It’s Year 15 for LeBron James, and the King is still killing it.
James is currently posting his third-best FG percentage, second-best 3-point percentage, a career-high mark in assists, and the second-best rebounding mark of his career. And those figures reflect a slight drop-off in recent weeks.
It is impossible to distinguish James’ performance this season from the rest of his prime. His game, however, has evolved, featuring a mix of the moves he has always carried with him, and maneuvers designed to make best use of the talent around him. The result is a player who’s still explosive, but plays with a knowledge of how to best use the unbelievable strength packed into his 6-8 frame, a player who’s so preternaturally ahead of his opponents that it sometimes seems as if he is playing a different sport entirely.
There are undoubtedly moves and idiosyncrasies we missed with a game as developed as James’, but to celebrate LeBron’s 33rd birthday, here’s a look at 15 signature moves that have made the King better than ever in his 15th year.
1. The “Fear Of God” Spin Counter
He’s done this quite a bit in transition this season. The defender is about to make a brave sacrifice, trying to take the charge vs. the L-Train. He knows it’s going to hurt because James loads up before. Then just as the defender tries to step into the charge … whoop, there goes James, spinning his way to a layup and leaving the defender with wet britches and nothing to show for it.
2. The Drive-Right Floater
There’s not much subtlety to this. It’s a layup. But it’s definitely one of his go-to’s. He starts from the left side of the top of the arc, drives right and makes use of whatever his mismatch is. Dillon Brooks has the speed to stay with him, but when James lowers that shoulder, it’s a wrecking ball coming at Brooks’ rookie swiss-cheese frame. James gets position going inward, then drifts back out, off the glass.
Z-Bo stays with him here, thanks to an extra step, and a second defender comes over, so James adjusts and goes higher off-glass:
And Blake Griffin has zero chance of staying with him, here.
3. The Drive-Right Left-Counter
Hey, close off the lane! That’ll stop him from getting to that move!
Here, he pivots hard on the jump stop and goes to the lefty scoop:
And he has the move on the go without the pivot as well:
4. The Tomahawk
On cuts, put-backs, drop-offs — anything where he’s not coming off the dribble — James dunks two-handed. Almost every single time. But in transition, or if he’s got a lane, he still unleashes that signature dunk of his. Cock it back with one hand, hammer the rim like it did him wrong.
This move is the one that will be on all the career retrospectives. The statue outside the Q may be “The Block” but this dunk in some form would be a close second. It’s the “No Regard For Human Life” move, still the same after all these years.
5. The Stutter Step-Back
James gets a lot of mileage from fake “loading up.” It looks like he’s getting ready to explode to the rim, and then he counters. He uses it a lot to get into his step-back jumper. And that’s helpful, since his step-back jumper is clunky and mechanical. He goes through the steps like he’s looking down to check a Twister pad. But because he’s so low, and able to create so much space, it works:
6. The cross-court overhand laser
James’ passing doesn’t need a whole lot of plaudits; everyone knows he’s one of the greatest passers we’ve ever seen. The stuff on the move is easy to wow at, but this pass shows his incredible precision on something very useful on a night-to-night basis. He’s able to reverse the court with one swift maneuver, scrambling the defense. The placement on this pass is always just amazing:
7. The Outlet Pass of Doom
AKA “The fastball special.” Get any athletic forward streaking up the floor — heck, get Kyle Korver with a clear path — and James can throw a touchdown. Real question: How many games would the Browns have won this season with LeBron James at quarterback?
8. The 3-Point Ninja Outlet
With all the shooters the Cavs have jammed onto their roster, James is ready and willing to fire these passes straight to the 3-point line for Korver or Love (those two are, for the most part, the only ones he’ll trust with this one):
9. The Chasedown
You know it. You love it. The iconic denial.
He’s added a variation on it, though. Instead of just swatting it off the rim, he’s just catching up, managing space as he jumps parallel, and obliterating the thing. The best part of these is how he waits for these little guards to get into their motion, like here vs. Delly:
10. The Human Battering Ram
James initiates a lot of contact, and often doesn’t get calls because of his size advantage. He gets calls in a lot of other areas superstars are expected to, but when you watch up close, he does take a lot of contact, especially on drives. The reason it’s rarely called is it so often works out worse for the opponent. Watch where the contact is made here (the free throw line), and where the defender ends up (the baseline):
11. The Jump Pass
This used to be a huge problem area for James. Circa 2011, James would jump into the air trying to find his Heat teammates and wind up scrambled. Now, with the shooters in Cleveland, he’s always aware of what he can do once airborne, and his turnover rate is lowered as a result:
12. The Pick-and-Pop Reverse
James loves this one with his shooters in Cleveland, specifically. It’s an old trick he started with Chris Bosh in Miami. (And with Zydrunas Ilgausaskas a little bit back in Cleveland the first time.) A simple pick and pop, with the added dimension of sinking the defense with a north-south drive, aided by bouncing it straight backwards instead of turning to find his man, which would give defenders time to rotate:
Korver and Love both make use of his, as both are big enough to screen effectively:
13. The Double-Clutch
James can go up and over defenders, but he’ll go to this move when driving right as a means to get the ball up over larger defenders if his dribble is interrupted, which limits his explosiveness. With the double-clutch, he doesn’t have to leap through the roof to score.
14. The Interior Love Bounce
James has come a long way with Love and in his fourth season with the star forward, is getting him involved more than ever. LeBron loves this wrap-around bounce-pass to Love for the reverse:
He uses it often when Love has position on a smaller opponent:
And the English James can put on it is pretty crazy:
15. The Dagger
And sometimes, James simply decides the game is over.