In Defense of LeBron James

Listen to any radio show across America and you’ll likely hear some Hot Takes™ about how LeBron is done, LeBron can’t play, it’s all LeBron’s fault, but just pause for a second. It’s absurd to think that this series is somehow LeBron James’ fault. It’s easy to fall back on the unreasonable yet fashionable argument that if LeBron was so great, the Cavaliers should win the series easily.

Perhaps there is an argument to be made in that regard when you compare LeBron and the Cavaliers to last year’s finals, where Kevin Love missed the entire series and Kyrie Irving missed five of the six games, but Love has been ineffective at best, and so far the only game the Cavaliers have won was the game that Love was ruled out for. Irving is another defensive sieve, and there perhaps the Cavaliers strengths that carried them through their dominant run through the playoffs don’t work against the Warriors.

One of the more glaring criticisms of LeBron is that he has been settling too much for his jump shot. Of course, this was never mentioned before when he hit it more consistently, but there’s not much he can do against Golden State’s defense.

With Klay Thompson’s defensive improvement over last year, the Warriors now have four players who can guard LeBron on a consistent basis with Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, and 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, who shouldered the load in last year’s finals. Most teams are lucky if they even have one player who can competently guard LeBron over the course of a game. Having so many versatile wing defenders is a total rarity in the modern NBA, as modern teams struggle to fine the coveted “3 and D” wing. Ignoring the Warriors defensive intelligence and knowledge of when to switch and when to help, this is a nightmare series for LeBron offensively.

Coaching the playoffs is a completely different beast from the regular season. What worked over 82 games may not be best for the playoffs, and adjustments over the course of a series are crucial. The Cavaliers’ rookie head coach Tyronn Lue was going to be overmatched against Steve Kerr and his superstar assistants, Ron Adams and Luke Walton, but to the extent that he has been is astounding.

The Cavs defense hasn’t struggled, so Lue can be credited for at least preventing the Warriors from reaching their season average of 114 points in all four games, but it’s the Cavs offense that had been firing on all cylinders prior to the finals that has been the issue. It’s good that Lue has tried so many different lineups, but each time the Cavs game plan was relatively similar, which ruins the point. The Cavs are sticking to their slow yet unmethodical offense, trying to ooh and ah the crowd with dribbles from a stagnant offense. Playing slow against the warriors is a sound strategy to try and take them out of their rhythm, but if the offense you generate is so inefficient, it’s moot.

Lue’s lack of coaching acumen culminated in his game four post-game presser, where he was asked why he sat Tristan Thompson so much in the fourth quarter, to which he responded, “I’m not sure. I’ll have to look at the tape.” If Lue is unable to recall why he made a coaching decision less than an hour ago, it doesn’t reflect well on the Cavs’ chances to make a historic comeback.

Meanwhile, on the other bench, Warriors coach Steve Kerr has adjusted his rotations to account for the Cavaliers strengths, even inserting James Michael McAdoo, a “he don’t play” kind of guy, to gain some extra quickness at the big positions. Kerr has adjusted his offense to counter the Cavs different lineups, as the Cavs have tried taking away the three, taking away the rim, doubling Curry and Thompson, switching, not switching, and still exceeding 100 points in each of their wins.

This of course, is all completely shadowed by the fact that the 2016 Golden State Warriors are one win away from being the greatest team of all time. Any argument that LeBron should magically show up and beat this team is so ill-conceived for this fact alone, though I’m not sure if it’s more disrespectful towards LeBron or towards this Warriors team. As great as LeBron is, how many players at any point of their career were on a team that could even challenge the Warriors? LeBron is a borderline top five all-time player, but just enjoy the Warriors; we may never see this again.

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