Lebron James strength is his weakness (Don’t avoid Lebron. Go at him.)

Posted on May 11, 2018

(Last Updated On: May 11, 2018)

Lebron has been having a phenomenal playoffs. As always gets talked about with him, he’s been doing this despite playing more minutes than everybody else. This is a great article with some insight how he does it,

The genius way Lebron has been sneaking in his rest

The short version is Lebron has become better about knowing when he can walk. In fact, Lebron has gotten quite good at realizing when he can sit too. Whenever the refs go look at the monitors for replay, you’ll often catch him sitting at the scorer’s table.

This is not unique to James. I distinctly remember Lionel Messi -one of the greatest soccer players ever- seemingly walking all over the field in the last World Cup. 538 then ran a nice article about it. Indeed, he walks, a lot.

But this strength of Lebron James actually reveals how you need to approach playing him.

-> I’m mainly talking from a physical perspective. I’m not going to go into much specific basketball strategy. That can be endlessly debated. Physiology is much more black and white.


Go AT him

Lebron is a good defender, but he’s not great. The NBA gives awards for first and second team all-defense. Lebron hasn’t been on either team in five years. The Cavaliers are notoriously a bad defensive team too.

-> Something I rarely see incorporated into the Lebron vs Jordan / Kobe debate is Jordan and Kobe have been on the all defensive team 9 and 12 (!) times respectively. James has only been on 6.

Furthermore, in the NBA, especially nowadays, great offensive players can’t be stopped. Lebron tried to match up with Kevin Durant a lot in game one of the Finals last year. Durant’s stat line,

  • 38 points
  • 54% from the field
  • 50% from 3
  • 7 out of 8 from the line
  • 8 assists

Durant destroyed Lebron. That’s no knock on James. Nobody can guard Durant. (Just like nobody can guard Lebron.)

From there, if memory serves me right, Lebron didn’t bother trying to guard Durant as much the rest of the series.

Now why would that be? They basically play the same position. They’re the best player on each team. Why wouldn’t Lebron guard him all the time?

To avoid getting as tired, of course.

Point being, Durant is going to get his numbers no matter what. So why bother having Lebron expend energy trying to stop it if Durant gets the same numbers with Lebron guarding a lesser caliber offensive player? Durant gets the same result, but James can save energy.

Look, Lebron is a great player, but he’s human. Humans get tired. Lebron especially gets tired. You can regularly see it when he plays. He has these moments of dread. It’s why he’s had so many issues with cramping in his career, which have been popping up again these playoffs.

Why is Lebron the only one cramping?

Again, it’s not really a knock on him. He’s 250+ lbs. He should get tired.

-> Kobe had some great insight into Shaq. When they played together, Kobe couldn’t stand how lazy Shaq was in practice. It was way later on when Kobe finally realized when you’re 300+ lbs, running up and down a basketball court, your body can’t handle that like a guard. Not to mention, all the guys beating the shit out of you in games. As Shaq would later say, “I knew guys were going to touch me up [foul me] in games. So no, I’m not going to also get touched up in practice.” That understanding looks to be part of their reconciliation.

And don’t buy into anything about Lebron saying he’s fine. If he weren’t worried about getting tired, he wouldn’t be pacing himself like he does. He wouldn’t spend over a million a year on recovery measures either. The reason he often comes out at the end of the first quarter? So he gets the rest of the commercial break between quarters too. He’s definitely strategic about it.

So, what do you do with Lebron then? You know from a basketball strategy standpoint you’re not out dueling him. You’re not going to confuse him. He’s too good a passer to try making him give up the ball after he makes a move, where playing him like other dominant offensive players never works. (Lebron is too good at making a pass after you send a help defender.)

Instead, you should go at him from a physiological standpoint. A consistent weakness of his. Some guys -back in the day Ray Allen comes to mind, Allen Iverson being another- appear to never get tired. Lebron is not one of those guys.

What I would do is,

  1. Guard him full court and never give him space
  2. Only help defend right at the rim (so long as you’re not leaving a three point shooter wide open)
  3. Don’t double team him unless it’s crunch time (make the other dudes hit a shot under pressure)
  4. Incessantly make him defend

There is an age old debate in sports about what to do with star players. Do you let them go off and worry about everyone else, or do you sell out to stop that one player? Bill Belichick, the coach of the Patriots, clearly thinks you stop the dominant player. But football is different than basketball, because you don’t play both ways, and typically in football, stopping one guy means another guy is one on one. It doesn’t mean a guy is wide open like in basketball.

You have to take each guy and view them as their own scenario, but it’s clear with Lebron. Again, Lebron is great, but he ain’t scoring 100 points a game. (Where one player in football, or baseball, or soccer, can score all the points to beat you.) And you WANT him to try and score that many. You want him putting out that kind of energy on offense. Scoring is more tiring than passing.

But you also need to make him defend. Don’t let him hide by trying to guard some no name three point shooter. Or, if you’re the Raptors, don’t let him guard back up point guards. Instead, pick and roll him and have Derozan go at his ass. Play after play after play after play.

And most teams in the NBA, by playoff time, have at least one offensive player who no other team can guard. Make Lebron guard that person!

Ideally, never foul him. While he’s not a great free throw shooter, fouling him gives him time to catch his breath. Rather than him maybe getting 1 point instead of 2, let him get the easier lay ups in the first half while knowing in the second half he won’t have as much steam.

Basically, let Lebron get his numbers. In fact, encourage him into getting 50 points. Who cares? But make him get them in the most tiring way possible. Instead of thinking “How do we stop Lebron?” think “How can we make Lebron tired?”

If you remember the 2015 Finals, when Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were hurt, this is roughly what the Warriors did to James. They let him shoot 35 times (for only a FG % of 35), try to score 50 points, get 20 rebounds and 10 assists a game. The Warriors ran their normal offense, where virtually every defender is going to be running all over the floor. Lebron was exhausted. They even let the media say Lebron was the Finals MVP, despite losing, and it really not being that close of a series.

A motion offense helps against Lebron. If so much of the NBA didn’t play iso ball, it would help in tiring him out. But so much of the NBA now has guys just sitting in the corner. Well, that means Lebron can sit in a corner doing nothing too. Thus, if that’s your offense, you need to get Lebron to switch onto better offensive players.

Lebron also averaged a triple double in the Finals last year. Again, if you’re the Warriors, who cares? That series barely went five games.

Besides Draymond going AWOL a couple years ago, Lebron has had little TEAM success against the Warriors. Before or after Durant. If it weren’t for Draymond getting suspended (and Curry, Iguodola, and Bogut being hurt), Lebron would have a 4 and 12 record against them in the Finals. (Lebron also had a good deal of trouble against the Spurs, when they were much more pass heavy.)

Long story short, Lebron is quite literally trying not to run. The more you can make him though, the better your odds.

As usual, Rocky knows all,

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Posted in: Miscellaneous, Sports