Archive for the ‘LeBron Explains What Happened’ Category

Are the 2014 Cavaliers Championship Material?

September 29, 2014

One practice down, and LeBron James is already letting us in on how he expects the team offense to run. He expects it to run through Kyrie Irving. That is to say, Kyrie will play the point, and LeBron will get to work off the ball more than he did in Miami where he split shot-creation duties with Dwyane Wade and certainly more than he did in his last stint with the Cavs where Mike Brown’s lack of an offensive system put the results of every possession squarely on James’s tattooed shoulders.

This is good news for everyone involved. Kyrie is not necessarily best-suited to spending all game making entry passes to James and Kevin Love in the post and then playing a purely catch and shoot role. He’s too dynamic with the dribble to be confined to a Derrick Fisher role. And for James, this means he will get to be a finisher rather than a creator. His assist numbers will likely decrease, and his shooting efficiency may drop some as he won’t be in position to pick and choose his spots as much as he has been in the past. However, his energy reserve for end of game should be much increased. I recall when Phil Jackson instituted the triangle offense and moved the ball into Scottie Pippen’s hands, it had a detrimental effect on Michael Jordan’s efficiency and box score totals, but it also saved him the gas to close games for the Bulls on a more regular basis which I would say contributed to their championship success.

What should we expect the offense to be if it is not a steady diet of LeBron and Love on the blocks? New Cavaliers coach David Blatt is a master of Euro-ball, so we can probably assume that the majority of plays will involve heavy doses of pick and roll. He can set the floor a number of ways and run a lot of different off ball action to free up wing shooters while the primary pick and roll action happens thanks to the mobility of presumed starting shooting guard Dion Waiters and the outside shooting ability of both James and Love. If Kyrie runs a side pick and roll with James while Anderson Varejao and Love set a staggered screen for Waiters curling from the baseline to the top of the key, the defense has to a lot of bad choices to make.

Irving and James cannot be defended without a hedge or an outright double team from on of the other defenders. Kyrie is too good with the ball, and James is too big and athletic, especially at the small forward position. The defense can send Varejao’s defender to help, drop Love’s defender onto Andy, and hope Dion’s defender catches up to him before he gets a wide open shot, but then it’s a swing pass to Love in the corner for an open three pointer. The defense could drop Varejao’s defender to help on the pick and roll and just abandon Andy as the only non-shooter, but that leaves him to cut to the rim for a dump down pass or uncontested offensive rebound. It’s rough, and it’s a lot easier to set up than the synergies that formed in Miami because the pieces fit in more traditional ways.

Setting baseline screens for LeBron off the ball would also be interesting, because he’s likely to have a massive size advantage, and if they can use Kyrie’s dribble attack as misdirection, they could probably hit James with unstoppably deep post position. All in all the offense ought to be very tough because of all the shooters, passers, and ball-handlers available.

Defense on the other hand could be an issue, but we won’t know until we see how they line-up. Kyrie looked decent as an on-ball defender in the World Cup, but he hasn’t had good defensive numbers or habits in the NBA. Love is another player who has not historically been a good rim defender or a one-on-one stopper. James is an All-D regular with the ability to lock up multiple positions, and Andy is a solid position defender as well. The team’s biggest weakness projects to be big guys with post games. However, Al Jefferson, Brook Lopez, and Chris Bosh are probably the only players in the East capable of really taking advantage of that weakness, and none of their teams are expected to contend due to a lack of overall talent or an inability for key players to stay healthy.

I’d expect the Cavs to play a sort of late 80’s / early 90’s style where they pace the game to take advantage of their superior talent and then try to lock down teams for a few minutes at the end of each quarter to really build separation. Danny Ainge told Bill Simmons in a podcast that he felt the 1986 Celtics had a defense on par with the 2008 Celtics but that they didn’t focus as much energy on all-game defense. They exerted themselves more on offense and then locked down on defense selectively. By the numbers the comparison isn’t close. The 2008 team is up there with the mid-90s Knicks and early 2000s Spurs as one of the best defensive teams of the 3 point era. That said, the ’86 Celts were the best defensive team in the league that year (Jordan still dropped 63 on them in the playoffs), and that mentality of playing faster and allowing your offensive dominance to shine most of the game and then really focusing on getting stops, especially turnovers, in short bursts is tried and true. The Celtics did it. The Lakers did it. The Bulls did it. These Cavs could do it too. Maybe.


Should LeBron Shoot More?

January 15, 2014

There’s a big hullabaloo going on about a comment LeBron James made referring to a Kevin Durant box score where KD shot 30+ field goal attempts. James essentially said that he’d like to know how good a scorer he would be right now if he had the green light to take contested shots. His exact quote was:

“I’m not much of a forced-shot guy. But there are games where I have it going, and then at the end of the game, I’m like, damn, I shot just 12-for-16? Why don’t I get up at least six or seven more? I definitely notice it.”

