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

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

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)

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)

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)

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

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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6/9/2011 11:20:08 AM #


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6/9/2011 11:57:32 PM #


Dude what is up with you?

30% Pippen, even though the evidence clearly suggests he was terrible with one day of rest?

He's a Jordan that ways about 30 or 40 pounds more, he's not destined to play 44 minutes a night. Let's see Wade play 44 minutes a night, oh right that's what I thought. I really like this website but stop speculating like one of those tv morons. The facts are LeBron is probably not as durable as Jordan, but Pippen? You're out of your mind.

If the Heat lose I'll be happy Wade doesn't get a second BS Finals MVP, he got the first one on a soft Mavericks defense. Hopefully next time James plays 39 minutes a game like that old horse Dirk (or Wade), and he can get a ring. How disrespectful, you're supposed to be above all the noise.

James looks clearly fatigued to me, and no sane player this season has tried to play 45 minutes a night.

I'm pretty sure the Heat lose this series too, I'm kind of glad. I have too much honor to see James win as a role player, and hopefully you keep your mouth shut if you're going to hate like that in the future. Shaq got swept a bunch of times before winning.

huevonkiller United States

6/10/2011 12:12:45 AM #


Yikes sorry, I'm having computer problems. :[


huevonkiller United States

6/10/2011 1:09:24 AM #

Jeff Fogle

Sorry huevon, still apparently a bug in our system that tells commenters that their post isn't going up when it is. Apologize for that. Appreciate you posting your thoughts. Was out of pocket all day today. Will try to address your points in a Friday night post once I've had time to play around with the numbers. Agree with you about LeBron looking fatigued in the fourth quarter. Happened again in Game Five obviously with his jumpers falling short.

Jeff Fogle United States

6/10/2011 2:17:03 AM #


Yeah just to correct myself:

I meant *weighs not "ways". And I did see his elbow wrapped up in ice even back in the October training camp. It was a real thing but people enjoy when he fails oh well whatever. We'll see what else happens.

huevonkiller United States

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