LeBron James is averaging a career-high 9.3 assists per game this year, and part of it may be due to his studious approach with his teammates.
The NBA is seeing a different LeBron this season. He’s averaging the fewest shot attempts of his career, not leading the Cleveland Cavaliers in scoring, and acting as more of a facilitator.
LeBron’s 23.5 points per game are the fewest since his rookie year and the first time in his career that he doesn’t lead his team in scoring.
As James leans more on his talented supporting cast, he’s apparently taken it upon himself to make sure he takes his role as a distributor to the limit.
In a story from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst on James’ increased playmaking, James said he memorized how to each one of his teammates likes to catch passes, from the height of the pass to where the seams line up.
“It’s my responsibility to know how my guys want the ball. If they like it with no seams or with the seams. I know that might not make sense – some guys like it different ways. I get the ball right in my hand before I throw it. I know the guys on my team like seams or guys who like the ball high when they catch it. I know guys who like it low or midsection. I know where everyone wants the ball, and I just try to put it there on time and on target. All they have to do is catch and fire. It’s those guys working on their craft that allows me to do that.”
James’ passing has been so precise that he’s setting up teammates at a wildly efficient rate. According to ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh, Kevin Love and Channing Frye are shooting 59% from three-point range off passes from James. That means, on average, a three-point attempt from Love or Frye off of a LeBron pass is worth about 1.8 points, the equivalent of a dunk, which goes in 90% of the time.
James’ precision can be seen below as he hits Kevin Love square in the pocket, setting up an easy corner three:
Interestingly, a scout told Windhorst that one of the amazing things about LeBron’s passes is how impractical they often are.
“LeBron breaks all the passing rules,” the scout said. “You’re not supposed to leave your feet and pass, and he uses it as a weapon. You’re not supposed to pass through traffic. He throws backhanded fastballs that buzz the ears of two defenders. He always knows where everyone is going to be.”
This curveball pass to Mike Dunleavy Jr. likely counts as an uncommon pass most players couldn’t dream of making:
Windhorst says the role of a distributor is the role James has always wanted to play. Though, he’s never struggled to score, James isn’t a naturally gifted shooter, and according to Windhorst, James has always preferred to be a playmaker.
He’s maximized that role this year by learning exactly how to throw a pass to his teammates to make their lives easier. As James gets older and leans on Kyrie Irving, Love, and the rest of the Cavs more often, we may begin to really see all of James’ gifts as a passer.