More Notes on LeBron

by Jeff Fogle 10. June 2011 21:17

I did some more digging on LeBron James' numbers this year in the playoffs. I think we're definitely honing in on the reasons for his recent fourth quarter disappearances.

Given the buzz recently about fatigue setting in because James is playing so many minutes, let's start with that data...

LEBRON'S AVERAGE MINUTES BY SERIES
42.4 versus Philadelphia (peak 44)
44.6 versus Boston (peak 50)
45.2 versus Chicago (peak 49)
44.4 versus Dallas (peak 46)

There was an overtime game in both the Boston and Chicago series that pushed James past the 48-minute regulation mark as a peak. Note that, conveniently, LeBron has played exactly five games versus all four opponents right now, which will give us some very good comparisons as we run through various categories. (If you'd like to do your own digging, LeBron's game-by-game summaries are here)

Okay...that's a lot of minutes. The very high numbers versus Boston and Chicago point to the intensity LeBron and the team had versus those opponents. Remember how Miami celebrated after beating Boston? Much more than teams usually do against a second round opponent. Beating Chicago put them in the Finals. LeBron was almost always on the floor in those series.

Thought it would be interesting to go see how many minutes Michael Jordan played in the playoffs back in the day. If ANYONE is going to be on the court all the time...it's Jordan at the height of the Jordan era. Here are the playoff per-game averages in his championship years:

40.5, 41.8, 41.2, 40.7, 42.0, 41.5 (Jordan's career page at Basketball-Reference is here)

So...Jordan...when he was JORDAN...was generally in the 40-42 range. Miami's giving more minutes to LeBron than Chicago gave to Jordan by a significant degree. And, given the nature of fatigue...you have to think those extra few minutes are meaningful. The difference between playing 11 minutes and 14 minutes is neglible. The difference between 41 and 44 is much more likely to have "straw on a camel's back" potential because of wear and tear at such a high volume.

There are a few good measures of "energy" in my view. Maybe some of you have ones we can add. Let's start with usage rate.

LEBRON'S USAGE RATE BY SERIES

28.3 vs. Philadelphia
33.9 vs. Boston
30.5 vs. Chicago
24.7 vs. Dallas

LeBron was a big factor but not a ball hog vs. Philly. He was much more prominent vs. Boston and Chicago. He's obviously backed off vs. Dallas.

If you look at free throw attempts, the differences are much more striking. Remember how Derrick Rose of Chicago stopped going to the line against Indiana when he sprained his ankle? We know James didn't sprain an ankle. And, there's no sign of any injury to the naked eye right now as far as I can tell. He's getting to the line this series like he's playing on Rose's bad ankle!

LEBRON'S TOTAL FREE THROW ATTEMPTS

50 vs. Philadelphia
42 vs. Boston
44 vs. Chicago
16 vs. Dallas

It's been five games in every series...and LeBron is logging a zillion minutes. Extremely similar backdrops. I had already forgotten the degree to which James had marched to the free throw line in the earlier rounds. He's dropped from 10 free throws per game vs. Philadelphia to 3.2 vs. Dallas. Stunning.

So, the "energy" stats are certainly suggesting fatigue. Now, they could also be suggesting very smart defense by Dallas. Their approach with LeBron has been to deny drives at the basket in the set offense, and encourage jumpers. That cuts down on free throws. His jumpers haven't been falling, so he may have naturally cut back due to a lack of confidence. He isn't necessarily tired. But, he is DEFINITELY being less aggressive in this series for whatever reason.

We've talked often throughout the playoffs about how the Dallas defense tries to make you shoot from outside your comfort zone. They do a very good job of this. It's conceivable that there's no fatigue, and this is just LeBron doing a poor job of figuring out what to do against the Dallas defense. A combination of the two factors would make a lot of sense. He's tired AND facing a smart defense that's taken him out of his comfort zone.

A few analysts, notably Jon Barry on ESPN, have commented on how LeBron never developed any sort of post game to take advantage of mismatches in his years in the NBA. I think this is playing into the dynamics as well. His traditional weapons aren't working, and his bag of tricks isn't very deep.

Let's play this out...

