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Late Heat Season Preview: LeBron James and Why Versatility is Misunderstood, Overrated



Back in 2003, one of the best writers (I call him a statistician) in basketball media came up with a stat that highlighted a characteristic of one of the best players at the time. The stat is known today as the Versatility Index, it assigned a single number to determine the value of the multitalented player, and was led (in 2003) by Kevin Garnett.


“The Big Ticket” is considered, in his hay day, one of the most versatile big men in basketball. The man could outrebound most power forward’s, out pass some point guards of the time, and outscore most shooting guards. The fact that Garnett stood at a towering 6’11” made his numbers all the more impressive. The way that Hollinger set up this stat, an average player’s VI would drift around 5. The above average, multifaceted players would score between 8 and 11. In fact, when Hollinger designed this stat, Garnett peaked at a VI of 11.8 (far, far above average). At the time, the fact that Garnett, at his size and position, could be so versatile was almost unbelievable…and then came the King.

LeBron Raymone James entered the NBA the very season after that stat was first publicized. As the most talked about high school player since anyone can remember, LeBron bared the weight of expectation. To be frank, just short of winning an NBA title, LeBron has blown the door of statistical boundary clear off its hinges. Hollinger’s VI saw a 19 year old kid out of Akron, Ohio score a respectable 8.8 (21ppg, 6apg, 5rpg). In the 2005-2006 season, James saw this number spike to 11.3 (31.4, 6.6, 7). As if that wasn’t enough, James puts a benchmark on the still young stat by scoring a 12.3 in the 2009-2010 season (30, 8.6, 7). To say that James is the most versatile player of all time is common and even, yes, understandable. A few years ago, would you have a believed a 6’8” mammoth of an athlete would be so versatile? Would you believe me if I told you that this same player was troubled by more than one PG just south of 6’4”?

J.J. Barea, Jason Kidd, Rajon Rondo, Derek Fisher. Those are some of the names of players who have defended LeBron James with his back to the basket. That’s the just list of the smallest guys, it goes on. Deshawn Stevenson, Josh Smith, Quentin Richardson, James Posey, Matt Barnes. Now, the first thought here is that those guys are all considered gritty defenders. To that I must say: When “gritty” can stop a train in motion, I’ll buy that reasoning.

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LeBron James is just that, a train. He is built to be an unstoppable force on the court. He has the weight of a tight end in football with the agility of a fencer. With that being said, after considering all the talk about Miami’s acquisitions (rumored or otherwise), the Miami Heat season boils down to one thing: can LeBron finally wise up and dominate 90% of the league in the post the way he should?

The truth here is that LeBron has taken the “versatility” label and, somehow, turned it into a bane rather than an advantage. James is not all to blame either. Countless analysts have crowned LeBron as a “point forward of the decade” and have said that unless he handles the ball, the Miami Heat cannot succeed. To suggest this marks a misunderstanding of versatility and basic role-playing in basketball. Part of the problem is that the term “role-player” has become an adulterated means to labeling a guy as limited. Basketball is all about playing roles. LeBron James’ role should not be that of the ultimate alpha play maker. The fact is that he has players who can take that responsibility in Wade, Chalmers, and (one would hope) the young Norris Cole. To put all of that energy into becoming this picture of today’s “versatile player” is putting a player’s talents to waste.

James is too big for any guard and most forwards to keep in check on the block. He is also much too fast for the bigger centers. I could go as far as to say that, outside of the towering Bill Russell and Wilt, there is no player in all of basketball history that can competently contain and intelligent, determined LeBron in the post (and by contain, we’re talking about a modest 15 points). James has great finishing ability, soft hands, unrelenting strength, and blinding court speed. Why in the world is a potential banger masquerading as a point guard? It’s about time the media and all of basketball stop talking about LeBron as the do-it-all player. It’s time James throws stats--and the collective media-- to the wayside, puts his basketball IQ up, and his head down

The day that James commits 40-45% of his shots from the block and closer, is the day we witness absolute domination in the post, success for a team so unrelentingly under the microscope, and play-off salvation for a man constantly battered for his “softness”.



By Mohamed Abdihakim
Pro Basketball Fans Miami Heat Correspondent

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