On the other hand, thereâ€™s a sad truth: A Perfect LeBron James does not exist, and probably never can. More than any player since Magic, LeBron is capable of playing all five positions on the floor, and LeBron even has greater range on his jump shot than Magic did. But the fact that LeBron can do all things means that the perfect version of LeBron James is one who does all things at once, which is impossible. If LeBron takes his game to the block and refines his skills as a four, people will say that his perimeter game is lacking. If he locks down his outside shooting and starts picking teams apart from the outside, people will say heâ€™s not using his size. If he does both, people will say heâ€™s dominating the ball too much instead of getting his teammates involved. Every spectacular block or steal is a one-on-one defensive assignment that LeBron is neglecting.
Add that to the fact that LeBronâ€™s narrative has been one of unrealized potential since he was 17, and you can expect to continue to see articles and podcasts about LeBronâ€™s flaws even as he puts up record-setting numbers, at least until he wins a ring. But hereâ€™s the thing. As much as those articles can lose the forest in the trees by focusing not on what LeBron does but on how he does it, none of them are actually all that wrong in their assessments.
Even with LeBronâ€™s immense production and the huge strides heâ€™s made shoring up his weaknesses since he came into the NBA (and even since he was a legitimate MVP candidate), there are still holes in LeBronâ€™s game that dreams can fill.
And so, after 500 words of caveat, here is the beginning of my list of what LeBron, great as he is, could still be doing better, starting with an entire post devoted to LeBronâ€™s much-maligned post game.
If I ask ten people about John Krolik, I’m going to get seven “Holy God, that guy’s amazing”s, two “Eh, I just don’t dig his style”s and one “Who is John Krolik, was he a Sonic back in the 70’s?” But every now and again (okay, more now and more again than what that applies), he nails something pretty extraordinary. And in the piece quoted above, he manages to take what is a pretty banal subject matter “What can LeBron do better? A: Go to the rim!” and really plunge it deep into your cortex.
There’s a central line, that really rang true for me.
“When youâ€™re a physical specimen like LeBron, basketball should not be chess. The defender does not have 15 minutes to react to LeBronâ€™s move. Heâ€™s got less than half a second. Three or four simple but effective moves from the post, and LeBronâ€™s not going to be able to be stopped.”
He’s talking about how LeBron has tried to pretty his game. And he has. James is shooting more 16-23 footers this year and fewer shots at the rim. He’s shooting about .3 attempts fewer from the arc, and fewer shots from less than 10 feet and from 10-15 feet. What’s insane is that his percentages have all skyrocketed. He’s shooting 5% better from 16-23 feet and six percent better at the rim. Even with a small sample size, that’s impressive. He’s done what people said he couldn’t do. He’s deadly from anywhere on the floor.
But Krolik’s right that for James to hit his evolutionary peak, that’s not the route. The jumper must be available, to punish those that seek to bar the castle walls, but always, storming the gate must be the objective. You don’t use a dragon to spit fireballs from 100 yards away, you use it to eat the friggin’ castle.
Look at the impact that going to the rim has had on Josh Smith. Look at how capable James can be when he uses that low post. And look at what Kobe is able to do from there, even when it’s not a natural position for him. James is trying to become the ideal basketball player, instead of the best one. But his peak as the best of what he can be is greater and more deadly than the ideal. Because while the ideal is dropping 17 foot turn-around jumpers in people’s face and wagging his tongue, James’ peak is an unstoppable force that you must foul, even while he makes it, damaging the other team’s depth, sucking in the defense, opening the passing lanes, and utterly destroying the castles’ defenses.
I’m not certain if James’ Ego will allow him to take that route. To eschew the position as captain of the imperial guard and instead go to the coal mines and tear out the fuel bit by bit. To suffer the conflict and damage it necessitates. If he doesn’t, he will still go down as one of the greatest of all time. But if he does, if he uses that jumper sparingly, as a scalpel to open the wound for the hammer, he won’t just become an all-time great. He’ll do what we’ve been saying he’s capable of. Redefining the game itself. And that’s a legacy you can build an empire around.