Andre Iguodala was asked Friday if he’d noticed any changes in LeBron James’ game since joining the Heat. His answer wasn’t what you’d expect:
“I’ve only noticed one small thing,” Iguodala said before taking time to find the right words.
“I shouldn’t say he doesn’t jump as high, because he does jump as high,” Iguodala said. “But he doesn’t spend too much energy trying to dunk on guys. He makes the easy play now.”
“He doesn’t go down the lane and do a windmill in the half-court set or backwards dunk it. It’s kind of like ‘just get the finish.’ He’s preserving his body for the long haul and I see that.”
James responded by saying that he was saving himself for the playoffs, even admitting he’s been “a little banged up” this season, as just about every NBA player usually is. James also threw down several nasty dunks including one huge one in transition in the Heat win over the Sixers Friday night.
Iguodala also apparently hadn’t watched tape enough to see what’s been going on with the Heat in their sets, particularly where James is now playing off-ball:
Wade is getting to control the ball late in games and James is not only letting him do it but playing into the plan by setting screens to free his teammate up. Just a plain pick-and-roll — but it can be brutal to handle if it is executed just right and everyone buys into it.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and Wade have been gently trying to sell this to James for some time now, but it was understandably foreign to the two-time Most Valuable Player. He was used to getting the screens in crunch time and playing isolation, not setting the screens and waiting for a pass if it came his way.
Getting James to make changes to his game has always been a process, even when he was much younger and not so set in his ways. For example, it took two seasons of drilling under Mike Brown for James to fully commit to playing defense, and he quickly became one of the better defenders in the league.
It is possible that failing in so many close games with the ball solely in his hands this season — for which he felt compelled to apologize to his teammates — may have convinced him to try something new. The early returns are helping.
“I think he’s starting to see that this can open up his overall game, and he’s going to want to do it more,” Wade said last week, almost as a plea for James to continue to set those screens and let him control the ball.
LeBron James being able to play off-ball was one of the biggest lures of the preseason hype surrounding the Heat but instead, James and Wade have primarily been switching back and forth on who’s going to do the ISO work. If they actually manage to figure this little tweak out? It could be curtains for a team expecting a win in the playoffs.
Then again, this is the Heat who have failed in just about every what if this season. Still, interesting to consider.