It seems like everyone in the NBA is shooting more 3-pointers these days — except LeBron James. Perhaps no play illustrates that quite like one that took place between the Cavaliers and Clippers earlier this month. In the closing minutes of the second quarter, Kevin Love had just drawn a double team in the post in transition when DeAndre Jordan switched on to him. Rath
It seems like everyone in the NBA is shooting more 3-pointers these days — except LeBron James.
Perhaps no play illustrates that quite like one that took place between the Cavaliers and Clippers earlier this month. In the closing minutes of the second quarter, Kevin Love had just drawn a double team in the post in transition when DeAndre Jordan switched on to him. Rath
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Most guards and forwards would've made the most of the opportunity by launching a 3-pointer, especially ones who are in the top 50 all-time in makes from that distance. But James did the opposite. He immediately put the ball on the floor and trampled over Redick en route to the rim. Redick resorted to fouling him, James converted the and-1 and the Cavaliers pushed their lead to double figures.
That, in a nutshell, is who LeBron James is now. It's not a huge surprise seeing as he's shooting under 30 percent from the 3-point line (28.7 percent to be exact) for the first time since entering the league as a kid fresh out of high school. For someone who's three years removed from making 40.6 percent of their 3-pointers after being below average for much of their career, that's significant. James is taking only 3.8 shots per game from the perimeter this season, and only about one-fifth of his total attempts have come from that range, both of which are amongst the lowest marks of his career.
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Take his shot chart from the 2012-13 season as an example. Notice how James was above average from a number of midrange and perimeter spots in addition to being unstoppable around the basket.
And here's his shot chart from the 2015-16 season, with the left block — where he prefers to post-up the most — being his only consistent hot spot outside of the key.
Before the New Year, that contributed to James being the worst shooter outside of the paint . While he has been more consistent over the last three months, his True Shooting Percentage of .574 (still good enough to rank in the top-60) is at an eight-year low.
And you wonder why he's giving up open 3-pointers for layups.
That's not the only way James' shot selection has changed this season, either. In an era that puts a premium on 3-pointers and shots at the rim, James is making an effort to either be closer to the basket or benefitting from the extra point. The result: He's never taken a higher percentage of shots in the restricted area and he's turning the long 2s he fell in love with during his prime to 3s. Because of it, the average distance of his attempts this season is 9.8 feet , which is lower than even his rookie season, when his jump shot was non-existent. While he's not converting those opportunities at the historic rate he once was, he makes up for it by being one of the most efficient scorers within 10-feet of the rim .
Unfortunately, this all comes hand-in-hand with James playing less power forward and a lot more small forward.
That's been a trend as long as James has been in Cleveland. He spent very little time outside of his "natural position" until Erik Spoelstra featured him at power forward and sometimes even center in Miami. Now that he's back with the Cavaliers, James has gone from playing 80 percent of his minutes at power forward to just 22 percent, according to Basketball-Reference . Much of that has to do with him asserting his power — James is adamant that he's not a power forward — but it circles back to Cleveland's positional log-jam with James, Love and Tristan Thompson all making max dollars.
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That's going to be one of the many issues the Cavaliers have to solve in their quest to win a championship since both James and the team are better with him at the four. According to positional estimates by Nylon Calculus , his Daily RAPM (a measure of a player's single game productivity) increases by 4.0 points per 36 minutes when playing power forward versus small forward. It's hard to win big against the likes of the Warriors and Spurs with lineups consisting of three players — Thompson, James and Love, who is shooting 28.6 percent on open 3-pointers this season — incapable of consistently stretching the defense out to the perimeter.
Even James has addressed how much better their offense is when going small by surrounding him with three or four shooters.
"I mean, our offense is a lot faster, a little bit more precise with me at the four," James told Cleveland.com . "I'm going to be setting a lot more transition and halfcourt pick and rolls, which is OK. I know I can either get my guy open or if they put two on the ball I'm able to make a play, able to be a quarterback in that situation."
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It's remarkable how James continues to be one of the more dominant players in the game while his jump shot dissolves. His averages of 24.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.6 assists per contest with his effiency can only be matched by a handful of players in NBA history, and he ranks fifth in Real Plus-Minus despite being a non-threat outside the paint. Even so, his strengths and weaknesses as a player at this stage of his career make him better suited to play power forward, especially with the direction the NBA is trending.
Just imagine James in a similar offensive role to Draymond Green in Golden State, albeit with more responsibility. Both he and the Cavaliers would be better for it.