Playoffs 2017: East Semifinals -- Cavs (2) vs. Raptors (3)
LeBron James' improved shooting a scary development for Cleveland Cavaliers' opponents
TORONTO — LeBron James is the best basketball player in the world, whether he’s shooting well from the perimeter or not. His combination of size, athleticism, skill and intelligence are unmatched. He has shot 71 percent* in the restricted area over his 14-year career and has almost 20,000 career points just from free throws and shots in the paint.
* Among 192 players with at least 1,500 restricted area shots since James entered the league in 2003, only Shaquille O’Neal (72.8 percent) has shot better than James (71.5 percent) in the restricted area.
He’s also the best passer in the league, complemented by some of the league’s best shooters, both in Miami and in his second stint in Cleveland. His average of 4.7 assists per game on 3-pointers this season were an all-time high.
James’ own jumper has been inconsistent throughout his career. In the middle of the 2015-16 season, he was the worst high-volume shooter from outside the paint, shooting worse than the Kobe Bryant retirement tour. James saw that, put in some work, and had a great shooting stretch … for a couple of weeks. He finished the season with a field goal percentage of just 41.6 percent from outside the paint, the third worst mark of his career.
James has seen more ups and downs in the postseason. From 2006 (James’ first playoff appearance) through last season, 121 players took at least 200 shots from outside the paint in the playoffs. Among the 121, James ranked 108 in field goal percentage (33.9 percent) and 96th in effective field goal percentage (40.8 percent) from outside the paint.
Sometimes, it’s mattered. Sometimes, it hasn’t. In the 2015 Finals, Andre Iguodala sagged off James, he shot 27 percent from outside the paint, and the Cavs lost to the Golden State Warriors. But three years earlier, James won his first championship and was the Finals MVP, having shot a brutal 7-for-38 (18 percent) from outside the paint against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
How James shoots from the perimeter obviously has an effect on how he’s defended, though the more weapons he has around him, the harder it is to give him the space that allows him to see the entire floor. This year, coming up with a scheme to slow James down is harder than ever.
The Cavs currently lead their conference semifinals series 3-0, having outscored the Toronto Raptors, 135-51 from 3-point range. And that’s not just because James has great shooters around him. He’s actually been one of the great shooters himself and leads the Cavs with eight 3-pointers (on just 15 attempts) in the series.
James (17-for-35, 48.6 percent) ranks seventh in 3-point percentage among 48 players that have attempted at least 25 threes in the postseason. He also ranks fourth in pull-up 3-point percentage among 14 players who have attempted at least 20 threes off the dribble.
James’ effective field goal percentage from outside the paint through seven playoff games is 57.8 percent, up from 40.8 percent over his first 11 postseasons. And it’s not just because he’s shooting well. It’s also because he’s shot more from behind the 3-point line than from a step or two inside it.
This was the first regular season that James took more 3-pointers than mid-range shots, jumping from a ratio of 0.9 in ’15-16 to 1.3 in ’16-17. So an increase in field goal percentage (from 34.3 percent to 36.2 percent) produced an even bigger increase in effective field goal percentage (from 41.6 percent to 46.5 percent) from outside the paint. Three is greater than two, after all.
James’ 3-point attempt to mid-range attempt has been even higher (1.5) in the playoffs. Maybe the shooting will drop off at some point, but it’s clear that, in his 14th season, he’s become more comfortable beyond the arc, which is a scary thought for the Raptors as Cleveland tries to close out the series in Game 4 on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) and for future Cavs opponents.
He’s starting to make his free throws, too.
John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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