LeBron James is the NBA’s Best Except at the End of Games
For anyone who doubts LeBron’s status as the “best player in the world” it has to be assumed that they would believe Kevin Durant deserves that title since he was the only player to legitimately challenge LeBron for the MVP award this season. Now if the title being discussed were “best scorer” then Durant would win. He has led the NBA in scoring the past three seasons.
But when it comes down to being an “all-around player”, Durant does not have the strength and power that make LeBron James an indestructible force on both offense and defense. Durant can’t finish at the rim like LeBron and he can’t defend like LeBron. It’s too bad the statistic for most “And 1” plays isn’t widely available but it is hard to believe that anyone has converted more 3-point plays from making a basket while being fouled than LeBron. But that comes secondary to LeBron’s ability to shutdown any player who poses an offensive threat.
LeBron has been on the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team from 2009-11. That fact doesn’t show just how talented he is. This should help:
In April 2012, Carmelo Anthony was on a tear. He might have been the hottest player in the league shooting 46 percent from behind the three-point line and averaging 29.8 points a game over the month. Yet, when the series against the Miami Heat began, Melo suddenly cooled off. Over the first three games of the series, he shot 34 percent from the field.
ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst points out in his article that for the majority of Melo’s minutes, either LeBron or Shane Battier, who is also known as a defensive stopper, were guarding him. When Battier was given the task of slowing Melo down, he was able to hold him to 20/38 (53 percent). When LeBron was given the task of guarding the former Syracuse superstar, Melo shot 12/41 (29 percent).
Miami might be celebrating a sweep if Erik Spoelstra hadn’t decided to put LeBron on Tyson Chandler in the fourth quarter of Game 4 leaving Battier on Melo who ended up with 41 points, 12 of them coming in the final quarter. In the first three games LeBron held Melo to an average of seven points in the fourth quarter. The Knicks only won Game 4 by two points. There is no such thing as certainty in sports, but according to that math this series would have been over if LeBron had been guarding Melo instead of the Knicks’ center.
Durant is long and athletic. He certainly has improved his defensive skills since entering the NBA but he does not have the shutdown ability that LeBron has. He is only 23 years old and will likely get stronger but right now he knows as well as anyone that LeBron is the last person in the world you want to have to score against. And it doesn’t matter what position you play. LeBron is quick enough to handle point guards and strong enough to deal with centers. After all, he’s spent part of the Miami-New York series guarding the Defensive Player of The Year in Tyson Chandler.
LeBron is the best basketball player on Earth. He is the “King”. So why didn’t he take the last shot in Game 4 against the Knicks? If he’s the best player then he should have gotten the ball, put his head down, drove to the rim, and forced the Knicks to foul him. Instead LeBron didn’t even touch the ball on the Heat’s last possession of the game. Dwayne Wade went to the basket before retreating to take and miss a desperation three-point shot as can be seen here:
ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith argued that Dwayne Wade took the last shot because he is a better jump shooter and a better closer than LeBron is. In fact, LeBron was only the third option on that play. If Wade didn’t like the look then he was supposed to kick the ball back to Chris Bosh for a jumper.
Erik Spoelstra has been criticized for not choosing LeBron as the first option, but it is obvious why he picked Dwayne Wade over LeBron. He was afraid that Udonis Haslem might end up taking the last shot. Earlier this season, the Miami Heat had a chance to beat the Utah Jazz but LeBron gave the ball up to Haslem rather than trying to win the game himself. This game was played on March 2nd, 2012 and here is the last shot:
You would think that after the NBA All-Star Game, which was literally a week earlier, LeBron would never have passed the ball to Haslem. In the All-Star Game, the East was down by two points with time running out and instead of shooting the ball, LeBron tried to pass it to a teammate, which resulted in a turnover.
According to the Akron Beach Journal, LeBron said, “(Kobe Bryant) was telling me to shoot it. I seen my teammate open for a split second. I seen him open the first time and I didn’t release the ball.” Even Kobe, who was on the other team, wanted LeBron to take the final shot. But LeBron just couldn’t do it.
