantage of it by allowing him to drive within the perimeter, but then stopping him in the paint as to force him to post up.
With James uncomfortable and out of touch with his game, he and the Heat suffered. James learning how to consistently produce positive results would be one of the greatest assets he could possibly learn as he has the strength and agility to complete post moves and power himself in as well as take advantage of the inexperience of opposing small forwards who wouldn't be able to keep up with his strength or his foot work.
Next to watching Michael Jordan just showcase his brilliance and mastery over the game of basketball, there is nothing more beautiful to watch in sports than observing Magic Johnson running an offense. Whether it was in the fast break or in a set offense, Johnson could find whatever teammate he wanted to for an easy score, could create a play that would have been believed to be impossible by the average floor general, and was unmatched overall when it came to getting each and every one of his teammates involved as long as they found somewhere that they could score.
Johnson was able to see plays the moment he got the ball in his hands and his eyes focused down court. He was always looking to score as quick as possible as to not allow defenses to get an idea of what he was going to as well as to keep his team in a specific rhythm that allowed his offense to thrive and the defense to have no clue as to what he was going to do with the ball. With Johnson on your team, your head always had to be on swivel since you always had to be prepared to get the ball when Magic saw the opportunity arise.
One of the keys to Johnson's success when facilitating the offense was his size. At 6'8", Johnson was the tallest pure point guard that the league had ever seen since the majority of effective point guards at the time ranged in the 6' to 6'3" area. Most point guards are that size because they're usually the fastest, the most agile, and have the best ball handling. Johnson was tall enough to be a small forward, or even an undersized power forward, and yet he played like a point guard with an even greater intelligence and understanding of his teammates and the game itself.
What many envisioned when LeBron James came to Miami was that he was going to be this Magic Johnson-type of point guard. While it is a good idea considering that he was the floor general for the Cleveland Cavaliers for seven years, has terrific court awareness and vision, and is the same height as Magic, James still doesn't look at the court like Magic did when he was dictating the flow of the offense.
Unlike LeBron, Magic was always looking to pass the ball, create movement in the offense, and find the easiest possible way to score each and every offensive possession. LeBron, on the other hand, is a shoot-first player (there's nothing wrong with that) that sometimes tends to dominate the ball and looks for ways to score for himself rather than looking out for a teammate that could possibly get the better shot.
James will also pound the ball at the top of the perimeter and it causes the offense to go stagnant as opposed to keeping it in a rhythm and a flow with the four players on your team always moving and looking to score near the rim. As athletic a player as he is, James should always be moving and keeping the defense on their toes as to now allow him to score. James has the benefit of being an excellent scorer that could hit from anywhere on the court and that should assist him as a point guard since he'll attract more attention because of his scoring rather than his passing.
What James can take away from Magic's game is just the overall confidence that he emits each and every time the ball is in his hands. When Magic gets the ball, the only thought in his head is how is his team going to score on this possession and how am I going to make this happen as easy as possible. Johnson never once doubts or second guesses himself and James needs to take that mentality into each and every time that the ball is in his hands and he's dictating the flow of the offense.
It seems that how many points you can score in the final minutes of the fourth quarter during a close game has become the most significant statistic in the NBA over the past few seasons with last season being its boiling point. With LeBron James and the rest of the Miami Heat failing to close out games throughout the regular season, every voice that had some sort of media outlet had to let it be known that the Heat couldn't close out games and it was somehow all James' fault.
While it's easy to blame all the problems of the world on one person, it's not exactly fair to place it on someone that doesn't exactly deserve it. James may have come up short during his first regular season with the Miami Heat and in the NBA Finals, but he has proven to us many times that he is in fact a clutch player and showed us just how much he could embrace those moments during the 2011 Eastern Conference playoffs when he annihilated the likes of the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls in ten games.
James may have come up short in the Finals however and the myth that he's not a clutch player once again reared its ugly and confused head. The problem with James when it comes to these types of moments is that he's not mentally strong enough to consistently make the shots that his teammates expect him to make during those key moments. What separates those that are deemed as clutch and any regular player is the ability to consistently make plays in the waning moments on offense and defense while playing the role of leader that the greatest players in league history embrace.
The Los Angeles Lakers' Jerry West didn't get the moniker 'Mr. Clutch' because he was one of those average players. He was given that name because the product out of West Virginia embraced the role of being the player to save his team. The thought that possibly missing the shot and losing the game for his team, his fans, and his city never once crossed his mind since the thought of converting the shot and achieving the glory of making it.
West was able to score a myriad of ways at any moment during the game as he treated the final minutes of the fourth quarter as his personal highlight reel.
