NBA PM: LeBron James’ “Dream” Scenario
When the Miami HEAT failed to win the championship at the end of their first season with LeBron James and Chris Bosh alongside Dwyane Wade, it was not one of LeBron’s finer moments. His behavior off the court during the series was not befitting a champion, and turned off a number of people who were around to see it. Episodes like making fun of Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki, who played one game despite having a 104-degree fever, and his premature celebration in front of the Mavs’ bench, seemed to show that James simply didn’t take the situation seriously enough or truly appreciate what it meant to be a champion.
Losing that series caused James to take a long, hard look at himself, and his journey toward being a champion eventually found him at Hakeem Olajuwon’s door.
“I think when they lost in the Finals against Dallas, LeBron was looking for a solution,” Olajuwon, two-time NBA champion and now part-time NBA trainer, told HOOPSWORLD. “He felt like they had the championship, they had the advantage and they should have won that series.”
James realized that he needed to complete his game by adding an array of post moves, and who better to learn those from than the inventor of the “Dream Shake?” Few players have ever shown the ability to dominate in the post the way Olajuwon did, and LeBron wanted to learn from the best.
“His advantage against all of his opponents is that he has size, he has speed, he can play in the open court, but he didn’t feel comfortable in the post,” Olajuwon said. “He already had all the outside game, but if his opponent is smaller he should be taking him in the post. When he came to me he said he had played all his life facing the basket and he knew that needed the post game to complete his game. He was very specific.”
Through the 2010-11 NBA season, James got just eight percent of his offense through post-ups, scoring 163 points on 171 possessions. That ranked him in the 91st percentile amongst his peers, so he clearly needed to work on utilizing the post more.
“I looked at him and told him every night he would have an advantage in the post against his opponents,” Olajuwon said. “I told him there aren’t very many nights where you’re going to face an opponent who will be your size in that position. He’ll have the advantage almost every night. We talked about how to attack a player in the post, not just to post up, but also to get the mid-range jumper. We talked about how to get a player off balance, attack their weak leg, and be a scorer in the post. Now he can post up, face up, get under the basket, and score in a lot of different ways in the paint.”
As a result of his time with Olajuwon, James found new confidence in his post game, and last season he scored 13.5 percent of his points in the post. He converted 221 post plays into 212 points, ranking him in the 87th percentile in the NBA. The 2012-13 season isn’t very old, yet we’re already seeing an increase in post time from James, who is currently getting 14.6 percent of his offense down low.
“It was just great to be with him and be able to work on my game and, at the same time, be able to pick his brain and him pick my brain about what it means to become a champion and all that stuff,” James told HOOPSWORLD of his time with Olajuwon. “I had some great times.”
Now, James has his own perspective to share on what it means to be a champion, as his newfound post game and his improved appreciation for the process helped him push the HEAT to the championship last June. There was a noticeable difference in James from the year before, when he and his team lost to the Mavericks. He was more subdued, taking no shots at anyone from the opposing Oklahoma City Thunder, and hardly so much as smiling on the court. He took the entire thing a great deal more seriously, and the end result was a championship ring.
Small wonder that more and more players are turning to Olajuwon for help in improving their overall games.
Carl Landry Finally Finds A Home
One of the more sought-after free agents of last summer’s frenzy was Carl Landry, who ultimately signed a two-year deal with the Golden State Warriors. He talks with HOOPSWORLD about his new team, having a little long-term security, the Warriors’ changing culture and more in this exclusive interview:
Defense A Surprising Key For Knicks
The New York Knicks are not a team that has been known for its defense in recent history. They were, of course, an elite defensive team back in the days when Patrick Ewing and Derek Harper helped the team reach the NBA Finals, but since then the team has struggled to put such an elite product on the court. Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire are big names, and they can fill up a stat sheet with the best of them, but when it comes to defense, neither exactly strikes fear in the hearts of their opponents.
Anthony had one of his better defensive years last season, yet ranked in just the 43rd percentile overall. Amar’e Stoudemire was a little better, but still only ranked in the 57th percentile last season. One of the most common offensive plays in the NBA is the pick-and-roll, and Stoudemire was at his worst defending that. He faced a pick-and-roll situation 36 percent of the time and stopped it just 34 percent of the time. With the team’s two primary catalysts struggling to hold their own on the defensive end, it’s not surprising that the Knicks had a hard time defending as a team.
When Tyson Chandler arrived on the scene, he helped the situation immediately. The Knicks went from being ranked 21st out of 30 NBA teams two seasons ago to being ranked sixth last season, when Chandler was named Defensive Player of the Year. His infectious enthusiasm for the defensive end rubbed off on his teammates, and now the Knicks are off to a strong start behind their renewed focus on defense.
“I just think it’s the commitment,” Knicks head coach Mike Woodson t0ld HOOPSWORLD. “They came to camp ready to go from a conditioning standpoint, we were able to get our system in place and they’re buying in and it’s working. They feel good about how they’re playing on the floor as a team on both sides of the ball. That’s important each time you go out, that you feel you can give yourself a chance to win games. You do that, you’re going to win yourself some games over the course of a season. Taking care of your body, avoiding injuries and a little bit of luck will give you a chance to win.”
Chandler has even higher expectations for his team this season, and is impressed by how much the front office took his words to heart at the end of last season.
“It’s a lot of effort and focus,” Chandler told HOOPSWORLD. “The first year I got here we took a couple of steps defensively, but I felt we didn’t have the proper amount of time to work on things in training camp, practices and strategy time. This year, Coach Woodson did a great job of putting together a game plan and principles. That was the biggest thing in the offseason that we talked about and then when I left the exit meeting (last year). I said, ‘We have to have defensive principles that we can stick by and can lean on.’ He did an excellent job of putting together what our principles are going to be and holding guys accountable throughout training camp, practice and film and it’s definitely paying off.”
Old habits die hard, and there’s always a concern that players will fall back on bad habits when the going gets tough. Chandler is confident, however, that his teammates are ready to commit to elite defense through the trials of a long NBA season.
“Absolutely, that’s the thing that separates good teams from teams that are on the fence and bad teams,” Chandler said. “When you have principles, you have something that you can lean on every night and you’ve got to be willing to lose by those principles. That’s what the Miami HEAT did. They trap, they rotate, big to big, they run shooters off the line, those are their principles and they stick by it and they won a championship, obviously. But you’ve got to be able to take your losses in the process and you’ve got to be willing to lean on that anytime. We’ve got our philosophy now and we’re going to lean on it win or lose and we’re going to continue to learn throughout the season.”
Going into tonight’s game against Jeremy Lin and the Houston Rockets, the Knicks are 8-2 on the young season and own the best record in the Eastern Conference. They’ve adopted a defensive strategy and it’s yielding measurable, demonstrable results. If they can continue to focus on being one of the league’s best defensive teams, the Knicks just might become the contenders they aspire to be.
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