LeBron James was not born the best basketball player in the world. It’s taken over a decade of perfecting and honing his craft to become the player he is today: a four-time MVP and two-time NBA champion with the potential to only amass more hardware, more recognition, and more career-defining moments.
It’s what separates LeBron, a great player, from the good players of the NBA or any sport in general. The good player is aware they are good and stops there. The great player, however, is aware that they can be better and will not settle for simply being good.
There is a desire within the greatest players of their respective sports that has allowed them to become better. They are pessimists, constantly questioning what they lack, rather than focusing on the attributes they already possess. They are willing to make adjustments and sacrifices, willing to be outside their comfort zone in order to learn, and willing to learn from their mistakes.
A great player is eaten inside by their mistakes, so much so they don’t want to repeat the same mistake. They want to be prepared for any circumstance and want to own the moment when they encounter those circumstances again. Nobody was born with the attributes that currently characterize them. One can only work to achieve the goals.
LeBron James was not born as one of the NBA’s top jump shooters. He became one. When he entered the league in 2003 as a heavily-hyped 18-year-old, his jumper was raw and still needed great improvement.
He had to become more than a freak athlete and a name. The LeBron James of St. Vincent-St. Mary’s fame could not be the same person as LeBron James the professional basketball player. Even as an 18-year-old, LeBron recognized that the player he was, a No. 1 draft pick drawing MJ comparisons, would not be suitable to achieve his expectations of what he wanted to become.
Over the course of his 10-year career, LeBron has steadily improved not just his jump shooting but shot-selection, as well. Take a look at his jumper percentages over the course of his career — including postseason totals — per Basketball-reference.com:
2003-04: 32 percent on 996 jumpers; 67 percent of shots are jumpers
2004-05: 35 percent on 1131 jumpers; 67 percent of shots are jumpers
2005-06: 36 percent on 1351 jumpers; 63 percent of shots are jumpers
2006-07: 34 percent on 1332 jumpers; 66 percent of shots are jumpers
2007-08: 33 percent on 1205 jumpers; 63 percent of shots are jumpers
2008-09: 37 percent on 1229 jumpers; 64 percent of shots are jumpers
2009-10: .375 percent on 1115 jumpers; 64 percent of shots are jumpers
2010-11: 40 percent on 1247 jumpers; 67 percent of shots are jumpers
2011-12: .395 percent on 1076 jumpers; 64 percent of shots are jumpers
2012-13: 42 percent on 1080 jumpers; 60 percent of shots are jumpers
Obviously the 2012-13 season is the year catching your eye. Not only is LeBron shooting the highest percentage of his career on jumpers, but the percentage of his shots that were jumpers took a significant drop. The influence of having teammates such as Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh by his side paid off, but it wasn’t immediate as 67 percent of LeBron’s shots in his first season with Miami were still jumpers.
The most startling stat is how LeBron took as many jumpers this past year as he did in the lockout-shortened season, which featured 16 less games than the usual 82-game regular season. Coincidentally, the past two years of jumpers playing less of a role in his offense occurred after James and Erik Spoelstra met up during the summer of 2011 and decided that a conscious effort was needed by LeBron to take each possession one at a time. There shouldn’t be any need for settling when he can get to the rim with ease and has teammates who can take the jump shot burden off his shoulders.
The Heat want to maximize the potential of their MVP. They didn’t want him reduced to an average shooter, rather someone who would look at a low-percentage shot and see it as a last-second option.
He’s bought into it, developing a more refined post game. However, just because he was going to take fewer jumpers, it didn’t mean he would not continue to improve on it. He knew a time would come where he’d need it.
Well, didn’t the San Antonio Spurs employ that strategy throughout their NBA Finals? By keeping their players close to the paint, they cut off LeBron’s drives and his primary mode of facilitation, and by giving him a cushion to shoot they constantly had him second-guessing himself.
For some unknown reason, LeBron didn’t use his elite-level jumper until the final games of the series. It wasn’t until Game 7 where he truly took advantage of the space the Spurs gave him, punishing the lax defense with 5-of-10 three-point shooting.
Since we’re on the topic of three-point shooting, take a look at his percentages over the years.
2003-04: 29 percent on 217 three-pointers
2004-05: 35 percent on 308 threes
2005-06: 33 percent on 379 threes
2006-07: 32 percent on 310 threes
2007-08: .315 percent on 359 threes
2008-09: 34 percent on 384 threes
2009-10: 33 percent on 387 threes
2010-11: 33 percent on 279 threes
2011-12: 36 percent on 149 threes
2012-13: 41 percent on 254 threes
Now wait just one minute! What on earth happened in the 2012-13 season? After an entire career of shooting no better than 36 percent from beyond the arc, LeBron suddenly becomes a legitimate three-point threat with a percentage on par with the likes of Dirk Nowitzki and Klay Thompson? I have my theories.