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What can LeBron James actually learn from training with Hakeem Olajuwon?

Aug 10, 2011, 2:17 PM EDT

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Few things in the world of pro basketball are fetishized more than mentorship, particularly when the part of the wise sage is played by an NBA legend. There’s just something about NBA greats — past and present — comparing notes that really sparks the imagination; the idea that some enlightenment could be gained through two people sharing a gym is an alluring one, so much so that current players consulting with some of the game’s all-timers is as surefire way to generate headlines as it is the most whimsical basketball daydreams.

The most recent examples all seem to hover around the same legend: Hakeem Olajuwon. He famously met with Kobe Bryant, and was cited for his efforts every time Bryant set up shop on the block. Then he met with Dwight Howard, a move designed to increase the league’s most dominant center’s post repertoire. This year’s pairing? Hakeem and LeBron James, everyone’s favorite “he-should-really-post-up-more” player of choice. James’ ability to physically dominate his opponents has made him an effective post threat thus far, but his game down low could certainly use some polish. That’s where Olajuwon would theoretically help; a drop step here and a baby hook there, and James would go from an efficient but underused post threat into a certifiable weapon.

Of course, all of this leans heavily on the notion that Olajuwon’s tutelage actually creates a tangible benefit. There’s only so much that can be gained from short-term instruction, and while Olajuwon undoubtedly has much to teach any post player willing to listen, his time and influence are limited in these cases. He may be able to introduce a few ideas or moves, but to expect those skills to be fully formed is asking a bit much. Hence why Howard, who spends as much time in the post as anyone in the NBA, didn’t look the part of a completely reinvented player. He was a bit more fluid and did have a few new tricks this past season, but his moves were essentially as robotic as they had been previously.

A superficial examination of Howard’s case alone would say that Olajuwon’s teachings weren’t able to accomplish their intended goal. Yet where Olajuwon’s advisement may be truly beneficial is not in skill training, but in confidence building. Tom Haberstroh of ESPN’s Heat Index examined the before and after effects of Olajuwon’s instruction on post usage and efficiency, and found a particularly interesting development in the post play of another of Olajuwon’s apprentices:

In 2008-09, [Kobe] Bryant 14.2 percent of his overall play repertoire was used on post-up plays, or, put another way, he used 4.1 post-up plays per game. This includes post-up plays like drop-steps, turnaround jumpers, and even pass outs when the defense collapsed. On average, 1.035 points were scored per post-up play (you can find this under the “Efficiency” column).

And what happened the following season? Everything went up, but mostly his usage. Whether it’s a product of age slowing him down or a newfound confidence sparked by Olajuwon (or both), Bryant almost doubled his diet of post-ups in 2009-10. That’s an astounding change in playing style which we rarely see in the game today. His efficiency also saw a slight uptick from 1.035 to 1.058.

Bryant did become a bit better in the post, but more importantly, he started operating from the block almost twice as often. It’s notable that he was still able to boost his efficiency despite that increase in usage, but the far more relevant aspect of Bryant’s evolution is that he was willing to work out of the post so often at all. Haberstroh wonders if the same product might come from LeBron James‘ sessions with Olajuwon, and rightly so; James’ biggest post problem isn’t a lack of effectiveness, but of willingness. If training with Olajuwon would give James the confidence to work down low more often, then that alone could make the NBA’s most brutally effective and efficient player that much more so.

Perhaps this kind of mentorship is guised as a workshop in post moves, but thus far the clearest benefit seems to be the transformation of the low post into a comfort zone.

  1. diablito0402 - Aug 10, 2011 at 2:34 PM

    I dont know? How to win, have heart, mental toughness, close games, being clutch, be a factor in 4th quarters, take over games, drive a stake in opponents heart, put fear in the opposition, intimidation, how to be a low post presence, turn around jumpshots, be smart on and off the court, be professional and shake the hands of the players who just knocked you out of the playoffs, and TIP well when you go out and eat. I know im leaving something out….

    • mytthor - Aug 11, 2011 at 2:24 AM

      Thing is I don’t think most of what you listed can be TAUGHT.

  2. diablito0402 - Aug 10, 2011 at 2:36 PM

    Ohhhh yeah how to win a championship…..

    • icelovinbrotha215 - Aug 10, 2011 at 4:05 PM

      All minor details my friend haha.

  3. silvrwrx - Aug 10, 2011 at 8:45 PM

    well all the things you say lebron is missing can come from improving your skills on the court. i would say lebron knows how to win the past 3 season hes played his teams have had over 50 wins. true he hasnt won a ring but thats trully the only gap in his HOF resume and hes only 26. Mental toughness? hes experienced more pressure than most his entire life and yes some he broought on himself but he still produces great numbers. then being clutch or a factor in the 4th can be improved with a low post game. simply cause he wont just be a threat off the dribble or from his off and on mid/ long range jumpers but in the post hes closer to the basket and not many SF are as quick and as strong as he is. here is a guy coming of a season where he and the entire world knows he let his team down and hes trying to get better and yet people still hate him and dont want him to get a ring. i just dont understand it, he knows what he needs to do and hes trying. but i guess its easier to discourage some than it is to encourage someone. when his careers over im sure all the fans would say, it was great being able to see him play the game and what he did for it. much like bird, magic, kobe, shaq and of course the G.O.A.T michael jordan.

  4. thetooloftools - Aug 10, 2011 at 10:34 PM

    LeBron needs to talk to God and get right.
    So Bosh is going to move out and do some ball handling ?
    Come on LeBron.
    Keep to your Akron money spending to keep your family safe and win something.
    “not 2… not 2 not three, not 4 not 5 not 6 not 7…….not 8.
    Wear the big shoes and put a ball on your nose next year.
    This is Cleveland knocking.
    Spoon feed Miami the same crap you fed us.

    • david8726 - Aug 11, 2011 at 1:10 AM

      Another guy from Cleveland doing the “scorned ex girlfriend” routine?

      God, get over it.

  5. david8726 - Aug 11, 2011 at 1:12 AM

    A reminder to all of the trolls saying LeBron needs mental toughness, clutchness, blah blah blah……..

    You clowns were saying the same thing about Dirk when he failed in 2006 and 2007.

    Dirk melted down in those situations, but he bounced back, becoming tougher….. and eventually he won it all.

    It’s foolish to think that LeBron can’t do the same.

  6. bhester1906 - Aug 11, 2011 at 9:51 AM

    Cle fans should get a life. You literally have nothing to root for so you root against someone and root for any team he plays. It must suck only having the browns cavs and Indians. But, why don’t you shift your focus to supporting your team and get a life. Your like a jealous ex girlfriend

    • sguy2130 - Aug 11, 2011 at 1:57 PM

      Most of us have moved on, it hurt when he left no doubt, but , doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy seeing Lebron fail as a side hobby. I love my Browns, Indians and Cavs, even if they suck because I’m not a bandwagon fan. ESPN & others in the media, select fans are the ones who blow everything out of proportion. Do you really think everyone was burning their Lebron jerseys in the streets?…lol.

  7. rayrsatx - Aug 11, 2011 at 11:25 PM

    Look who’s talking, Miami Heat fans still haven’t gotten over losing to the Mavericks & Lebron going AWOL in the fourth quarter! Lebron will always have the curse of Clevland!

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