I'm about to say something that seems absurd about one of the
most visible sports stars in history: we may have missed it with
Let's go back to the 2011-12 season for a moment. LeBron is a
Heatle, coming off of one of the most disappointing big-stage
outings we've ever seen from a superstar. He puts together a
ridiculous season — 27.1 points on a then-career high 60.5 True
Shooting percentage (TS%), 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 1.9
steals — after officially taking reins of the offense from Dwyane
He gives big performances in the postseason en route to his
first title, most notabaly his 45-15-5 masterpiece against the
Boston Celtics. Seriously, watch that game again when you
have some free time.
Aside from the monkey-off-his-back, does-he-have-the-clutch-gene
rhetoric that filled the air that year, there was an on-court
shift. Erik Spoelstra, unlike other coaches before him, got buy-in
from LeBron to use him on the block.
Including passes, LeBron averaged 2.7 post possessions during
his last season in Cleveland, per Synergy. In his first Miami
season, the needle didn't move much (2.9). But during the first
title year, we saw some real movement (4.9).
He succeeded then in the way that he's succeeding even more
consistently now. Face-up jumpers after catching a groove. Baseline
turnarounds. Aggressive backdowns if an undersized player draws the
dreaded 'Bron assignment. Easy kickouts if help comes.
He made quick work in stationary sets. Post split action was
(and is) a fave of his, as were the flex options that allow him to
pick out cutters or shooters — you know, dependent on which
defender inevitably screwed up.
With this newfound utilization, we thought we had it figured
out. "LeBron is the complete package!" we exclaimed.
More annoyingly, his embracing of mid or low post play was seen as
a rite of passage to more comparisons to Kobe Bryant or Michael
Jordan. A tacit acknowledgement that he did, in fact, need to be
more like them in order to win.
(We can quibble about how truthful or silly those discussions
were in hindsight, but they did happen. I'm still not sure if we're
better or worse off for them.)
But that shift was the precursor to a more drastic one this
season. One borne from injury, roster imbalance and, ultimately, a
little bit of desperation.
LeBron isn't just mixing it up in the frontcourt with more
comfort — the man is making sweet music as a
On the offensive end, the fruits of the position-changing labor
are obvious to see. LeBron playing the 5-spot means the Lakers'
non/worst shooters are not. There's more space to operate in, which
makes LeBron even more difficult to defend.
That self-creation growth in Miami? It's even more evident right
If he wants to boogie in isolation, he has more real estate to
map out (and attack) if he so chooses. He becomes harder to deal
with on the block. Consider the recent outing against the
Timberwolves, where LeCenter logged seven post-ups and generated 13
points per Second Spectrum.
Surprise, surprise: pick-and-rolls are even more deadly in this
set-up. LeBron has always been a deadly screener when he taps into
it — doing so as the only "big" makes him arguably the most
dangerous roll threat in the sport.
On the other side of that, inverted ball screens with Bron at
the helm have been nearly impossible to defend. Send two to the
ball, and he'll beat you with the pass. Switch assignments, or
leave your guard in a drop for some reason, and LeBron can bulldoze
his way to the rim for a shot, a drawn foul, or a kickout once the
The LeBron-Malik Monk pairing has been especially effective as
of late. The Lakers, with LeBron at center, have generated north of
1.2 points per possession on trips featuring their two-man dance
per Second Spectrum.
Just about everything is working better for LeBron within this
lineup construction, and that's while acknowledging that there are
still kinks to work out. Here's a quick chart, via Second Spectrum,
that further lays it out.
|Trip featuring a
|Without a big on the
Defensively, LeBron can and has been moved around the chess
board a bit. He can work within the status quo, "guarding" a team's
worst perimeter shooter so he can fly around on the back-end.
Another player, like Carmelo Anthony for example, can take the
beefier matchup while knowing LeBron can provide help when
Other times, LeBron just flat-out defends big men. It's kinda
funny to think about the transformation. The same dude the Heat
threw on prime Derrick Rose during a playoff series is now playing
the gap in drop coverage on occasion. Versatility remains a virtue
for LeBron, even if it looks very different now.
And so that brings us here.
The Lakers have now played 345 minutes with LeBron on the floor
without a big man (Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan) to
complement him, according to the good folks at PBP Stats. They've outscored
opponents by 7.2 points per 100 possessions in those minutes, while
shooting a must-be-a-typo 60.7% on two-point shots.
LeBron's per-36 numbers in this
alignment: 32.1 points (61/41/83 split), 9.9 rebounds, 6.5 assists
(2.0 turnovers), 1.8 steals, 1.5 blocks.
LeBron's overall averages through the last five: 33.8 points
(59/46/76 split), 9.8 rebounds, 6.4 assists (2.2 turnovers), 1.6
steals, and 1.6 blocks.
Let's just say the Lakers might have something here.