LeBron James: to pass or shoot – a response


Before you read this post, I recommend that you read Daryl Harkin’s post from 08/03/12 – “Shoot or Pass”which has sparked a lot of debate and is the inspiration behind this post.

Last Saturday, Belfast Star played against North Star, which is the team I coach. At the end of the game, with only three seconds remaining, Star had the ball on the sideline out-of-bounds, game tied at 63. Instructions were issued to pick up in man, switch on all screens and be aware of screens being slipped. We knew if they wanted a jump-shot, McKillop was likely to be the main option. In anticipation, I decided to put our longest defender, Michael Brennan, on him. Star run the same play as they did in the previous season: a classic screen-the-screener option. They ran the play with McKillop cutting towards the inbounder off a screen by Paddy Mullan followed by Conor Johnston screening Mullan who cuts to the basket. Daryl Harkin had Paddy Mullan covered and the only real option for Star was to hit McKillop as he cut towards the ball-side. McKillop makes the catch, pivots to square up, and shoots. Brennan is closing out fast and in position to contest the shot. McKillop has to lean back and launch a rainbow three. The height and arch on the shot meant it was impossible to tell if it was going to be a swish or an airball. The ball starts to descend towards the rim and then  — PAUSE

not after she’s left and the crowd goes home
tell it when he can still be the last-second hero
a hometown Jesus on the shoulders of adoring men
tell the story before she cried, before he made her
tell it while the boy in the nosebleeds
clutches a program to his chest and yells because
this is what men do
tell the story so we can all cheer and buy the jersey
so we can tell the guys at the bar that we were there
tell the story when the ball is in the air -Jason Crane


From a coaches viewpoint, it shouldn’t really matter whether or not McKillop’s shot went in or not [Editor: really?]. It went in and Star won.

As Stan Van Gundy originally said, we should “tell the story when the ball is in the air”. I feel that we made the right decisions on the defensive end. The best case scenario would be forcing a five second violation or stealing the inbounds pass. Otherwise, forcing a contested, turn around, fade away three pointer is about the toughest shot we could give the opposition.  At any other stage of the game, this would have been a terrible option. In this instance, it was the only option available, although it is not really a matter of being a ‘good shot’ or a ‘bad shot’. There have been far too many times that I have seen players take, what I would consider, a terrible shot only to hear from the coach on the sideline shout, “great shot!” Simply because the ball happened to go drop through the rim. It’s a percentages game. No-one considers a shot, which a player would only make 10% of the time, as a ‘good shot’ or a ‘good option’. I believe that it doesn’t mean it’s a good shot the one time it goes in and a bad shot the nine other times it doesn’t drop: it’s a bad shot every time but it just happens to go in once in a while.

When we take a look at the Miami Heat’s last possession versus the Utah Jazz, whether or not Udonis Haslem makes the shot is irrelevant [Editor: again… really?]. Any potential game winning shot attempt can go in but we must decide the best option which would, in theory, have given the Heat the highest percentage chance of scoring and winning the game. Check out the video of the final possession:



In the previous discussion on this topic, many of our followers stated that LeBron made the right basketball play. I strongly dispute this.

LeBron on the Free Throw Line - This is what the Heat should have wanted at the end of the game versus the Jazz.

The correct basketball play, in my opinion, would be Lebron attacking the basket. I discount the fact that people claim he was double teamed as, at best, it was a very weak double team. Josh Howard has got caught up in the screen and Lebron easily gets his shoulder past him and has Howard trailing him. LeBron has a running start on a flat footed Paul Milsap, who is the only player between him, and an open lane to the basket.  In this situation, I think LeBron attacking the basket is clearly the best option. Firstly, if he manages to draw the foul he is a 77% FT shooter, which gives the Heat an excellent chance of at least tying the game (94.71% chance that he makes at least one free throw) and a 59.29% percentage chance of making both free throws and getting the win. The chances that LeBron misses both free throws is only 5.29%. This is without even factoring in the chance of going to the basket and making the shot while drawing the foul. In this situation, I think it is very likely that if there is contact that he gets the “superstar” call [Editor: interesting – Paul Bullock may disagree with this one] and if he cleanly evades Milsap, LeBron converts 75% of his shots at the rim.

I would contend the next best option would be LeBron going to his pull up jump shot while going to his left. LeBron is shooting 41% from mid-range this season but I think you have to factor in the game situation. LeBron was on fire for the entire fourth quarter and had brought the Heat back into the game almost on his own. He has just made two ridiculous off-the-dribble jumpers going to his left and is clearly feeling it. His confidence is high and he is shooting over 80% in the fourth quarter.

The worst play that he could have made in this situation was make the pass to Udonis Haslem.

