A Little More Obsessive Close-Reading Of LeBron’s Most Recent Chase-Down

February 3rd, 2010 by John Krolik

In yesterday’s recap, I mentioned that LeBron James’ foot was on the dotted line as OJ Mayo went up for the layup that LeBron emphatically blocked. This afternoon, I’ve decided to spend a few minutes really dissecting the play from all angles.

I think part of the reason that we love the chase-down blocks so much is that they might be the closest we get to seeing LeBron’s peak physical capabilities, especially his speed.

There are two things which LeBron clearly enjoys keeping shrouded in mystery; his weight and his 40 time. His weight was listed at 240 when he came into the league, is now listed at 250, is often casually referred to as 260, and has been rumored to be as high as 274.

LeBron’s 40 time is another mystery. Most basketball players would put up underwhelming 40 times. I’m going to turn this into a full post one of these days, but there’s a difference between speed and “basketball speed.” Change of direction and how fast you can run while dribbling are what give basketball players their speed in most cases; I believe most NBA players would have a worse 40-yard dash time than one would think. LeBron is different in that he really does have football-type straight-line speed, but he’s clearly more comfortable having people imagine just how fast he is than having them actually know.

So when plays that actually feature LeBron hitting his top speed occur, it’s best to pay attention. Here are some snapshots that should give us a rough idea of just how fast LeBron is:

-For a point of reference, the NBA measures the three-quarter court sprint time at the pre-draft combine every year. Last year, the average time for a small forward was 3.3 seconds, and the slowest small forward clocked in at 3.55 seconds. (LeBron did not participate in the combine before he was drafted.)

The fastest three-quarter court sprint time in the history of the combine is held by Cookie Belcher, who clocked a time of 2.91 in 2001. Belcher is also notable for being named Cookie Belcher. The only other players to ever record a sub-3 time in the sprint drill are Jason Gardner, Nate Robinson, Sonny Weems, and Joe Alexander. Now, onto the video.

-Rudy Gay grabs the rebound for Memphis with 11:28 on the game clock. The shot clock has obviously re-set to 24. LeBron James is the furthest player back, standing directly under the basket and turning towards Gay. O.J. Mayo is a step behind every Cleveland defender except Anthony Parker, and is already in a full sprint.

-When Mayo crosses the half-court line, James is right at the top of the Cavalier 3-point arc.

-With 22 seconds on the shot clock, Mayo catches the pass at the three-point line. LeBron is a step over halfcourt, with his foot on the “V” in the “Cavaliers” logo. Mayo ran the sprint drill in 3.14 seconds at the combine, which put him right about in the middle of the pack for 2008 shooting guards.

-When Mayo picks the ball up to start his layup, he is a foot outside of the charge circle. LeBron is a foot behind the free-throw line.

-As the shot clock is about to change from 21 to 20, LeBron blocks the shot. He covered the distance from end line to end line in just under four seconds, and seemingly didn’t hit the afterburners until he crossed the half-court line. Also, he noticeably slows himself in his final two steps so that he can time the block. He made up the distance from the “V” to the three-point line in just under two seconds. (In fairness to Mayo, he was moving┬ádiagonally, not in a straight line, and swerved laterally as he went up to avoid Anthony Parker.)

-Shaq, who started running as LeBron did, is at half-court when the block is made.

Well campers, that’s how a chase-down gets made. Until tonight, everyone.