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LeBron James has always been considered a great defensive player but his value on that end of the floor has skyrocketed since he joined the Miami Heat. In Cleveland, Mike Brown often put James on the opposition’s least active offensive player so that he could disrupt passing lanes, which fueled Cleveland’s transition game, and allowed him to conserve energy so that he could completely carry the offense.
With more offensive talent around him in Miami capable of taking some of the offensive load off of LeBron and with the omnipresent Dwyane Wade playing some top of the line off ball defense himself, James has been afforded the opportunity to showcase himself as the best perimeter defender in basketball. Some will prefer Tony Allen or Andre Iguodala, and though it may seem like they guard players in one-on-one situations more often than James, that’s simply not the case, and James has been better in those situations, too. Not to mention that James is routinely cycling through positions and guarding everyone from point guards to small forwards.
It was in the post-season last year when James made his largest statement as a defensive player, locking down the freshly minted MVP in the final minutes of Eastern Conference Finals games, corralling the player with the quickest offensive movements in the league and forcing him to settle for poor mid-range jumpers. This year’s playoffs offered James a hefty task in the first round, with Carmelo Anthony’s new-look Knicks (read: ISO-heavy offense) coming to town. A lot were expecting a memorable battle between these two similar to the bought that James had with Paul Pierce back in 2008. Instead, the first two games of this series have been a complete route and that is due in large part to LeBron’s incredible defense on Anthony, who is one of the most prolific scorers in basketball.
Thanks to Synergy, we can take a look at how Carmelo has performed with LeBron on him in this series. In post-up situations, James has guarded Anthony four times, forcing misses on all four occasions. He guarded Anthony in 10 isolation plays over the first two games, holding him to two-of-nine shooting with a turnover. By comparison, in eight isolation plays against Shane Battier, Melo was 4-of-7 with two fouls drawn. So, that adds up to 2-of-13 shooting with a turnover for Carmelo with James guarding him. That is so ridiculously elite.
James has become the best perimeter defender in basketball, bar none, during his time with the Heat and his one-on-one work has been at the center of the Miami’s series victories over the Bulls (last year) and the Knicks (assuming the Heat win, which is all but a guarantee). If the Heat are going to win a title this year, James will likely face his hardest defensive test ever in the NBA Finals whether it’s against Kevin Durant or Kobe Bryant. Given his performance last year and how aggressive he looks right now, we are in for a heck of a show if the basketball Gods are nice enough to let us see it.