Professional basketball players are often competitive to pathological levels, and not just toward opponents. Teammates can challenge each other, too, even as they strive toward the same goal of winning a game, making the playoffs, and taking on all comers to earn a title. Sometimes they just need to fight each other to see who can score the most points, or grab the most rebounds, or get the most invitations to fancy parties held by national magazines.
The basketball world now places less emphasis on pure counting stats, though, and that's changed the nature of this sort of competition. It's now not enough just to score more points than a teammate, because someone who gets 30 points on 25 shots hasn't really played as well as someone who gets 20 points on 12 shots. Efficiency matters.
Proving the point, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade recently revealed that they compete against each other to see who can shoot 50 percent from the field. From Ethan Skolnick for The Palm Beach Post (via EOB):
“It’s like a competition me and D-Wade are having right now about who can shoot 50 percent, in each and every game,” James said, when asked a couple of days later. “I had no idea, because I don’t know what’s going on throughout the game as far as stats. I came in after the game, I saw 9-for-19 [against the Bobcats in late December] and I missed that last long three, I felt I could have gotten into the lane and got a layup. I’ve got to make up for it.” [...]
“Early in my career, I didn’t take every shot as seriously as I do now, to be more efficient,” James said. “It comes with age, it comes with experience. You know, when you’re an 18 year old rookie, or a 21-year-old, third year in the league, you can get away with a lot of mistakes, and not looking at numbers as much. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been more efficient, taking care of the ball. I value possessions more.”
He also values competition, and he’s been in one with Wade. Wade is also shooting the highest percentage of his career, at 50.6, a fact that Erik Spoelstra noted Thursday while asserting that if Wade was shooting as much as he once did, he could still average 28 points.
“We’re both so conscious of wanting to shoot 50 percent, that sometimes you wish you had that Kobe (Bryant) thought, where you just don’t care,” Wade said. “We talk about it all the time. It sucks at times, but it’s who we are.”
I don't know if Kobe is going to take kindly to the suggestion that he doesn't care about his shooting percentages, but it's certainly true that James and Wade seem to have a better sense of what constitutes a good shot then their superstar compatriot in Los Angeles. As Skolnick notes, that's borne out by the stats — James is at 55 percent, Wade is at 51.2 percent, and both players have made more than half their field goal attempts in the majority of this season's games. It's a definite focus of their approach.
Wade claims that the importance of intelligent shooting was instilled in him early on as a pro by Heat assistant Bob McAdoo, but this year stands to become only the second time that he's shot 50 percent or better in a season. It's clear that, as he ages and quality-of-shot metrics become more sophisticated, he's learning more about what constitutes a good shot for him and the Heat. He's not quite like LeBron, who's on such an otherworldly basketball plane right now that he can get most any shot he wants.
This new understanding of a quality shot is, at the very least, a refinement of ideas we've intuited for a while. But the competition between Wade and James is as old-school as it gets. Think of this situation as yet another effective melding of the fresh and the familiar.