*LeBron's offense has historically consisted of flying past people for dunks or layups, or hitting jumpers over them if they back off. He's done that since before high school. He was such a dominating force nobody could stop it. He never needed to develop other threats because that got him to where he needed to be.

*LeBron can get away with that during the regular season because few pro teams are capable of denying this force of nature.

*LeBron can even get away with that in the early rounds of playoffs. We all remember some very dynamic stretches in past years where he seemed unstoppable with the mix of flying past people or hitting his jumpers.

*Once you get to elite defenses though, it becomes harder to pull that off consistently. And, it's exhausting to keep up the effort several games in a row.

*Dallas, either with their zone, or the other defensive strategies they're using, has denied LeBron's preferred pathways to the basket. They're going to make him beat them with jumpers.

*The first sign that fatigue is setting in comes on jumpers. They start falling short or veering off to one side (presenting an alternative explanation to the elbow injury for last year's demise late in the Boston series...LeBron was horrible shooting the ball outside of two feet during the demise if you'll recall from past studies). Offline jumpers were obviously prominent Thursday night.

*Ergo...LeBron gradually starts to disappear in this year's championship series because he has no workable options. Tired legs have taken away the consistency of his jumpers and Dallas isn't letting him attack the basket. In the last three games of this series, LeBron is 1 of 3 from 10-15 feet, 1 of 8 from 16-23 feet, and 1 of 11 on treys...for a combined 3 of 22 in the areas Dallas wants him to shoot from.

That felt like a geometry proof from high school!

A mix of smart defense from Dallas, heavy-minute fatigue for James, and the realization from LeBron that he shouldn't be shooting jumpers given his low percentage has led to fourth quarter shrinkage. He doesn't want the ball in his hands because there's not much productive he can do right now with tired legs against a smart defense.

A possibility anyway. Two days off before Sunday's Game Six might help him freshen up. If that happens and Miami wins, he'd have to come back with only one day off for Game Seven on Tuesday. If this is all a result of Dallas defense and there's no fatigue...he'd better find a new trick pretty quick.

Back with you late Sunday with numbers and notes...

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The Passivity of LeBron James

by Jeff Fogle 8. June 2011 21:05

There's been a lot of talk today about LeBron's clearly passive role in Tuesday night's NBA playoff loss to Dallas. Many say it reminded them of a similar performance a year ago against Boston. Wanted to pop in with a bonus article Wednesday night comparing some numbers in those two games, then reviewing what James did the next time he took the floor vs. the Celtics.

First, there really are a lot of similarities between Tuesday's loss and that 120-88 debacle vs. Boston beyond the oft-reported body language and facial expressions.

Field Goals
3-14 vs. Boston
3-11 vs. Dallas

Shots Inside 10 Feet
2-3 vs. Boston
2-4 vs. Dallas

Shots From 10-23 Feet
1-7 vs. Boston
1-4 vs. Dallas

Three-Pointers
0-4 vs. Boston
0-3 vs. Dallas

Rebounds-Assists-Turnovers
6-7-3 vs. Boston
9-7-4 vs. Dallas

The only big differences were in the areas of free throws (9 of 12 last year, just 2 of 4 this year) and Usage Rate (27.0 last year, 20.5 this year). Of course, those go hand-in-hand because LeBron was finishing possessions by getting fouled and going to the line.

So, LeBron was more passive this past Tuesday by a slight bit. Part of last year was the shock and awe of Boston winning the second half 70-44 while a supposed superhero couldn't do anything about it. The stunner Tuesday was how LeBron seemed to physically shrink on court...particularly to those watching the game in person. I don't think TV captured it in quite the same way because the tendency is to watch the ball rather than who's standing idly by off the ball. Charismatic players catch your eye in person whether they're doing anything or not. I think I've read or listened to at least a dozen in person accounts where people were clearly taken aback by what they saw. It's one thing to watch a few awkward shots or turnovers on TV. It's another to see living breathing passivity that you can reach out and touch.

Anyway, James was blasted for his passivity last year after the Boston game, and came back with a vengeance that may or may not have been hampered by a right elbow injury (I made that case a few weeks ago and I think the "forensic" statistical evidence still supports it. We may be learning this year that a loss of confidence was in the mix to a degree ranging anywhere from 10-100%!). Here's what happened the next time he took the floor. I'll put in the numbers from both passive games to emphasize the increase in intensity.