One of the arguments’ put forward is that ‘this is Haslem’s shot’ and ‘you make the correct basketball play to pass the ball to the open man.’ It can all depend on how you define it but this is definitely Haslem’s “shot” but only in the sense that he takes a lot of them. Out of 232 total shot’s so far this season Haslem has shot the ball from mid-range (defined as outside of the key and inside of the three point line) 120 times, while just over 50% of his total shots have been attempted from this range. However, of those 120 attempts he has only made 44 of them and is shooting 37% from this range. This may well be his shot, which I argue is due to an inability to extend his range or create any sort of offense for himself, but that does not make it a good shot. Haslem isn’t really a feature of the Heat’s offense and only has a usage rate of 13% when he is on the floor. Passing to a player shooting 37% from that range and a player who is not used being involved in the offense cannot be considered a good option for a game winning shot.

The best option statistically would be for LeBron to attack the rim to try and get an extremely high percentage shot at the rim or draw the foul for the high percentage freethrow option. If he can’t get to the basket, pulling up for the jumper would be his next best option and finally, the pass to Haslem would be the third option.

If you are a Heat fan you should want LeBron starting to make his first game winning shots now in meaningless regular season games.

Now that I have stated my case, I’m about to potentially blow it out of the water with an interesting stat courtesy of Scott Carefoot (@scottcarefoot ) at TBJ. The following table lists shots from the past three seasons based upon the following criteria: regular season or playoffs, fourth quarter or overtime, 0:05 or less remaining, shot to tie or to take the lead. The table is sorted by total number of field goals made.


As you can see, this table does not make good reading for Lebron James. Eleven attempts and zero makes. What does this say about my argument above that Lebron should have taken the shot versus the Jazz? I think it makes it stronger than ever. If you are a Heat fan you should want LeBron starting to make his first game winning shots now in meaningless regular season games in March so that when the playoffs come around he has the confidence to match his ability. It is imperative for the Heat that LeBron develops the same sort of mentality as a Jordan had or Kobe has and believe he can, and should, make clutch shots. LeBron is having a historic season and is on course to break Jordan’s record for the highest PER of all time. If he keeps passing the ball in these sorts of situations, can he ever be compared to the likes of Jordan?

Let us know what you think in the comments below!




Niall is the Co-Founder of the Courtside Collective and www.BasketballDirect.com . He was one of the founding members of North Star in 2002. He has coached at a variety of levels from kids to senior men's teams. He is currently coach of the LYIT National League team and women's college team.


  1. Peter McCready

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    I couldn’t agree more Niall

  2. Paddy McG

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    “Firstly if he manages to draw the foul he is a 77% FT shooter which gives the Heat an excellent chance of at least tying the game (94.71% chance that he makes at least one free throw) and a 59.29% percentage chance of making both free throws and getting the win. The chances that LeBron misses both free throws is only 5.29%. This is without even factoring in the chance of going to the basket and making the shot while drawing the foul. In this situation i think it is very likely that if there is contact that he gets the “superstar” call.”

    These percentages are a bit crazy you’ve thrown in… During a crucial stage of the game, predicting free throws with percentages is impossible. I seriously believe that the chances of LeBron missing 2 free throws in a game winning scenario is higher than 5%…

    As for the superstar call comment, how many times have the referees not blown a foul in the last seconds of the game… I think I would change your “very likely” prediction to “unlikely.” Kobe and MJ, the best closers in the history of basketball – how many times have they pulled up and taken shots instead of going to the bucket? Going to the basket is a risky strategy as I think referees don’t like to make that kind of call. They don’t want a call they make to dictate the outcome of the game.

    After rewatching the video you posted, that commentator is completely retarded and ridiculously biased. Great job for leaving Udonis Haslem open. How did this guy get a job? Is he not supposed to have a high level of basketball knowledge? Lebron didn’t pass the ball to Shaq! He passed it to a guy that can knock down that shot! I SERIOUSLY doubt that the Jazz coaching staff planned to give UD a WIDE open shot and I can guarantee that when UD caught it that open and let it fly they were held their breath!

    The point you make about Lebron needing to develop a clutch mentality does not warrant a bad shot. In fact I think that’s a horrible way to think. I bet they said that the first time he was put in a game winning situation, when he had a clean stat sheet. 11 times later, still the same.

    You cannot seriously believe that a guy who is notoriously poor in clutch situations finding a wide open guy who, granted hasn’t shot exceptionally well percentage wise, but has definitely shown that he is capable of making it, made the “worst play”. In fact “the law of averages,” (courtesy of Connor O Dornan) would suggest that if UD has shot so poorly all year but as you pointed out, takes a high number of attempts, that there was chance it would fall.

    Your argument has not swayed my thoughts whatsoever BUT I admire your effort. I hope more people comment on this so we can have a debate.

