LeBron James almost had us. He suffocated NBA MVP, Derrick Rose and nailed backbreaking fourth quarter threes against the number one seeded Chicago Bulls. He made shots we swore he didn’t have the capacity to make back in December. He broke through nearly every barricade that separated himself from the ultimate prize. In turn, we began warming to the idea that LeBron James did the right thing. He was going to win a championship…and he was going to win it his way.
|Stats indicate fatigue could be a factor|
James had columnists across the country backpedaling, claiming they never had a problem with LeBron leaving, but only “the way in which he left.” As if those same columnists never spoke in their daily rants of “loyalty to a city” or questioned James’ heart because “Michael Jordan wouldn’t dare join forces with another superstar.” Scottie Pippen questioned aloud whether he was an overall better basketball player than the one and only Jordan.
But something changed. The final act turns once more. A complete reversal by James has us back to the beginning. We have replaced the phrase “not clutch” with “shrinking.” Back to the Decision-level hatred, this time for leaving so many of us unsatisfied and genuinely confused. Why is he not driving to the basket? Why is he flatfooted on defense? Why is he jogging down the court?
Jeff Fogle in an excellent piece on Hoopdata.com, asks these very questions and delves deep into his statistics in search of answers.
Fogle wondered, like many in the media, if James has simply logged too many minutes? He breaks down his average minutes played in all four playoff series:
He then compared these numbers to the playoff per game averages of Jordan during his championship years. According to Fogle, Jordan averaged close to 41 minutes a night. James is closer to 44. Are three playoff minutes a big difference? That’s for you to decide.
Next, Fogle searches for a way to statistically recognize energy. He (and I do as well) believes usage rate, the number of possessions a player uses, and free throw attempts are pretty good indicators of a player’s energy in a game.
Bron’s Usage Rate by Series:
|Less minutes, more aggression from James|
Bron’s Total Free Throw Attempts by Series:
I should mention that these stats are quite comparable considering that every series has been five games. The usage rate is down because Bron has been unable to get to the line. Credit Dallas’ defense here as well. Bron has committed 18 turnovers in the Finals, by far his most turnovers in any series this playoffs.
There is also the possibility that Bron has accepted his role as facilitator, allowing Wade to be the go to scorer. But there is a fundamental difference between willing passer and deferring. Dallas has done an excellent job closing down the lanes and dictating James’ offense, forcing him to take jumpers, which has been inconsistent to say the least. For his part, James has been unwilling to put his head down and get to the line regardless of Tyson Chandler’s defensive prowess.
Bron is averaging a little more than five shot attempts at the rim in the Finals, shooting 69% (18-26). So when he does get to the rim, he has a solid chance of converting. The problem is James is shooting terribly from three. Since game one when he shot 4-5 from deep, Bron is shooting just 16% (3-18).
Coach Spo is a statistics nut having come from the Miami Heat’s film room (basement) as far back as 1995. Odds are he is aware of all of this. Theoretically, Spo should cut down Bron’s minutes to around 40, preach aggressiveness and limit the number of threes he takes. Imagine being down 5 in the middle of the third quarter. Would coach Spo be willing to take Bron out for a three minute breather down five in an elimination game? Will Bron make the proper adjustments and save some energy for the all important fourth quarter? We’ll find out Sunday night.