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Is LeBron James an overrated defender?


The Cleveland Cavaliers' lack of defense has been a hot topic in NBA circles all season. The Cavs rank in the bottom half of the league in just about every statistic or metric humanly possible. Cleveland is 30th in points allowed per possessions -- dead last in the league, for a team expected to contend for a fourth straight NBA Finals appearance. The common narrative around the team is that they are "coasting," that it's about how little the Cavaliers care about the regular season. To be sure, they don't. This team has messed around in each of the last three seasons and still made the Finals. However, bad habits have become indelible elements of the team's identity, and the situation is getting worse.

One of the reasons they have been so bad is simple, but it will sound so far-fetched that you won’t believe it is the truth. LeBron James — widely renowned as the best player in the NBA, a positionless, all-around freak we have all grown to admire —is one of the worst defenders in the NBA this season.

According to NBA stats, of all players that have played more than 15 minutes per game, James ranks the 13th worst in Defensive Rating with a scary 112.9. As bad as his rating is, he still ranks above fellow Cavs, Derrick Rose and Kevin Love. James currently sits with 0.0 total defensive win shares, meaning that he has literally not made any difference to improve Cleveland’s porous defense. That mark ranks him in the bottom 50 of the entire league, behind notable defensive turnstiles like Enes Kanter and 37-year-old Jamal Crawford.

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According to NBA stats, James leads the entire league in total opponent points in the paint, coming in the head of Devin Booker and James Harden by a sizable margin. He is also second-worst in opponents second-chance points, ranking just behind Pacers forward Thaddeus Young. It has been clear, for whatever reason — age or his rumored Cavs departure — that he has not been putting the same effort in on the defensive end that we are used to seeing.

At this point, the only thing standing between Cleveland & LeBron and another NBA finals is one thing - their defense. The Cavs still have 35 more games in the regular season to figure out things defensively and this switch in their mindset actually might happen, however, if it doesn’t, we might see them not even reach the Finals for the first time LeBron made his return to Cleveland.


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