While it's certainly hard to quibble with a performance like the historic 43-13-15 line that James put up against the Nuggets last night— and yes, historic, as in triple-double numbers reached for the first time since Pistol Pete and Oscar Robertson — the 118-116 loss to Denver presents a perfect case study for one of the few glaring problems in LeBron's game: 3-pointers.
It's not so much his ability to drain shots from behind the arc (he's shooting .353 from there) that drives fans' consternation so much as when and how often he decided to let it fly from deep. He always seems to get 3-happy a) When he's not hitting 3's, and b) When the game is close. The Nuggets game is a perfect example.
That 43-13-15 line looks and is impressive, but look deeper and you'll see how much more impressive it could have been. LeBron was 12-16 from the field within ten feet of the basket last night — just about where you'd expect him to be — but was just 3-17 from everywhere else, including just 1-9 from behind the arc. Four of those misses came in overtime, including the last second shot where LeBron slipped. Two more came in the fourth quarter and, specifically, during the last 5:30 of the game when the score was either tied or close.
(Note: It's not entirely fair to say his 1-9 from 3-point land is a perfect example, because we all know LeBron will shoot better than that on most nights. However, it was the sort of close game where the Cavs were forced into some possessions when they had to take 3's that is surely going to present itself again in the playoffs.)
His only make, and the reason why many gloss over the problems in his shot selection, came with the Cavs trailing 103-106 with 46 seconds left to play, after Anthony had just put the Nuggets up three points. Of course, he nailed a dagger to tie the game. Clutch LeBron shows up again. We'll forgive the errant bombs because when the pressure is on, when no one else seems to be able to do anything, LeBron can make that shot.
But should they have been in that position? It's not fair to peg the loss on LeBron, but it's also not fair to ignore his role in making the game a lot closer than it should have been. The Cavs gave up way too many easy baskets in the 4th, couldn't hit a free throw to save their life, were playing without Z for the first time, didn't have Jamison on the court, had all sorts of rebounding troubles, and had Mo Williams trying to find a rhythm in his first game back after missing significant time with a shoulder injury. And, oh yeah, they were playing the Nuggets, Western Conference contenders.
Whatever the reasons, the game was close, and as so often happens in situations like that, LeBron takes over the offense in the fourth quarter. Fine. We want the ball in his hands, and, more often than not, he makes the right decision in that position.
Hoisting 3's doesn't qualify as the right decision, however. Not when he can get to the rim whenever he wants — for example: the tying layup and subsequent foul shot with 23 seconds left in OT, or the 15 assists he dished out. And not when his shot chart for the season looks like this:
Sometime during the last minutes of regulation or in overtime, TNT went over to the analysts during a timeout and Mike Fratello was asked what the Cavs were going to do. His response, and I'm paraphrasing was, "Well, if LeBron wants to shoot a 3-pointer, that's what he's going to do. It certainly looks like he feels like he's got something there."
If you need a quick reminder — LeBron on 3-point attempts for the game: 1-9.
But Fratello is right. If that's what LeBron wants to do, that's what he's going to do. And do you know how often LeBron feels like hoisting a 3? A lot. A freaking lot. More than he should ever even consider. More than anyone on the team. In fact, more than only four players in the entire league.
That's right, LeBron ranks 5th in the NBA in most 3's attempted with 286 so far this year. Only Danilo Gallinari, Aaron Brooks, Peja Stojakovich, and Travor Ariza have more.
25.7% of LeBron's field goal attempts are 3's. 286 out of 1110.
His 35.3 shooting % on 3's, however, ranks 77th in the league among qualified players.
Make sense? Probably not, especially when you have Boobie Gibson (ranked 2nd in %), Anthony Parker (ranked 6th), and Mo Williams (ranked 8th) on your roster.
For what it's worth, in the Cleveland's 12 losses, LeBron averages 6.5 3-point attempts per game (season average of 5.2 attempts per game), and is connecting on only 33% of them (season average of 35.3%).
Here are LeBron's stats on 3's for his career:
03-04: 63/217 (29%)
04-05: 108/308 (35.1%)
05-06: 127/379 (33.5%)
06-07: 99/310 (31.9%)
07-08: 113/359 (31.5%)
08-09: 132/384 (34.4%)
09-10: 101/286 (35.3%)
So while LeBron's on pace to set a career high in 3-point percentage, he's also on pace for a staggering 426 attempts from long range. If this trend continues, he's also on pace for about 1624 field goal attempts, and a higher percentage of those will be 3's than ever before in his career. Take a look:
3's Attempted/Total Field Goals Attempted
03-04: 217/1492 (14.5%)
04-05: 308/1684 (18.2%)
05-06: 379/1823 (20.7%)
06-07: 310/1621 (19.1%)
07-08: 359/1642 (21.8%)
08-09: 384/1623 (23.6%)
09-10 (Projected): 426/1624 (25%)
This in his 7th year, when he's developed a better post game, grown into a beast of a
linebacker athlete, become an absolute magician at getting to the rim and finishing, is on cruise control to a second consecutive MVP award, is surrounded by three very legitimate long-range sharpshooters who are among the league's leaders from behind the arc, and causes foul trouble for the opposition whenever he gets into the lane (as evidenced by the fact that LeBron's on pace for a career-high 836 FTA this year). You'd think becoming a better 3-point shooter, as he has become, would be something LeBron would strive for at this point in his career, but jacking up more 3's seems incongruous with what is naturally good and dominating about his game.
Again, it's hard to quibble. A TS% of of 0.610, eFG% of 0.550, a 31.8 PER, and an average-per-game line of 30.1-7.2-8.4. But it's hard to imagine that Cleveland's offense, and James' stat line, couldn't be better with fewer 3's and more efficient and smarter shot selection from LeBron.
Follow me on Twitter: @vincethepolack.
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