How much has LeBron James’ post game improved?

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If you’ve taken a drink every time a national TV broadcaster has referenced Miami Heat forward LeBron James’ “improved post game” this season, there’s a good chance your liver hates you. After being shut down by the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals thanks, in part, to James refusing to punish the likes of Jason Kidd and even J.J. Barea on the block, LeBron went to Hakeem Olajuwon this off-season and focused on making the low-post game a much more integral part of his arsenal.

However, Grantland’s Sebastian Pruiti has a post up today that makes the distinction between LeBron having “improved” his post game and the fact that he’s embracing the low-post game more:

Even last season, before James “developed” any moves on the block, he was one of the most efficient post players in the league. He shot 53.2 percent in the post and his 1.043 points per possession there put him in the 91st percentile among all NBA players. His numbers were so good that I named him one of the five best post players in the game after the season.

This year, James’ post game is a talking point. We can’t watch a Miami Heat game without hearing how much James improved over the offseason. James even tipped his hat to his low-post evolution in an interview during Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bulls. The problem is that James’ low-post numbers are actually worse than they were last season. His 0.958 points per possession put him in the 77th percentile among all NBA players.

As Pruiti points out, LeBron is backing down his man on the block far more often than he did last season, but his post-up efficiency has suffered as a result, mainly because he’s turning the ball over more when he’s posting up this season than he did last year.

However, I see LeBron’s decreased post efficiency as a case of LeBron taking one step backwards right now in order to take two steps forward in the future. Moneyball enthusiasts will remember the curious case of Scott Hatteberg, who swung at less first pitches than any player in baseball during his prime, but absolutely crushed the ball whenever he did swing at a first pitch — when presented with those stats, Hatteberg explained that people weren’t realizing that when Hatteberg did swing at a first pitch, it was only because it was a pitch so easy to hit that not even Hatteberg could resist taking a hack at it.

Such is the case with LeBron’s post game. In previous years, James would establish mid-post position, take a few tentative dribbles, and patiently wait for the double-team to come before making a skip pass out of it — sometimes it would lead to an open shot, but more often than not the defense would have time to rotate and James’ post-up would lead to nothing more than 8 seconds of wasted time for his team. When the opponent practically begged LeBron to take him one-on-one, James would grudgingly oblige, which is what led to him having one of the best post-up PPGs in the game.

James’ post-game is still a work in progress, but that’s no longer a euphemism — James is actually putting work into his post-up game, and the progress is coming. James’ face-up jump game from the mid-post is already deadly — like last year’s ISO-heavy vintage of Amar’e Stoudemire, he can knock down the 15-footer or blow by his opponent once he’s used his strength to get solid position and can use his speed to blow by him. James’ back-to-basket game isn’t McHale-like yet, but as Pruiti noted, he has a reliable turnaround over his right shoulder and a good counter-move to the middle already, and the ambidextrous James is finally developing some confidence with a lefty hook on the low block. And as Pruiti also notes, James is now spinning to the baseline instead of the middle when he makes his post moves, which leads to slightly lower-percentage looks but also keeps James from allowing a double-team to keep him from getting a shot off.

Most importantly, James isn’t getting discouraged when a post-up possession doesn’t go his way — in previous years, James would get good position, make a strong post move, miss a bunny, and then give up on his post game for the rest of the contest and settle for launching jumpers. In the waning minutes of Sunday’s game against the Bulls, James backed down Ronnie Brewer and was called for an offensive foul. Rather than get discouraged, James came back on the next possession, backed Brewer all the way under the basket, and converted on the easy layup to give the Heat a key basket in crunch-time. No matter what the numbers say, that’s simply not a play James was comfortable making with the game on the line in seasons past.

James still doesn’t have Kobe Bryant’s balletic footwork in the post or even Shaq’s confidence in his pure power moves, but he finally seems to have made a commitment to patching up what had been a glaring hole in his game. Now, if he could just get comfortable knocking down open catch-and-shoot threes and shoot 85% from the free-throw line…

Rumor: Cavaliers, Pacers, and Nuggets discussed 3-way deal with Paul George, Kevin Love

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Don’t count the Cleveland Cavaliers out of the Paul George sweepstakes just yet.

