In this morning's Miami Herald, Israel Gutierrez writes a smart feature on the evolution of LeBron James' post game. Gutierrez speaks with Heat assistant David Fizdale, who has been working closely with James since training camp to refine those skills. Fizdale emphasizes something that we tend to forget, largely because James is classified as a small forward:
“... [T]he guy’s 260 [pounds,] he needs to punish people down there, not go around them. An absolute bully.”
With LeBron, there should be very little dancing involved in the post. Shaq rarely danced. He was criticized for it, actually, when people said all he could do was dunk. Well, when all you need to do is dunk, why bother with a dream shake?
That’s the thought process with LeBron. Don’t go all Kobe Bryant with the fancy moves and brilliant fadeaways, don’t watch Kevin McHale up-and-under footage. Just bury your opponent under the rim and leap over him for an easy bucket.
“He doesn’t have to jack around with them, he doesn’t have to do anything flashy,” Fizdale said. “It’s just get to a spot and go over the top. He’s bought into that.”
This isn’t about creating a new element to James’ game so that, when his athleticism falls off a tad, he will have a place to turn to, the way Michael Jordan and Bryant did. This is about taking advantage of his explosiveness to make the game even easier.
It doesn’t even have anything to do with Chris Bosh being out and LeBron having to play the power forward spot on occasion. Because, ideally, he would be doing this against players at his own position, not power forwards, although Fizdale does offer this truth: “He’s got a better chance of beasting up guys that guard Chris than Chris does.”
As Gutierrez writes, the "LeBron at the 4" discussion blurs several different talking points. First, James doesn't have to play the power forward to utilize his post game (ask Adrian Dantley). In fact, the fact that he's matched up against smaller defenders at the small forward spot should be further impetus for James to post.
This season, James has scored points on exactly 50 percent of his 56 post-up plays that resulted in a shot attempt or foul, according to Synergy Sports. Last season, that number was 58 percent. In fact, no player in the league with a minimum of 100 shot attempts in the post generated a higher point of possession on post plays than James did in 2009-10. Bosh ranked second, with Dirk Nowitzki, Zach Randolph and Tim Duncan rounding out the Top 5.
Second, as discussed yesterday, the power forward slot doesn't necessarily require James to play with his back to the basket. James can exact plenty of damage as a high-post facilitator in Erik Spoelstra's corner sets. From the elbow, James can make passes, handoffs to Dwyane Wade, drive to the hoop, or roll on Tim Duncan-eque "wedge action," something the Heat have done successfully with Bosh. As Fizdale says, James has a better chance of dominating defenders at that position than Bosh does.
Because the Knicks play relatively small, Thursday night's game at Madison Square Garden should be a fun opportunity to watch James perform in a more versatile offensive role.