The vicious vortex of LeBron James' 3-pointers

"Whenever I’m done, I don’t think you guys will be sitting here talking about how great of a three-point shooter I was.”

Alex Hooper
May 21, 2018 - 12:25 pm

Independence, OH (92.3 The Fan) – “LeBron James: 3-point assassin” is not a moniker you will ever hear when describing his legacy. That came from the King’s mouth directly.

A career 34.4% shooter from deep, James was slightly above league average in 3-point percentage (37%) in 2018, while attempting just 23% of his field goal attempts from deep (16th percentile).

At best, James has always been known as a streaky shooter, one of the few valid criticisms of his game over the course of 15 years. Earlier in the playoffs, LeBron had a run of 3-of-23 shooting from deep over five games, including an 0-for-8 spell between Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals and Game 1 of the Eastern Finals.

Since the start of Game 2, James has regressed towards the mean as he normally does, going 8-for-14 from deep.

“My game isn’t defined by threes,” he said at shoot around prior to Monday’s Game 4.  “If I make threes, cool. If I don’t, I’m still capable of helping our team win games. I’m not a one-dimensional player where you say, ‘If you cut his threes off, then he can’t make plays.’ Just another aspect of my game that I’m just trying to always get better to help me, personally, be as efficient as I can, be even more of a complete basketball player.

“At the end of, whenever I’m done, I don’t think you guys will be sitting here talking about how great of a three-point shooter I was.”

While his assessment of his career is objectively correct, there is an obvious and undeniable shift in his team’s success when LeBron is hitting from deep.

As James went 0-for-5 in Game 1, the Cavaliers struggled to an 89.2 oRTG, in the 4th percentile of games this season. Despite a 13-point loss, James’ 5-for-11 effort in Game 2 saw the otherwise punchless Cavs offense jump to a 101.1 oRTG. In a perfect 3-for-3 outing in Game 3, with plenty of 3-point help from his teammates, Cleveland posted a blistering 122.3 oRTG, in the 88th percentile.

Again, it has never been rocket science to see that a 3-point barrage allows James the space to create plays in a way that perhaps no other player in the history of the game ever has. Though as James points out, teams have been going under screens ‘for 15 years,’ allowing him to hit 3-pointers in rhythm, if he has one.

When he does, defenders have to think for just a microsecond longer, which is all LeBron has ever needed to find an open shooter while driving the lane. When he finds open shooters who make shots, something they had not done in Games 1 and 2, it creates more room for James, opening a vicious vortex.