LeBron needs to improve his game… but what aspect?

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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.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim: ‘NBA has never drafted a player for defense’

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Syracuse lost to Baylor in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

So, now Syracuse returns to recruiting. That means convincing prospects with NBA aspirations that Syracuse’s infamous zone defense won’t interfere with their pro path.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, via ASAP Sports:

What I do when I start out, I say the NBA drafts for one reason: Offense. The NBA has never drafted a player for defense. At any position, even at center. Like when they drafted Tim Duncan or David Robinson, or Olajuwon or Shaq, they didn’t get one of those guys because of their defense. They didn’t draft Steph Curry, James Harden, LeBron James, go down the list. They didn’t draft one guy because of defense; they draft because of offense.
We had more first-round picks in the old Big East than any school because they draft guys based on their offense. That’s what we tell recruits and that’s the truth.

There are degrees of truth here. NBA teams generally value offense more than defense and more than they should.

But defense absolutely affects players’ draft position. Some players are drafted primarily for defense.

Maybe Syracuse’s zone helps players look good to NBA teams. But it’s a tough sell the zone actually prepares the players for the next level.

Syracuse’s first-round picks since Carmelo Anthony:

  • Tyler Lydon (No. 24 in 2018)
  • Malachi Richardson (No. 22 in 2017)
  • Chris McCullough (No. 29 in 2016)
  • Tyler Ennis (No. 18 in 2015)
  • Michael Carter-Williams (No. 11 in 2014)
  • Fab Melo (No. 22 in 2013)
  • Dion Waiters (No. 4 in 2013)
  • Wesley Johnson (No. 4 in 2011)
  • Jonny Flynn (No. 6 in 2010)
  • Donte Greene (No. 28 in 2009)
  • Hakim Warrick (No. 19 in 2006)

We can’t know how those players would have turned out if they played elsewhere in college, but that’s an extremely uninspiring list. I would not advise a recruit on track to make the NBA to pick Syracuse.

Obviously, Boeheim is strongly incentivized to spin it the other way. He has made millions of dollars by convincing good players to help him win games.

There’s something to his sentiment here. But he goes way too far, to the point he’s wrong – as per usual.

Court reverses nearly $1.5M oil-spill award to David West

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) A federal appeals court says former NBA star David West is not entitled to a nearly $1.5 million award stemming from BP’s 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Court records show West submitted a claim under the terms of a settlement BP entered after the spill to avoid prolonged litigation with those claiming spill-related losses. The claim was based on his compensation as a member of the NBA’s New Orleans franchise having dropped after the spill.

BP challenged the award, saying West earned what he was expected to earn under a “front-loaded” contract he signed years before the spill. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed Wednesday that there was no loss. West’s attorneys did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.

James Harden: I want to play in 2019 World Cup

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James Harden skipped the 2016 Olympics.

But he sounds ready to rejoin Team USA for the 2019 World Cup.

Harden, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

“Of course I want to play,” Harden said. “It’s an opportunity to represent your country, go out there and play basketball. It’s something I love doing. If that opportunity presents itself, I’ll be in. Not everyone gets that opportunity. As a basketball player, that’s one of the highest points you can get for basketball.

Harden is among 35 players listed as in consideration for a roster spot, but the MVP candidate is likely a lock if he wants to play. He won gold at the 2012 Olympics and led Team USA to another gold medal in the 2014 World Cup.

With the World Cup being held in China, where there are lucrative marketing opportunities, expect many other stars to participate. The competition for Team USA roster spots could be intense.

But Harden is good enough and has proven his commitment to USA Basketball. He’s probably safely in.

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving says he’ll rest before playoffs: ‘Makes no sense’ to emphasize regular-season games

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Remember when Kyrie Irving asked whether a November 2014 Cavaliers-Bulls game felt like a playoff game?

He has come a long way since.

Before LeBron James returned to Cleveland, Irving hadn’t made the playoffs. Three NBA Finals and a trade to the Celtics later, Irving is focused on the postseason.

Irving, via Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston:

“I’m definitely taking some games off before the playoffs,” Irving said at Boston’s morning shootaround at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday. “Makes no sense, the emphasis on these regular games, when you’re gearing up for some battles coming in the playoffs.”

Irving will probably be more effective in the playoffs with additional rest.

But will the Celtics be more effective in the playoffs if Irving rests now?

Boston is fifth in the East. If that holds, that’d mean not having home-court advantage in any Eastern Conference playoff series and likely facing the Bucks – who’ve been the NBA’s best team throughout the regular season – in the second round.

That might not daunt Irving. After all, when asked why he’s so confident about the Celtics’ postseason chances, he said, “Because I’m here.”*
*That sounded a lot like LeBron.

But his teammates might benefit significantly from a better seed. Without Irving, Boston went 10-1 at home 1-7 on the road in last year’s playoffs – a historic split.

Catching the 76ers for the No. 3 seed is probably farfetched. But the Celtics are only a half game behind the Pacers for the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the first round.

Boston’s closing schedule is easier than Indiana’s. The teams even face each other twice. So, there’s an opportunity for the Celtics to clinch the No. 4 seed and rest Irving.

But little has gone to plan this season in Boston. If the Celtics’ seed is still up for grabs late in the regular season, will they rest Irving or keep pushing for a better record?