A lot of people want to compare LeBron James to Michael Jordan. And they can say that while MJ usually took the last shot of the game, he was also known to pass the ball. Here’s an example of when Jordan passed the ball to Steve Kerr to win Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals:
The problem with comparing LeBron’s passing the ball to MJ’s is that Michael passed the ball to one of the best shooters in the history of the game. In fact, Steve Kerr holds the record for the highest three-point field goal percentage of all time at 45.4 percent. You can’t compare Michael’s decision to pass the ball to Kerr to LeBron’s decision to pass the ball to Udonis Haslem. Certainly, the stakes were higher for Michael Jordan as this was the NBA Finals, but that’s the point. Erik Spoelstra was not going to allow LeBron to make a mistake by passing the ball to a player like Haslem or Chalmers etc. to take the last shot.
Spoelstra knew that if he gave LeBron the ball that he would be taking a chance that one of his role players would be shooting for the win. So, he gave the ball to Wade who lost his dribble and was forced to take a difficult fade-away.
Wade didn’t score, but you want your superstar to take the final shot of the shot game. That’s why they are paid the big bucks. Because they can create a shot from nothing-they can find a way to get the ball in the basket when a role player can just score because the superstar has done something to get them open.
The superstar might be getting double-teamed or maybe the defense just has to keep a closer eye on him, which gives the role player an open shot, but there’s a reason why Erik Spolestra chose to put the ball in Dwayne Wade’s hands at the end of Game 4. He didn’t trust LeBron. And why should he? A week after LeBron was embarrassed at the All-Star Game because he didn’t take the last shot, he gave the ball up again and the Heat lost the game.
LeBron James must be the most talented athlete in the history of sports to be so reluctant to be a leader. He has been criticized enough for choosing to play for the Miami Heat (and his friends) rather than the New York Knicks (and the spotlight).
This is just an example of how funny life can be. Some of us are born with the DNA that gives us the drive to shine when everything is on the line while others just aren’t interested. This case is remarkable because it is on a global stage for everyone to see. We have never seen a player who is so clearly superior to everyone else in the world, but just doesn’t have it in his DNA to be the type of leader that refuses to let anyone else take the last shot in a game.
Wade might not be as athletically gifted as LeBron, but he is Batman and LeBron is Robin. Wade doesn’t mind if everyone else thinks that the roles are reversed. In 2006, Wade didn’t care if Shaq thought that he was Batman and Wade was Robin when the Miami Heat won the NBA title. But it was Wade who dominated in the 4th quarter of the NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. It was Wade who was actually the MVP of the series. After the Heat dropped the opening two games, Wade scored 42, 36, 43, and 36 as the Heat won the next four games in a row.
Now lets go back to the 2012 series with the Knicks. The first game didn’t matter as the Heat destroyed the Knicks beating them by 33. Everyone for the Heat played well in that blowout. In Game 2, LeBron scored 19 and Wade scored 25. The game was a little bit closer, but the Heat won by 10. In Game 3, the Knicks were up 40-36 at half. With 7:22 to play in the third quarter, the game was tied at 42 and LeBron picked up his fourth foul so sat out until the fourth. In the final quarter, LeBron was seemingly on fire and put up 17 points to give the Heat a 17-point win.
But when LeBron was reinserted into the game in the fourth quarter, there was no more pressure. Dwayne Wade had already destroyed the Knicks’ will by keeping the Heat ahead of the Knicks without LeBron on the floor. Wade had 12 points in the third quarter after LeBron had to come out due to foul trouble. By the final quarter, Melo was exhausted from having to play so many minutes and LeBron was fresh.
Dwayne Wade is more clutch than LeBron, so Erik Spoelstra is going to rely on Wade when the game is on the line. Wade is going to get the ball at crunch time and we shouldn’t be surprised as this continues to happen throughout the playoffs and throughout the next few years as the Miami Heat keep making title runs.
When it comes to the entire universe, LeBron is the No. 1 player, but when it comes to the Miami Heat he’s No. 2 and rightfully so. When the pressure is on, LeBron would rather someone else deal with it. He doesn’t mind letting other people take the blame for the Heat’s losses even if it means he won’t get as much credit for the Heat’s wins.
Certainly Spoelstra was criticized for his tactics in Game 4 of this first round series but you have to figure he doesn’t care because he knows he made the right choice. And you know Wade doesn’t care. He just wants another title.