Field Goals
Passive: 3-14 and 3-11
Next Game: 8 of 21
(LeBron's attempts flew up past 20)

Shots Inside 10 Feet

Passive: 2-3 and 2-4
Next Game: 6 of 14
(And those attempts were the result of flying at the basket. He was 6 of 11 at the rim)

Shots From 10-23 Feet
Passive: 1-7 and 1-4
Next Game: 0-3
(He stopped shooting in this range last year, possibly because of the elbow)

Three-Pointers
0-4 and 0-3
Next Game: 2-4
(He did manage to make a couple of bombs last year, though he was 2-10 overall from outside of two feet)

Rebounds
Passive: 6 and 9
Next Game: 19 (!!)
(That's a huge number for a small forward. Anyone suggesting that LeBron "quit" on Cleveland for the full series will have trouble explaining this stat away in my view)

Assists
Passive: 7 and 7
Next Game: 10
(Part of a triple double in a losing effort)

Turnovers
Passive: 3 and 4
Next Game: 9
(LeBron was constantly forcing things, which led to a very high number of turnovers)

Usage Rate
Passive: 27.0 and 20.5
Next Game: 37.1
(He was trying to be a one man wrecking crew)

(If you'd like to see the expanded boxes from these games, the 120-88 loss to Boston is here, the passive game from this past Tuesday is here, and last year's bounce back game in the series finale vs. Boston is here)

That at least gives us a frame of reference for Thursday night in Dallas. I'm not going to make any predictions. His teammates are different. His health may or may not be different (3 of 22 last year from outside of two feet in these two games with a right elbow we knew was bad entering the series). His fatigue level may be different given the intensity he's been bringing on both sides of the floor since the playoffs began (the whole Heat team looked tired down the stretch Tuesday).

With so much talk Wednesday referring back to last year's Boston blowout, I wanted to get some numbers into the discussion. There's a mystery to solve. Thursday will hopefully move us in the direction of getting things figured out. He did bounce back with a fire last year when challenged, though it wasn't enough to get a win.

I was thinking about this a couple of days ago. Scottie Pippen's been in sideline shots on TV ever since suggesting LeBron compares favorably with Michael Jordan. That kind of put Pippen on everyone's brain. Then, in Game Three, James clearly had a Pippen-esque fourth quarter where he did a lot to help his team win despite not taking a lot of shots (shutdown defense on Jason Terry, and the game-winning assist to Chris Bosh to name a couple). A little bit ago I read the Bill Simmons piece on the game last night, where the author made James-Pippen references a few times. You know...maybe LeBron's just destined to be the next Pippen rather than the next Jordan.

No shame in that. Pippen is a top 50 all-time player with multiple championships. Pippen did a lot of things very well, and may (or may not) have been seen as a more authoritative scorer if he started his career as THE stud on a lesser team rather than in Chicago with the Bulls. Maybe LeBron is 70% Jordan and 30% Pippen...but that 30% is what keeps you from being Jordan. So, you end up being a more dynamic Pippen.

Thursday's game will be interesting in so many ways. See you afterward with numbers and notes...

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Dallas Daunted

by Jeff Fogle 1. June 2011 00:28

One game does not a series make. But, it's very clear that the Dallas Mavericks have a truly daunting task in front of them as they try to win four times in the maximum six remaining games against the favored Miami Heat in the NBA Finals...

Let's start with the numbers.

MIAMI 92, DALLAS 84
2-point pct: Dallas 36%, Miami 36%
3-pointers: Dallas 9/22, Miami 11/24
Free Throws: Dallas 25/32, Miami 19/26
Rebounds: Dallas 36, Miami 46
Turnovers: Dallas 11, Miami 10
1's and 2's: Dallas 57, Miami 59

If you're looking at this from the Dallas perspective, where's the good news?

*The defense did a great job inside the arc. Miami has one of the most dangerous internal offenses ever put together. The Mavericks held them to 20 of 56 shooting on two's. And they lost anyway!

*The offense made nine three-pointers, and shot 41% from behind the arc...which is the equivalent of 61% on two-pointers (with rounding). You do that in a grinder game like this, and you're supposed to get the win. Miami was an even better 11 of 24 (46%, 69% equivalent!). You pulled the ace that was up your sleeve and the other guy pulled two from his!