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein and Chris Haynes, the Cavaliers are still working on a way to get George with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in Ohio.

The latest rumor involves a three way deal being discussed between the Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers, and Denver Nuggets. According to Hayes, the deal would send George and Kenenth Faried to Cleveland and Kevin Love to Denver.

Presumably, Indiana would end up with good picks and a few young assets.

Via Twitter:

There is a lot to think about here given the potential for this trade. The first is how the Cavaliers would be able to complete a deal without a general manager in place. Owner Dan Gilbert fired David Griffin just last week. The Cavaliers are still talking to former NBA player Chauncey Billups about a chance to run the front office, but nothing has been decided just yet.

As good as George is, with the way that Kevin Love played in the 2017 NBA playoffs, it’s a wonder that the Cavaliers would want to let him go. The Golden State Warriors ate up Tristan Thompson in several of their Finals games, and Love was often the best player outside of LeBron on the floor for Cleveland.

Rumors also have George as being adamant that he is a one year rental only. His preferred landing place is still Los Angeles with the Lakers.

How a one year rental would work in exchange for one of Cleveland’s best players is sort of confusing. Even if the Cavaliers landed George and Faried, they would need to add yet another piece in order to get over the hump as the Eastern Conference strengthens and as they try to face off against the Warriors yet again.

This NBA off-season has been particularly crazy, and I don’t expected to calm down anytime soon.

Watch Isiah Thomas work out Lakers No. 2 overall pick Lonzo Ball (VIDEO)

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Lonzo Ball Is finally a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. Magic Johnson & Co. took him with the second overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft on Thursday.

Despite a few issues with his draft workouts with the Lakers, Ball was still the top choice for Los Angeles when they came to select after Markelle Fultz was off the board. The Lakers have already given Ball more control of the team after trading D'Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets last week.

Before the draft, Ball took some time out to work in his back yard and on his home court with NBA legend Isiah Thomas.

Check out the interaction between the two and see where Ball grew up learning to shoot his oddly-formed but highly-accurate jumper.

Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki to Harrison Barnes: “You need major skill to get to 20 years”

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Harrison Barnes is set to be a foundational piece for the Dallas Mavericks for years to come. He is trying to learn all he can from one of the greatest Mavericks of all time in Dirk Nowitzki.

So what has Barnes learned under Nowitzki’s tutelage?

Well, for one thing, he’s going to need to learn an elite-level skill if he wants to lead when Nowitzki is gone.

Speaking with the Dallas News, Barnes said that Nowitzki sarcastic but tough when it comes to gym habits and player development.

Via Dallas News:

“Honestly, I’ve just been trying to work as hard as I can and spend as much time as I can with him in the gym. I remember one day at practice we’re standing on the sidelines on the gym and said, ‘Oh man, Dirk, you’re about to get to 20 years. That’s impressive. Do you think I can get to 20 years?’ He’s like, ‘No way man. You need major skill to get to 20 years.’ So that’s kind of the nature of our relationship. I just want to try to become the best basketball player that I can and follow the mold that he’s set here in Dallas for years and years of just constantly getting better every single year.”

Knowing Dirk’s personality, there is a fair bit of tongue-in-cheek happening here but he’s not entirely wrong.Barnes was a jack of all trades for the Golden State Warriors before he signed his contract with the Mavericks. Nowitzki is one of the greatest scores in NBA history, and he obviously has more than one major skill under his belt.

Even still, it’s good advice for Barnes moving forward.

It’s time for No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz to turn 76ers into winners

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Markelle Fultz already has his first turnover as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.

It came in an Instagram post sponsored by a watch company. “Excited to head to (City) and join the (team name). (at)Tissot.us is helping me get started with my (team name) watch,” Fultz posted, not bothering to actually fill in the blanks.

Ah, it’s a process. Or rather, The Process. And the Sixers have plenty of blanks to fill in on their roster before becoming a playoff contender.