  3. euge

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    lmao…..the best statement in this piece is van gundy’s…..basically tell the story when the ball is in the air, cos only comments made before the play are truly 100% genuine as the are in no way coloured by the outcome. luv the ‘post successful score’ press conference styled assessment of how coach mcdermot told his players how to defend ‘the play’. lol it sounds so perfect that i am absolutely amazed mickillop scored. fact….basketball is a game of decisions. coaches influence the outcome of games, some better at it than others( and that is in no way an endorsement of my ability to coach the game). but players determine the outcome of games by the decisions they make. in the last 3.4 seconds when the ref had hadned the ball to the inbounder in derry, the game was out of the hands of the coaches and in the hands of 10, yes ten different players. how many different decisions does that amount to? wrt where when and how a pick is set, when and who to pass the ball to. how agressive to defend, do i hang back of someone or not, do i do what coach instructed or do i do my own thing., do i shoot or go to the basket…..all contributing to unsuprisingly only one of two outcomes ie a score or no score. basketball is also a game of percentages…..higher percentage plays lend themselves to successful outcomes a higher proportion of the time, this is a given. but you also want to get the ball to the player who you believe is going to give you the best outcome of success. for LBJ please read micheal mckillop…..both players got the ball in the place where the coached wanted them to get it. both players had to make decisions when they had the ball…..one decided to pass it and the other decided to shoot it. one ended up on a losing team, the other on a wining team. both players wanted to win their own game before the shot was taken and while the ball was in the air. one was successful and one was unsuccessful. who made the better decision LBJ or mckillop? by they way heres a percentage for you niall, 100% when star run ‘the play’ against north star. maybe we should never run it again as the law of averages would suggest we are due a few fails. ( note: ‘ the play’ is not strictly a classic pick the picker. shows you how poor we ran it, but hey that is all irrelevant due to the outcome)

  4. Rob

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    I’m not sure these people have played against competitive McKillop… The won who wants to win!

    Simple fact is there are two shots he is guaranteed to make the one where you yell noo as it skies towards the ceiling before patting him on the back when it swishes.. It is unblockable trust me! Oh and the other ninja undetectable slimy push then putback rebound which only he can get away with on ANY competition..

    Long live the killer.. As for the play … Was it not.. Get the ball and shoot it killer your bound to make 1 for 25?

  5. Kobe

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    In summary would it be fair to say Mckillop is better than lebron James?

  6. Puff S.

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    I just don’t understand where you get those stats.


    Does it not count the playoffs? Did it not count that Jazz game itself, because, if you look back, he hit a jumper to tie the game at 88 with like 4:45 left, he hit a three to take the lead with like a minute left, then he hit a three to go up by four with like 30 seconds left. That’s all in one game! He put the Heat in position to win the game. It’s crazy how you put up percentages as a way to justify why Lebron should have shot the ball (and it would have also been a good basketball play to go to the basket, agreed), but then you put he could have shot the pull up jumper because he was “feeling it”. What percentage does that fall under? Because you’ve hit ten shots in a row, does that mean that the 11th has a better chance of going in? Or does the law of averages come into play? It becomes a sort of sticky situation when you bring statistics that much into it, don’t you think?

    Another question. If Miami wins the title this year, will anyone question Lebron’s clutch-ness anymore? Remember how before Jordan won his first one they used to question how good of a teammate he was, and people used to say that all he was was a scorer and he would never get his team to championship level? Umm, now all we hear was that he was super competitive and that he would have done anything for his team to win. And all that other non sense went out the window because HE WON. Same goes for Lebron. I’m anxious to see how many people jump back on the Lebron bandwagon when he eventually wins his title (and I’m by NO MEANS saying that it will happen this year!).

  7. Niall McDermott Post author

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    Wow – A lot of points to come back on so stick with me.

    Pete – Great minds think alike!

    Paddy – The percentages are exactly that, percentages. They aren’t “Crazy” they are statistical fact! I agree that added pressure could reduce someone’s FT% as nerves could play a part but are you suggesting LBJ would be feeling serious pressure at the end of a rather meaningless game in March? Even if his FT Percentage dropped, to say 60%, when under pressure there is still overwhelming odds he hits AT LEAST one FT.

    My point is that LeBron should attack the rim because I don’t think Milsap can stay in front of him and I think he has a high chance of getting fouled AND/OR getting right to the rim for a high percentage shot. Even if he can’t make it to the rim he has the second option of then pulling up for his mid-range jump shot.

    Paul Milsap – Could still stand to improve his perimeter defense. Will get caught flat-footed at times against quicker face-up power forwards.

    IF I was the Jazz coach in that game and I had a choice between LBJ attacking Milsap or giving Haslem the open shot I’m giving Halsem the shot every single time, no question!