*The concern about offensive rebounds expressed in the comments section of our preview article turned out to be prescient (if you still can't read that in explorer please try using firefox or a different browser). Dallas would only grab 6 offensive boards themselves against the stellar Miami defense (compared to 30 defensive rebounds for Miami...yielding an offensive rebound rate of 16.7 for the Mavs). Miami snared 16 offensive rebounds because it's easy to crash the boards against a zone. Miami's offensive rebound rate was 34.8.

*The refs didn't show any sort of "favor the home team" tendency in terms of free throws awarded. Dallas was +6 in makes and attempts. Is that likely to happen very often the rest of the way? LeBron James barely tried to attack the basket (just 2 of 2 on free throws). If you assume that free throws will mostly even out over the series, this is more bad news for the Mavs. They couldn't win with +6. They'll have to win four times in short order without that kind of advantage.

Sure, there were some players on Dallas who are likely to shoot better. Miami can play that game too.

*J.J. Barea was a jittery 1 of 8 from the floor. Many of those were rushed shots where he was looking over his shoulder or left and right to brace himself for contact. He'll probably find his footing in future games. Chris Bosh was 5 of 18 for Miami, missing several close in shots he usually makes (granting that Dallas was doing what they could to make it difficult for him). Both guys are likely to improve their production in a way that will probably cancel out, and might even favor Miami. Bosh is much more likely to have a really big game than Barea is.

*Jason Terry was 3 of 10 from the floor. It's tempting to assume he'll bounce back. The problem is...he's been going about 3 of 10 for five games in a row now! From Game Two of OKC through tonight, Terry was 3 of 9, 3 of 12, 7 of 19, 3 of 9, and 3 of 10...for a combined 19 of 59 from the field. He may not bounce back. If he does, Miami guards Mike Bibby and Mike Miller are due to go better than the 2 of 9 they went tonight.

*Dirk Nowitzki either had a subpar shooting game at 7 of 18, or showed he isn't "unstoppable" against a very good defense. It's hard to call 27 points and 8 rebounds against Miami a bad night. Miami wasn't afraid of him. Let's put it that way. Dirk is great. Miami's great defense respects him, but isn't afraid of him. LeBron James was 9 of 16, and you felt like he was holding something in reserve in terms of really attacking the basket until it was needed. It wasn't needed tonight but might be later. Either Dirk or LeBron can have bigger games. Is Dirk going to have FOUR bigger games while LeBron has just two?

There are adjustments still to be made, and all sorts of monkey wrenches that could come into play with injuries, emotions, and surprises off the bench that one team or the other hadn't anticipated. Right now though, it's hard to see where Dallas breaks through to counteract what happened tonight.

Miami can hit treys over the zone. Miami can drive through openings if the defense comes out to protect the arc. You probably noticed Miami put a guy in the baseline trey sweet spot several times and dared Dallas to get there (an analytics taunt!). Trey performance in the earlier rounds showed Dallas dropping off after a strong opening vs. Portland and OKC. They had their strong opening and couldn't win.

Daunting indeed. Back late Thursday with numbers and notes from Game Two...

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LeBron's Legacy Aloft

by Jeff Fogle 27. May 2011 00:19

A trey from LeBron James with 2:06 left cut the Miami Heat's Game Five deficit to 77-72. A trey with 1:00 left knotted the score at 79. A 21-foot jumper with 0:29 put Miami on top of the Chicago Bulls for the first time since the first quarter. Moments later, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh were taking their talents back to South Beach...ready to host Game One of the NBA Championships...

Nobody's talking about quitting on Cleveland. Nobody's talking about an inability to make big shots when everything is on the line. Nobody's even talking any more about Derrick Rose being the more valuable player. The question now is...will LeBron win his first championship this year, as he tries to take the first huge step in chasing down the legendary Michael Jordan as the greatest player ever.

We'll talk more about that over the next two weeks. First things first...

MIAMI 83, CHICAGO 80
2-point pct: Miami 39%, Chicago 37%
3-pointers: Miami 6/15, Chicago 7/21
Free Throws: Miami 25/33, Chicago 15/21
Turnovers: Miami 15, Chicago 10
1's and 2's: Miami 65, Chicago 59

Given the dramatic rally from a dozen down with under four minutes to go, the most obvious comparison is to Dallas/Oklahoma City in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals.

