The post is not the priority
June, 15, 2011
By Henry Abbott
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images Sport
LeBron James already has a go-to crunch time move -- imagine if he perfects it.
As far as I can tell, Steve Kerr started it, and it's everywhere now: LeBron James ought to spend the entire summer working on his post game. That's the consensus, and I get it -- no doubt that is a weakness of his, and improving any weakness, at his level of the game, is meaningful.
However, it makes no sense to me, as the top priority for this player, on this team. To me, it's clear that the Heat would be dramatically better, immediately, if -- as David Thorpe first suggested the night of Game 6 -- James would improve as a 3-point shooter.
A doubled James, standing still, is a passing James. Posting up is essentially standing under the hoop. He's making himself incredibly easy to double. He'll still be a full-time passer if he lives down there.
And you say, ahh, but he can kick the ball out for easy scores. But can he? Dwyane Wade is his best target, but that guy is best either going to the rim, or threatening to -- both things that are tough when James and his security detail are parked in the paint.
If the Heat were thick with 3-point shooters, this would be a different story, but their collection of Eddie House, James Jones, Mike Miller and the like has had a hard time getting on the floor, let alone catching fire.
Meanwhile, if James is money from 3, think about that poor, spread-out defense! Both James and Wade prey happily on wide open spaces under the rim -- and both relish opportunities to use the dribble to get by single coverage on the perimeter.
Remember how the Mavericks got away with sometimes using just Jason Kidd or J.J. Barea on James? Let him stand way out in the corner with one of those little guys on him. When he makes the catch, as (dare to dream) a 40 percent 3-point shooter, he's doing his team a huge favor by letting that easy shot fly without a second thought. And when he decides to fake that 3 and put the ball on the floor ... now the entire defense is messed up.
Here comes a fearsome dunker with a head of steam. Anything you're going to do to stop him is going to open up opportunities the Heat can really use, like a pass to Wade cutting into the lane from the weak wide, Bosh stepping out to the free throw line for that mid-range jumper, or James going nuclear at the rim.
James has fairly consistently made about a third of his NBA 3-pointers. Somewhere around that percentage is the point where you're bad enough that defenses want you to shoot 3s.
As you improve from 33 percent, however, every opportunity you get to take an open 3 is likely to improve your whole team's offensive efficiency. Open 3s for 40 percent 3-point shooters win games, and defenses know that and go to great lengths to prevent shots like that. Making more 3s would give James a way to move defenders away from the rim -- which has the potential to vastly improve the entire team's offense.
In addition to helping the whole offense, it would simply gift the Heat important points even if you changed nothing else. Had James shot 40 percent from downtown this season the team would have had scored a dozen more points over their 21 playoff games. It's hard to imagine any other way the Heat could improve results like that without changing anything else.
Meanwhile, there's no chance this skill development would go to waste. James' late-game shots are usually from downtown, or from drives in the paint -- not coincidentally, the most efficient places for any NBA player to score.
Rather than rearranging the entire Heat offense to accommodate him in the post, and raising new questions about how the team would operate, making more 3s would make what the Heat are already doing that much more effective.