NBA

Q&A: How good can LeBron be?

LeBron James (Getty Images)
CLEVELAND - FEBRUARY 04: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gets in for a dunk while...
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Charley Rosen

Charley Rosen is FOXSports.com's NBA analyst and author of 17 sports books, the current ones being Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees and Crazy Basketball: A Life In and Out of Bounds.

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Some NBA-watchers contend that LeBron is far from his peak. What would he look like if/when that time comes? In a couple of years, Kobe will be on the downside of his career. And with Kobe out of the picture, who are the players who could potentially match, or at least challenge LeBron’s dominance? – Ken Gonzales

LeBron at his peak will certainly be a nightmare for all of the other 29 teams. If he does continue to evolve, his jumper will be quicker and more accurate — although he’s definitely made progress in the latter department. He’ll also make quicker decisions with the ball and not constantly beat it into the floor, thereby allowing elite defenses to make appropriate adjustments. His left hand will be more effective — just think of Kobe’s newly developed lefty hook.

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LeBron’s man-to-man defense will be much more earnest, but only if he can correct the imbalance in his stance. Too many times his weight is on his heels, and too many times his weight is too far forward.

He’ll be an 80-percent shooter from the foul line, up from his current career mark of 74.2 percent. Moreover, his post-up game will be drastically improved.

If he can accomplish all of these aspect of the game, then he — and the Cavs, or whatever team he eventually plays for — will truly be unbeatable.

Since LeBron is such a unique combination of incredible power, speed, quickness and immense talent, there’s nobody currently on the horizon who can come close to challenging him. Some guys are a once-in-a-generation player, but a LeBron comes along once in every two generations — with Magic Johnson being the closest approximation of his size and skills.

You originally said that J.J. Redick would be a bust. What do you think of him now? – Jack Johnson, Sarasota, FL

Indeed, Redick was a bust for about three seasons, but several things happened that enabled him to become such an effective bench player.

From the start, the Magic protected him by limiting his game appearances as well as his playing time. In so doing, they prevented Redick from being psychologically crushed as a result of getting routinely overmatched at both ends of the court. Once a player stops believing in himself, he’s useless.

To his credit, Redick always practiced hard.

Redick took advantage of his lengthy bench time by studying the game, the players and the Magic’s game plan.

When he did play, he never tried to do anything that was beyond his capabilities.

As a result, he’s learned the pro game: What he has to do and where he has to go to get his shots off. He rarely makes a positioning error at either end of the court. If he can still be torched in isolation situations by most of his opponents, he’s become an expert team defender who’s extremely adept, for example, at pushing opponents to help-spots.

If he'll never be a speedster, or an overwhelming athlete, Redick has become an extremely valuable spot-player whose ability to knock down 3-balls sets up his entire offensive repertoire. Fortunately, Orlando’s offense has the kind of well-defined structure that benefits Redick. If, for example, he played for the shot-as-shoot-can Knicks, he’d still be glued to the bench.

Intelligence, discipline, a competitive nature and his magic shooting touch have made Redick an important factor in Orlando’s present and future.

Point guards who play good defense seem to be rare in the NBA. Who do you think are the best in this category? – Peter Chan

The reason why there are so few good defenders at this position is that point guards are the most difficult to defend. They’re usually the quickest and fastest players on their teams, as well as the best ball-handlers. Plus there are several types of defenders: One-on-one stoppers, ball-snipers and team-defenders.

Here are my candidates: Marcus Banks, on those few occasions when his head and his game are in synch. Shannon Brown. Derek Fisher still plays terrific position defense. Willie Green. Kirk Hinrich. Lindsey Hunter for short rotations only. Royal Ivey is probably the best all-around defender at this slot. Kyle Lowry. Chris Paul is strictly a gambler and a sniper, but does both with a modicum of success. Rajon Rondo. Dwyane Wade, when he does play the point. Earl Watson, when he’s not playing too fast. And Delonte West, because of his sheer toughness.

