What’s going on with LeBron?

This image is a Zach Harper joint

I’m not sure anybody really knows. Certainly, there appears to be no simple answer. So here’s a bunch of different, smart perspectives all trying to figure out why the game’s best player just played one of his worst games ever.

Myles Brown, A Wolf Among Wolves
The topic, as I am told is ‘What’s wrong with LeBron James?” Simple enough, huh? Now surely I can regurgitate the musings of dozens of smarter scribes; he didn’t attack the basket enough, he didn’t make the cuts or set the picks that make him so dangerous off the ball, he made the right passes at the wrong times; but those are merely the symptoms and not the disease itself. The question is, why?

Has Erik Spolestra failed to present him with the right opportunities? Have Shawn Marion and Jason Terry actually worn him down? Has Dwyane Wade rendered him impotent? Has a relentless media finally gotten in his head? Perhaps all of the above?

Or maybe he’s just genetically flawed? For all of his tremendous gifts, perhaps he wasn’t ‘blessed’ with the teeth baring, rabid desire that oftentimes pushed Kobe Bryant–and to a lesser extent, Michael Jordan–beyond the edges of mere competitiveness into sociopathology.

LeBron has always been a good teammate; he shares the wealth and he doesn’t exhibit any territorial need to hoist the last shot. We found this to be an admirable trait for quite some time, until it didn’t produce the desirable results. But what we fail to acknowledge is that in the heat of battle, it’s difficult to distinguish when to be passive and when to be the aggressor, particularly in this situation.

He has no need to devolve into a self-centric offensive mindset, he has Dwyane Wade. He has no need to mistrust any of his other teammates, as Chris Bosh proved in Game 3. He has a wealth of options at his disposal. Considering that his coach, GM, teammates, opponents, fans and critics are psychoanalyzing his every move, maybe he actually was overwhelmed by the moment. Or it might be that he simply failed to make the right decisions.

Maybe LeBron James is just confused. I know I am.

Sebastian Pruiti, NBA Playbook
When looking at what the Heat (and coach Erik Spoelstra) can do differently to get LeBron James going is something that they have done in the past and it is something that usually leads to tremendous success.  However, for whatever reason the Heat shy away from it in late game situations.  The set/quick hitting play I am talking about?  The pick and pop with Dwyane Wade as the ball handler and LeBron James as the screener.

This play causes so many problems because there are a lot of options (or triggers as Erik Spoelstra loves to call them) for the defense to worry about.  First, you have to make sure Dwyane Wade doesn’t get into the lane and create, but for the purpose of this discussion, let’s look at what this play does for LeBron James.  When Wade uses the screen and LeBron James pops towards the free throw line, the defense is now rotating to him as he makes the catch.  This makes it so much more difficult to “wall” LeBron off when you can’t focus your defense on him.  We saw a couple different times in the first three quarters of Game 3. When LeBron makes the catch as the defense is rotating to him, he is able to attack and get to the rim before the defense sets their sights on him, walling him off from the rim.

The pick and pop allows James to make the catch in the middle of the floor and gives him options. He can attack in either direction, and if the defense over rotates, he can hit the open man (and when James is passing out of double teams, he isn’t being passive he is being aggressive, attacking the defense)– just look at what happened on Chris Bosh’s game winner.  If coach Spoelstra wants James to be more aggressive, they need to stop having James be the primary ball handler, and let him work off of the ball, setting screens, popping out, and reading the defense as it rotates towards him.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak
Let’s not make too many excuses for LeBron’s performance. Whether or not you believe he tried, there’s no questioning that he tried to do too little. In this failure, and from this distance, it’s difficult to know just how to separate the tactical from the psychological.

Coming out of timeouts and at the beginning of the second half, the Heat appeared to have a real plan on offense. They moved the ball from side to side, stringing out Dallas’ D and then slicing into the paint with dribble drives. But there were also long stretches of abject confusion, in which the goal of the possession (always to score, but by what means?) was unclear. Spoelstra shoulders blame, but so does his superstar scoring point forward, who has appears to have authority to call and break plays.

I’d advocate for more screens for LeBron off the ball, especially cross screens that deposit him on the left block. Against everyone but Marion, he has an enormous advantage from that position, and it allows him to get closer to the rim without having to dribble it there first. The Mavericks often double in that scenario, and his yen for facilitating would be well-placed.

But LeBron also needs to just go. Stop holding the ball, run around the court, be active and aggressive, give an offensive foul once a game just because he’s so committed to finding his way into the paint–challenging defenders to stay in front of him without blocking. He must be a bully.

But to impose your will on the game, you must first show you have one. He does, and he’ll need to bring it every night for the remaining games of this series if he is to make good on all that promise and potential in South Beach.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopSpeak
The strategy adjustments are ancillary if LeBron James continues to move as he did in Game 4. Last night, I was shocked by the listless trudging, inability to get past a middle-aged Jason Kidd, and Rondo-ish lack of shooting. Sadly, LeBron’s failure has reduced me to the sportswriter armchair psychology I so detest–that weird pose of reading minds from afar.

From hundreds of miles away, I’m grasping at greased, flying straws. I recall that Dan LeBatard expressed concern over how Dwyane Wade publicly credit-hogged after Game 3. Wade was proclaiming to be “the leader,” even though James had just carried him through the Chicago series. Both players had deferred to each other throughout the year, and Dwyane’s peacocking represented a dramatic shift.

