Let’s get this out of the way first. Rick Barry doesn’t want to teach LeBron James granny style.
The Miami Heat star vows to improve his free-throw shooting this summer and says he doesn’t need a shooting coach. But Barry disagrees with that approach and recommends somebody who could work on James’ technique, which he believes is slightly flawed.
“If he was interested in getting my opinion, I would show him,” the Hall of Famer, who shot 90 percent in his NBA career using the underhanded style, said in an interview with FOX Sports Florida. “I’m not going to show him the underhanded free throw. He doesn’t need that because he’s not that far away from being an 80-percent shooter. Dwight Howard (a 57.7 percent career marksman) needs to shoot underhanded. But there are some things I could show LeBron to refine his shooting.”
James shot 75.3 percent last season to raise his career mark to 74.7. That’s not bad but hardly spectacular. It’s one of the few parts of James’ game that isn’t great.
After a season in which he won his second straight NBA title and fourth MVP trophy in five years, James discussed his offseason plans for improving his foul shooting. But he doesn’t plan to enlist any help.
“I don’t need a shooting coach,” James said. “For me, I think it’s just continue the repetition and then continue to work on it. During my workouts in (the) summertime, when I’m dead tired, those are opportunities where I should go to the free-throw line and challenge myself to calm my breath down and be able to go up there and make five in a row or make 10 in a row. … I think it’s more mental than anything.”
Heat president Pat Riley said “our goal is to get him over 90 percent.” That prompted Barry to say, “First, he should shoot 80. You’re not a good free-throw shooter if you’re not shooting at least 80.”
Barry admires James’ being committed to improving his free-throw shooting. But whether it’s called a coach or something else, Barry believes James needs somebody with expertise to monitor his workouts.
“The worst thing you can do is go out there and practice inappropriately,” said Barry, who starred at the University of Miami and then in the NBA and ABA from 1965 to 1980. “Then you’re practicing inappropriately and grooming bad habits. … LeBron needs to be much more fluid (with his stroke). He needs to have somebody watching him to analyze him to make sure what he is doing is the absolute right thing because what is is doing right now is not the correct thing. He’s doing a disservice to himself if he’s just grooving what he’s doing now.”
Barry said one key to being a top-flight marksman is using the exact form for each shot. He said James has some minor flaws in his stroke, which makes it difficult to each time replicate the same movement.
“If you’re bringing the ball back over your head, you might bring it back a quarter inch shorter or half an inch longer (with different shots),” Barry said. “He’s got to make some minor adjustments that allows him to do it the same way every time.”
Barry said James has had issues in the past with his elbow not in good position but he’s getting better in that regard. He said James sometimes inefficiently moves his arms and legs during free-throw attempts, making his form more complicated than it needs to be.
Barry has no problem with James practicing free throws when he’s “dead tired.” But he doesn’t see a need for him to then try to make five or 10 in a row.
“You never shoot more than two in a row in a game (although a player could shoot three if fouled on a 3-point attempt),” Barry said.
Riley said another goal for James is having him average 12 free-throw attempts per game, which would top his career best of 10.3, accomplished with Cleveland in 2005-06. James last season averaged 7.0 attempts per game, the lowest since his 5.3 in his Cavaliers rookie season of 2003-04.
“LeBron has to get to the point where he goes to the basket and he wants to get fouled,” said Barry, who believes James still doesn’t have enough confidence in his free-throw shooting to have that attitude. “It would add a new dimension to his game.”
Barry insisted he’s not criticizing James. He said any critique of James is because he wants to see him be even better.
“There’s still that one little flaw in his game that he’s not a good free-throw shooter,” Barry said. “He’s not bad. But shooting 75 percent is not acceptable for him and that should not be accepted by him. … I want to see him get better and be as great as he can because I love watching greatness. It would be an honor to work with him. He has room for improvement, which is kind of scary.”
If James were to enlist him as a shooting coach, Barry said he would expect James would get above 80 percent. His career best is 78.0 with the Cavaliers in 2008-09.
“He could get into the 80s just by him listening and accepting and making the changes,” Barry said. “If he then practices it, he would get himself into the 80s.”
As for reaching Riley’s goal and shooting above 90, Barry didn’t rule that out. But he said that would fall upon James practicing plenty using the correct techniques.
How good could James possibly ever get from the line? Well, the guy who wants to be his shooting coach once shot 94.7 percent in an NBA season.