Bauman: A look at what may lie ahead for LeBron James, the shooter

The greatest strength LeBron James possesses as a scorer is, without question, the unparalleled power, speed and strength with which he furiously and repeatedly attacks the paint.

As he continues to cement his legacy - whatever the legacy may entail when his career is over - that much will likely be a fact.

His shooting? That is where we are seeing a transformation.

Over the past seven seasons, James has increased his shooting percentage from 47.6% to 56.7% from the field thanks to his focus on making the game easier for himself, as well as an increased understanding of how to use his aforementioned physical gifts to take advantage of defenses on a nightly basis, no matter who the opposition throws at him.

It’s no secret that James is a special player, one whom coach Erik Spoelstra has repeatedly deemed a “Once-in-a-generation” type of talent.

We’re just entering LeBron’s prime years; for the next 4-to-5 years, fans and analysts will be treated to nightly displays of dominance of one variation or another, and opposing players and coaches will be shaking their heads in disbelief at the ease with which James can impact a game.

James has been remarkable all year long and, at this stage in the season, is practically at the point where he’s unquestionably the MVP of the league.

The 11-game winning streak Miami’s been on, combined with James making history with his string of six 30-point games in which he shot above 60 percent, has forced the basketball community to take even further notice of The King’s game of late.

But does anybody realize James has only had eight (of 54) games shooting under 50% this season, his lowest mark being a 6-for-16 (37.5%) against Portland on January 10th.

Another statistic regarding James’ remarkable and undeniable progression during the 2012-13 season is his 3-point shooting.

I say 3-point shooting to begin with – not percentage – for a reason: James has, on a consistent basis, looked even more comfortable shooting the ball with range: His balance has gotten much better this season.

Sure, James is shooting a career-high 41.2% on 1.4-of-3.4 shots per game (third lowest career attempts/game) from distance and knocking down 43% 1.9-of-4.3 shots from 16-23 feet (his second highest percentage and lowest attempts numbers of the last seven seasons), but these numbers only tell part of the story as it relates to his improvements as a jump shooter.

“I think it’s helped that we’ve added Ray Allen and guys like Mike Miller and James Jones,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra during media availability at All-Star weekend in Houston. “They all have their own shooting routines and LeBron’s the type of guy that when he sees somebody doing something he’s like, ‘Hey, let me add that to my routine,’ and I think it’s helped him. He has a phenomenal work ethic, so you add that to his talent and it’s not a surprise.

“Being consistent and working on it every day,” Spoelstra continued, discussing the ongoing learning curve James is undergoing as a shooter. “Ray and Mike Miller, they shoot thousands of shots a day. They never miss a day, whether they’re sick or tired or coming off a back-to-back, they still get in their routine. LeBron doesn’t quite do that routine but he’s added a routine, and it’s helped. It’s improved.”

James settled for more 3-pointers and deep 2s early in his career as a result of not having as diversified and complete of an offensive game as he has now, but later in his career he’ll have to settle for an entirely different reason. At some point in the future – whether it’s four or five years as I said before, or six or seven years if he stays in pristine condition – James (if human; we can’t confirm this, at the moment) should become less mobile and his forays to the rim will become slightly less frequent as a result.

Just as Kobe Bryant developed his footwork in the post and became better and better at turn-around and fade-away jumpers (which the rest of the world marvels at, but are relatively easy for him), James will attempt to earn points in quick and efficient ways that minimize the amount of energy he has to expand on scoring plays.

Which brings me to this point: As threatening of a physical trait as his strength is to the rest of the NBA, it’s equally important to his advancement as a distance shooter.

“Earlier in the year when we were in China before one of our practices – an open practice in front of the fans – he and Ray Allen were having a half court shooting contest and they were both basically shooting jump shots from there,” said Spoelstra. “Ray’s got deep, deep range too, but he was straining just a little bit,” Spoelstra said smiling, motioning just a pinch with his thumb and index fingers.

“LeBron’s shot looks normal from half court,” Spoelsta continued. “I mean, he’s that strong. He’s able to shoot a jump shot with the same form he has when he’s 20-feet from the hoop.”

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