Perhaps LeBron is upset over this? Perhaps he’s in a depressive fugue? Many have posited that James used this team to create an ersatz family. If this is true, the discontent might cut deeper, enough to influence his play.

If this theory seems far fetched, it’s because I don’t buy the “he’s tired” meme. LeBron was playing lethargically from the opening tip–he didn’t wear down over 48 minutes.

I often dismiss psychological attributions for athletic play. It’s my opinion that Dallas came back in Game 2 because they came back–not out of spite for Miami’s celebration. But, this particular instance is so alarming, that it prompts me to interpret another man’s Rorschach test.

Brett Koremenos, HoopSpeak
Nothing. He’s played well throughout the series and his Game 4 line (8pts, 9rbs, 7asts) isn’t indicative of a terrible performance. He missed two lay-ups (one of which he rebounded and assisted Wade in getting two foul shots) and had a couple of good looks stepping into 3-point shots that he simply missed. He makes one of those three and he’s flirting with a near triple-double line. Jason Kidd has made a Hall of Fame career out of games/lines like James had last night, so why the backlash?

That said, there were a few technical reasons for his “average” performance. Dallas switched defenders on him all night. Marion, Kidd, and Stevenson all took turns defending him for stretches at time. Kidd and Stevenson actually pressured him all the way up the court in dead ball situations. Due to his size, Lebron isn’t used to that. Most opposing threes don’t have the ability to hound someone with James’ ball-handling ability up and down the court. They were relentless and physical and I think it frustrated him somewhat.

Dallas also did an excellent job avoiding situations that have led to run out opportunities in the past three games. Transition baskets had been a major source of points for both James and Wade this series. In Game 4, they were few and far between.

And to be fair, Bosh and Wade combined for 39 shots and 17 free throw attempts. With only one basketball, what is James supposed to do? This type of night is the reason he signed with Miami. He didn’t want to be the killer that had all the pressure on him all the time. He wanted to be able to step back and facilitate. That’s just what he did last night.

Zach Harper, Hoopspeak
This may be the most simplistic way of trying to get LeBron going, but I would do two things. I’d run a pick-and-roll with LeBron and Wade or LeBron and Bosh, or I’d go 1-4 flat to begin the game and see what LeBron can do from the top of the key that he loves so much.

It’s not so much about getting LeBron involved in the offense. You can throw him into the block and see if he can take on the 5th best team at defending the post (according to Synergy Sports) or you can put him in situations where it is almost written in stone that he needs to attack. Part of this could be getting Wade to involve LeBron more. But maybe for the most part, you just have to give LeBron the ball to begin the game and tell him to have at it.

This isn’t exactly great coaching strategy and against an evolved, sophisticated team defense like Dallas employs, it could get you into to trouble if LeBron doesn’t get it going early. But at a certain point, you have to remind LeBron James that he is in fact still LeBron James when he steps onto the basketball court. If the Mavs are going to show a set of onions the size of the Epcot Center and let Kidd hope LeBron isn’t going to take him off the dribble then you need to call their bluff, spread the floor and make sure James gets to the paint before Tyson Chandler can rotate over.

It sounds like I’m advocating hero ball against a really precise team defense. Hell, I kind of am. But that doesn’t mean you need to do it for 48 minutes. I would do it to start the game. I would do it when Wade is off the floor getting a rest, and I would do it to begin his stint of the 4th quarter.

Some times the simplest idea is the best one to get a player of LeBron’s caliber going.

Kyle Weidie, Truth About It
LeBron James is just like everyone else, despite what inherit gauges of media firestorms tell you about growing expectations. He gets nervous too. He also has a shell in which he can retreat, it’s just hard to imagine how that freakishly athletic body with a penchant for attention can fit in a dark, protected place of hiding.

The dramatic narrative of Miami’s game four loss to Dallas tells of meltdowns, detachment, “evil outliers,” and doomsday scenarios for a team constructed to be above defeat. And for obvious reasons, LeBron is the preeminent, excruciating-to-hear squeaking noise coming from unknown areas of a team bus that’s just waiting to lose it’s wheels. We assume.

Understandable as it may be that if the Heat don’t prevail in this year’s NBA Finals that they’ll never hear the end of it, it’s still a little perplexing to think of “never” as being far when the next bus stop is in sight. Remember, this is just the first of six seasons for which 26, 27 and 29-year olds have signed up to compete for supremacy side-by-side (LeBron, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade respectively).

Bask in Miami’s over-amplified failure now, those who have less than admirable views of the Heat for a myriad of justified excuses, but know that future change can easily negate present circumstance. Know that as baffling as LeBron’s non-existence on center stage may be in the moment is as drastically as he’s capable of flipping the landscape toward in favor via a number of equally baffling ways. LeBron’s physical triumph of humanity may seem inhumane, but he’s not above stories of redemption, just like everyone else.

Related posts:

  1. Strange thing: LeBron James being guarded less
  2. Despite Strength, Ron Artest No Match For LeBron James
  3. What if LeBron and Wade could shoot?
  4. HoopSpeak’s NBA Finals Preview: a gentleman’s debate
  5. About that Wade-James pick and roll…

Trackbacks

  1. [...] figure what was wrong with LeBron and how the Heat can get him going.  A part of my contribution to the roundtable: When looking at what the Heat (and coach Erik Spoelstra) can do differently to get LeBron James [...]

  2. [...] but does that mean all other memories of amazing are stricken from the record? In a contribution regarding LeBron on HoopSpeak.com (last entry at the bottom), I essentially opined that the hubbub over game four might be a tad [...]

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