I’ve seen this term used frequently, but I really don’t know what constitutes a “franchise player.” Please enlighten me. – Frank Shipman

The term refers to a player who has all of the following characteristics: He’s a dependable go-to scorer but is still unselfish enough to make his teammates better than they would be without him on the scene. Besides scoring clutch baskets, he can come up with key rebounds, steals, blocked shots, passes, screens, loose balls, deflections, box-outs, defensive stops and/or rotations — whatever is necessary to win a tight ball game.

He must be healthy enough to play every day. He has to practice hard and always be prepared to play. He must be so talented and so competitive that an excellent team can be built around his specific skills. And he has to be a law-abiding citizen with a positive and supportive presence in the locker room.

That’s why these guys are so hard to find.

The list includes Tim Duncan, LeBron, Kobe, D-Wade, perhaps Andrew Bynum in five years, Paul Pierce, Brandon Roy, Deron Williams and maybe Yao Ming if he can make a successful return to action.

There’s a lot of debate down here in Atlanta about the Hawks' sputtering offense and whether relying so heavily on ISO-Joe is the right call. Shouldn’t they have progressed further with their offense by now? Joe Johnson is a great player, but his minutes are climbing and the Hawks are using their bench less. Are we going to see a repeat of last year’s playoffs when the Hawks were beat up and out of gas? – Bob Johnson, Atlanta

You’re right on the money. While Johnson is indeed a great player, he’s not especially quick with the ball. As a result, his teammates do a lot of standing around while he’s working his way into a good shot. Not that he’s selfish or is unwilling to pass. It’s just that the defense has plenty of time to make adjustments while he’s beating the ball to death.

Atlanta’s biggest roster deficiency is directly related to this situation: At the tender age of 31, Mike Bibby has lost any suggestion of his youthful speed, can’t penetrate, seldom puts sufficient interior pressure on the defense to force them to jam the middle and is therefore, incapable of routinely executing kick-out assist-passes.

In 49 games, Bibby has been awarded a total of 52 free throws. Even Derek Fisher, who only takes leftover shots in the Lakers' offense, has shot 78 from the stripe in 52 games.

The point being that Bibby is strictly a perimeter shooter who really can’t run an offense. Since Jamal Crawford is too wild with the ball, Johnson is the only viable option. Instead of seeing JJ as ISO-Joe, think of him as the Hawks' point-forward.

Unfortunately, JJ will indeed wear down come the playoffs.

Assuming that D-Wade leaves the Heat when he becomes a free agent this summer, which team (as currently constituted) do you think would make the best fit for him? – Corey Sandiford, Barbados, W.I.

There are several qualities that his prospective new team would require to bring out the best in Wade: Since he’s basically a slasher with a mediocre jumper, the team must be loaded with dead-on perimeter shooters. To give him the space he needs, a big man who can post up and also nail mid-range jumpers would likewise be essential.

An excellent point guard would assume some of the ball-handling responsibilities that Wade was forced to assume in Miami and allow him to move more freely in an open court (i.e. to run ahead of the ball). Plus, the new team has to be a serious contender for a championship.

Assuming that LeBron stays put, the Cavs would not be the best option for Wade, if only because LBJ is so used to dominating the ball. The Spurs shouldn’t be under consideration since their outside shooting is a continuing problem. In Orlando, Dwight Howard spends all of his time double-parked in the paint.

Denver would fill the bill. But the best fit would be the Lakers because of Kobe’s ability to knock down important jumpers, the versatility of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom and the power of Ron Artest. All that the Lakers lack in this equation is the right kind of point guard. However, Derek Fisher makes few mistakes and, besides, by next season Jordan Farmar should be just about ready to take over most of Fisher’s minutes.

Also, Wade’s signing with the Lakers would most likely induce Phil Jackson to accept an inevitable pay cut and return to L.A. for at least another season or two.

If you have a question or comment for Charley Rosen, please email charleyrosen@gmail.com and he may respond in a future column.
Tagged: Hawks, Celtics, Pelicans, Rockets, Lakers, Knicks, Magic, Trail Blazers, Spurs, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Metta World Peace, Derek Fisher, Mike Bibby, Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol, Yao Ming, Chris Paul, Brandon Roy, J.J. Redick

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