WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
As LeBron James steamrolls toward another MVP award, spearheading this remarkable winning streak, there might be nothing more impressive in his individual body of work this season than the 55.7 shooting percentage, easily a career high.
James stands poised to be the first player in NBA history to average at least 26 points, 8 rebounds, 7 rebounds and shoot 55 percent. To appreciate how “amazing” that shooting percentage is for a player his size (6-8), to use Charlotte guard Ben Gordon’s word, consider this:
My analysis of more than three decades of NBA data reveals James’ percentage would be the highest of any starting small forward, with any kind of three-point element to his game, since the NBA implemented the three-point shot in 1979-80.
Chris Mullin (55.3 percent in 1996-97) is the only one even close. James regularly plays minutes at power forward, but he starts at small forward.
“He improved his post-up game and now that he has developed his three-point shooting, this reminds me of Michael Jordan,” TNT analyst and Hall of Famer Reggie Miller said by phone Tuesday. “How the heck are you supposed to guard him? David Stern should just call a press conference now and give him the MVP award."
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said James has become “so efficient at shooting” that “he really has no weakness.” Gordon said: “I don’t see him taking any bad shots.”
Some perspective: In the three-point shot era, 10 starting small forwards have shot at least 55 percent in a season.
But of those 10, only Mullin made more than two three-pointers or attempted at least 10 in that season. (Mullin made 83; James has 92 threes this season on 39.1 percent shooting, easily his career-high for three-point accuracy.) That’s significant, because launching lots of three-pointers can drag down shooting percentages.
The other nine who shot at least 55 percent, some multiple times: James Worthy, Bernard King, Adrian Dantley, Walter Davis, Calvin Natt, Marques Johnson, Cedric Maxwell, Rodney McCray and Kevin Gamble.
Of the greatest small forwards ever, only Worthy ever shot, over a season, as well as James is doing this year. But Worthy shot a combined 1 for 30 on threes in the four years he did that.
The highest Larry Bird ever shot in a season was 52.7, Scottie Pippen 52, Rick Barry 51, Alex English 54, Julius Erving 54.6. Dominique Wilkins, Elgin Baylor and John Havlicek never shot 50 percent.
“The thing LeBron added is the ability to square up and shoot,” Kobe Bryant said. “He has a lot of confidence in that jumper, which opens up the rest of his game when he’s able to knock down the mid-range shot because guys have to close out.”
James is shooting 45 percent from 16 to 23 feet, up from 39 last season. He’s at 50 percent in the paint, up from 43. And he has made half of his 38 corner three-pointers after hitting 32 percent the past two years.
“I’m not surprised LeBron is shooting like this,” Pippen said. “He’s very patient and disciplined with the shots he takes. And he gets a lot of dunks.” In fact, his 429 transition points – many dunks and layups – are most in the league.
James -- who has raised his shooting six consecutive seasons, from 47.6 in 2006-07 -- “is going to be 50-plus percent the rest of his career because of his improved jump shooting, which had been a relative weakness,” Shane Battier said. “And he gets any shot he wants.”
### Not everyone is impressed by the Heat’s streak. Hall of Famer Walt Frazier, the Knicks announcer, called it “more of an indication of how weak the NBA is right now than their superiority. Please don’t say this is a great team. This is not a great team. I wouldn’t rank them anywhere near the top 10 best teams ever.”
Dick Vitale blasted Frazier’s comment on ESPN Radio Tuesday, ranting: “Give me a break! That’s absurd, ludicrous, ridiculous! To win 27 in a row blows my mind.”
### Heat players can’t avoid streak talk: Rashard Lewis was implored by his garbage man to keep it going; Norris Cole said a woman in church asked him Sunday if Miami will win every game the rest of the year; and Battier says his wife told him: “I don’t care how many games you’ve won in a row. I need you to watch our daughter while I take a run.’ So the Battier family is not impressed.”
### Among those enjoying the UM NCAA Tournament run: Rick Barry, the Hall of Famer and the greatest player in Canes history.
“It’s cool - I’m happy for them and for Jim Larranaga and I am rooting for them,” Barry said from his Colorado home Tuesday. “After the game Sunday, I texted Jim: ‘You have two good players with off games and you can still win.’ Rion Brown saved their [butt] the last game. Jim has them playing as a team, unselfishly. I like Shane Larkin a lot. It’s nice to see the program come back to prominence.”
Barry, who believes staying in or near the top 25 is sustainable for UM long-term, said Larranaga had interest in his son Canyon last year, but “my son felt it would be better off to play in an arena where his father’s name isn’t hanging in the rafters. Jim was the first Miami coach who had interest in any of my boys.” He ended up at College of Charleston, which --- according to Barry --- plays UM the next three years.
### Larranaga also received congratulatory texts Sunday from Pat Riley (who asked him for tickets for UM’s game Thursday in Washington D.C., according to Larranaga) and Celtics coach Doc Rivers (Larranaga’s son Jay works on Rivers’ staff)…. Many former Canes are offering support. Malcolm Grant earlier texted Julian Gamble from Australia: “This is crazy! I’ve never been prouder to be a Hurricane.”
### The NFL allows team to bring 30 non-local draft prospects to their headquarters, and the Dolphins are using some of those visits on positions they don’t need, such as Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel and receiver teammate Marquess Wilson. Wilson quit the team in November, alleging verbal abuse by coach Mike Leach.
Dolphins receivers coach Ken O’Keefe met privately with Tennessee receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter even after Miami signed Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson.
Taking Patterson at 12 would be very surprising considering Miami has needs elsewhere, but this is clear: If a receiver is high on Miami’s board in rounds two through four, Miami could draft him and trade Davone Bess.
### For Marlins and Canes football notes from Tuesday afternoon, please see our last post.