LeBron James’ improved post game

by Andrew Kennedy

LeBron James has gotten off to one of the best starts to his career this season with the 6-1 Miami Heat. He has certainly looked like the best player in the league, as he should, treating teams like Charlotte, Minnesota and most recently Indiana like JV squads.

The more confidence LeBron plays with, the better he looks. This has always been the case. It’s the teams that are able to take away his confidence and comfortableness that have the best chance to beat him.

In recent years, LeBron has looked the least comfortable in the post. The critics have always pointed this out and pointed to this as one of the reasons Miami wasn’t successful at winning a championship last season.

This offseason, LeBron reportedly worked out with Hakeem Olajuwon which is supposed to magically make anyone into a great post player. While LeBron still looks uncomfortable at times in the post, there have been some notable changes and improvement in his offensive game.

Last season, LeBron went into the post just 8.1 percent of the time. He posted a 1.04 PPP (points per possession) mark, good for 17th in the league. This year, LeBron has significantly raised his post-up scoring attempts, taking 15.1 percent of his shots from the post with a 1.19 PPP, second in the league only behind Andrew Bynum.

While LeBron is scoring more from the post, he does not necessarily have a large repertoire of post moves at his disposal yet. Of his 21 post-up shot attempts this season, 12 have been fadeaways and he’s made half of those, an extremely high number. The other nine have been a variety of drop steps or jump hooks or simply overpowering smaller defenders to the rim.

These post-up scoring numbers of course do not include passing, which is still LeBron’s greatest strength from the post and he would be the best post-up passer in any league in which Boris Diaw did not exist in.

The other noticeable difference in LeBron’s game this season has been his lack of three-point shooting. LeBron has taken just one three point field goal attempt this season through seven games. Last season, he attempted 3.5 per game and made 33 percent of them.

This is a good thing overall I think and has led to LeBron being more aggressive as he’s not settling for as many long threes (now attempting 9.6 free throws per game as opposed to 8.4 last year). I don’t think that LeBron should completely abandon shooting the three as it was a weapon he used to sink Boston and Chicago in the playoffs last year (and is something he’ll need to do as the Heat face more zone defenses).

Also, LeBron seems to be simply attempting more long twos (16-23 feet) this year in replace of three-pointers. Last year LeBron was one of the best in the league at hitting long twos (considered the worst shot in basketball by all) hitting 45 percent of them and attempting 5.4 per game. This year LeBron is still solid at 42 percent but is attempting 7.6 per game, the most in the league.

I love that LeBron’s getting into the post more because I’ve always wanted him to do that. I’m just not sure that this change in his game is significant enough to say that the Heat will now definitely win the NBA championship or that he is making another leap in becoming a greater player.

The Heat have looked as bad as any team in the league when facing zone this season. LeBron won’t be able to post-up as much if at all when facing a zone. The biggest issue with LeBron and Dwyane Wade playing together has always been each’s lack of movement when they do not have the ball, an essential ingredient in beating an NBA zone.

While the Heat and LeBron have looked as dominant as anyone so far this season, they still have some important things to work on before we can write them off as the title favorite. Could a Knicks team that gets their point guard situation figured out and plays a lot of zone with Tyson Chandler in the playoffs potentially knock off the Heat? They probably could and that’s not even the best team in the East.

It’s great that LeBron is getting more post touches this season but in the end, it may not even matter.