- LeBron James was experiencing pain and inflammation in his elbow over the summer so he changed his shooting motion to minimize the discomfort.
- Through four games this season, James is posting career-high shooting percentages across the board.
- James’ numbers may fall off as the season goes on, but it could be a positive new development in his game in his 15h season.
In his 15th season in the NBA, LeBron James is shooting the ball differently and better than ever.
Through four games, James is averaging 27 points per game while shooting 64% from the field, 44% from three, and 88% from the free-throw line. All three percentages would be career-highs over the course of a season.
According to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, the change is not random — James changed his shooting motion during the summer to deal with an injury, and it appears to be helping him.
James told McMenamin that shortly after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ season ended, he began experiencing discomfort in his elbow as it swelled to the size of a tennis ball. James was concerned enough to get an MRI on it, but it came back negative, with no structural damage.
Rather than halt his offseason work, James began shooting with a higher release to minimize discomfort.
“It was just me,” James told McMenamin. “I’m at a point now in my career where I know if I need to make an adjustment here or there.”
James said the elbow inflammation went away on its own but he stuck with the new motion.
“I shoot it higher,” James said. “When the swelling went down I just continued to do the same motion, the same motion. My free throws, my 3s, my pullups, all that.”
The difference is not very noticeable. Here’s a three-pointer James made in November of the 2016-17 season:
And a three-pointer James made on Tuesday against the Chicago Bulls:
However, the changes may be more subtle. Cavs guard Kyle Korver broke down the changes to McMenamin:
“He’s just more compact. I always tell him he’s the strongest man in the game, he needs to shoot a strong shot. And he says it all the time when he’s shooting, ‘Think strong, strong, strong.’ His hand is real strong on the ball and his form is more compact than it’s ever been before and I think that he’s a worker, man. He shoots a lot. And you can tell he worked on it a lot this summer. So it’s just much more compact and strong than I’ve seen from him on a consistent basis.”
Four games is a small sample size. Over the course of his career, James has never shot better than 56.7% from the field, 40.6% from three, and 78% from the free throw line.
According to McMenamin, Korver issued the 50-40-90 challenge to James — meaning a player shoots over 50% from the field, 40% from three, and 90% from the free throw line for a season — and James balked slightly.
“I definitely got the 50,” James said. “The 50 ain’t s—. I can shoot 50 in my sleep. I’m almost damn near 60. I can shoot 60 … I can go 50-40-85. Maybe. We’ll see.”
While James’ shooting percentages will likely fall, it adds another twist to his greatness — that in his 15th season, he can still be improving in major ways.