LeBron James can't rely on jumper, lets teammates pick up slack

LeBron's jumper is broken (1:19)

Brian Windhorst breaks down LeBron James' struggles with his jump shot and how teams are playing him differently. (1:19)

During Game 2 in the opening series against the Detroit Pistons, LeBron James created a highlight that quickly went viral when he shamed Marcus Morris for not leaving the paint to defend him just before he drilled a 3-pointer.

Morris was indeed showing James disrespect because that's exactly what he was instructed to do. And James can expect to see a lot more where that came from as the playoffs unfold.

It was the Pistons' game plan to disrespect James' jump shot and bait him into trying to prove them wrong. They didn't think he could do it and, a few shining moments aside, he didn't.

Put plainly, the league has decided James' jumper is broken and now a weakness that can be used against him. By his actions, it seems clear James has been forced to agree and is taking steps to combat it.

That is why we saw a different version of James than we've ever seen in the playoffs, one that might come to define this playoff run the Cavs are trying to assemble.

For just the second time in his career, James didn't lead his team in scoring or shot attempts in a playoff series as the Cavs swept Detroit. The other was in the 2011 Finals, the Miami Heat's loss to the Dallas Mavericks, which was the lowest point of his career. That was a failure. So far, this has been a choice.

"I think one of my best strengths in the playoffs," James said, "has been [being] able to make adjustments from game to game."

This time, it was an adjustment made with the realization he can't trust his jumper like he used to. The way to exploit it was not to overpower it or deny its existence, as a younger James was sometimes known to do, but instead to exploit it.

Once again facing strategies he first saw from the San Antonio Spurs as far back as the 2007 Finals, James is relying on Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to share the scoring load more than he ever has since returning to Cleveland.

That was a challenge the Cavs met in the first round as Irving had the best playoff performance of his young career, averaging 27.5 points and shooting a blistering 47 percent on 3-pointers. In all, 17 of James' 27 assists in the Pistons series led to 3-pointers.

Essentially, this is an elaborate dare. The overmatched Pistons thought it was their best chance. Next up are the Atlanta Hawks, who saw James average 30 points on them during last season's conference finals and shoot 57 percent against them during this regular season.

Even if it may just look like old fashioned disrespect, the Hawks are going to back off James and let him shoot or bait him to pass to "lesser" teammates. James looked to have put this in his past during his years with the Heat, when he morphed into a strong jump shooter after years of incremental improvement.

"I think one of my best strengths in the playoffs has been [my ability] to make adjustments from game to game."
LeBron James

From 2012-14, he shot 40 percent from 3-point range, including the playoffs. In 2013, he took down the Spurs in the Finals with a jumper that held up under extreme pressure.

Over the past two seasons, however, James' jump shooting has eroded quickly. This year, he shot just 31 percent from 3-point range, the lowest since his rookie season. During the series with the Pistons, he shot just 21 percent. The Pistons' tactics got him to take five 3-pointers a game after he'd slashed his attempts to just three after the All-Star break.

As the regular season progressed, James started abandoning his jumper. By the end, 46 percent of James' shots had come from three feet or closer to the hoop. That was far and away a career high and a jolting 13 percent greater than last season.

So it should be no surprise that James took 44 percent of his shots in that three-foot circle against the Pistons (he made 76 percent of them and just 27 percent of the rest of his shots). In last season's playoffs, he took just 30 percent of his shots in there. So it's no wonder the Pistons were trying to keep him out.

The reason for the shooting issues isn't exactly clear. He has long fallen into a bad habit of leaning back when shooting and that returned at times this season. While he's extraordinarily disciplined in his fitness and preparation routines, one of his few weaknesses is being consistent on his shooting technique.

Another possibility floated by experts is, at age 31, James' legs aren't quite as strong as they used to be and he has yet to adjust for it. All that is debatable, of course.

What isn't in debate: There's a new normal developing for James, and it's something he has been well aware of.

"Obviously I'm not quite sure how [the Hawks] are going to play me in Game 1," James said. "But I'm able to make adjustments throughout the game, see how they're playing me and still be able to become effective."

ESPN.com reporter Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.