*Both games saw the ROAD team rally to beat the home team(!).

*Dallas went on a 17-2 run to finish regulation, Miami on a 19-4 run.

*Both games saw the home team continue to make miscues and misfires because an inexperienced point guard didn't know what to do againt a brick wall defense set up to disrupt his plans.

*Both games saw superstars lead their team back with clutch bucket after clutch bucket. We have to throw Dwyane Wade into that mix as well. Wade caught fire after a few-game walkabout that looks to be related to an injury the Heat won't discuss. D-Wade had a huge 4-point play that knocked the breath out of Bulls nation. That's the breath they couldn't find when they needed a last gasp.

*And, obviously, both games were won by teams who will be now be battling in the NBA Championships that begin Tuesday in Miami.

Let's wrap up the threads we've been monitoring throughout the Miami-Chicago matchup, starting with Miami shutting down Derrick Rose because it turned out to be most important theme of the series...

Rose This Series:
Game One: 10 of 22 for 28 points (Chicago's win)
Game Two: 7 of 23 for 21 points
Game Three: 8 of 19 for 20 points
Game Four: 8 of 26 for 23 points in regulation
Game Five: 9 of 28 for 25 points

Before Game Four, Rose talked about getting more aggressive. That just led to more missed shots and more turnovers. He was 32 of 96 in regulation in the Bulls' four losses, exactly 33% from the field.

Tonight's clampdown inside the arc vs. Rose and his cohorts was the most restrictive yet.

Chicago Scoring on 1's and 2's:
Game One: 73 points
Game Two: 66 points
Game Three: 70 points
Game Four: 72 points in regulation
Game Five: 59 points

When Chicago led by 12 with just under four minutes to go, I was planning to write up some notes on how they "bounced back" to get a win despite not doing anything better on offense. They were still struggling. They just happened to be holding Miami to a very low total. A recurring lesson, don't plan your lead paragraph until the game is actually over! Not even late double digit leads are safe in the 2011 playoffs. Especially if your offense can't break 85 points.

Another theme was going to be about how Chicago had continued to hold its own against the James/Wade combo with Rose and Luol Deng even though Rose wasn't playing to regular season levels. That was until the 17-3 finish for the tag team champs.

Big Two:
James and Wade: 49 points
Rose and Deng: 43 points

Big Three:
James, Wade, and Bosh: 69 points
Rose, Deng, and Boozer: 48 points

Carlos Boozer disappeared tonight, scoring just five points on 1 of 6 shooting in 26 minutes.

As we saw in Dallas-Oklahoma City, this was a 4-1 series that was much more evenly matched than a five-game elimination would suggest. Chicago was in position to win Game Four on two late possessions, then needed an epic offensive meltdown here to blow a late lead in Game Five. Both series losers were a few plays away from being up 3-2. Experience matters. Having a real plan of attack matters late in close games. I'm still not that fond of asking LeBron to make guarded treys over and over again. But, they keep falling so who's to argue? (Me, the next time it fails!). Ultimately, BOTH Dallas and Miami aren't playing quite as well as 4-1 would suggest, so it cancels out.

I'm planning to have an expanded preview up Monday night just before the Finals start. For now, let's match what we did last night and make a list of what Miami is doing well at the moment.

*Defense inside the arc has been stellar. James and Wade were already known for their defense, as was this team as a whole. The return of Udonis Haslem made the brick wall even tougher to deal with. On two's through the series, Chicago shot 42%, 40%, 42%, 46%, and 37%.

*Defense outside the arc was great after the first game. Chicago won the opener with a big boost from a 10 of 21 performance on treys. Miami didn't let that happen again, and Chicago didn't win again. In the last four games, Chicago was 3/20, 5/12, 6/24, and 7/21 on treys. That's a combined 21 of 77 from long range for just 27%. The two-point equivalent is 40.9%...even worse than the norms from inside the arc.

