Have Mavericks found a recipe to defend LeBron?

12 Jun

Heat lost in the NBA Finals which inevitably started a run of articles criticizing LeBron James for his play,
for example visit Yahoo or their blog and you will find rather typical reasons:

He will be remembered by averaging just 17.8 points, nine fewer than his regular-season scoring average, passing the ball like a hot potato and not scoring much in the fourth quarter in these Finals. It was a stunning letdown considering that James has widely been viewed as the best basketball player pound for pound in the world

Even though it’s obvious that LeBron played poorly [for his standards] IMHO in most of those comments there’s one glaring term missing: Mavs’ defense so I’ve decided to investigate this topic.

I started with a big-picture, here are LeBron’s worst numbers against the same team in the regular season:

Opponent Number of
Game Score
Opponent Number of
per game
LAC 2 11,35 NJN 3 5,33
DAL 2 11,45 BOS 4 5
NOH 2 15,85 IND 3 5
SAS 2 18,35 PHI 3 5
SAC 2 18,45 DAL 2 5
PHI 3 18,6 POR 2 5
NYK 4 18,65 DEN 1 5
OKC 2 19,15 ATL 4 4,75
DET 4 19,45 LAC 2 4,5
MIL 4 19,65

There are three teams on both lists: Clippers, Sixers and Mavericks.
Thanks to LeBron’s gamelog we can find out that one bad performance against Clippers was in a blowout win and by a nice coincidence we have a bigger sample size [playoffs] for two other teams.

In five games in the first round against Sixers LeBron averaged only 1,4 turnovers per game and his Game Score was 22,82 so either regular season numbers were a fluke or he simply had figured out Sixers’ defense.

But in the Finals against Dallas LeBron played poorly AGAIN with Game Score = 13,68 and 4 TOs per game.
EDIT: if you prefer point of view by Wins Produced the story is the same.
So here’s my question: why LeBron’s struggles are not attributed entirely to Mavs’ defense?

What’s more, basic statistics tell us one more thing:
LeBron used unusually low number of possessions for shots – his average for FGA+0,44*FTA in the Finals was 16,47 while in the regular season he averaged 22,5 IN FEWER MINUTES PER GAME.

With all that in mind I watched 3 full games in a row [3, 4 and 5] and one thing stood out for me:
Mavs’ game plan to slow down LeBron was surprisingly simple – they did everything they could to turn him into a point guard and Wade into alpha dog
by following only 3 steps…

  • Defend Wade 1-on-1 with weaker defender as often as possible
  • That way he had more favorable matchup than LeBron so it was logical to run a lot of action through him.
    In a related note Wade scored more points per game in the Finals than in the regular season even though he missed parts of Game 5 because of injuries.

  • Double-team LeBron as often as possible, especially by packing the paint on drives to the basket
  • That way it was a logical move for him to pass to open teammates. In a related note in those six games he attempted maximum of 4 free throws in a single game… while his regular season average was over 8!

  • Pressure nominal point guard so ball would go straight to LeBron
  • That way LeBron started possessions as a point guard… and he acted like one because it was logical for his team!

What do you think about those observations? Have I missed something?
And could this strategy work for every team or Mavs simply had right personel to execute it?


Posted by on June 12, 2011 in Unanswered Questions


Tags: , , , , , ,

13 responses to “Have Mavericks found a recipe to defend LeBron?

  1. From The 3s

    June 14, 2011 at 05:06

    Pretty brilliant analysis. I had thought there may be more to LBJ’s statistical decline than just his seemingly poor effort.

    • wiLQ

      June 14, 2011 at 22:52

      Thanks, although frankly I don’t agree that was brilliant – quite the opposite – I thought it was maybe too straight-forward… but hey, the easiest explanation can be the best one ;-)

  2. ElGee

    June 14, 2011 at 18:05

    Good analysis. Dallas’ defense and their approach has been grossly overlooked. Then again, I just watched a little of the Chicago series and James didn’t look like he had the same explosion to me. Maybe that was something that accumulated throughout the series due to fatigue (?) or Dallas constantly stifling his drives without fouling.

    • wiLQ

      June 14, 2011 at 22:57

      Well, it’s hard to show explosion in half-court offense with constant double-teams.
      IMHO in fast-breaks he looked good although I wouldn’t be surprised if you were right…
      Plus we have to believe he is human so all those minutes could have left some kind of effect.

  3. Kevin Rossen

    June 14, 2011 at 22:08

    Dallas has done fairly well against LeBron during the regular season both this year and last. I think adding the craziness of DeShawn Stevenson getting into his head made him off his game. Credit should be attributed to Dallas. I doubt both the Lakers and Heat would both just fold the same year and that would be a coincidence. Dallas was a legitimate team.

  4. wiLQ

    June 14, 2011 at 23:01

    “Dallas has done fairly well against LeBron during the regular season both this year and last”
    Last season too? I didn’t check it because he played on a different team… and Mavs were without Tyson Chandler but it’s possible that wasn’t anything new and they did it earlier.

    • Kevin Rossen

      June 15, 2011 at 02:05

      Yep, Shawn Marion has done pretty well against him historically, so that’s part of the reason. His 2009-10 averages overall were 29.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 8.6 assists. Against Dallas he averaged 25.0 points, 4 rebounds, and 9 assists. So, he was more of a passer, but his scoring was down 4.7 points.

  5. huevonkiller

    June 21, 2011 at 07:55

    Your analysis was great, but James had a very different playing style against the Mavs in the playoffs.

    He almost never got to the rim and hit Jumpers on December 20.

    On November 27 he was 3-6 at the rim and drew 13 FTs, bricked all his jumpers. It was a tough matchup but fatigue was still a factor.

    When James only gets to the rim twice he still averages about 25-26 PPG. this season. Next time Miami just needs to conserve him a little bit more, and they will also have better chemistry.

  6. Anonymous

    June 24, 2011 at 06:26

    If stopping James was the priority more than Wade that would be opposite of what Dean Oliver said earlier in the season.

  7. Donavan Taylor

    June 24, 2011 at 14:02

    This article is proof that you don’t need to adopt a know it all attitude to give excellent analysis, awesome,… subscribing!

    • wiLQ

      June 27, 2011 at 01:39



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