New and Improved King: A Statistical Look at Lebron James’ Offensive Development Since Leaving Cleveland


As Lebron James again won the hearts of Cleveland sports fans this summer with his decision to come back and play for the Cavaliers next season, he immediately put a city and franchise that is desperate for a championship run right in position to do so. His first stint in this city did not turn out how many of these fans would have liked, but after four years away from his home-state, years that James compared to a college experience in Miami, the King of Northeast Ohio is back and looking to again carry this team through deep playoffs runs.

After a a few years away, though, it will still take fans a period of time to understand the differences between the 2009-10 Lebron James that last led Cleveland to a 61-win season and the 2014-15 Lebron James coming in fresh off of four straight trips to the NBA Finals. There are changes in his demeanor on and off the court, but most importantly for this team, there are significant changes in the way he impacts the game on the floor. Specifically on the offensive end, he scores in different ways than he did the last time he wore a Cavaliers jersey and that will certainly have an effect on how this team wins games.

Shot Selection When James first entered the league and throughout his first few seasons in the NBA, he had a tendency to settle for jump-shots without fully using his talent and athleticism to overpower defenders the way many thought he should. As a result, he shot lower percentages and was less efficient as a scorer.

Now, as he returns to lead this team, he is much more likely to finish around the rim and attack from the perimeter. And,while it is important to remember that Miami was the first time he had a chance to play with other people who can create, players like Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins (..or Kevin Love..) will allow James to play a similar style that he did with the Heat. What that means is he will likely be someone to finish at the room at a higher rate than he did last time and does not settle nearly as often as he did early in his career.

Last Two Years in Cleveland(2008-2010)Last Two Years in Miami(2012-2014)
Avg. Distance per FGA13.4 ft11.3 ft
%FGA 0-3 ft from rim33.8%38.6%
%FGA from 3-pt24.5%20.6%
%Assisted 3PA38.3%54.4%

As you can tell from the numbers, James has made it a point in the last two seasons to get to the rim and that has helped spike his field goal percentage by almost seven percentage points. Not only that, but the last statistic in the chart shows the number of three-point field goals he attempted which we were spot-up and which were off of the dribble. In his last two seasons in Cleveland, he was taking nearly 60% of his shots from beyond the arc off of the dribble. In Miami, this number was cut to just about 45%. Perhaps that is why his 3-point FG% has increased as well. And, as long as the supporting cast around him allows him to continue this style of play, these numbers should continue to improve.


Continuing on what the last chart described, not only is he getting better shots, but he is also finishing them at a very high rate. According to’s Player Tracking, Lebron James drove the ball from the perimeter to the rim 547 times throughout the course of last season, which put him at 13th in the NBA. When he got there, though, he shot 63.6% from the field, which is  the highest percentage of anyone in the league that took the ball to the basket at least 25 times.

His strength at the rim is simply outmatching everyone that is challenging him and he used that last season in a way that made him the most efficient scorer in the NBA. The way he is able to get to the rim like this and finish with contact is what sets him apart and what allows him to score 27.1 points per game while sometimes not even reaching double digits in field goal attempts. When Lebron James attacks the rim, he is nearly impossible to stop and this emphasis to do exactly that made for a very successful offense. Here, you can take a look at just how much this has changed since the 2009-10 season he spent in Cleveland. There is much more activity going on in these charts around the rim than there was previously, and all of the red shows just how deadly he is down there.

Not only that, but these charts also show how much more effective he is from beyond the arc as well and much of that probably has to do with what was discussed earlier as far as having more catch-and-shoot opportunities. It is safe to say, though that he is much more efficient due to the way he has played offensively the last four years and it feels like the game comes to him more than he is having to force it throughout a season.

Add all of this to the fact that Lebron James is consistently drawing the attention of an entire defense and has the ability to find the open man, and it shows just how dominant he really is and how dominant he can be. With all of the shooters that the Cavaliers have already surrounded him with, this looks to be a very efficient offense led by the most efficient scorer in the NBA.