The idea that somebody could stop LeBron James on single coverage is a concept that should have been buried a long time ago. While James has looked unstoppable for most of his career – most especially, over the past few seasons – it has not stopped many to continue believing that someone could actually put the clamps on the four-time MVP.
That idea persists even though James has spent 82 regular season games and the first two rounds of this year’s playoffs producing incredible numbers and lobbing victimized defenders to a growing pile of carcasses, the latest of which were the bodies of Toronto Raptors OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam.
Despite opposing teams throwing all imaginable defensive schemes and every type of defender at LeBron in a futile attempt to negate the superstar, the myth of the LeBron James stopper is still alive.
In the regular season, James put up 27.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 9.1 assists per game. On top of that, he shot 54.2 percent from the field and a career-best 1.8 3-pointers per contest. So far in the playoffs, he is putting up 34.3 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 9.1 assists per game while making 55.3 percent of his shots.
He’s been bad from behind the arc this postseason, with a 28.8 percent shooting from deep, but he’s apparently doing very well when making ridiculously tough fadeaway jumpers.
At this point, only a malfunctioning air conditioning system could take LeBron James out of the equation effectively. However, it would be hard for teams to fake a faulty wiring to their homes’ cooling systems in a best-of-seven series.
With that not a viable option for any of the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, and in the NBA Finals for either the Golden State Warriors or the Houston Rockets, it’s entirely up to humans how to slow James down.
Marcus Morris thinks he could be that human when the Celtics forward gave James a gift-wrapped motivation to run over Boston in the conference finals, saying that he’s the best non-Kawhi Leonard LeBron stopper. When the Morris twins’ embryo split up in their mother’s womb, a majority of the DNA responsible for confidence appeared to have gone Marcus’ way.
Unfortunately, his seemingly poor defense against James in the two games he faced LeBron in the regular season could not level with his braggadocio. In those meetings, James averaged 12.0 points on 50 percent shooting from the field when Morris was the primary defender. Until he proves in the conference finals that he can cripple James’ production, Morris’ statement would be nothing but a hilarious example of a brazen attitude.
It’s a tall task for any player to defend James, but at least he could be limited below his averages, which is as close to reality teams can dream of these days. Indiana Pacers small forward Bojan Bogdanovic showed it could be done in the first round.
With that said, here are some of the remaining players in the field who could reprise the role of Bogdanovic.
As the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Warriors do-it-all forward Draymond Green should be a shoo-in on this list. Green possesses the size, strength, and the mobility to keep in step with James. That’s not to mention the rare ability to get under most players’ skins, including that of James’.
In addition, Green is fully acclimatized to guarding James in high-profile games. Even when not resorting to punching James in the family jewels, he’s going to be a thorn in the side of the Cavs superstar.
Cleveland and Golden State met twice in the regular season, and when Green covered James, the latter averaged just 1.5 points on 8.5 possessions per game while also making just 25.0 percent of his shots. James still averaged 26.0 points in those games and made 52.8 percent of his shots in those two games, however.
It would have been fairer to hear what Morris said about defending LeBron if it came out of Jaylen Brown’s mouth. Brown arguably is the most effective LeBron defender on the Celtics’ lineup this year. Last season, though, as a rookie, Brown was thrown into a lion pit with LeBron, who proceeded to score 29.6 points while swishing 58.0 percent of his shots.
It seems that Brown has improved a lot when it comes to inconveniencing LeBron.
How Celtics players fared defending LeBron James during the regular season, via Second Spectrum data: pic.twitter.com/qcSOZZNEOr
— Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) May 12, 2018
A problem for Brown is that he might not be 100 percent healthy in the conference finals after sustaining a hamstring injury in the first-round matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks. Going up against LeBron in a less than 100 percent healthy condition isn’t going to inject any confidence into Brown’s ability to stand in the way of LeBron.
Before OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam, there was the Tucker era in Toronto. Tucker has been in a position where his team’s fate significantly relied on how well he’ll fare keeping LeBron in check in the playoffs.
That was just last year, when the Toronto Raptors thought they found their LeBron stopper by getting Tucker from the Phoenix Suns through a trade.
The result did not match with what the Raptors envisioned, as James went on to put up 36.0 points with a 57.3 field goal shooting percentage in a four-game sweep. Although Tucker went only as far as making James sweat a little then, he might find himself playing the same role again in the Finals.
Tucker is among the biggest reasons why the Rockets went from 18th in 2016-17 in defensive rating to sixth in the 2017-18 campaign, as his bulk and versatility provide Houston a nice wing defender who could also grind it out defensively at the post.
Let’s not forget about ‘Dre. After all, part of the reason why he won the 2015 NBA Finals MVP was that he was the primary defender of LeBron in that series.
Although LeBron generated monster numbers in that year’s finals, averaging a near triple-double of 35.8 points, 13,3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists, Iguodala was an important figure in disorienting LeBron during the “clutch” moments during the series.
Per NBA stats, LeBron averaged only 3.4 points on 17.6 percent shooting during the last five minutes of games in which neither team was ahead by five points or more. Iguodala is slower and older this time around, but he’s still a capable body the Warriors could utilize in mitigating the LeBron James effect.