The No. 1 overall pick in this NBA draft has become an instant fan favorite before signing his rookie contract. The 6-foot-4 guard out of Washington has gone on late-night TV and boasted of his love of Philly cheesesteaks, made a social media connection with franchise player Joel Embiid and dazzled on draft night with a pair of orange sneakers made of the same leather used to make NBA game balls.

If that wasn’t enough, Philly fans found an open love letter from Fultz to the city on The Players’ Tribune.

“What’s up, Philly? You good? I’m pretty good,” Fultz wrote . “Today is a good day. Today we take The Process to another level.”

Long the league laughingstock, it’s the Sixers’ turn to clap back, with Embiid and Ben Simmons poking fun on Twitter at Lonzo Ball and his father, LaVar.

Moments after LaVar Ball went on TV and declared of his son, “From the words of Zeus, Jesus, everybody said he gonna be a Laker,” Simmons simply tweeted, “Crazy pills .” Embiid quickly chimed in with, “Please dunk on him so hard that his daddy runs on the court to save him.”

But the Sixers aren’t counting on the Fultz-Simmons-Embiid core to simply entertain in 140-character bursts. They expect the trio to help lead the franchise to their first playoff appearance since 2012 and first championship since 1983.

“It’s been a while,” team president Bryan Colangelo said, pointing toward championship banners hanging in the team’s New Jersey complex.

Here’s a look at how they might get to 35-50 wins over the next two seasons:

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STEP ON THE GAS

First, Simmons and Embiid need to be healthy.

Embiid, who missed his first two seasons with foot injuries, was placed on minutes restrictions in 2016-17 and was banned from playing both games of back-to-back contests. Despite the precautionary steps, Embiid played in only 31 games and needed surgery on his left knee in March.

Simmons missed his rookie season with a broken right foot.

“I think both Ben and Joel are on course for recovery,” Colangelo said Friday. “We anticipate a full, healthy roster.”

Colangelo said Embiid would have no minutes’ restrictions this season, provided he stays healthy.

“He plays with reckless abandon and some of that has got to be controlled,” Colangelo said.

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IT TAKES TWO

Coach Brett Brown had said all year that Simmons would open next season as the point guard. Simmons seemed excited at his shot to run the show until a confluence of events and a trade with Boston for the No. 1 pick that netted Fultz.

No worries, for now. Brown said Simmons and Fultz, who will play in the summer league, could work well together in the backcourt, no matter which player is the ballhandler.

“It’s a really exciting challenge to have where you try to grow those two players and let them coexist and learn more about each other,” Brown said. “The start of the season and training camp and the month of September are really going to be important for us to allow those guys to feel each other and the coaching staff to be able to truly see it on the court.”

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TOUCH OF GREY

So who shall lead the talented trio of Embiid-Fultz-Simmons, a trifecta of first- and second-year players. The Sixers have long needed a veteran both in the locker room and to help lead on the court.

“Those young guys need nurturing and they need veteran leadership. To think that you’re going to go into a season with a 19-year-old, a 20-year-old and Joel Embiid, as much as we love him and see how special he is, the reality is those three players have played a cumulative 31 NBA games,” Brown said. “And holding a locker room, growing those guys, helping them navigate NBA life and NBA games is a very powerful message when it comes from a player. And trying to identify veterans that have the ability to nurture and help those three, especially, is one of the main priorities.”

WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART

Sixers fans have been very patient, and they may have stay that way.

They waited two years for Dario Saric to come from his overseas commitments. They waited two years for Embiid to recover from injuries.

They may have to wait two more years for Latvian center, and first-round pick, Anzejs Pasecniks. Pasecniks, who most recently played with Gran Canaria, a Spanish basketball club, has two more years left on his deal and may not immediately join the Sixers. Second-round picks Jonah Bolden and power forward Mathias Lessort out of France also won’t join the team next season.

But when they do, they could be the final pieces for a contender.

“Everything is designed with a championship in mind,” Colangelo said.

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