When LeBron James came into the league, he was a one-of-a-kind physical specimen who could get to the rim and pass with the best of them. Shortly after he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, people began to question James’ perimeter game, and his jump shot was widely criticized.
Over the course of eight seasons, LeBron what was a glaring weakness his rookie season and turned it into a strength. James now makes 44% of his long 2-point jump shots (16-23 feet) and 45.4% of his mid-range jump shots (10-15 feet), and both marks are well above the league average. James still isn’t a consistent three-point shooter, but very few players can make that shot off the dribble consistently, and teams still have to respect James from beyond the three-point arc. (That said, I think LeBron should make more of an effort to make catch-and-shoot threes an effective part of his game, but that’s a story for another time.)
Now that James is making his jump shots more regularly, his post game is what gets criticized. James is bigger and stronger than almost every small forward and shooting guard in the league, but he doesn’t look to score with his back to the basket as often as many people think he should. Many have said that LeBron’s lack of a post game is evidence that his game isn’t evolving, and that he doesn’t work as hard or as smart as the league’s other great players.
However, as Heat.com’s Cooper Moorehead pointed out today, LeBron does have a post game:
Despite James suffering from a relative lack of mythology [regarding his post game], partially due to the absence of a narrative-fitting signature move, the numbers encourage a theory. Before we get to video, we’ll begin with those numbers.
James, mechanical though he can appear, has 160 post-up possessions to his name this season, shooting 52.4 percent, drawing a shooting foul 8.8 percent of the time and scoring at least a single point on over half the plays. Better yet, he scores 1.03 points per post-up, which ranks him 19th in the league.
That’s among all NBA players, not just small forwards or wing players.
For comparison’s sake, Bryant, in an offense built around versatile players who can operate in the post, has 300 post-ups, but he is ranked 39th in the league scoring 0.97 points per possession, while getting to the free-throw line 1.5 percent less. Effectively, for every 100 possessions, James scores six more points than Bryant.
Among other swingmen known for their post-up capabilities, Carmelo Anthony is 51st with .94 PPP in 274 post-ups, Joe Johnson 26th in 202 possessions (1.00 PPP) and Paul Pierce 10th at 1.13 PPP in 120 post-ups.
That James’ post game is already pretty darn effective is a story in and of itself, but what might be more important is Moorehead’s revelation that LeBron is committed to further developing his post-up game:
James working on his post-game – along with Dwyane Wade – with assistant coach David Fizdale has been a common sight after practices ever since training camp. The length of time and the moves they are working on vary, but Fizdale is a fixture, the man who has worked with James since day one.
“I commend him for having the humility to say he needs to improve at it,” Fizdale said. “That’s a big thing for a guy that could have an ego that says, ‘No, I’m good at this already,’ but he has the humility to say, ‘No, I need to get better,’ and he puts in the time.”
Moorehead includes some video of the things that already work in the post for LeBron — he’s getting better at taking deep position and making a quick move to the rim, and he’s very tough to stop when he catches it in the post, faces up, and takes one power dribble towards the rim — and some talk about the more advance post moves LeBron is working on. James has been trying to get comfortable with an unblockable but very difficult running hook; after that — he’ll start working more on his drop-steps and counter-moves.
One thing about LeBron’s post game is that it will never look like Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant’s, which is a comparison Moorehead touches on in his piece. Bryant’s best attributes at this stage of his career are his balance and shooting touch; LeBron’s best gifts are his size, speed, and strength. Graceful fadeaways and intricate counter-moves work wonderfully for Bryant, but LeBron’s best post-up possessions are going to be the ones where it doesn’t even look like he’s doing anything all that impressive — a deep seal under the basket that leads to an easy layup, a quick spin around a defender, or a possession where James simply bullies his way under the basket before going up for the score.
There can be beauty in simplicity — if James embraces that, keeps working on his basic footwork, and stays committed to trying to score on the blocks, he’s going to be even more unstoppable than he already is.