- LeBron James is taking deeper three-pointers and making more of them than ever before, adding a Stephen Curry-esque trait to his game.
- James’ shooting has helped the Los Angeles Lakers find their groove in recent weeks.
- If James can continue to become a better shooter as he gets older, he could stretch his prime even longer and maintain his effectiveness on the court.
LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers have found their groove in recent weeks, winning five of their last six games and seven of their last nine to improve to 9-7 on the season.
In the process, James has become more comfortable with his new teammates, and it’s showing on the court. In his last nine games, James is averaging 29.7 points per game on 53.6% shooting, 50.9% from three, with 6 rebounds and 6 assists per game.
James has improved as a shooter during his career, and his accuracy from beyond the three-point line has made him a more dangerous and versatile player. This year, James looks even more willing to let it fly from well beyond the line, as if he studied Stephen Curry in the offseason. James hasn’t admitted to such, but it’s not a stretch to think he might have viewed the way Curry bends the floor.
Curry’s ability to launch from anywhere inside of half court has changed the NBA. Teams now practice shooting from well beyond the arc, with teams like the Houston Rockets emphasising to their players to take a few steps behind the line to create more spacing.
After starting hot from three-point range last season, James said he changed his form in the offseason and worked on his shot. Perhaps he was back in the lab this summer.
For the season, James is shooting 39% from three-point range, the second-best mark of his career. According to the NBA’s stats site, James has taken 68 field-goal attempts from between 25-29 feet and six attempts from 30-34 feet. He’s hit 39% of his attempts from beyond 25 feet, which is any noncorner three-pointer. James is also taking more attempts from three than ever before, with 30% of his overall shots coming from long range, up from 25% in the last two seasons.
In other words, James is launching from deep more than ever before and hitting them at a nearly career-best clip.
Another noteworthy addition to James’ game is that he’s taking more pull-up shots than before. According to the NBA’s stats site, 42.8% of James’ shots this year have been pull-up jumpers. That’s up from 36% last year and 34% the year before. He’s averaging a whopping 3.8 pull-up three-pointers per game and hitting 43% of them. That is Stephen Curry-esque!
This development is about more than James expanding his game, however.
First, if James can sustain this type of shooting, it changes the Lakers’ offence. Much was made about the Lakers’ roster and the lack of shooting around James. That hasn’t changed, though fears of a cramped floor have slowly dissipated as the season has gone on. The Lakers are shooting 36.1% from three, 11th best in the league. Last season, that mark would have placed them at 15th in the league, smack-dab in the middle.
Before the season, James was said to be eyeing a move to the low post, which would help mitigate the Lakers’ spacing issues and also allow him to do less dribbling and play-making from the perimeter.
But James isn’t posting up more – in fact, he’s averaging two fewer post-ups per game this year. Instead, he’s stretched his game farther from the basket. In doing so, he creates more space for his teammates and gives the Lakers’ offence an added dose of efficiency.
It’s also an interesting development in James’ overall career arc. James will turn 34 in December. No matter how superhuman he may seem on the court, his burst and quickness will start to fade as he gets older. James has already developed into a good-enough shooter to make defences pay for sagging off on him.
One source familiar with James told Business Insider that teams incorrectly defend James when they give him space to brace for his drives to the hoop. James’ first step has slowed down already, this source said, so teams should play him on him, taking away both the drive and his jumper.
Instead, teams continue to give James space, and now he’s making them pay with his jumper.
Perhaps this is a sign of what’s to come in James’ future. He’s no longer the highest flyer in the league, but he can still attack the basket with gusto. If James’ jumper continues to develop and becomes more accurate as he gets older, he could stretch his prime for longer than anyone expected.