2015 NBA Finals Preview: LeBron Down In The Block
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Throughout the course of this year’s NBA Playoffs, Cavaliers head coach David Blatt has been excellent in coming up with different schemes to help LeBron James be more effective with the basketball. Whether it came out of necessity because of the Cavs injury woes or a simple adjustment to give other teams a much different look, it has done wonders for the entire Cavs team forcing opponents to scramble on defense and to pick their own poison.
Blatt’s primary offensive system is the Princeton offense—a motion type of offense which features a lot of ball and man movement highlighted by a variety of screens, cuts, and movement on and off the ball. With the Cavs three-headed attack of LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, it featured a four-out offense with four players spacing the floor outside the three-point line to initiate their drive-and-kick attack.
However, with Love and Irving sidelined through the course of the Playoffs, it forced both the Cavs and Blatt to adjust how they attack their opponent’s defense especially with a dip in one-on-one scorers and creators. This prompted them to take a page out of Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra’s book and start posting up James more.
We are used to seeing LeBron at the top of the key directing traffic but this isn’t the area where he is most dominant even if he has the ability to break the defense down one-on-one (case in point Paul Millsap). LeBron’s last three years in the Heat, where his shooting percentage have gone through the roof as evidenced by a pieces done by Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry, he is deadly down on the block because of his combination of size, speed, and a much improved low-post game.
Yet LeBron’s greatness isn’t solely because of his scoring ability. His low post game forces his opponents to make the difficult decision on whether or not they should send a double team. Once they do, this open’s up the Cavs deadly outside attack as James is surrounded by a troop of deadly outside shooters who can make it rain from downtown.
The Cavs have done a great job in running different actions to get the ball to LeBron on the post. They’ve ran cross screens from Mozgov or Thompson to allow LeBron to get position on the left block—his preferred spot down low. However, the Cavs’ favorite action with LeBron is a 1-3 or 1-4 pick-and-roll which either forces opponents to switch, placing a smaller defender on The King, or a slight hedge which gives LeBron a little more time to operate. Either way, it gets LeBron to his spots picking and choosing how he will attack the defense.
LeBron and Blatt’s greatest test will come in the next few days as they go up against the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors feature an army of same-size defenders who can take turns in guarding The King. They also employ a switching defense to prevent attacks of the pick-and-roll. If LeBron can continue to dominate down low and the Cavs continue on to rain three-pointers as they have all season, it is going to be a tough series for the heavily favored Warriors.
It’s very difficult to go up against the best player in the planet in a seven-game series—more especially if you are at his mercy.