By Josh Baumgard (@MiaSportsGuy)
While many NBA vets used the several-month long lockout as a fine time to treat a basketball as a time bomb (Carmelo Anthony) or sadistically jam nachos down their throat (Boris Diaw), the best player in the world grinded.
Buried beneath all of the visually orgasmic street mixtapes and labor meetings, LeBron James cradled his billion-dollar key, a ball, and went to work. The league’s all-time greatest players always used the “offseason” to expand their basketball resume. For the Miami Heat star who’s still loathed outside of South Florida, that meant layering upon a foundation some had already believed to be the most versatile the sport has ever seen.
Outside of the perpetual Steve Nash, LeBron is the only perimeter player to rank among the league’s top 12 in field-goal percentage connecting on a stifling 55% (5th) of his attempts. Dig deeper and we find his PER (Player Efficiency Rating) of 33.01 would be the highest of the last decade and an astonishing 15% higher than Kevin Durant’s second place figure of 28.6. His three-point attempts have essentially been halved (about two attempts a game), while his percentage from beyond the arc (43%) has naturally increased from his career average (33%).
A sizable difference this year is with LeBron on the block, where the 6-8 mutant can use his revamped power-post game and extraordinary vision to decipher Miami’s highest probability of scoring. His post-ups are up 6% from last year, although his efficiency in this area has always been high. Believe it or not he had a highly effective post game last year.
The difference in LeBron’s post game this year has been a bit overstated. The main trend to notice outside of his increase in post opportunities is a matter of how. We’re seeing less turn-and-face and more “I’m going to eat you alive with my 270 pound frame because I’m bigger than you” moments. Miami could have used that attitude when J.J. Barea was matched up with him in the Finals last year.
I fully expect Head Coach Erik Spoelstra to reveal fragments of Phil Jackson’s extinct Triangle Offense in many playoff situations this year where teams with strong defensive bigs deploy some form of a zone and pack the paint. James playing a two man game with Dwyane Wade should be unstoppable in the half-court, pending one is always moving without the ball.
Beyond the post, LeBron’s true shooting percentage ranks 13th league wide, up from 31st a year ago. Still among the league’s most ruthless defenders, Miami allows 6.1 fewer points per 100 possessions (Up from 4.5 last year) when he is on the court.
Most importantly, Miami holds a share of the league’s best record at 28-7 just past the midway point while obliterating opponents by an average margin of 9.5, easily tops in the league. If this measure holds it would be the highest since the Boston Celtics 2007-08 season (Pierce’s first year with Garnett and Allen) in which they beat teams by an average 10.5 points. Miami has won 20 of their last 23 by the way.
And he’s still giving us his routine 27, 7, and 7. Sickening.
While all of this means zilch without a ring at the end, James is stealthily providing us with an MVP-caliber year for the ages, one that could go down in history as the most illustrious season of the game’s modern era.
Not bad for the most criticized athlete in the universe.
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