LeBron James defies everything at this point. He has defied his difficult upbringing. He has defied his early doubters. He has defied those who said he couldn't win big games. He has defied those who said he'd never be a good shooter/defender/post-up player. He has defied those who said he would never be in the MJ conversation. He has defied those who said he couldn't win in Cleveland. He even defied the "best team ever" when they assumed they'd win the NBA title.
In short, LeBron James is on another plane of existence. He is so great that we're getting tribute pieces to individual plays during early season games from major news outlets like CBS Sports. If you haven't read the article I'm referring to, you might think that the play would be something like LeBron beating his man to the hole and throwing down a monstrous dunk. Or maybe it's LeBron executing perfect help defense, ending with a thunderous blocked shot. Or maybe it's LeBron reading the defense while Kyrie Irving dribbles, leading to LeBron knifing into the lane for an alley-oop at the exact perfect time that the defense lost track of him.
You'd be wrong on all three guesses. It's about a pass that resulted in a layup. Here's the article. And here's the pass.
So here we are, three games deep into the season, talking about a guy who will be top-10 on the NBA's all-time scoring list within the next week and we're talking about passes. There is no precedent for this. Furthermore, his passing is so good that he deserves to have us talking about his passing instead of his 28,000 career points. It's mind-blowing.
Look at that pass again. Not once in the possession did he look at where the pass was going. He started at the elbow, facing the bench. He then sought out JR for what amounted to a token screen. Next, he caught the ball, looked toward the Love pick while facing the opposite end of the floor, and threw a backhand no-look pass under the hoop to JR. LeBron had the ball for less than half a second. He saw that the pick seemed to be working and fired it where it needed to go. Of course, like all of his passes, it ended up hitting JR waist high for a finish. You can't even do that in video games. The games don't have animations for that because it's not supposed to happen in real life.
After two more games, it might not even be the best pass he's thrown. Here's one that would be on the top five list for all but maybe 10 players in the NBA.
This looks easy. If you believe it's easy, take a basketball outside when you finish this paragraph and try it. Stand with your back to the basket while having someone about your size standing firmly at your back. For a target, stand something under the basket about 10 feet away and make a three-foot tall, two-foot wide rectangle as the bullseye (the basketball is 9.5 inches across, so you'll have 7 inches on either side of the ball to hit your target, plus a tad more leeway vertically). You are not permitted to look at this rectangle. Look to your left and then with your right hand bring the ball across your body and throw the ball over your left hip. Bounce it into the rectangle. Also, if the pass is not there within one second, it will be stolen. Imagine doing this like putting it through a windmill in mini golf.
"But wait," you're saying, "why the windmill analogy when clearly he has a big opening to make that pass?" Good point, except that LeBron only had such an opening because Valanciunas jumped out of the lane to help. Why did JV jump toward the baseline? Because if he didn't, LeBron would have spun baseline for a layup. Duh.
The fact that this looks simple is the most impressive part of it. The announcers barely even seem to notice—to them, this is just a classic LeBron pass. Even with James routinely doing incredible things, the bench still leaps up before the Thompson dunk. The bench-jumping-out-of-their-seats factor is a good indicator of when something was impressive.
But neither of these are the leader in "Did you see that pass LeBron threw?" That honor goes to the ridiculous wrap-around, cross-court, under the basket, beat-him-to-the-spot pass LBJ threw to Mike Dunleavy on Saturday night.
The play by itself is something that the Spurs run semi-regularly, and you can find whole montages of Manu Ginobili throwing passes to and from these spots on the court. There's one in particular where he hesitates and fires it—without a bounce—to Danny Green for a corner three, but this one somehow seems more incredible. Maybe it's because Dunleavy is about 9 feet from where he'll catch the pass when LeBron starts to wind up for the throw. Maybe it's because Dunleavy has only taken one step toward the spot when LeBron starts that throwing motion. Maybe it's because the pass should be deflected under the basket. Or maybe it's because the Cavaliers typically don't run plays like this so when they do, it looks extra impressive.
Oh, and once again, the ball hits a shoebox sized target where the shooter can catch it and shoot it one motion. You could try this one in your driveway too, but you'd need four or five friends, and that's a tall order for someone who reads basketball articles all day. Believe me. Better yet, try this on NBA 2K. If you can duplicate this play without any tricks, I'll let you write part of my next article.
These are just three assists from James so far, but you could pick any of several others, too. He drew three defenders and passed backward to Kyrie for the game-winning three against Toronto. He drew a crowd and fired to the corner for JR Smith to hit a big three against Orlando. He has thrown a couple of beautiful alley-oops to Tristan (the job formerly assigned to Delly, of course). He's done it all. Again.
With only 79 games left to play, maybe just set up a Google News alert for "LeBron James crazy pass."