Retired Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant might not have to worry about guarding Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James anymore, but it doesn’t mean he hasn’t thought about how he’d try to do it.
“You gotta stop letting him go left. Every big shot that he makes, he’s going left, and he’s remarkable at getting to that left hand and being able to raise up and shoot,” Bryant said during an appearance on Fox Sports Radio’s “Chris and Caron,” and the future hall of famer almost laughed at the unenviable task facing the defenders who have to dare to try and stop James.
“It’s amazing, all those shots are either coming over his right shoulder in the post or off the dribble with his left hand, so the first thing I would look at if I was doing something in these playoffs would be to stop him from getting to that left.”
Still, Bryant acknowledged that stopping, or even slowing, James is nearly impossible right now.
James is the heart, soul, engine and any other critical component analogy that can be made for the Cavaliers right now, averaging 34.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and nine assists on 55.3 percent shooting to drag Cleveland to the Eastern Conference Finals. Only three other Cavs are averaging double-digits in scoring (Kevin Love, JR Smith and Kyle Korver), and none are even cracking 15 points per game.
So how has James been able to do it? Bryant sees a man dictating every aspect of the game.
“I think the tempo that he’s playing at. He’s able to control the tempo of the game,” Bryant said. “What he’s been able to do in these playoffs is control the momentum, when it shifts, how it shifts. When teams go on runs he’s able to stop their momentum. That’s a very difficult thing to do, but he’s been able to do that this postseason.”
James has exercised that control nearly every second he’s on the court for the Cavaliers, who end a team-high 35.2 percent of their possessions while James is on the floor with him shooting, assisting, drawing a foul or turning the ball over. To do so, Bryant said James has had to change how he attacks.
“The way he’s being used right now, it’s a little different than how he’s been used in the past. I think he’s understanding the importance of conserving energy. In the past, they ran a lot of screen and rolls for him,” Bryant said. “You don’t really see that too much now. You see him operating at the elbows, below the free-throw line, deep corner. From those positions he can get to his spots and shoot, raise up over that right shoulder.”
The change has left Bryant in obvious awe over how much James has improved as he’s gotten older, in a similar fashion to how Bryant was forced to add a post game and other tactical changes to his arsenal as he aged.
“He’s evolved his game, he certainly didn’t have that when he came into the league. He’s evolved his game so that he can post and fade,” Bryant said. “It’s been serving him well.”
All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen, or support his work via Venmo here or Patreon here.