We have all seen LeBron James make last second shots, thunderous dunks, chase down blocks, and Hungry-Man-sized rebounds. However, the deadliest, most effective part of LeBron’s repertoire is his on-the-money assists. His passing is so effective because of two reasons. Firstly, LeBron’s presence demands the attention of all five defenders. They are not fully focused on guarding their assignment, and this leaves openings for LeBron’s teammates. Secondly, LeBron has arguably been the best passer on the NBA stage since John Stockton retired. The combination of distracted defenders and incredibly skilled passing leads to- well it leads to this:
Shaquille O’Neal has been the NBA’s most efficient scorer for the past 17 years. His strength, size, and skill make him impossible to cover one-on-one in the low post, and still pretty tough to deal with even with a double team. Shaq is so efficient that his lowest shooting percentage for a season was 56% in 1996-1997. True, Shaq’s total production has dipped in the past five seasons. However, he has offset this by increasing his efficiency. He has posted five of his six highest shooting percentages since joining Miami in the 2004-2005 season. When Shaq gets the ball in the low post it looks like- well it looks like this:
The Cleveland Cavaliers now have a tremendous luxury. They start the league’s reigning MVP and the self proclaimed “Most Dominant [player] Ever.” For many years, LeBron has racked up assists passing to the likes of Drew Gooden, Zydrunas Ilgauskus, and Anderson Varejao. He’s going to get even more with Shaq down there. The game plan should be pretty simple. Kobe and Shaq did a fine job of it in L.A., before egos became more important than winning. The perimeter player, in this case LeBron, drives to the basket. When the defense begins to collapse on him, he makes one of his miraculously deft passes to one of the best finishers in the league.
Furthermore, the interplay between LeBron and Shaq will really open up the floor for the Cavalier’s shooters. Mo Williams, Delonte West, and Daniel Gibson should get even more open three point opportunities than they have. Many teams will concentrate on rotating their defense to the interior of the court, not wanting Shaq’s defender to help on LeBron’s penetration. This will leave someone else on the floor ridiculously wide open.
It should be a good year for Cleveland offensively. They will really be able to expose teams in the half court with deft passing and strong finishes at the hoop, or from the three point line. Many points will come from not just the execution of LeBron assisting Shaq, but also the possibility of that creating opportunities for other players. LeBron to Shaq is already so feared so that it has prompted this response from Andre Kirilenko, “That’s the poison union . . . I mean poison in a good way. They’re going to poison the rest of us.” I think the guy from Russia knows what he’s talking about.