By last April, I was openly against LeBron James playing for Team USA this summer. I had seen how the lag of playing last summer dogged him for the first half of last season when his energy level seemed to be at an all-time low. I wrote about this extensively after he seemed to get his legs back in February and played some great basketball down the stretch. I was even more convinced he needed the summer off in June when he left the Finals vowing to improve his jumper. Most NBA players will tell you it is difficult to improve aspects of your game when you are committed to being at so many practices and games. That's why most players don't develop their games during the season unless they are at the end of the bench.
All that said, at this moment I appear to be wrong as I discuss in this story today. Really what I have done is violate one of my own rules, which I learned years ago and have told people in various forms for years. It is: "Don't underestimate LeBron, he will just prove you wrong." He does this virtually every year on many levels, by the way.
His shooting during the FIBA Americas Tournament in Vegas has been impressive, which has led me to find out just how hard he's been working on his shot. Even with all of his commitments, LeBron is doing exactly what he said he would, he is making time to improve himself.
LeBron hinted a few times at the end of last season that he wanted to hire a shooting coach, which was the answer to many Cavs' fans prayers. He didn't hire one, he has been working very hard this summer whenever he's gotten free hours with Chris Jent, the Cavs' director of development. This, of course, thrills the Cavs not just because he's working on his game when he could be relaxing, but because he's doing it with their guy. This becomes important during the season because Jent will be around him everyday.
David Thorpe, a shooting coach himself and ESPN's guru on player skills, had a nice breakdown of LeBron's improved shot on Truehoop this week. I had a conversation with Jent late in the season asking him why LeBron was always switching his techniques on jumpers and at the foul line. Remember the Ira Newble-esque set shots on 3-pointers for a few days? Jent told me LeBron was looking for something that worked and then was going to try to perfect it. To be honest, I didn't like that answer because I know LeBron and, while he is coachable, often he is only coachable when he decides to be. I wasn't sure he'd decided he wanted to be yet with Jent. But after several conversations with Cavs people this week after watching LeBron's shooting in Vegas there is do doubt he's serious and pouring in the work at all hours and all over the country.
Because I am a card-carrying realist (some would say pessimist), I have to say that shooting well in August isn't like shooting well in March, April and May. And that all this summer work may show up again in some low energy nights in Charlotte and the like. However, LeBron should be commended for his willingness to learn from what happened in the Finals and his willingness to work on his game when everyone would've understood had he just shut it down for awhile.
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