LeBron James is a good 3-point shooter. In his second season with the Los Angeles Lakers, he’s shot 35.1% from behind the arc, including 44.1% over his last five games.
On Monday, when the Lakers beat the Spurs in San Antonio, James was feeling it from 3-point range, draining a game-high four 3-pointers in seven attempts en route to a game-high 33 points. If the defense gave him enough space to get a shot off — and they did — James shot it with confidence.
That hasn’t always been the case for James, though.
In James’ first few seasons in the NBA, defenses dared him to shoot from behind the arc, and while he did so on occasion, it wouldn’t go in at a very high rate. It was one of the few holes in his game, but it was exposed in his first NBA Finals appearance against the Spurs in 2007.
In that series against San Antonio, a 22-year-old James shot 20% from 3-point range in 20 attempts. It wasn’t that the Spurs weren’t letting him shoot 3-pointers — it was that James wasn’t making them.
Since then, James has evolved into a reliable 3-point shooter, and after the Lakers’ win on Monday, he thanked Gregg Popovich’s tough defensive scheme for motivating him to become the well-rounded player he is today (via Spectrum SportsNet):
“I just want to be able to not have any weaknesses and allow a defense to dictate what I do. Because of the Spurs in a lot of my early years, it’s part of the reason my jump shot is a lot better today. My first Finals appearance in ‘07, they went under everything and I didn’t shoot the ball. I wasn’t comfortable with shooting the ball at that point in time in my career. So, I give a lot of thanks to their scheme, a lot of thanks to a lot of other teams I went against.
“I’m just trying to be the most complete basketball player I can be, which adds to our team. If I can be as complete as possible then it puts the defense in difficult decisions defensively with how they guard me, and guard us.”
The Lakers did a good job of surrounding James with shooters in the offseason, but it’s obviously not a bad thing when James is hitting 3-point shots himself. The same can be said of Davis, which is probably why the team’s head coach, Frank Vogel, is challenging Davis to take more 3-pointers during the four-game road trip they’re on, and in the meantime calling James their best 3-point shooter on multiple occasions.
James and Davis don’t need to be prolific long-distance marksmen to be effective, but like James said: The fewer weaknesses they have, the harder it is for defenses to plan for them.
In other words, when James and Davis are hitting the 3-ball consistently, they’re easily the most dynamic duo in the NBA. Hopefully it doesn’t take Davis getting swept in the NBA Finals to realize that.