Posted May 24, 2013

LeBron James went left on game-winner, proving Michael Jordan wrong, youth coach right

2013 NBA playoffs, Ben Golliver, Indiana Pacers, LeBron James, Miami Heat, Roy Hibbert

LeBron James made his buzzer-beating game-winner against the Pacers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals look so easy that you could be forgiven for overlooking the fact that he executed it with his off-hand. That’s doubly true when you consider how easy he made it sound during his post-game press conference.

“I made a layup,” he said. “It’s not like I made something from halfcourt. I made a layup. I’ve been doing that since I was eight years old.”

Sidestep the debate about whether Pacers coach Frank Vogel erred in keeping center Roy Hibbert off the court on that final possession and you will find that the play serves as the jumping off point for another topic of discussion: How strong, exactly, is the 2013 MVP’s “weak” hand?

Back in February, Michael Jordan opened up this can of worms when he told ESPN: The Magazine that he would defend James by encouraging him to go left, because he thought James would be more likely to settle for jumpers.

“So if I have to guard him,” Jordan says, “I’m gonna push him left so nine times out of 10, he’s gonna shoot a jump shot. If he goes right, he’s going to the hole and I can’t stop him. So I ain’t letting him go right.”

Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com crunched the numbers with Synergy Sports, finding that the Heat forward is, as you might expect, extremely proficient with his left hand and fully capable of getting to the rim with either hand. He also reported that James stood up for his southpaw skills.

“That theory is wrong, I guess,” James said of the Jordan report.

According to their data, James drove left 52 percent of the time he found himself in an isolation situation this season and has shot 56.3 percent on those drives. Where does that field goal percentage rank in the NBA? Try first.

James scored an average of 1.13 points when going left, an efficiency that ranks him first in the league as well. Contrary to Jordan’s opinion, the numbers say that James is actually better going left than right (he averages 48.5 percent shooting and 0.941 points going right).  … According to Synergy tracking, when James went left, he drove to the basket more often than he pulled up for a jumper.

James actually extended the Heat’s winning streak (which eventually ended at 27 games) when he went left to beat DeQuan Jones for a game-winner against the Magic in March. Video via YouTube user NBAHighlightClips.

Frankly, James’ left-handed highlight reel is longer and more entertaining than most players’ right-handed reels. Midway through the third quarter against the Pacers, for example, James threw down a vicious lefty dunk when Udonis Haslem found him cutting from the perimeter.

So is this all just a case of James’ amazing physical gifts and pure basketball talent oozing through both arms? He says the story isn’t quite that simple.

FoxSportsFlorida.com reports that James credited his youth basketball coach, Frank Walker, will helping him develop his off-hand when he was a kid.

“Frank Walker, my Little League basketball coach, taught me how to make a left-handed layup,” James said. “He wouldn’t let me dribble the ball until I got the right steps down and the right (form) to make a left-handed layup consistently. And so we used to do it before practice every day and during practice, and he always told me, ‘You know, you’ll be a much better player if you learn how to make shots with both hands.’”

“He used to cry about it,” said Frank Walker, James’ coach when he was growing up in Akron, Ohio . “He used to say, ‘I can’t do it.’ But I told him that you can’t play this game without using both hands. I told him, ‘You’re going to need a left-handed layup one of these days.’”

Without question, James stands as the most physically dominant and gifted player of the post-Michael Jordan era. This particular skill development– finishing with the off hand — is one I’ve often thought is a no-brainer evolutionary step as the game continues to evolve. Clearly, ball-handling today has come a long way from where it was in the 1960s. In 50 years, isn’t it possible, if not likely, that a majority of professional athletes will have sought out the competitive advantages provided by two fully-functioning hands?

Watching James go left, or watching John Wall dunk easily with either hand after jumping off either foot, or watching Mike Conley, a lefty, finish right-handed runners in the paint just feels like a taste of things to come from future generations. Ambidexterity really should be the hip, new trend for young hoopers. Surely, James is passing down Walker’s lessons to his own kids. Just as surely, coaches across the country are watching James’ success and listening to his words and applying both in their own teaching.

Video via YouTube user frank den

4 comments
FrankTeah
FrankTeah

I agree that james is great going left, Mj was indeed wrong. This isn't a diss to you guys, just a suggestion. The second video is meaningless to your argument of James being great at going left. On that play in the second video, James cut to the basket and got a LEFT Hand dunk. "Going Left" would mean dribbling with your left hand. Its much harder to dribble left and finish than it is to drop the ball in with your left hand. Like i said earlier James is great going left, but posting the video of james cutting Right and only finishing left does nothing to prove your argument.

leehwgoc
leehwgoc

Just goes to show, Pippen was always the better defender compared to Jordan.  Betcha Pippen wouldn't have made the mistake of underestimating James' off-hand.

JohnG1
JohnG1

@leehwgoc It's not like MJ was actually guarding LeBron. He said what he would do in that situation. But he was also one of the best perimeter defenders in the history of the NBA (though Pippen was even better, and he would have been the one checking LeBron anyway, as MJ shut down Wade and dropped 40 on LeBron on the other end of the floor). He wasn't underestimating anything.

FrankTeah
FrankTeah

@JohnG1 @leehwgoc  True but Mj has been unjustly critical of Lebron, like saying he wouldn't be as successful if he played in a different era. Let put it like this, Dominique has one of the best 10 year periods as a scorer, he averaged over 28 points during the stretch. If he was successful, then why wouldn't Lebron, who is bigger, stronger, faster, and has a higher basketball IQ be as or more successful? Jordan wasn't being rationale, it sounds like he was trying to discredit lebron's greatness. Also Factor in the Lebron played his 2st seven years on one of the slowest paced teams during a slower paced era. Lord know what he would do per 100 possessions, in addition to the size and athletic edge he would have over everyone. Jordan should really do his homework