*And, Miami wasn't sending Chicago to the free throw line! That's all there is...1's, 2's, and 3's. The Bulls only made 17, 16, 16, 17, and 15 free throws in order over the five games. Miami was attacking the basket more succesfully. It paid off with a line of 15, 18, 25, 32, and 25 makes.

You heard the Heat players emphasizing defense in their interviews. This is what they were talking about. This wasn't a series where they had to sacrifice one thing to focus on something else. They had all the relevant bases covered because Chicago didn't have enough weaponry to spread everyone out. That will change in the Finals.

*Chris Bosh became a more consistent big game scoring threat. There were doubts in some circles that he would thrive under the playoff spotlight. In an awkward, sluggish series known for long dry spells, Bosh's soft touch was a sight for sore eyes. It's easy to overlook the fact that Bosh scored 30 of the team's 82 points in the series opener, 34 of the team's 96 points in their home opener, and 20 of 83 points in tonight's clincher. He averaged 23.2 per game for a team that was only averaging 89.4 per game.

Enjoy the weekend. Back with you Monday night with an expanded look at the NBA Championships featuring the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat...

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The LeBron Mystery, One Year Later

by Jeff Fogle 30. April 2011 23:48

LeBron James has a return engagement with the Boston Celtics Sunday afternoon. Exactly a year earlier to the day, LeBron's Cleveland Cavaliers started a second round series with Celtics that would mark the beginning of the end of his career with the Cavs. Did LeBron quit on Cleveland? Was LeBron so anxious to "take his talents" elsewhere that he disappeared down the stretch? A forensic study of the stats from that series suggest a very clear answer...

Well, very clear to me at least. It's tough to convince a LeBron-hater that he was anything other than a man in a black hat in the final three games of the Boston series. Haters are expecting more woes when LeBron's Miami Heat take on the Celtics over the next two weeks. If you're on the outside looking in, it's tough to know for sure. You should at least be responsible in your commentary. Calling LeBron a quitter, given the statistical evidence, is about as irresponsible as it gets.

First, some background.

*LeBron James entered the Boston series last year nursing a bad elbow. There were concerns about it after Cleveland eliminated Chicago. It wasn't a secret. Everybody knew it was bothering him, and he was playing through the pain. He shot a free throw lefthanded in the final win of the Bulls series.

*In the media, LeBron kept emphasizing a theme of "no excuses" for himself and his team. He wasn't going to talk about the elbow. They had to win regardless of the hurdles in front of them. No whining to the press. No acknowledgment that it was an issue, period.

*Cleveland had three days off to prepare for Game One of the Boston series after eliminating Chicago on April 27, 2010. With the series starting on May 1, 2010, that's three off days to rest and get ready. LeBron had a great first game. 35 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists. Concerns about the elbow disappeared.

*Concerns about the elbow resurfaced quickly! James was clearly favoring his elbow two days later in Game Two (as this game recap from ESPN's website shows). There was a statewide "Uh oh" in all of Ohio because it was obviously bothering him.

*A quirk in the schedule gave Cleveland and Boston three days off before Game Three in Beantown. They played May 1, May 3, and May 7. Again, with a lengthy recovery time between games (and whatever potential treatment may be involved over a layoff), LeBron was great! He had 38 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists.

And, THAT was the moment where everyone stopped talking about the elbow. From ESPN's website recap:

"I think he's healthy," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who has been dismissive of James' injury. "His elbow looked very good tonight. So enough with the elbow injury. I think we can go ahead and focus on basketball."

Instead of saying "Wait, Doc. He just had three days off before the game. That's not going to happen again in the series," the media went along with the storyline. LeBron was fine. The elbow injury had been overplayed. Rivers had been right to be dismissive. End of story.

And, even though the teams played every other day from that point forward, with only one day off between games rather than two or three...and, even though LeBron had HORRIBLE shooting stats in those games, particularly from distance...nobody was talking about the elbow injury any more. Cleveland was eliminated because LeBron disappeared. Because he was gutless. Because he was ready to leave town and play for somebody with a better chance to win a championship.

Wasn't it possible that LeBron's elbow was functional if he had three days of rest between games...but was A BIG PROBLEM when games were bunched together?! Isn't that more likely than him being the guy in the black hat?

