NBA

Dillon Brooks says LeBron James doesn’t want to go left, but the numbers aren’t so clear cut

Dillon Brooks says LeBron James doesnt want to go left



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It’s hard to find too much fault with the way Dillon Brooks defended LeBron James on Friday. The four-time MVP shot just 8-of-21 from the floor and finished with 23 points, his lowest total since Dec. 9. James had been averaging 34.1 points per game on over 55 percent shooting since Anthony Davis went down, so in the grand scheme of things, it could be argued that Brooks defended James better than anyone else has since then.

But when Brooks was asked about his performance on Friday, he offered an interesting explanation. “He doesn’t want to go left,” Brooks told reporters. “I was just making him go left all game. He would settle or he would pass the ball.” Statistically speaking, there’s a lot to dissect here.

First of all, James really wasn’t settling. He took nine shots in the restricted area and 13 total in the paint against Memphis. For the season, he averages 8.9 restricted area shots per game and 12 total in the paint, so he was right in line with his typical shooting line. He shoots more jumpers now, in his 20th season, than he did at his peak, but the problem against the Grizzlies had less to do with his shot selection and more to do with execution. James shot 2-of-12 outside of the restricted area. Sometimes the shots don’t fall, though, obviously, Brooks played a part in that.

The more interesting question here is whether or not James wants to go left. The numbers suggest that he’s perfectly comfortable in either direction. Synergy Sports tracks the number of possessions that end with a James drive, and they actually suggest that he’s more comfortable driving left at this point in his career than he is driving right. He’s been a more efficient driver going left in each of the past two seasons, and he went left more often than he went right last season.

Drives left

Drives right

Left drives points per possession

Right drives points per possession

2022-23

50

41

1.020

0.976

2021-22

70

75

1.057

0.987

None of this should be especially surprising because, despite his right-handed shot, James is naturally left-handed. “I have no idea how I became a right-handed basketball player,” James said in 2017. “I think maybe it was because of Michael Jordan, Penny Hardaway, guys that I looked up to growing up. Seeing those guys shoot righty, I guess I’ll shoot righty. I’m pretty much a left-hand guy.”

James had a poor game against Memphis on Friday. Brooks was largely responsible for that, though the presence of Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. didn’t help him either. But any hope the rest of the league might’ve had about copying Brooks’ formula should probably be laid to rest. James is perfectly happy going left, and it showed in a 122-121 Lakers victory.

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