We’ve covered in this space the way that the Heat are built to maximize LeBron’s efficiency with a cadre of three point shooters to space the floor and keep double teams at bay, a commitment to pressure defense and transition scoring, and no big men clogging the lane with help defenders. LeBron is playing in a set-up not unlike Shaquille O’Neal with the Lakers but he’s supplementing his one-on-one basket attacks in the post with easy fastbreak dunks. Also he makes his free throws. It’s abominably efficient.

However, if LeBron shoots the ball too much more, he might actually undermine that carefully constructed floor balance and spacing. If the defense believes LeBron will force more contested shots, they would send more help defenders. Right now they can’t leave the shooters because they know James prefers to pass the ball.

Obviously there’s a balance to be reached. There are certain games where the Heat could use more scoring from LeBron. If he’s shooting 80% from the floor and only gets 15 shot attempts in a loss, then maybe a couple of contested shots from LeBron would have been better than leaving those possessions in the hands of Mario Chalmers or Michael Beasley. But right now LeBron is conserving energy, and he has the one-on-one scoring ability in his back pocket for the tough defenses in the playoffs.

I’m more interested in just how efficient Kevin Durant could be playing in the Heat system. How good a shooter would Durant be if he only took the 16 best shot attempts available to him every night? Would he be shooting 60% from the field?

LeBron on Doing Whatever It Takes

June 21, 2012

When asked about his 4th quarter play in this year’s NBA Finals, LeBron James said:

“I told you guys, last year I didn’t make enough game-changing plays, and that’s what I kind of pride myself on. I didn’t do that last year in the Finals. I’m just trying to make game-changing plays and whatever it takes for our team to win.”

Now I know that we normally use the LeBron Explains What Happened as prime internet space for making fun of Mr. James and his bizarre mix of too much self-consciousness without enough self-awareness (which is what happens when you’re super-duper-uber-famous from the age of 13). Today, however, I want to praise the Chosen One for taking responsibility for his failings and identifying how he has changed his approach to correct past mistakes.

“Game-changing plays” is a very general description of what LeBron feels he needs to do to help his team win at the highest level, but it’s tough to get much more specific in a two sentence soundbyte. James needs to get big stops, create good shots for others, snag rebounds, make tough shots under pressure and keep his teammates on the same page through crucial moments when momentum swings or games are decided. He has done that this year by keeping his aggression level high and putting pressure on the Thunder at both ends. Even the play at the end of game two where I criticized the officials for not calling LeBron for an obvious foul on Durant in the post, the aggressiveness was still there for LeBron. He wasn’t an observer. He didn’t hope Durant missed the shot. He got his hands on KD and made sure. That has been the significant different between this year and last. LeBron has not allowed himself to play passive basketball. He might not be playing perfect, but he is playing tough, and that’s what the Heat need to pull out these tight games against the Thunder.

How often does a star athlete admit that he didn’t do the best he could in a playoff series and then come out and rectify that the very next year? I’m not calling LBJ an inspiration or anything, but I’m impressed that he has accepted responsibility for what he didn’t do against Dallas and done the work on the court to show that he’s learned from his mistakes and isn’t going to make them again this year.

LeBron Explains What Happened Last Year

December 13, 2011

The Miami Heat featured prominently in the Miami sports seen this week. Yesterday they made the radio rounds, including an interview with LeBron James on The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz. And the Miami Herald has been chock full of articles like this “For Miami Heat’s LeBron James, Destination is Title or Bust.” It features classic lines such as:

Not too tight with the tie . . . don't want to choke.

“Last year I said, ‘OK, I’m going to prove everybody wrong.’ I was so blinded and out of whack. You try to do so many things that you forget who you are.”

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LeBron explained that put too much pressure on himself to succeed. He didn’t like being hated, it was difficult being on a new team, and learning a new system. His desire to succeed and silence his critics, sucked the love of the game out of LeBron James. But despite inexplicably failing when his team needed him most, and still without any explanation as to why, LeBron James is back to being his good old self. “I’m not going out there to prove anybody wrong; I’m not asking for forgiveness,” he said. “I learned from it. I’m back to who I was.”

So there you go, Haters! You effectively got into LeBron’s head enough to cost him the championship. But beware! You are no longer in his head. He knows how to handle you. He is comfortable in the system. He’s spent months developing a post game. And he is back to his old self.

Some come next Final’s, he’s choking all on his own again.

LeBron Explains, “Your Life Doesn’t Suck!”

June 14, 2011

Two days after his confounding NBA Final performance were in the books, LeBron took some time out to explain what he meant with these post game comments.

“All the people that were rooting me on to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life they had before.

“They have the same personal problems they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want with me and my family and be happy with that,”

You see, LeBron IS disappointed with his performance (though he doesn’t know if cost them the series – here’s a tip, IT DID).  And of course, he didn’t mean it like that, Baby.  LeBron explains:

“I didn’t play up to my own standards,” James said. “Did that cost us the Finals? I don’t know. I’m not satisfied with my performance.”

“This isn’t the end of the road for me, this isn’t the end of the road for the Miami Heat,” he added.

“It was interpreted different than what I wanted,” James said. “Everyone has to move on with their lives and I do too.”

“I wasn’t saying I’m superior to anyone else,” he added.