I'm going to run through some numbers from the shot location breakdowns here at Hoopdata (which have been up for a year, by the way, so it's not like they were buried in somebody's backyard this whole time). Here's a link to Cleveland's team page from last year's playoffs. You can click on any individual game for shot location breakdowns and other data.

Remember that Games 1 and 3 came after three days of rest and preparation. Games 2, 4, 5, and 6 came with only one day off between games.

LEBRON AT THE RIM
Games 1 & 3: 12/19 (63%)
Games 2-4-5-6: 15/26 (58%)

A slight drop off. But, the closer you are to the basket, the less an elbow injury is likely to affect your shot.

LEBRON FROM 3-15 FEET
Games 1 & 3: 4/7 (58%)
Games 2-4-5-6: 4/10 (40%)

Quite a difference there. He's dropped off in both cases because he's further from the basket, but the spread is now 18 percentage points rather than just five.

LEBRON FROM 16-23 FEET
Games 1 & 3: 5/11 (45%)
Games 2-4-5-6: 4/16 (25%)

We're in the range where a bad elbow could definitely affect your jump shots. With three days between games, LeBron was at 45%. In the quicker turnarounds, that percentage plummeted to 25%. Note again that both percentages are going down (as expected) the further he gets from the basket. The spread between the two situations is now 20 percentage points.

LEBRON ON 3-POINT SHOTS
Games 1 & 3: 5/9 (56%)
Games 2-4-5-6: 2/17 (12%)

LeBron was hitting his open looks from distance in the games where the arm was well rested. In fact, he was more accurate from behind the arc than in the 16-23 foot range. But, in the quick turnarounds, he was a woeful 2 of 17 on treys (44 percentage points worse). Doesn't THAT suggest a potential injury issue all by itself? A guy's got a bad elbow, and he goes 2 of 17 on long shots in games with limited preparation and rest time. Why wasn't that a red flag to the national media.

Unbelievably, James was 10 of 43 from OUTSIDE OF TWO FEET in those four games. TWO FEET!

Did James take his ball and go home? Did he pout on the sideline? No, the evidence suggests he did what a star would do who could tell he was in trouble away from the rim.

*He picked up his assist totals late in the series, with 25 over the last three games. The elbow moves more side-to-side on passes, compared to straight up and down on jump shots.

*He picked up his rebounding totals late in the series, highlighted by a monster finale. Rebounding from the small forward position is often correlated to positioning and hustle. You can do that with a bad elbow.

*He became so reckless, because he was fighting hard to get close to the basket and either score or kick the ball out to a shooter, that his turnovers shot way up. He commited 7 turnovers in Game Four, and a whopping 9 turnovers in the Game Six finale.

He's been called a quitter because Cleveland didn't win the series. Here are the so-called quitter's stats in that series finale:

27 points (even though he was just 2 of 10 from outside two feet!!!!)
19 rebounds (huge total for a small forward)
10 assists (completing a triple double)
9 turnovers (trying to carry the team on his shoulders)

We have a superstar who refuses to make excuses. We have an opposing coach who convinced the media that there wasn't a meaningful injury. We have a series loss for a heavy favorite who was expected to win the East and battle the Lakers for the league championship (remember they already had those puppet commercials done for when LeBron met Kobe---instead we got to see the cast of "Grownups" sitting behind Phil Jackson before an onslaught of ads featuring purple swimming pool water). It dissapointingly added up to variations of "LeBron quit," "LeBron disappeared," "Something happened to LeBron but we don't know what," "Maybe LeBron had an argument with his mouthy owner behind the scenes and mailed in the last three games." All sorts of conspiracy theories.

The evidence is pretty compelling that a superstar athlete had an elbow injury that needed more than a day off between games within a physical series to recover.

If he goes 10 of his first 43 from outside TWO FEET in this year's series, then let's talk about all the gut check stuff.

An indisputable basketball superstar suddenly couldn't shoot from distance. Do you want to believe that he quit on the team, but creatively posted 27 points, 19 rebounds, and 10 assists in the series finale to cover his tracks? Or, is it much more reasonable that a proud man who won't make excuses did the best he could when dealing with a WELL-PUBLICIZED injury to the elbow on his shooting arm?

If you're a sportswriter who likes touting any of the conspiracy theories, could you at least mention this extremely reasonable possibility to balance things out?

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