He needs to work on his post-up game.
He needs a fadeaway jumper.
He needs to embrace his size.
He needs to work harder.
These are the commonly listed items on LeBron James' offseason to-do list, compiled by fans around the world who just watched his talents seemingly vanish into thin air during the Finals. Although LeBron possesses one of the more complete repertoires in the game -- he can dunk, shoot, pass, handle the ball, defend, and rebound -- the basketball world still demands more. LeBron, who bears a "Chosen 1" tattoo across his upper back, understands that his ceiling is higher than probably any player that has played the game.
But it'll take hard work to realize his potential. Lots of hard work behind closed doors. The fan doesn't have access to a player's offseason workouts, but that doesn't stop the masses from claiming that LeBron doesn't work hard enough on his game.
A new Nike commercial called "Shine," which will make its television debut on Wednesday, tries to dispel that notion.
It's not hard to see what Nike is trying to do in the video above. If you take a gander at the press release on the Nike website, the message is spelled out pretty clearly. "Known for his intense workouts, LeBron is fueled by the energy of basketball and this determination is reflected in Shine. The Basketball Never Stops campaign ... celebrates basketball players at all levels and their true love of the game and desire to play the game no matter the time or place."
As an extension of LeBron himself, Nike wants you to know that the two-time MVP is working tirelessly to elevate his game to new heights. However, the message isn't so much that he's working hard, but it's also about what he's working on. Notice that the clips feature LeBron on the block, spinning and throwing down dunks on, well, nobody. You'll also catch a fadeaway jumper in there and this is not by accident. Nothing Nike does is by accident.
This commercial is a smart, calculated response to the NBA lockout, but it also functions as an answer to the critics. Can't you see? LeBron is working on his post-up game, just like you demanded! At night no less, while the rest of the world is fast asleep.
LeBron's post-up game has become one of the great mysteries in the sport. When J.J. Barea or Jason Kidd try to defend a 6-foot-9, 260 pounder, that 6-foot-9, 260 pounder should bludgeon them in the post and maximize the size advantage. Instead, we saw LeBron routinely hesitate, draw in the defense, and pass out of those mismatches. He deferred to his teammates, rather than asserting his dominance on opposing point guards.
Will that mindset change? Hard to know until he revisits that stage again, but it's worth stressing that he's not a mess in the post. Far from it. In fact, when we look at LeBron's shot repertoire on Synergy Sports, a statistical and video database provided to NBA teams, we find that LeBron's post-game is already incredibly effective -- in small doses.
Did you know that LeBron James averaged more points on his post-up plays than Kobe Bryant did last season? Synergy informs us that LeBron scored 170 points on his 163 post-up plays last season, which gives him an average of 1.043 points. Kobe, the magician on the block himself? He scored 310 points on 313 post-up plays last season, for an average of 0.99 points per play. Sure, it's the smallest of margins, but I'm guessing most fans (especially those in Lakerland) would be floored by the empirical evidence.
Among wing players, LeBron ranks among the best in efficiency in the post, but where LeBron trails is his usage of the post-up, as denoted in the chart below as "%Time." As you'll see in the chart below, many of his All-Star peers work on the block more often than LeBron does.
Post-up numbers from notable wing players in 2010-11 (via Synergy Sports)
We learn that LeBron may have a strong efficiency, but he uses this attack only 7.9 percent of his overall plays, or about half as often as his peers. On this list, only his teammate Dwyane Wade and Danny Granger go to it less frequently as a percentage of total offense. If LeBron is so effective in the post, why did he abandon it in the Finals? Why does he keep a deadly weapon in his back pocket, rather than in his holster?
Perhaps he's not fully comfortable with it yet.
LeBron's post-game is visibly raw and often times not easy on the eyes, but it is effective on pure strength alone. His efficiency ranks in the 91st percentile in the NBA, a huge jump from where it stood two seasons ago, in the 57th percentile. Fellow NBA players have often claimed that LeBron is the most unstoppable player when he gains a full head of steam -- his stellar conversion rates at the rim backs this assertion up -- so it shouldn't come as a surprise that LeBron shines statistically in an area of the game that relies on power and strength.
But we're still not satisfied. And apparently, neither is he. LeBron met up with Hakeem Olajuwon at the Dream's training facility in Houston over the summer. Following in the footsteps of Kobe and Dwight Howard, LeBron sought out the wisdom of one of the all-time greats, hoping to take his post-up game to the next level. It worked, in varying degrees, for the other two All-Stars so we'll have to wait and see the return on LeBron's investment.
If LeBron can add some polish to his post-up game, that may be the key in unlocking its potential. Success typically breeds confidence, but effectiveness alone hasn't propelled LeBron to emphasize his post-game. He's already one of the best players in the game, so it's not holding him back from personal achievements, but it might go a long way in snatching that elusive title.
LeBron has a lot of work to do and the Nike commercial delivers a pointed message that LeBron, along with their other clients, aren't letting the lockout kill their dedication to the game. But is LeBron ready to take the next step and embrace his promising post-game? We'll see when he takes the court. The Heat were supposed to open their season Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, but instead, we are left to wonder.