For his remarkable funding for I Promise, a high school for at-risk students in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, LeBron James deserves universal praise, respect, and admiration. Talk about giving back!
However, on the court, LBJ’s efforts can be a mixed blessing.
He is routinely described as the best basketball player on the planet, a description I disagree with. I’d go with (a healthy) Kawhi Leonard because he doesn’t need to dominate the ball to be a high-volume scorer, and because he’s the best wing-defender in the NBA. Indeed, Leonard’s only weakness is his somewhat erratic passing.
Many hoop-o-philes also propose that LeBron is the Greatest of All-Time, i.e., the GOAT. But it’s foolish to compare the greatness of big men (such as Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) with guards and wings because their job descriptions are so different. For the same reason it would be absurd to compare the relative greatness of, say, pitchers and left-fielders, or linebackers and tight ends.
So, among those who theoretically had the same or similar on-court responsibilities as LeBron, Michael Jordan was much better. Moreover, arguments could also be made for Kobe Bryant and Oscar Robertson.
There’s no question that LBJ is a great player — incredibly strong, talented, and versatile. But there are significant holes in his game.
He can no longer adequately defend quick opponents.
He always looks to make (and to force) the potential assist-pass, and rarely looks to make a pass that will enable the pass-receiver to execute an assist-pass.
He’s lost some elevation.
More than ever, the refs let him use his hands and elbows to stiff-arm his way to the hoop when he drives. That’s why he should be in contention to win the Heisman Trophy.
Many players (like Kyrie Irving) want no part of being a teammate of LeBron’s. That’s because when LBJ’s team of the moment wins, James gets all the credit. Conversely, when his team loses, it’s always somebody else’s fault.
Several coaches, ex-coaches, and players privately agree that LeBron has “some quit in him.”
For all these reasons, LeBron’s ball-dominating presence will negatively impact the development of the LA Lakers’ young players.
In any case, James remains a dynamic player. Yet there are strategies that can limit his effectiveness: Force him left-baseline when he isos on his favorite spot on the left wing. Then send a big to double him there while sliding the three remaining defenders to cover the players in LBJ’s direct line of vision, and leave open the player who’s positioned in LeBron’s wake. This would force James to turn under intense defensive pressure and make this difficult pass.
There’s also another anti-LeBron tactic that is seldom if ever employed: Go under on any high screens set up for his use and let him shoot as many three-pointers as he wants. This will keep him off the free-throw line, prevent his teammates from getting involved in the offense (and make them more unwilling to be aggressive on defense), and LeBron’s routine misses from beyond the arc will also result in deep rebounds that will provide fast-break opportunities for the opposition.
Watch this space for further developments.
Author, professional basketball coach, columnist Charley Rosen, of Stone Ridge, has had nearly two dozen books published, both fiction and non-fiction.