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Friday, March 06, 2009

LeBron's Long Range Accuracy

LeBron James has shot 12-19 (.632) from three point range in his last three games, increasing his three point percentage for the season to .342, which is nearly a career-high. My newest article for CavsNews.com takes a closer look at LeBron James' perimeter shooting this season compared to the first five years of his career (6/17/15 edit: the link to CavsNews.com no longer works, so I have posted the original article below):

LeBron James had a short “to do list” prior to this season:

Improve defensively. Check! Although his steals and blocked shots numbers are roughly the same as they were last season, James has without question made strides defensively both in terms of one on one defense and in terms of fitting in to the team’s overall defensive scheme.

Improve free throw shooting. Check! James is shooting a career-high .772 from the free throw line, up from .712 last season and reversing four years of steady decline in that category.

The third item on the list--improve perimeter shooting--is the subject of this article.

One way to evaluate James in this department is to look at his three point shooting percentage. James shot .290 from behind the arc as a rookie on 2.7 attempts per game. In his second season, he shot .350 on 3.9 attempts per game but since that time his attempts per game average increased to nearly 5 while his accuracy steadily declined: .335 in 2006, followed by .319 in 2007 and .315 last season. So far this season, James has improved his three point shooting percentage to .342 on 4.7 attempts per game.

James consistently shot right around .300 from three point range in the first three months of this season but in February he shot .400 and in the first three games of March he shot .632 (12-19). Obviously this is too small of a sample size in order to be able to determine whether James has really made a permanent improvement in his three point shooting or if he is just riding a temporary hot streak. James shot .361 from three point range in November 2006 and .391 in December 2006 but failed to reach the .300 mark in any of the remaining months of the 2006-07 season. A glance at his game logs shows that he has had brief hot streaks from three point range a few times during his career but those short hot streaks have always been followed by longer cold streaks.

A second way to evaluate James’ long range prowess is to examine the “Hot Spots” charts at NBA.com. The “Hot Spots” charts divide the court into 14 different zones. Each zone lists a player’s shooting percentage from that area and is color coded based on his accuracy: red, naturally, indicates a “hot” zone, gray could be termed lukewarm and blue is cold. Throughout his career, James has consistently been red hot in the paint but lukewarm or cold from virtually everywhere else. This season, that pattern still holds true: James is red hot in the paint, lukewarm in nine other zones and cold in four zones. His four cold zones are the two zones immediately outside of the paint on both the right and left sides (the midrange game) and the two zones directly to the right of the midrange zone on the right side of the court. James is lukewarm from the top of the key midrange zone and from four of the five three point zones.

What do these charts and numbers mean? We will find out during the last month of the season whether James has really improved his three point shooting or if he just temporarily boosted his percentage with a few hot shooting games. The bigger story is that he is still a cold shooter in several of the midrange areas. This is because James does not have a reliable one or two dribble pullup jump shot. In contrast, Kobe Bryant--the player with whom James is competing to win this year’s MVP--has three hot zones, 10 lukewarm zones and only one cold zone (straight on three pointers from above the top of the key). James has made some strides with his perimeter shooting but in the playoffs we can certainly still expect to see the better teams wall off the paint and try to force James to shoot jump shots, particularly from the midrange areas where he is still struggling.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:51 PM



At Saturday, March 07, 2009 9:38:00 AM, Blogger Joel said...

I keep hearing that LeBron's jumper has really improved this season, but I have yet to find any statistical evidence to support this claim. According to 82games.com, his effective field goal percentage (adjusted for three-pointers) on jumpers is 41.3% this season compared to 39.9% last season. In fact, his eFG% in 2005-06 (41.7%) was higher than it has been in 2008-09. There's nothing to indicate that he's shooting the jumper significantly better than he usually does.

At Saturday, March 07, 2009 12:54:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I suspect that part of the confusion stems from the fact that James has clearly and noticeably improved his free throw percentage. That, coupled with James having a couple dazzling games from behind the three point arc, may be leading casual observers to erroneously believe that James has improved his midrange jump shot, which is not the case. It could also be that some people believe that James has improved his midrange jumper simply because some members of the media have been declaring this to be true for months, back when they "crowned" James as this season's MVP well before the halfway mark of the season.

LeBron James is a wonderful player who has definitely improved his free throw shooting and defense but his midrange game is still a source of concern, as was painfully evident on Friday night versus the Celtics.


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