LeBron James is difficult to guard. That much we as fans and observers can gather from watching games and replays. Try to imagine what it might feel like to have that 6’8, 250-pound monster bearing down on the basket and you are all that stands in his way.
However, I take issue with the fact that because LeBron is such a physical specimen, he is held to a different standard from other players in the NBA.
This phenomenon was on open display in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals against the Raptors, and in the NBA Finals. In Game 1 of the ECF, LeBron took an elbow to the head fighting for a rebound, wrapped up around the shoulders on a fast break and took a hit to the face in the third quarter. Against the Warriors, he took a number of hard hits across the forearms and head. Yet he was consistently left sore and confused as the referees doled out weak punishments (common fouls generally) or no calls at all.
According to Ohio.com’s Jason Lloyd, LeBron averaged a little over 11 shots at the rim per game last season and only drew 6.5 shooting fouls. This season he’s faced similar frustrations as he averages about seven shots a game close to the basket, which matches the seven free throws he attempts a game.
Let’s compare that to a number of other players this season.
The Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler averages 9.6 free throws a game while only taking 4.6 shots at the rim. Russell Westbrook takes 7.4 shots near the hoop and attempts 10.4 free throws. James Harden shoots 4.3 times at the rim and takes 9.6 from the charity stripe. This same trend applies to Anthony Davis (5.6/9.5) and Damian Lillard (5.2/7.5), both average significantly more free throws in comparison to their close range shots. All of these players appear to get more fouls called in their favor. Only LeBron, among this group of superstars, has an even tally of short range attempts to free throws, 7.1 per category. Assuming Westbrook’s numbers are a fair comparison, LeBron should be taking closer to 10 free throws a game.
These statistics paint a picture that points to one of two things. Either all of these players are getting too many soft calls or LeBron isn’t getting similar fouls called in his favor. Either is suspect, but I think the latter is more likely for the same theory that coach Lue was fined for voicing during the finals last season.
“He never gets calls. Outside of Russell Westbrook, he’s one of the guys that attacks the paint every single play. And he doesn’t get a fair whistle all the time because of his strength and because of power and guys bounce off of him. But those are still fouls.”
LeBron can bully his NBA peers with his strength. However, in game situations, that doesn’t always play out positively. What should allow him to elevate his play and cause foul problems for opponents instead becomes a handicap imposed on the Cavaliers. It’s an unimpeded pass for teams to foul LeBron often and hard, often times with little to no consequence. This is dangerous and unfair.
Only time will tell if this complaint gets James hit with a fine like his coach, but it could end differently because it came from the best player on the planet. He is an enormously influential figure in the NBA and commands a level of respect. It would be unsurprising if he does get fined, but we may also begin to see more calls go his way in the second half of the season.
Pay attention Cavaliers fans. Perhaps you can make a difference, like one enthusiast that shined a spotlight on Jeremy Lin’s lack of flagrant foul calls. That well-constructed argument got the attention of the NBA. For more details on that story read The New York Times’ take on it by clicking here.
To read Jason Lloyd’s Ohio.com article click here.