When LeBron James Chooses Stats Over Team

The above picture shows LeBron James collecting a rebound with 2.7 seconds to go in the first quarter of Thursday night’s Heat-Mavs game. After James secured the rock, he jogged his dribble towards the halfcourt line, never bothering to try a buzzer beater heave. LeBron wore an expression of utter disinterest as the arena’s blaring alarm and flashing red lights argued with James’ languid face.

This is a familiar sight to those familiar with the Miami Heat. When LeBron James is presented with the chance at a long buzzer beater, he errs towards protecting his field goal percentage. This is another way of saying that LeBron James chooses to marginally hurt his team for the sake of his long term statistics.

He’s far from the only one. While I ironically do not possess statistics on this statistics vanity, it does seem as though buzzer clutching is at peak levels. What does that mean? Do modern superstars indulge in a selfishness that might turn Bill Russell’s beard into an even grayer shade of gray?

Actually, I would argue that this buzzer clutching is indicative of a positive development, a development not so divorced from John Hollinger’s Memphis Grizzlies hire. “Yay points!” used to be the ruling NBA ethos, with little concern as to how well-known players compiled their point totals. In a less informed era, scoring leaders were lauded, considered better than their peers, even if the points came on shoddy shooting. This past decade of increasing analytics-savvy is different.

The percentages matter a lot, and they gain a new life when plugged into popular catch-all statistics like PER, Win Shares, and Wins Produced. If you’re hurting your field goal percentage, you’re also dropping multiple other indicators of your value, indicators that will get seen and passed around by fans

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HoopSpeak Network

Heat Feet Paradox

The league admits that LeBron James got away with a travel. This is not unprecedented, his feet certainly skidded on one famous playoff buzzer beater. Rob Mahoney describes the mistake, here:

“However, there are two flaws in James’ execution. The first: he attempts to execute a jump stop but does not land both of his feet on the floor simultaneously, a necessary requirement of the rule…The second: following his jump stop, LeBron reverse pivots using his left foot as his base, but slides his foot over from the white boundary line into the painted area itself.”

This is one incident, but it illustrates what many have noticed: LeBron’s feet, not the most nimble. Eerily perceptive court vision, incredible handle, nice jump shot, great finisher. Feet, not the most nimble. His footwork needs footwork.

In contrast, Dwyane Wade’s feet are more dexterous than your average person’s hand. His Eurostep is legendary, and while his post game is rarely used, it certainly looks cool.

It could be easy to conclude that Wade naturally has better feet than James. But not so fast–I’d hate for you to have to backpedal (Sorry, couldn’t resist the corn). From a Henry Abbott post, on Wade’s tendency to strike with heel when running:

“His knee braces may be a result of his technique inefficiencies. This kind of movement could overload the foot and decrease ankle instability, not to talk of reducing the mobility level of the athlete.” 

The same post demonstrates LeBron to have wonderful, injury-shooing running form. James strikes with the forefoot, Wade strikes with the mid. Dwyane might have plantar fasciitis, LeBron’s maladies are usually abstract media tropes.

The Heat Feet Paradox is just one of many instances that speak to how compartmentalized skills can be at the highest level. If you want a

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Speaking Through LeBron

(Back at the HoopSpeak lab, Ethan Sherwood Strauss is coming up with new, creative ways to defend LeBron)

When asked about a Favre analogy, LeBron James said:

Brett (had) great years here in Green Bay, and any time a great competitor like that leaves, no one wants to see that, but they’ve done a great job of regrouping with Aaron Rodgers and I believe that Cleveland will do the same

How magnanimous. And he was ripped for it. For some, it’s hard to speak rationally to the 24 hour news cycle. Those tagged with scarlet letters make any comment and the bouncing, hooting, screeching children of media yell, “OOOO! You’re in TRUB-BULLLLL!!!” in a Puritanical ritual of self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s how the PR Troll process works. Pundits pretend to spot a foot-in-mouth, so they can be seen as the savvy foot extractors.

But this maligned quote highlights an underplayed truth: In words, LeBron James has been quite kind to those who despise him. For all the talk of how James is the Anti-Sportsman of the year, a devil, a pariah, a cautionary tale, few have mentioned, “He hasn’t spoken ill of anyone.” God knows I would have. Were I LeBron, my reputation-imploding response would have been:

Brett Favre? Maybe. I wouldn’t know. I’m too tired to read every column by a midlife crisis with a laptop. Perhaps that speaks to my lack of effort? Media before me, please chasten LeBron James well. That is what you do, right? You take to the airwaves and Internet, in a grand collective effort to school marm me proper. And thank GOD for that, really. Because while clawing my way out of poverty, I always prayed for the day when comfortable, pot-bellied slobs could regale me with advice on how to be

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