6 years ago5,000+ Views
One play says so much. LeBron James' team found itself in a do-or-die situation Wednesday night against the Pacers and it did not die. With 2.2 seconds left and the Heat down one in overtime of Game 1, James caught the ball at the top of the key, turned left, whipped past Paul George and darted toward the rim for an uncontested layup with his off hand. Game over, Heat win. It says so much about us, that after James pulled off such a brilliant feat -- creating the easiest shot in basketball not once, but twice in the final seconds -- before our eyes, we rushed to blame anyone and everyone for letting such a thing happen. All it took was 2.2 seconds for James to turn Frank Vogel, Paul George and Roy Hibbert into household names. But most of all, the one play says so much about James as he destroys his perceived flaws. For years, the world breathlessly charged that he was mentally fragile, that he could not finish in the clutch. As silly as it seems now, there was a time when many believed that James' so-called character flaw would prevent him from winning a title. But he already has put that past him and now owns the most game-tying and go-ahead shots in the final 24 seconds of playoff games of anybody since the four-time MVP entered the league. But after accomplishing one of the rarest phenomena in the sport, a game-winning layup, James also provided the knockout blow to another perceived flaw propagated by Michael Jordan's famous scouting report: James struggles to go left. Here's what Jordan told ESPN The Magazine's Wright Thompson in an extended profile earlier this season: "So if I have to guard him," Jordan said of James. "I'm gonna push him left so nine times out of 10, he's gonna shoot a jump shot. If he goes right, he's going to the hole and I can't stop him. So I ain't letting him go right." James went left. He did not shoot a jump shot. He went to the hole and the Pacers could not stop him. "That theory is wrong, I guess," James said of Jordan's scouting report at Thursday's practice. The Jordan plan did not work Wednesday night, but it's a wonder if it would work at all. Despite Jordan's claims, there's loads of evidence that James is not only good going to his left, but he may be the very best in the game going in that direction. In the year 2013, we can check these sort of things. Synergy Sports Technology employs a staff of trackers to watch video of every play in the NBA and chart the results. According to its data, James drove left 52 percent of the time he found himself in an isolation situation this season and has shot 56.3 percent on those drives. Where does that field goal percentage rank in the NBA? Try first. Yes, among the 52 players with at least 50 isolations driving left this season, James ranks at the top of the list in field goal percentage. Two point guards -- Tony Parker and lefty Mike Conley -- trail James on the leaderboard. James, a man of 6-foot-8, 270 pounds, is better at going left, to his off hand, than any player in the game. If you prefer something more sophisticated than field goal percentage, the data informs us that James scored an average of 1.13 points when going left, an efficiency that ranks him first in the league as well. Contrary to Jordan's opinion, the numbers say that James is actually better going left than right (he averages 48.5 percent shooting and 0.941 points going right). But Jordan didn't just say that he'd force Jordan left, but that he would shoot a jumper nine times out of 10. As you might have guessed, there's no data to back up Jordan's assertion. In fact, according to Synergy tracking, when James went left, he drove to the basket more often than he pulled up for a jumper. He pulled up for a jumper only 37.9 percent of the time, or more like four times out of 10. Maybe James would do differently against Jordan, but something tells me that a man who has the size of Karl Malone wouldn't let a shooting guard off the hook by routinely pulling up. This isn't just a blip on the radar. James has been very good going to his left for quite some time now. The numbers say he has been better going to his left than his right in three of the past four seasons dating back to his final season in Cleveland. And going left to the rack in crunch time isn't anything new either. As Cavs the Blog writer John Krolik pointed out and some might remember, James went left for a game-winning layup over the Washington Wizards in his first playoff series ever back in 2006. Here we are now and James continues to blow up the dated misconceptions about his game. He can go left, as he demonstrated all season long; Wednesday just provided the exclamation point. He possesses one of the most elite jumpers in the game, regardless of size or position. With four MVPs under his belt already at age 28, James' team has won 46 of its past 49 games and needs seven more for James' second championship. One play at a time, James is letting his game speak for itself. And in doing so, he's proving Jordan and the world wrong while becoming everything the world wanted him to be.