LeBron James has proven to us before that he can be clutch and he's going to prove it time and time again in the future. What he needs to take from West though is that confidence and swagger when taking the shot and only looking towards the rewards of converting rather than the consequences and repercussions of missing. Teammate Dwyane Wade has possessed that killer instinct since his rookie year and has carried on the tradition to this day and it's time that James begins creating his own highlight reel.
It's one of the most wildly inconsistent ways you could achieve a way to score, but once in a while there comes a player that can make it a consistent and unbelievable lethal part of their game. Spending the majority of your offense attempting mid-range and perimeter range jump shots could greatly hurt your team in case you're not that consistent of a shooter, but it's a huge asset to have on your team when you find that one player that can knock down nearly each and every shot he attempts.
Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics was that type of player. He wasn't your average small forward that found his offense coming by way of driving, slashing, and using his build to score, but rather using his lengthy frame to shoot over opposing defenders. Bird was as consistent as they came when taking jump shots as he put on a shooting clinic every time he stepped onto the court and the ball was in his hands.
Bird possessed an excellent shooting stroke and the mentality to remain consistent and ride out slumps as just another bump in the road. Aside from being a point guard, players that spend the majority of their offense taking shots from the perimeter need to be the smartest and most mentally strong players on the court. It's extremely easy to find yourself in a slump that you can't work yourself out of for a few games and Bird was the type of player who continued to press on through these slumps and find ways to adjust rather than forcing the issue.
LeBron James isn't going to achieve that level of success of the perimeter game that Larry Bird excelled at and that's because he's primarily a slasher that can out-muscle his way to the rim and finish better than just about any other player in the league. However, defenses can pack the paint to prevent this and James' athleticism will only wear down once he hits 30 years old in three years so it would only be in the best interest of James for him to develop a steady and consistent perimeter game.
James has greatly improved his jump shot over time and it even appeared that he had some consistency this past season as he shot 51 percent from the field overall and converted on at least one three-pointer per game for the seventh consecutive season. James is streaky as a jump shooter at times, however, and it greatly affects the team when he attempts work himself out of a cold streak in the middle of a game as he did a number of times against the Dallas Mavericks during the NBA Finals.
Once again, the emphasis is on the level of consistency that James needs to achieve with this specific aspect of his game being his offense along the perimeter. Bird was an unorthodox player at the time as a 6'9" small forward that could shoot the lights out and James is an unorthodox player that is 6'8" and has the speed and agility of a point guard as well as the strength and frame of a center. These two share a few similarities, but it's going to be up to James to develop the strong mindset to maintain a consistency if he wants to be considered a solid jump shooting threat.
What defines a leader is his ability to rally his troops and motivate them towards one specific goal that they all have to share in order to be successful. Sports is filled with all types of these people from Tom Brady leading his New England Patriots to game winning drives to Wayne Gretzky leading the myriad of teams he was on to improbable victories. The NBA has a great deal of these players that step onto the hardwood and they always seem to know when to embrace that role of a leader and lead their team to victories.
No one was better at this than the Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan. He might not have won 11 titles like Bill Russell, but unlike the Celtics center who was dominating over developing teams, Jordan was beating up on some of the greatest defenses that the NBA had ever seen and was so effective at it that teams would have to develop separate defenses just for the intention of finding a way to stop Jordan. The hardest defense in the league during the 1980's in the Detroit Pistons were forced to create the 'Jordan Rules' as a means to not get lit up anymore by the superstar.
Jordan however wouldn't win an NBA championship until his seventh year in the league when he and a solid supporting cast was able to shut down the Los Angeles Lakers in 1991. The rest was history as Jordan would lead the Bulls to two more titles and then a second three-peat following a brief one and a half year retirement. Once Jordan got a manageable supporting cast that featured some talent and a hunger to win games, it was all over for the rest of the NBA if any other team outside of Chicago wanted to win a title.
Michael is considered the greatest athlete in the sporting world because of the aura and the confidence that he emits when the ball is in his hands and the spotlight is solely on him. There are only so few players who could step onto a court and suck the air of the building like Jordan could and that's why you'll never find a player that effect a sport with such significance that the entire outlook of the game is changed forever.
I hate to break it to some of you, but LeBron James isn't Michael Jordan and he's never going to be. That's not a bad thing since no one is going to achieve the height of perfection that Jordan delivered on any night as a basketball player. What James needs to take away from Jordan is that role of a leader that he's never seemed to embrace when the pressure's on him and the spotlight's on him like Jordan did for over a decade.
If LeBron James wants to go out and prove that he's not the Scottie Pippen in this relationship between himself and Dwyane Wade, then he's going to have to show us why he's the Michael Jordan of the Miami Heat. When the ball is in his hands at any juncture during whichever game he is participating in, James needs to become that leader by making the shots his team looks to him to make and emit the confidence that allows his teammates to become better players as well.