LeBron James is arguably the most complete basketball player we’ve ever seen. He’s stands at 6’8″ with the frame of a power forward, the passing skills of a point guard and the scoring skills of an elite wing. The kind of package LeBron brings on a daily basis has led some of us to forget that he didn’t become THIS good overnight. LeBron’s career has been a process that was cut into three parts.
The first part had him going to his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and living up to the lofty expectations that were attached to him coming out of High School. He had his flaws, but the belief he had in himself was undeniable. Some would even go as far that he believed in himself too much.
The next chapter of his career had him going to Miami, where he learned what it meant to truly be a winner. He was made vulnerable from the get-go, being exposed to a kind of pressure he never experienced with Cleveland. He learned under the guidance of Pat Riley and Dwyane Wade, and came out an even better player.
Today, we find ourselves at the end of LeBron’s third chapter. He went back to his hometown, applied the lessons he learned with the Heat and finally fulfilled his promise to bring one home for The Land. He was already exposed to the toughest of conditions in Miami, so learning new things from there on out became easier. The end result is the player most of us consider to be the best all-around machine we’ve ever seen.
He called himself King coming into the league, learned the ropes of royalty with Miami, and now, has earned the right to be bestowed upon such a title after fulfilling his promise. The last chapter of LeBron’s career is coming, and it’s time for The King to pass the throne to someone who’s worthy.
Enter The Fresh Prince, Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers.
The biggest issue with LeBron going to the Sixers is around the perceived issue of fit with the current roster. Both Ben Simmons and LeBron are big forwards that handle the ball to set-up the team’s offense. There is only one ball after all, so imagining the two fitting together is quite difficult at first.
But if you think about it carefully, both of them can mesh together because of one similarity they share. LeBron and Ben both love to pass the ball. That can loosely be translated to, “They both love team basketball!” Thinking about it that simply makes it a loaded answer. However, it’s a good starting point in trying to make sense of how a pairing between the two players would work.
Playing the two players together will force them to grow and expand their games to levels they’ve never reached before. This would be the first time Ben would have to do that, a welcome sight for someone so young. For LeBron, he’s already used to adjusting and adding new kinks to his game. Growth for the two will only do them good.
The biggest gripe with Ben’s game today is his lack of a jump shot. The blueprint for defending him is relatively simple: put a similarly sized big man, then sag off. He won’t shoot anyway, and when he tries to drive, he’ll be meeting a player more than capable of holding his own. Al Horford stifled him by using that strategy in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. With Simmons slowed down, the Sixers offense bogged down.
Trying to fix Ben’s jumper in one summer is too optimistic. The better thing to do is to work off whatever tools he has now, then blend it in to how the Sixers play.
An underrated comparison for Ben Simmons before he came into the NBA was Blake Griffin. It’s easy to scoff at this because Blake is more dunker than passer, but Blake has actually emerged as one of the most versatile, playmaking forwards in the league today. For Ben, it’s the reverse. His playmaking is highly regarded, but his ability to roll to the rim and finish is often forgotten. He showed some flashes of this over the course of last season.
Even during the instances where Ben would play off the ball, the initial offense would start with him handling the ball and setting things up. For the play below, he calls JJ Redick to initiate a dribble hand-off that would flow into a pick and roll. Simple give and go, but there’s plenty of layers into this kind of action:
Handing it off the JJ forces the defense to react and adjust. Marcus Morris goes over the Simmons screen, but the problem is, he doesn’t commit. It was a relatively easy pass to make for JJ since Aron Baynes also helped out on him. The rolling Ben catches the pass and jams it home.
Now imagine LeBron and Ben playing off similar action. The defense is now placed in a crazier whirlpool because LeBron is far more dynamic than JJ. Do you trap LeBron and force Ben to complete the play? Or you just go on with the switch and give LeBron the mismatch? How will the defense defend LeBron in such a situation?
This then brings us to LeBron, who’s entering the final stretch of his career. Striving for greatness continues to be the rallying cry. He’ll continue to defy Father Time in his 16th year. The key to all of this will be his improving jumper. It’s emerged as a legitimate weapon in the past two years.
An improved jumper already makes LeBron a far more dynamic threat, whether he’s holding the ball or not. He doesn’t necessarily have to be moving as quickly off the ball like Ray Allen or Klay Thompson. He just has to show the willingness to move to force the defense to think.
Being the primary ball handler is exhausting. We see the effect it had on LeBron by the end of last season. That’s not to say LeBron should just play off the ball exclusively. It’s a matter of embracing that part of his game even more so he can continue to produce at a high level, while not wearing himself down as much. Some of the longest-tenured players in the league have swallowed up their pride and allowed themselves to play off the ball in spurts. LeBron’s more than capable of doing so, as he showed in flashes back then with Kyrie Irving.
LeBron is a massive wing but he’s got decent quickness. Even as he gets older, he still remains as a dynamic threat off this kind of action. He can pass, shoot and post-up. You don’t need elite athleticism to do those things. You just need skill, and smarts. LeBron already has those things, and he continues to add different layers into his already elite game.
LeBron’s mentioned time and time again that his family will be a huge driving factor in his decision. But no doubt about it, LeBron still wants to win championships. He will always, strive for greatness.
Striving for greatness doesn’t always entail being the main guy, just ask Tim Duncan. He’ll be the main guy in LA, but he’d have to lead a young Laker core against established giants in the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets. Even an added star may not be enough to circumvent the inexperience of LA.
There’s always Cleveland to stay in, but that would mean running it back with a team that got swept in the Finals last year. They can’t make much moves as well to convince LeBron they’ll be better since their books are quite filled no thanks to some questionable contracts.
With the Sixers, at the very worst, you’d have Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric and Robert Covington as a core. That was the core that made it to the secon round of the Playoffs last season. That is a ridiculously talented group of players to be with. As young as they are, they’ve proven themselves as elite.
There’s talent in Philly, but even scarier is how much better these players could be. Joel could develop into a better, all-around threat by finding ways to blend his low post game with movement. Ben and Markelle have plenty of upside. Dario and Robert are top notch basketball players who can add more layers to their already top-notch games. He wouldn’t have to be THE main guy with that kind of talent, and that’s totally okay for someone who is about to enter his twilight years.
The Process will end and be complete eventually. With the Sixers, LeBron gets the opportunity to slow down his aging process. While doing so, he could also be passing the throne not just to Ben, but to an organization that’s shown the same kind of commitment LeBron has to growth.
LeBron going to the Sixers is not about completing the process. It’s about continuing it, and striving for greatness in ways never done before.
Photos from Getty Images
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