It’s unsettling to wake up to no NBA.
The past few weeks have been such an out-of-control probinsya perya ride of drama, upsets, and career-defining performances that the sudden halt in the action is almost nauseating.
But instead of focusing on the Jerry West-shaped void in our lives, now is the time to make up for all the hours we’ve devoted to watching the Playoffs; you could, for example, show your neglected significant other that you’re not a mindless basketball zombie. You could get your boss something nice for all the times she caught you on League Pass. You could make peace with the friends you’ve lost because of your way-too-personal, way-too-mom-centric brand of trash talking.
Or you could do what I’ll be doing, and spend the next three days MAKING ANIMAL SACRIFICES TO LEBRON JAMES WHO IS COMING TO OBLITERATE OUR HOPES AND DREAMS AND WAY OF LIFE WITH AN UNSTOPPABLE TURNAROUND FADEAWAY J WHICH HE SUDDENLY DECIDED TO BE GOOD AT OH JAMES NAISMITH UP IN BASKETBALL HEAVEN PLEASE DELIVER US FROM THIS UNGODLY ONSLAUGHT
If this seems like an overreaction, I promise you it isn’t. A fadeaway, you may say, is nothing new. Dozens of basketball superstars have mastered the art of the fadeaway way before LeBron ever did. LeBron himself has been canning fadeaways for years now.
But that’s not the headline here. To me, LeBron has always felt like the ideal basketball player prototype—physically imposing, otherworldly athleticism, genius-level basketball IQ—a one in eight billion player and God’s very own 2K Create-A-Character. LeBron has as good a foundation as you could ever ask for. All he needed to do was add to his skillset, which he’s done slowly but surely over the years—the dunks, the floaters, the chasedown blocks, I’ll say it, even the perfectly-timed flops are all part of the repertoire.
This season, it felt like long-range FU 3s were the latest addition to his deadly arsenal. LeBron was recording a career-high in 3-point attempts and makes, and was an absolutely dangerous 12/36 in triples taken from 25 to 29 feet. For comparison’s sake, this season Steph Curry was 11/30 from the same distance.
I don’t have to tell you how terrifying a LeBron with 30-foot range can be. That sentence alone just sent shivers down DeMar Derozan’s spine. But it’s not the end of the world. LeBron has a reputation as a streaky shooter and if you catch him on an off night, you’ll live with him chucking out of his comfort zone.
LeBron James with a fadeaway, on the other hand, feels like basketball apocalypse. Years ago, LeBron taking a contested fadeaway translated into a positive defensive possession. It meant that you successfully prevented LeBron from driving to the hoop or creating an easy bucket for a teammate. By mastering the fadeaway, LeBron has effectively turned anywhere inside the circle into his sweet spot. To beat the meme to death, the fadeaway was LeBron’s final Infinity Stone.
What do you do? Where do defenses force him to go? To prove that this isn’t just recency bias on account of the pitiful extinction of the Toronto Raptors, check out LeBron’s fadeaway splits in the past three years:
LeBron James Fadeaway Shooting Splits from 2015-2018
Notice the ever-growing reliance on the fadeaway, which officially signifies that LeBron is entering the ‘Legendary Old Man’ phase of his career. Like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant before him, more and more LeBron is using his diminished athleticism (which is still mind-numbingly unbelievable by the way) to create as much separation between him and his defender as possible.
This isn’t to say that that’s any less impressive than the times he would simply barrel through his defender for a lay-up—the footwork, the speed, and shooters touch involved to sink the fadeaway are still on the highest level of difficulty—it’s just less physically taxing.
You’ll also notice that around half of these fadeaways aren’t just your ordinary fadeaways, but iso turnaround fadeaways from the post, which is by far the best use of LeBron’s size, skill and athleticism. You get a sense that he’s been saving this move, not unlike Voltes V waiting ‘til the absolute last second to whip out the Laser Sword. He brought it out last season, when he no-scoped the Wizards to force overtime and break a 17-game home winning streak…
…and again this season when he skinned the Timberwolves with the same undeniable shot.
Now, it seems LeBron doesn’t have a choice.
With his weakest supporting cast in years, James has been pulling out all the stops, taking every opportunity to post-up, isolate, and break down his defender with the turnaround fadeaway. In 11 games, LeBron is shooting a stupefying 70% using that move. That accuracy is probably unsustainable but regression to the mean shouldn’t be too dramatic; LeBron is just too fast and too crafty for this shot to fail.
If you have any doubts about the legitimacy of this shot, check out how LeBron’s Playoff fadeaway compares to the legends whose names are synonymous with the move.
Playoff Fadeaway Shooting Splits During Peak Years
Surprisingly, Kobe didn’t take too many turnaround fadeaways during his 2010 championship run, relying more on step-backs and pull-ups. Dirk, on the other hand, went to his patented unblockable turnaround fadeaway time and time again when they upset LeBron’s Heatles in 2011. What’s shocking about Dirk is the accuracy, who was shooting his signature shot at a sub-40% rate. In other words, James is shooting more turnaround fadeaways than Kobe and with greater accuracy than Dirk in each of their respective “peak fadeaway” seasons. So be afraid. Be very afraid.
(Unfortunately, there is no data to track and compare Jordan’s turnaround fadeaway during his championship years, presenting yet another roadblock in the GOAT debate. Sad!)
It’s gonna be interesting to see if LeBron can continue to lean as heavily on the turnaround fadeaway as he has so far. The Cavs are about to face the top defensive team in the league, stacked with lengthy, pesky, energetic defenders who can take turns hounding The King. And should Cleveland advance, chances are he’s going to have to get that shot over Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala, which is somehow even worse.
But then I see LeBron nail an impossible fadeaway over Siakam and suddenly I’m not so sure. How many times have we doubted LeBron, only for him to swat us silly? How many times have we predicted the prophesized “LeDecline”, only for LeBron to show up hungrier, more dangerous, and with more hair than ever?
Thank the basketball gods for the three days of rest because come Monday, we just might see the scariest version of LeBron there ever was.
Now if you’ll excuse me. I need to find some goats.
Photo from Getty Images