A Few Idle LeBron Thoughts
Just a few idle thoughts on just another week in the career of LeBron James, in which he averaged a 34-8-11 while leading the Cavs to a 3-0 week despite some major backcourt injuries, with all three wins coming against .500+ teams, including a showdown win vs. Kobe & the Lakers, and a last-second block of Kevin Durant to secure Sunday's win vs. OKC:
So, there's been lots of LeBron food for thought over the last week or so, including the very good LeBron column by Bill Simmons.
Simmons noted, "As crazy as this sounds, [LeBron]'s been the most underrated story of the 2009-10 season." As much as anything, the column was a reminder that - for all the day-to-day subplots of the season, and the legitimately compelling narratives of Kobe vs. LeBron or the quest to see which player (Kobe, Shaq, Duncan) can be the first to five championships - the overriding big-picture narrative in this era of basketball revolves around this question: To what heights LeBron James can take his game?
Zach Harper had a good post on Hardwood Paroxysm last week, as he pondered whether, if we can't come to a definitive answer across the board on LeBron vs. Kobe, then can we even say there is a best player?
I was quoted in the piece, and was fairly adamant in my feelings:
- "I think that LeBron is clearly the best player, and frankly, think that those who think Kobe is better are wrong. People always want to focus on W-L at a certain point, and underestimate the quality of teammates. The Lakers have an overwhelming amount of talent surrounding Kobe, the Cavs have a good collection of talent around LeBron. If the Lakers hadn’t acquired Pau, I don’t think that LeBron v Kobe would even be a conversation."
And that's the thing: LeBron has a chance to challenge for no. 1. Yes, Kobe is a more accomplished player and ranks higher than LeBron for his career as of now. But LeBron has a chance to challenge for best player ever, and Kobe does not.
Matt Moore was much more nuanced and elegant than I in the Hardwood Paroxysm post, with the following quote:
- "It’s LeBron. And I say that not because of Dwyer, Simmons, Ford, Bucher, or anyone else’s opinions, which are all the same, but because it’s a fact. The problem is that it instantly creates a slant on Kobe. But that’s not true. Kobe is as good as I can possibly imagine Kobe Bryant being. And there are literally dozens of things that Kobe does better than LeBron. But you don’t need to be perfect to be the best player, you need to be better than everyone else. And a player that is that size, with that speed, that power, that strength, that range (check out his f***ing three point numbers! For a forward!), with his vision, leadership, game-domination-ability, and playmaking ability, is better than everyone else. He does so much during a game it’s insane. It’s just insane. Kobe can take over. LeBron is constantly doing everything. He’s the best player in the game, and that doesn’t mean I doubt Kobe for a heartbeat. It just means that LeBron’s better right now."
I'd even argue that Kobe has possibly realized as much of his potential as any of the elite players in history. But LeBron's physical advantages are just too much to overcome, even if his game is not as fully realized.
Something that stands out about LeBron is that it's remarkable he's producing at such historically great levels when it still seems like there are so many ways in which he can improve his game and make it more efficient:
- What if he develops and mixes in a low-post game? His size, strength and quickness should make him impossible to single cover in the blocks, and his passing ability should make him dangerous to double.
- What if the Cavs ever start to run a little? I've said it in this space multiple times before, but LeBron is possibly the most devastating fast-break finisher in the history of the game, yet Cleveland plays at the third-slowest pace in the league, and ranks 18th in fast-break points.
- What if he stops shooting so many threes? Yes, LeBron is at a career-high .360 3PT%, but his 5.0 threes attempted per game (also a career high) still feel like far too many for a player whose advantages lie in size and strength more than shooting ability. It still seems like he should take the lead of Dirk Nowitzki, who reduced the number of threes he attempted down from a career-high of 4.9 per game in 2002-03 down to the 2-3 per game range (which actually feels too low for a guy shoots it as well as Dirk).
- What if the Cavs offensive schemes ever improve? The John Kuester era offered a brief hope for a more fluid Cleveland offense, but the team appears to be in a more stagnant mode once again, which too often ends up with LeBron going one-on-one starting from 25 feet away from the basket.
Specifically, I wonder: What happened to the UCLA sets, which looked so promising to me at the start of last season, but soon disappeared? They allowed LeBron to receive the ball around the elbow/high-post area, a la Nowitzki, where he is just impossible to guard, and also set him up nicely to run screen/roll with Varejao at the foul line, a potentially devastating combo from that spot.
So, that's the thing that's crazy: there's still so much room for improvement. If all the pieces come together, how scarily good can LeBron be?
One last idle thought...
- I noticed on the immediately indispensable site Hoopdata that LeBron's career-high FG% of .510 can partially be explained by a career-best mark of .755 in shots at the rim (he's been in the 71-72% range previously).
Something that caught my eye is that the number LeBron's field goals at the rim which have come off of assists from teammates is *way* up from previous seasons, at 50.9%, when that number's been at 37-38% in previous seasons. Not sure what the Cavs are doing differently to cause that change this year. I wondered if it was fast-break related, but Cleveland's fast-break points per game are up only 1.5 points over last year.
Coincidentally, Cavs: The Blog has an excellent breakdown of which players have assisted LeBron's dunks and layups. Check it out. Mo Williams has been the primary setup man - it'll be interesting to see if LeBron can keep up his career-best efficiency with Mo out.