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Watching the Cavaliers lose to the Chicago Bulls brought my attention to something about Lebron James. The man cannot hit a foul shot any longer.

I personally find that anyone missing free throws regularly is weird since everyone is a pro and practices at it every day. But it’s even more astonishing when it happens to a decent shoot like Lebron. He’s having one of his best years in FG% (56.5%), 3-point shooting (1.7 per game, 36.7%), and effective FG% (58.9%). But his foul shots are at the lowest ever – 67.6%. This is over 6 points lower than his career average. So I dug a little deeper to see why.

Per Game

Lebron has played 68 games as of March 30th. Of the games in which he shot 8 or more FTA (31 games), he had the following breakdown

  • 100% FT: 0 games
  • 90%-99% FT: 0 games
  • 80%-89% FT: 7 games
  • 70%-79% FT: 7 games
  • 60%-69% FT: 12 games
  • Sub 60% FT: 5 games

This season, Lebron has never made than 80% in any of the 31 games. In fact, if you remove the eight FTA qualifier, he’s only made all his FT 6 times. Safely said, the King is not going to have a 9 for 10 night in the NBA but more like a 6 or 7.

For comparison, the current NBA leader in FT% is Steph Curry (of course), who hits a brisk 91.3%. The NBA average is 77.1%, so Lebron is around 4 points off that mark. (Typical season hovers around 75%). So clearly he is off the current pace.

Games Lost

LBJ averages 7 FTA per game for the current season. Making around 4 to 5 per game. So not a complete disaster in pure numbers. But the Cavs are not a dominant team as they only average 3.1 more points than they yield. This means the extra 2 to 3 misses will, and have, cost the team games in an already tight conference. In the playoffs, it will be even tougher as the Eastern Conference has some decent teams now (Celtics, Wizards, Raptors). They might skate through the first round, but look at LBJ’s FT% as they get deeper in the playoffs

And if Cavs fans need more to worry about, Five Thirty-Eight has them at a 2% chance of winning the title, which is lower than the other 3 top teams in the conference. As a Lebron fan myself, I might need to start worrying about the playoffs for once.

Clutch Shooting

Most people pay attention to missed FT’s down the stretch. So is Lebron no longer clutch? Per Basketball Reference, LBJ is one of the most clutch shooters this year by shooting 55.4% in total shots (not just free throws) in the last 5 mins of the 4th quarter during close games. That is 5th in the league this season. This is a big jump from last season when he was 38th and shooting only 42.4%. So clutch moments don’t seem to be the problem.

As for FTs, NBA.com has James shooting 69.7% in FTs during the same time, which is the same as last years 69.6% but much lower than his 2014-2015 season mark of 79.4%. So apparently something is happening.

 

Summary

This season will be the toughest for Lebron and the Cavs to make the Finals. Lebron still is the best all-around player on the court in any game, but for the first time, he has a real weakness. Maybe a month or two from now this will all be water under the bridge, but if the King expects to make an eighth consecutive Finals (which is already a real damn amazing feat), he’ll need to learn how to hit from the stripe once again.

Stats and data accurate as ofMarch 30th, 2017.
Stats provided by Basketball-Reference and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.