Remember when LeBron James said that his offseason weight loss is “not such a good thing for the competition?” So much for his new physique proving beneficial. The self-titled King has led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 2-3 record in the season’s early going, averaging paltry numbers of 23.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game and appearing a shell of the player whose athletic prowess was once unmatched. Need even more evidence of the 29 year-old’s decline? James has just three dunks in 2014-2015, and recently offered a sheepish apology for his new inability to finish above the rim. It’s about time.
Okay. That was all in jest. LeBron is hardly playing the best basketball of his career, and the Cavs have struggled to meet sky-high preseason expectations. But there’s no reason for worry in Cleveland, especially with regard to James in particular – it will take much more than five games to knock him from basketball’s individual throne.
And as for his lack of aerial exploits thus far, it was The King’s sarcastic response to a question about it that inspired our similar tone above. Via Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:
“I apologize I haven’t been above the rim, but I’m in the lineup,” James said with a grin, responding to a reporter’s question after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ morning shootaround. They play the New Orleans Pelicans at The Q Monday night. “Whatever it takes to help us win…”
James battled a sore back during training camp, and at age 29 has dropped hints early this season that he doesn’t feel great. “In the lineup” is a phrase James often uses when asked if he is hurt.
On Monday he clarified that he wasn’t insinuating that an injury was the reason he hasn’t gotten to the rim, but: “If you ask me if I’m hurt I’m going to say I’m playing so I’m all right.
“I understand those are huge momentum plays,” James said. “We haven’t had too many fastbreak opportunities, as I have in the past. In the halfcourt they kind of put a lot of bodies in front of me. I’ve been able to find open guys.
“As the year goes on we’ll be able to start making more plays offensively. I’ll start getting to a point where I can start getting back above the rim. I hope so.”
James’ training camp back maladies are no laughing matter, but not a reason for grave concern, either. If the four-time MVP was at risk of further irritation, you can bet David Blatt would act accordingly by resting his best player. Instead, LeBron is averaging a league-leading 40.4 minutes per game despite Blatt’s recent claim that his playing time would decrease this season.
Is it possible minor discomfort is leading to James utilizing more finesse around the basket, though? Perhaps. As LeBron suggests in Vardon’s piece, he’s not quite feeling 100 percent.
But fewer opportunities to show off the dunking prowess for which James is so well-known is surely the bigger contributor. He hasn’t been a halfcourt rim destructor for a couple years now; most of LeBron’s slams come in transition these days. And while Cleveland gets an inordinate amount of its point via fast breaks and turnovers – top-five among teams in each category, actually – despite playing a slow pace, film confirms The King’s assessment that true run-outs of the kind that were so prevalent with the Miami Heat haven’t come as often for the Cavs.
Don’t get too worried, basically. James can still get up:
A byproduct of him slowly creeping to 30 years-old, though, will likely be a decrease in dunks. Is that the reason for him jamming only three times so far this season? Certainly not the sole one. LeBron will be back to dunking with regularity once Cleveland starts to hum offensively.
And always the showman, don’t be surprised if James offers some classic slams for The Quicken Loans Arena crowd tonight should he get the chance against Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans.
What do you think?
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