    As for Connor O’Dornans “Law of Average” argument I say that it is mathematically unsound. The outcome of a random event will even out because the chances of a shot going in isn’t random, it’s based on Haslem’s ability, which is shown through percentages which are taken from a large sample size over the entire season.

    Euge – Agree with most of this!

    Kobe and Rob – – Id Say McKillop shades it over LBJ as McKillop clearly has the “Clutch gene”

    Puff- Puff I get my stats from different sources but mainly nba.com’s advanced stats section and the excellent http://www.basketball-reference.com – that last site has compiled every single nba shot since 2000.

    You are talking about clutch defined as the last 5 mins of a game and there is no standard definition of what is “clutch”. In the table above the criteria was the last 5 SECONDS of the game, playoffs and regular season and a shot to tie or take the lead. Essentially I’m looking here at the last shot like the Jazz game as opposed to just general Clutch plays. I have seen LeBron perform well in the last minutes of close games and big huge plays but here we are talking about that last shot to tie or win a game.

    Because you’ve hit ten shots in a row, does that mean that the 11th has a better chance of going in? Or does the law of averages come into play?

    Statistically, no, the 11th shot has the exact same chance as any other shot. The law of averages has nothing to do with it. BUT as a basketball coach we know players can be “streaky” – my own theory, with no evidence whatsoever, is that shooting has a lot to do with confidence, the less you have to think about a shot the better and more likely it’s just 100% muscle memory. You want to be just catching and shooting in rhythm without thinking about your mechanics at all.

    But I think on both tests I am right. Statically speaking I think LBJ taking it to the basket is the correct play AND using “the eye test” and ignoring statistics I think it gives a much better chance of success than passing to Haslem bearing in mind what had transpired in the previous 12 minutes of play.

    As for your last point, as I said in the post LBJ is on track to smash Jordan’s record for the highest PER in a season ever. If he does that in the same season that the Heat win a championship then it will automatically put him up there in the GOAT conversation in my opinion. But unless he takes and makes some “last shot’s” I can’t see him developing a rep like Kobe or Jordan for clutch play.

  8. Puff S.

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    My point is that we shouldn’t give too much importance to these regular season games. Yes, guys are out there trying to win every game. Yes, guys are busting their a**. And yes, these games do matter. But as of last year, Melo had the best percentage for last second shots in the NBA. And his teams have been out of the first round of the playoffs exactly, umm…once in his whole career. Would you rather have Melo on your team in the 4th quarter over Lebron? Based on percentages? Not me. There is something to the five second and under stat, I guess, but “clutch” means so much more to me. Lebron always guards the best player in crunch time (Remember how he shut Rose and Pierce down in the playoffs last year), he always has the ball in his hands, and he’s always making something happen. With last second shots, you either make them or you miss them. If you asked me, the difference between Kobe and Lebron isn’t the “clutch gene” but rather the “eff you, I know I’m the man and I’m gonna take this shot regardless” gene. Remember that Christmas Day game against the Bulls? The Lakers were down 1, and Kobe took it to the basket against 3 guys and got his shot blocked when EVERYBODY else was WIDE open. And he gets away with it because everyone knows that Kobe wants to be that hero everytime. We all want our best players to be the hero every single time. Lebron just doesn’t fit that bill. I think he’s just as content if someone else is, a reason that I’m slowly starting to like him again.

    I’ve never questioned his clutch-ness because he’s missed some game winners. I questioned it in game 6 of the Boston series two years ago when he just hid in the corner when his team desperately needed him, and then last year in the Finals when he seemed overwhelmed by the situation and hid out for the majority of six games. Now, if he does that again, I’ll be the first one to get on here and be like “Lebron doesn’t have what Kobe and MJ have. He doesn’t live for the moment.” Because what separates those guys is there ability to perform at super human levels when the stakes are raised. Right now we’re discussing a pass out of a double team against a sorry ass Utah team. Or even the people who stupidly even trashed him for his turnover in the ALL-STAR game. I mean, yes, we want him to close those games out…but he’s going to be judged on games 5,6, and 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals a hell of a lot harder than that Utah game. If I’m coach Spo, I’m happy putting it in Lebron’s hands and telling him to make a decision with the game on the line. If he shoots or goes to the rim, I can live with that. If he passes to Haslem (which would most likely be Bosh in any other circumstance) I’m happy with that, too.

  9. euge

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    after all this chat back and forth, the summation is that this was a terrible offensive sequence by the heat as a team and individually. the jazz players made decisions in reaction to the offensive and they paid off. retrospect wud suggest it may have been better for LBJ to make a pair of hard dribbles and shoot the pull-up….irrespective of any percentages …..lets see what happens next time?

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