As I wrote late yesterday (oh happy coincidence!) LeBron James has been shooting better this summer.
Then last night against Team USA, LeBron James shot 11 for 11 (watch every shot), including making all four of his three-pointers. That was all in the first half, too -- with a big game against Argentina tonight, the starters all rested for the entire second half.
For the tournament, he is shooting 79% on 47-for-59. 70% (or 14) of the 20 three-pointers he has shot have found their way home.
This is big, because as Bill Walton pointed out last night, if LeBron James has a reliable and deadly outside shot, he could rewrite some history books. With his size, speed, strength, and ability to finish in the lane, it would become almost impossible to stop him.
ESPN's David Thorpe, who regularly teaches NBA players how to shoot in his other job running the Pro Training Center at IMG, watched the game and answered a few questions about LeBron's shooting stroke.
Is LeBron James doing something differently now?
He's clearly a little more focused on balance and follow through. If you have ever read Harvey Penick's golf books, you know he talks about taking dead aim, really locking in on the shot, and not thinking about anything else but making that shot. LeBron has his hand in the rim, holding the follow through well after the ball has been released. I see LeBron James doing that more than ever.
As far as you know, is he working with a shooting instructor this off-season?
Maybe somebody from Team USA, I guess. Who knows. He also might be the kind of guy who doesn't need somebody like me in his ear every day. He might not need all those drills and repetition. Maybe watching Kobe Bryant every day makes a difference. Kobe doesn't have perfect balance, but his follow-through is good. Maybe it's something Coach K said to him.
He's also facing players who are not used to dealing with him. He's just so overpowering. With his speed, size, skill level ... for the players he's playing against, it has to be very very very difficult for those guys to imagine what it's like to play against him. There's no way to prepare.
What flaws did you see in his shooting stroke in the past?
For the ideal shot, you land in the same spot you jumped from. And when you land, you stay here. We call it completing the shot.
Last week I demonstrated that to players in my gym with a big golf umbrella, that I held like a golf club. I told them to picture Tiger Woods. You ever see Tiger Woods start walking as soon as the club makes contact with the ball? You ever see him rocking side to side, or backpedaling? He makes contact and stays still as he completes the move.
We teach players to freeze and complete the shot like Tiger Woods, whose body hasn't moved at all until long after the shot is complete. That's taking dead aim. That's staying with it.
Look, if you know it has missed, and you want to go rebound, that's fine. But otherwise, we teach you to really focus on completing the shot. That's probably the single most important thing I've spent time teaching Kevin Martin.
LeBron is doing that now, instead of backpedaling or moving sideways. And he's also putting his hand in the rim like Jordan did on that shot against Utah.
How has he gotten better at that? I don't know. He might be one of those players who you can make a couple of suggestions to him, and he may be that gifted of a player that just thinking about it a little bit, he can make the change. Whatever's happening, he definitely looks a lot better.
Now, I think I know what you're talking about with the follow-through, but people are going to ask: Why does what you do after you have released the ball affect whether or not it goes in the basket?
Focusing on the finish, and what you're doing after the shot, forces you to complete the proper mechanics when the ball is in your hands. Common shooting flaws include letting the ball release before your arm is fully extended, "pulling the string," walking away at the end of the shot, or not balancing yourself. If you're intent on a good, solid, end of your shot, those things take care of themselves. It makes you attentive to start and middle.