Saturday, June 23, 2012

LeBron James: No Jumper Needed For Finals MVP

LeBron James was criticized in 2011 for letting his offensive game fall apart after his jumpshot failed him. His jumper was even worse in the 2012 Finals, but he found a way to make the rest of his game better against the Thunder.

George Karl said during the Eastern Conference Finals that LeBron doesn't trust his jumper. Karl and other analysts said that was the biggest problem LeBron had in the 2011 Finals - he didn't know what to do with his game when his jumper wasn't falling.

This article uses Estimated Wins Produced. Since an average team's winning percentage is 0.500, an average player produces 0.100 estimated wins per 48 minutes (est.WP48). A star player produces 0.200 est.WP48 and great players produce 0.300 est.WP48. See the HEAT Produced Page for more information on Estimated Wins Produced.

Well, LeBron's jumper wasn't falling in the 2012 Finals but he didn't let it affect the rest of his game the way it did in 2011.

LeBron's Jumpshots in 2012 Finals
LeBron produced 0.223 est.WP48 against the Thunder despite making just 27% of his jumpshots. The table below lists LeBron's jumpshooting stats vs. OKC in the Finals.

LeBron's Jumpshots in 2011 Finals
LeBron produced a below average 0.097 est.WP48 against the Mavs but made 36% of his jumpshots. The table below lists LeBron's jumpshooting stats vs. the Mavs in the Finals.

What Changed?
So how did LeBron manage to be more productive on offense despite his jumper getting worse?

The spreadsheet below compares LeBron's offensive stats in the 2011 Finals to 2012.

The first change in LeBron's production was that he didn't allow his poor shooting to affect the rest of his game. He only grabbed 6 offensive rebounds in 6 games against the Mavs in the 2011 Finals. He grabbed 15 offensive rebounds in 5 games against the Thunder in the 2012 Finals.

Was LeBron able to grab more offensive rebounds in 2012 because head coach Erik Spoelstra moved him from SF to PF? Maybe. One thing LeBron was able to do by moving to PF was play in the post more.

Playing in the post helped LeBron improve his scoring numbers with more opportunities than 2011 to:
  • attack (7 more shot attempts per 48 minutes)
  • get to the line (6.3 more free throw attempts per 48 minutes, 23% increase in FT shooting)
  • pick apart the defense's double teams with passes (0.6 more assists per 48 minutes)

LeBron in the Post at PF
As discussed on the 2012 Championship HEATcast, LeBron basically assumed Chris Bosh's role in the offense and setup shop at the elbow. Pat Riley also referenced this strategic change by Coach Spo on NBA TV after Game 5.

Moving LeBron into the post made a big difference from the 2011 and 2012 Finals.

Steve Kerr said after the 2011 Finals that LeBron needed to work everyday on a right-hand jumphook and turnaround jumpshot from the low block.

Well, LeBron's summer workouts with Hakeem Olajuwon were well publicized and did an excellent job breaking down video of LeBron's improved post game.

Let's get into LeBron's post game by the numbers.

The spreadsheet below compares LeBron's post-up plays from 2011 and 2012.

According to, LeBron posted up 118 more times in 2012 than 2011. His shooting percentage on post-ups declined, but he didn't let that deter him. LeBron used 14.4% of his plays to post-up in 2012 compared to just 8.1% in 2011.

Why was LeBron's patience and persistence in the post important in the Finals? LeBron only tried to score with his back to the basket 11 times in the 2011 Finals and drew 1 foul. He did it TEN TIMES just in Game 1 of the 2012 Finals.

In Games 1-4 of the 2012 Finals, LeBron tried to score on 33 plays from the post and drew 5 fouls. LeBron's post play wasn't the sole reason for his offensive improvement, but it was a key component that allowed him to improve his offensive production when he couldn't trust his jumpshot.

The spreadsheet below lists the results of LeBron's post play in the 2011 Finals for each game.

The spreadsheet below lists the resutls of LeBron's post play in the 2012 Finals for Games 1-4.

The Opponent's Defense Is Irrelevant

@NBAMistress agreed the argument was irrelevant after she was provided the stats for LeBron's jumpshots, but it was too late. I had already looked up the Mavs and Thunder defensive numbers at

Long story short, Synergy Sports ranked the Mavs defense 7th in the NBA in 2011 with 0.88 points allowed per play. The Thunder defense ranked 6th in 2012 with 0.85 points allowed per play.

The spreadsheet below lists the Mavs defensive numbers from 2011.

The spreadsheet below lists the Thunder defensive numbers from 2012.

If LeBron could dominate the Thunder defense with his back to the basket and no jumpshot, imagine what he can do if his jumper becomes more consistent?

Not 5, Not 6, Not 7...

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