This much is clear, for LeBron James to reach his goal of a championship he is going to have to step his game up.
The question is how?
For a moment, we’re going to get away from the psychological aspect and what happened in the fourth quarters of the finals, the need of LeBron to accept failure so he can move past it.
We’re talking on the court. Because as Brian Windhorst reminds us at ESPN, LeBron does put in the work in the offseason. A lot of work.
“In the summertime I’ll put a lot of hard work into my individual game, try to bring my individual game to a team, and I work hard every day as an individual to go out there and perform at a high level for my teammates and for myself.”
James is right; he puts in as much work in the summer as any player in the league. His workout routine is ironclad, whether he’s on vacation, in China on a promotional tour or in Los Angeles filming commercials.
What should he work on? The first answer from many is a post game. Last season 8.1 percent of LeBron’s shot attempts came on post ups and he was more efficient when there than he was on isolations or as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls (his two most common way to generate shots). He shot 54 percent in post up situations and scored 1.04 points per possession, both good numbers. It’s fair to argue he needs more touches in the post.
But in the playoffs, that was less of an option — teams are not going to let him get away with that, the double team will come quickly from a big man and while James is a deft and willing passer, you’d rather have him shooting than passing.
The second answer is the three pointer. This is a valid thought. Think back to the playoffs — when LeBron was draining his threes like he did against Chicago or in Game 1 against Dallas, the Heat were so much more difficult to guard. But by the time we got to Game 5 the Mavs were playing off him and begging LeBron to shoot from three.
Henry Abbott and David Thorpe of ESPN promoted this idea today.
Remember how the Mavericks got away with sometimes using just Jason Kidd or J.J. Barea on James? Let him stand way out in the corner with one of those little guys on him. When he makes the catch, as (dare to dream) a 40 percent 3-point shooter, he’s doing his team a huge favor by letting that easy shot fly without a second thought. And when he decides to fake that 3 and put the ball on the floor … now the entire defense is messed up.
To me, there is a third option — develop one trustworthy, can’t miss midrange shot.
When Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t have it going, he will eventually go to the one-legged fade-away jumper and knock it down, get himself going that way. He can hit that shot in his sleep. When Kobe Bryant is struggling (or really needs a basket) he drives to the elbow for a quick pull-up jumper. A shot he can hit even when things seem not to be working. Something he can trust.
LeBron needs that shot. He is a good midrange shooter — he hit right near 45 percent of his shots from 10 feet all the way out to the arc — but he needs a signature shot. One that isn’t just a dunk. It could in theory be the three pointer, but it needs to be something.
When the going is tough, LeBron needs the one shot he can trust completely. That he has the ultimate confidence in — because clearly he needs more confidence when the pressure is high.