Court Vision: LeBron, the thinker
By Rob Mahoney
• Do yourself a favor, and carve out some time to trek through Lee Jenkins' grand profile of LeBron James -- SI's Sportsman of the Year, and the living intersection of supreme athleticism and profound basketball literacy. Rarely does James get enough credit for the cerebral core of his game, but Jenkins does a fantastic job of bringing LeBron's brainy excellence to the forefront:
Peers often describe James as "a beast," and even though they mean to flatter him, the label dismisses the depths to which he comprehends the game. He can deconstruct the top eight players on every NBA team and many college teams. He can run every set in the Heat playbook from all five positions. In film sessions he sometimes completes Spoelstra's sentences, and at the Olympics, many of Team USA's defensive strategies were suggestions from James in practice. "He's not smart," says Krzyzewski. "He's brilliant. And I don't like to use that word."
When James is grabbing a rare rest on the Heat bench, he usually sits next to second-year guard Terrel Harris, narrating the action so a young player can see the game through his eyes. During a mid-November-game in Denver, Ray Allen was dribbling upcourt and Rashard Lewis was streaking down the left side. James inched forward in his seat and started yelling, "Rashard, it's coming to you! Get ready to shoot!" Allen raced around a pick-and-roll with Bosh and threw the ball to the corner, where an expectant Lewis caught it and drilled the three-pointer. "How did you know that was going to happen?" Harris asked.
• The fundamental problem of the Pacers' offense this season is that increases in usage throughout Indiana's roster as a result of Danny Granger's injury have resulted in sweeping inefficiency. Ian Levy demonstrates that statistical relationship over at Indy Cornrows with Google Motion, highlighting the unfortunate (Paul George) and baffling (Roy Hibbert) dips in the Pacers' economical scoring.
• Charismatic NBA rookie goes to an animal rescue to adopt a puppy. If this doesn't make you smile, you may need to chisel yourself out of the cold cynicism of the internet.
• Jared Wade has compiled a terrific list of the top shot-makers from various ranges on the floor based on this season's early data. There are plenty of surprises, from George Hill and Jarrett Jack's excellence on high-paint floaters, Anderson Varejao's mid-range accuracy and Brook Lopez's much-improved shooting at the rim. But among the most unexpected for me were the completely equal shooting percentages of Kevin Martin and Thabo Sefolosha -- who each shot 12-for-22 (54.5 percent) -- on corner threes. That's a pretty incredible achievement for the previously gun-shy Sefolosha, and a substantial benefit for a Thunder team that needs him to knock down those corner looks consistently.
• Jared Dubin of HoopChalk expounds more on Varejao's mid-range shooting, specifically as it relates to the pick-and-roll.
• In his examination of a pair of assisted buckets in the Thunder's weekend win over the Hornets, J.A. Sherman of Welcome to Loud City honed in on some of the specific evolutions of Oklahoma City's offense:
In the past, (and probably still in the future), Durant would drive hard at the rim himself. In this case, he eyes an opportunity to break down both his own man as well as his teammate Thabo Sefolosha's man, Greivis Vasquez. After a nifty move to elude Al-Farouq Aminu, Durant sets his sites on Vasquez and engages with this second Hornets defender. By dragging his fishing net across the Hornets' perimeter defense, Durant has occupied 2 different players who are chasing him horizontally, thereby freeing up Sefolosha to cut straight to the rim. Durant's playmaking created the space and Sefolosha read the play by cutting as soon as Durant made his move.
The biggest key in the sequence is not simply the nifty handle that Durant now sports, but how the Thunder offense as a whole reads and recognizes these types of situations. It is no longer just one guy making a move and everyone else watching, but everyone else recognizing the opportunity at the same time and helping to finish the play.
• "L-L-L-W-W-W-W-L-L-L-W-W-W-W-L-L-L. That's not a cheat code. That's the Nuggets win-loss record this season." Paul Flannery breaks down the weirdest and weakest week of the NBA schedule yet, including the slate of those aforementioned Nuggets.
• Speaking of the Nuggets: the whole "idolizing Scottie Pippen instead of Michael Jordan," characterization may be a bit trite at this point, but I still enjoyed Andre Iguodala's recounting of Pip's cross-matched defense against Mark Jackson (via Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post):
Everyone liked Michael. That was a given. Growing up in Springfield, Ill., young Iguodala adored Michael Jordan. But he was fascinated by Pippen, the Bulls' small forward who could play point forward and defend point guards.
"I remember watching him, especially around '97, '98, when they were playing the Pacers and he would guard Mark Jackson," said Iguodala, who was 14 when the Bulls won their last title in 1998. "And he would just shut off the whole side of the floor.
"Mark couldn't get the ball to the other side. And watching him after Game 1 in '91 when he was guarding Magic Johnson in the Finals, and he shut him down. I was just being a student of the game."
"Portland's bench may or may not have woken up -- or at least rolled over, sniffled, and checked the clock -- during the weekend. That includes Joel Freeland, who had a nice couple of games after some disappointment and some DNP-CDs. They did come very close to losing to three of the league's worst teams in a single week, though."