The 30 year old LeBron James you see today playing for the Cavs in the finals is a far different iteration from the man we saw in years past for the Miami Heat or even in his last stint in Cleveland. It is truly amazing how LeBron is able to continuously evolve his game to suit the particular needs of his team. If you haven’t watched much of James closely this year, here are some major changes that he has incorporated in his second stint with the Cavs.
Massive Amount of Post Ups and Assists
When LeBron came into the league as a rookie, his post game was pretty much nonexistent. However, he made concerted efforts to improve his post game after joining the Miami Heat. He spent one notable summer training with Hakeem Olajuwon, and after years of hard work his post game is now one of the strengths he uses to punish opposing teams.
Bard College head basketball coach Adam Turner broke down LeBron’s playoff dominance in the post beautifully in a video for BballBreakDown:
According to that BBallBreakDown video, LeBron is posting up 7.4 times per game this playoffs, up from between 3-4 times per game from his previous playoff appearances with the Heat or Cavs.
Per nba.com, LeBron is very efficient in his post ups, scoring the 7th-highest amount of points per possession (min. 20 attempts) and shooting 50%.
LeBron has also been devastating in the post because of his ability to draw double teams and kick out to open 3 point shooters. At 8.3 assists per game, LeBron is averaging the most assists in this playoffs in his career and well above his fout year average of 5.7 assists in his more recent Miami Heat days. His post up assists are helping the Cavs in their 3-point production. They are 2nd to the Warriors in both 3-pointers attempted and made in the playoffs.
Positional Change from SF to SF/PF/C
In LeBron’s first forays into the playoffs, he was used almost exclusively as a SF. However, his position has changed dramatically in his stops in Cleveland, Miami, and back to Cleveland. Per Basketball-Reference:
LeBron has shifted into frontcourt positions more and more with age. LeBron played primarily as a SF in Cleveland, but Erik Spoelstra shifted him much more to PF with the Heat. David Blatt has done even more experimenting with LeBron, throwing him as a center in small ball lineups, as a PF, or as a SF. LeBron has truly shown off his versatility this year and his ability to morph into whatever the Cavs need him to do.
Disappearance of the Jump Shot
LeBron has struggled to maintain a high FG% during this year’s playoffs. He is shooting just 43% on FG, down from his career playoff mark of 48%. He is especially struggling on 3-pointers, shooting only 18%. Even though LeBron is struggling mightily on these shots, he is still hoisting up 4.9 3 pointers per game, which is up 0.5 on his career average.
He has really been hurting the Cavs by taking so many of these shots and converting at such a low percentage. This is a big departure from his Miami Heat days, where he hit 35% of his 3 pointers, or even his earlier days with the Cavs where he was at 32%.
LeBron has also struggled with long 2’s as well, shooting only 33% on those shots. That is down from his career mark of 36% and a very respectable 39% when he was with the Miami Heat.
Extremely High Usage, Lots of Isolations
Much of the Cavs’ offensive sets used Kevin Love to create space for other players. With Love out and Kyrie Irving hobbled as well, the Cavs have had to resort to what Grantland’s Zach Lowe has referred to as a caveman offense, centering largely around LeBron isolations.
The numbers back up this observation. The NBA Stats page recently tweeted how much LeBron accounted for the Cavs’ offense:
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) June 1, 2015
Per Basketball Reference, LeBron has posted a career high 36.4 Usage Percentage this year, which measures the amount of team possessions a player uses while on the floor.
LeBron has also had problems with going into isolation plays too frequently. After Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, he told reporters:
“I played way too much isolation basketball, one-on-one basketball [with] a lot of the defenses set, and I was letting the clock run down way too much. I just had to take the shot or I was giving it to my guys late in the shot clock, and they couldn’t do nothing with it besides shoot it or turn the ball over…I allowed them back into the game with my offensive nonsense.”
With the amount of offense LeBron is expected to create, it is understandable that he frequently resorts to isolations. However, these are not efficient plays for the Cavs. He is only in the 13th percentile on these plays and scores only 0.68 points per possession.
LeBron has changed his game immensely to fill in the gaps on Cleveland’s team. Many fans argue that this is one of the least talented rosters that he has taken to the finals – he has made up for it by playing all over the court, putting himself in the middle of more of the offensive plays, and taking advantage of his size by pounding the ball in the post. It may not be enough to help the Cavs overcome the Warriors in the finals, but LeBron is going to do everything in his power to give his team the best shot to win.