LeBron James’ Cherry Picking Costing the Cavs on Defense

By Fred Richardson / 2017.04.19

LeBron James’ penchant for “cherry picking” is a likely cause of the Cleveland Cavalier’s woes on defense, according to an analysis done by Chris Herring of FiveThirtyEight. The analysis examined NBA players who often lagged behind the rest of their team to complain about officiating, rather than get back on defense.

While NBA stars such as Draymond Green, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden were high on the list for the very reason of complaining to officials about the previous play, LeBron James was on the list for a much different reason.  

According to Herring, “..James complains plenty about no-calls. But the primary reason that James is in this group is simple: After missed shots and turnovers, he often cherrypicks when it looks like the opposing team may speed the ball down the court for a quick shot."

Herring provided video evidence of James, clearly staying behind after a missed shot, while the opposing team ran up the floor and the rest of the Cavaliers scrambling to get back on defense.  In one instance, against the Dallas Mavericks, the Mavericks actually reset their half-court offense, having a 5 on 4 advantage due to James being on the other side of the court.  

“That makes for awkward instances when Cleveland’s opponents pull the ball back out to actually run their offense, as it forces him to try to rejoin the action up to 10 seconds after the fact,” Herring said.

Cleveland’s defensive woes have been a problem for the team all season long, likely causing them to drop to the 2nd seed in the East, despite being favored as the defending champions.  The Cavaliers ended the season last in the league in steals, 25th in blocked shots, 27th in points off turnovers, 22nd in defensive rating, 22rd in defensive rebound percentage, and 24th in second chance points allowed.  

And as Herring noted, Cleveland ranked last in the league in transition defense, due in part to James neglecting to get back on defense, waiting for that “cherry pick” opportunity.  


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