Over the last three-plus seasons, LeBron James has shot 42-78 from the field and drawn 17 shooting fouls when finishing plays as a roll man in the pick-and-roll. He’s registered 1.14 points per play (PPP) on 101 plays in that span, per mySynerySports.To put that number in perspective, consider that Tyson Chandler, widely considered one of the best pick-and-roll dive men in the league, registered 1.16 PPP as a roll man last season.
All this begs the question: should the Heat use LeBron as the screener in pick-and-rolls more often?
He’s only finished 10 plays (with FGA, FTA or TO) as the roll man so far this season, per Synergy, but he’s gone 7-10 on those plays and has already flashed all the skills you’d like to see out of the optimal pick-and-roll big.
He’s shown he can set a hard screen, roll into the lane, and improvise to make a play when the shot isn’t there directly off the catch. When he’s covered by power forwards like Boris Diaw, he’s always going to have that quickness advantage, and his change of direction ability makes it easier for him to improvise when the easy play isn’t there.
He’s slipped the roll in two different ways. Here, against the Bucks, he goes with the straight slip, sensing the double team coming for the ball-handler and diving into the lane before actually setting his screen. And against the Wizards, he went with the slip-and-seal, rendering the coming switch meaningless by ensuring he had a clear path to the rim.
Against the Clippers, he showed the slip-and-pop, floating out to the baseline when Chris Paul and Caron Butler double-teamed the ball-handler. When he caught with no one in front of him, it resulted in a wide open dunk.
And then there’s the passing. Against the Hawks, LeBron made the holy grail and pick-and-pass looks: the cross-court feed to an open 3-point shooter on the weak side. Everyone knows LeBron’s bonafides as a passer, and he becomes an ever more dangerous passing threat when rolling into the middle of the defense and drawing multiple collapsing defenders.
So why doesn’t this happen more often? For one thing, Chris Bosh is the primary screener in pick-and-rolls for the Heat, and he’s been extremely effective in that role, registering 1.15 PPP so far this season and drawing shooting fouls on 24.2% of his plays. Bosh has an extreme quickness advantage on most centers, and his pick-and-pop game often draws the opposing team’s best big out of the lane, which clears the way for LeBron and Dwyane Wade (and to a lesser extent, Mario Chalmers) to drive to the rim.
However, Bosh’s excellent spot-up shooting (46.1% so far this season) can also help create space for LeBron pick-and-rolls. He’s served as the outlet man in pick-and-rolls involving LeBron multiple times already this season and wound up with wide open jumpers for his troubles.
The army of shooters (Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis, Chalmers) the Heat can station around the perimeter helps stretch the defense wire thin and provide even more spacing. Whether it’s Wade or Chalmers running the pick-and-roll with LeBron, there will be an easy pass somewhere with LeBron knifing through the middle of the defense, Bosh spotting up near the elbow extended or lurking the baseline, Allen or Battier in the corner, or whichever of Wade or Chalmers isn’t running the primary action waiting on the weak side for a kickout.
This isn’t something that needs to become the primary action for the Heat. It’s just another way to use LeBron’s Swiss Army skillset to put pressure on the defense. He’s rarely been used this way over the last few years, and it’s an opportunity being left on the table if the Heat don’t go to it more often.