Coaches often say that the difference between a good shot and a bad shot isn’t whether or not the shot goes in. Some players have earned the right for an exception.
So when Frank Vogel was asked after Tuesday night’s victory over the Philadelphia 76ers what constitutes a “good” deep three-point attempt and what constitutes a “bad” three-point attempt for LeBron James, the Lakers coach smiled sheepishly until the question came to this:
Is it just a matter of whether it goes in?
“Yes,” Vogel said. “Correct. When it goes in, it’s a good one. And if it doesn’t go in, it’s a bad one. It’s easy coaching here.”
In each of the last two games, James has taken three shots from 30 feet or farther and made two of them. The made shots have served as emotional boosts for the team, long-range, momentum-driving surprises. The Lakers insist they are confident that when James releases those that they’ll go in because they’ve seen James work on them.
“Obviously, the game is played so much at the three-point line and beyond,” James said. “I just think for me personally, I want to continue to have a growth mindset on however the game is changing, being able to change my game and also still be true to who I am at the same time. Just trying not to have any weaknesses.”
James’ evolution as a shooter is not new. Early in his career opponents could sag off James, force him to shoot jumpers and beat him that way. His shooting percentage has improved significantly in the second half of his career as the league has emphasized three-point shooting.
There is a four-point line on the Lakers’ practice court that adds a dimension to their practice.
For James, the deep threes are somewhat rare, but his attempts of shots from 30 or more feet away from the basket have been in the double digits since the 2016-17 season.
The shot is a much bigger part of the repertoires of players whose games are more defined by their shooting ability.
During the 2015-16 season, when Stephen Curry was the league’s unanimous MVP, he made 54.8% of the shots he took between 30 and 39 feet from the basket. He didn’t drop off that much when including the numbers from shots 40 or more feet away, either. He shot 46% from 40 or more feet away.
Those deep threes became characteristic of Curry’s playing style. Sometimes they allowed for him to get more open looks than he otherwise would.
Damian Lillard has made it part of his game, too. This season, Lillard has shot 42.4% from 30 to 39 feet away from the basket. He’s taken 102 shots from 30 feet or farther.
James, on the other hand, has taken 14 shots from 30 feet or farther this year, 11 of them from 30 to 34 feet.
They aren’t desperation heaves — they often come early in the shot clock.
How does he know the right time to release them?
“It just happens,” James said with a smile. “It’s just a feel thing, it’s just a feel thing.”
On Tuesday night James took — and made — a 36-foot three-pointer from the edge of the Lakers’ logo at midcourt. It caused his teammates to gather around the spot from where he shot the ball to examine the court.
“There was a mark right there,” JaVale McGee said. “‘Damn.’ That’s what it said on the court.”
Anthony Davis explained the reason for the investigation.
“Nobody knew what he was doing,” Davis said. “We kind of know when he’s going to do it. It’s usually when he’s hit a couple in a row. That one, I think I had just made one. I was running down and I was expecting him to throw it to me and he just pulled up. And so it kind of like shocked all of us, and he made it and we were all like, ‘All right, where he shoot this one from?’”