Miami Heat MVP LeBron James still fancies himself as a giant lead ball-handler in the Magic Johnson or Scottie Pippen mold, and was candid enough to point out that playing the power forward position was "taxing" during last year's playoffs, but even he can't deny that his team plays significantly better in "small" lineups that feature James at big forward. The stats don't lie, James put up some ridiculous numbers at the position last year, and the ring taken from a backpedaling Oklahoma City Thunder outfit last June with James mostly at power forward helps drive the point home — "point forward" it up all you want, LeBron, but the Heat are at their most dominant when James is looking to score on the interior.
Apparently one step — and one position — ahead, James is attempting to add that most center-ish of resources to his offensive repertoire. He might bust out a skyhook this season. Perhaps, 75 of the things spread out over 82 games. And who is going to be able to stop that?
James has been working on the move with 1975 NBA MVP and longtime Miami Heat assistant coach Bob McAdoo. From ESPN's Heat Index, here's tale of James' tall maneuver:
So when a sweat-soaked James spent nearly 30 minutes alone after a recent practice working on his sweeping hook shot, on some levels it was déjà vu for McAdoo.
"I'll be down here even more this year," James shouted through near exhaustion as he wrapped up the extended workout. "Might as well keep getting more comfortable."
James vows to add the traditional hook shot to his game, and he could test it out when the Heat play a pair of exhibition games this week in China against the Los Angeles Clippers. McAdoo proudly acknowledges that James is continuing to build a foundation of post moves that took root two summers ago in Houston with Olajuwon.
It's worth noting that Hakeem, master of the jump hook, rarely used the skyhook. McAdoo, though he once led the NBA in scoring, didn't go to the shot all that much either. Really, over the last 35 years or so, it's been limited to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and those of us who love ticking off defenders that are much younger than us in one-on-one pickup games we're probably going to lose anyway.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Getty Images)Of course, the 6-8 James doesn't have Kareem's 7-2 frame to work with. What he does have is rapidly improving footwork and hops, and the knowledge that the moves don't really matter — all that counts is the fact that James is near the basket, and looking to score in four or five different ways before settling on a pass. The Magic Johnson/Michael Jordan hybrid worked for a while for James; but it wasn't until he put more Michael into his act late in the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics that things started to move into overdrive for his team.
Because even on a squad full of role players that struggle to create their own shots, the Heat's makeup is best served when LeBron looks to the post for guidance. Overplay that right hand on the spin move all you want, James can now quickly spin and hook the other way for a leaner. Or utilize the one-handed touch gleaned from all those rolling hooks to develop a better, Dr. J-styled batch of looping one-handed lay-ins.
It's all there. All he has to do is start from the inside. More tiresome banging may result, initially, but over the course of a season it can't be any worse than the one-on-five breakdowns he had to initiate starting 25 feet from the hoop in Cleveland, and for parts of his first two seasons in Miami.
And, quite possibly, James could make the skyhook cool in the same way that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did decades ago when he influenced thousands of young NBA hopefuls to … wait. Nobody tries the skyhook.
OK, so it doesn't have to look cool. It just has to go in.
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