RIP to the careers of star players before playing with LeBron James.

LeBron James is probably the greatest basketball player to play in the NBA within the last 10 years. He has career averages of 27 ppg, 6 assists and 7 rebounds per game. He’s averaged over 25 ppg for the last 11 seasons and he’s a 12 time NBA All-Star starter. Additionally, he’s won league MVP 4 times, finals MVP twice, has been named to the all-defensive team five times and he was named Rookie of the Year. Individually it does not get much better. To his credit, he has definitely made his teammates better. His greatness made Norris Cole and Daniel Gibson look like deadly shooters and even made guys like Anderson Verajo, Drew Gooden, Tristan Thompson and Mo Williams look like underrated gems. He has a history of getting more out of less but what is not talked about, is how his play lessens the output from those that he can greatly get more from. LeBron is certainly a huge impact player, as he’s carried his team to the NBA finals 5 years in a row. As great as he is, LeBron’s weaknesses are sadly just as impactful as his strengths are. LeBron’s ball dominant playing style greatly prohibits the play of some of his key teammates and that has been a regular occurrence for quite some time.

LeBron has never played with an elite point guard as a regular teammate in his entire playing career. In high school, he played with a very undersized point guard, in Dru Joyce. Early in his professional career, he played with the likes of Eric Snow, Jeff McGinnis, JR Breamer, Mo Williams and then Mario Chalmers for four years in Miami. Outside of the Olympics and the annual NBA All-Star game, Kyrie Irving is the best point guard that the King has played with regularly. It is not unusual for such an elite wing player like LeBron to play with a less than stellar point guard. Kobe played with Derek Fisher for years, MJ played with Kerr and Randy Brown, while AI played with the brick layer, Eric Snow. These serviceable, primary guards allowed the star guys on the perimeter to create off the dribble and play a lot of isolation basketball.

ISOLATION BASKETBALL

Iso basketball and star ball is tough for TWO players to pull off with a 24-second shot clock. LeBron is a ball dominant player and he opts to play a lot of isolation basketball on the wing. Though this is an area of strength for him, it is also an area of concern and weakness. LeBron’s isolation nature subtracts from the strengths of Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Similar to the situation in Miami with Chris Bosh, LeBron’s play forces Kevin Love to become a pick and pop shooter, in a form of a “stretch four.” Prior to playing with LeBron, Chirs Bosh was a dominant force in the paint and elbow, however after sharing the floor with LeBron, Chris saw a decrease in post and elbow touches. Prior to arriving in Cleveland, Kevin Love averaged 26 and 12. A great deal of his offense came from the post and elbow extended. Since playing with LeBron, Love’s elbow and post touches have greatly diminished. As a

As a dribble-heavy guard, Kyrie Irving has been expected to play off the ball a lot more since LeBron returned to Cleveland. The Cavaliers have a very threatening backcourt in terms of dynamics, with Kyrie Irving and LeBron James however, the tandem has not yet discovered how to compliment each other on the nightly basis. Thus far the 3-headed monster in Irving, James and Love have made due, simply by tolerating each other. The day that they find fluid, uniformity and chemistry will be the day that the TEAM can actually stand a chance of challenging the defending champion Golden State Warriors.

The truth is, LeBron and Kyrie have to make adjustments to their personal games, in order to benefit the team. For, LeBron he must learn how to play with a gifted point guard. Kyrie is gold, to Mario Chalmers cubic zirconia. Kyrie must be given the keys to the offense, and with those keys he has to take a page out of Russel Westbrook’s book. Kyrie should learn how to become a quality floor general but still remain offensively tenacious. Kyrie has to become the Cavs primary playmaker, and his teammates have to be comfortable with allocating those duties to Kyrie. That may mean less isolation plays for LeBron, which will surely welcome a change for him in how he approaches the game. LeBron has always moved well without the ball, and running him off screens would force defenses to work even harder. The ball will stick less and the offense would move much smoother for Cleveland.

Kyrie Irving is averaging 4 assists per game, while LeBron is averaging 6 per contest. Kyrie Irving is clearly a threat off the dribble, but he should use that dribbling to create for teammates instead of for himself. LeBron is shooting a career low 28% from the 3-point line and his outside shot has been off all year. He should focus on becoming more of a slasher off the ball, while Kyrie handles the ball more often.

The offense will not run totally efficient until Kyrie and LeBron figures out how to play with each other. Right now the Cavaliers’ offense looks like a “get in where you fit in” type of system. This system ultimately makes each player work harder than any of them realistically have to do. The Cavs roster is too good for any one player to pound the ball on one side of the court for 20 seconds of the shot clock. Instead of heavy isolation play, ball movement should be swift and successful.

LeBron has to stop killing the game of his teammates and look for ways to make the most of their game. The coaching staff and LeBron must do a better job in utilizing the team to their fullest potential. In terms of strengths for Kyrie Irving, it is in his ball handling and creating abilities while with Kevin Love it is in his post and hi-post play. LeBron as the leader of the Cavaliers must ultimately adjust to what he has around him. Until he does, he will be his worse enemy. King James would not have to work as hard as he does if he ever decided to commit to using what he has around him. There is no need to play hero ball, with two very capable all-stars on the team. The Cavs are 3-12 without LeBron in the lineup and that is a direct correlation to the team’s heavy and unnecessary reliance on LeBron James. The team is much more reliant on LeBron James than what the supporting cast requires. There is no good reason for a LeBron-less Cavs team to be playing lottery rate basketball. The team is much too good on paper to play as if they cannot function successfully without King James.

Fans and critics are currently witnessing the death of two player’s games, with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. LeBron needs to conduct a reality check, as does the whole Cleveland roster. If LeBron fails to get a grip, his 2-4 finals record will become less and less excusable and questions about his leadership will seem more and more legitimate. LeBron’s isolation and ball dominant nature is much too stifling for both Love and Irving to completely flourish in, as it currently stands. It would be unfair to expect Kyrie and Love to adjust their play but not ask the same of LeBron. The sooner that LeBron plays to his strengths and milk the strength of his teammates, the sooner the Cavaliers can become the team that they were built to be.

 

~TayJordan

 

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