LBJ - Most Versatile Defender Ever

In the current series between his Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics, Lebron James has,at different times, matched up against Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett, and not as a result of a switch due to any screen. That is simply incredible - the ability to guard against the 1 or the 5. There are plenty of great defenders historically who were versatile enough to check 3 positions - someone like Michael Jordan, or Scottie Pippen could handle 1-3, but would not be able to check the bigs; a player like Robert Horry could check 3-5, but would be a liability against the backcourt.
The only other players that I could come up with that would come close would be Dennis Rodman and the artist formerly known as Ron Artest, though they would possibly struggle against the 5’s.
Who else would be in the discussion?

Rodman was the first to come to mind, but I don’t think he ever went 1-5 by design. I think back in his Minnesota days, Garnett could go 2-5. Barkley, maybe, could have gone 2-5, though he would surely be limited on the 2 and 5.

Sorry to jack this immediately, but was I the only one yelling at Lebron near the end of game…3?..when he had the last shot of regulation, I think, and was guarded by Rondo, and took a fade-away 3?!

LBJ failing to box out Oswald allowed Nixon to score the game winner


I was screaming right with you.

Magic Johnson could play the 1-5 position offensively, so I imagine he could have done so defensively. But defense wasn’t much of a priority for Magic.

Garnett is one of the greatest interior defenders ever, but his length would seem to be a hinderance outside of the paint, and as such I can’t imagine him having had much success were he to defend against a speedy 1 or 2.
Magic, as is pointed out, was not defensive minded, though he most certainly possessed the tools to check any spot. His greatest liability to achieve here, imho, would have been his lateral movement.
Barkley is an interesting suggestion. Early in his career, he likely could’ve checked 4 spots reasonably well, but, like Magic, had a game that was more offense focused.
How about Durant? He has matched up on Parker a few times, no?

The first person I thought of was Magic, since the foundation of his legend is that finals game where he subbed for Kareem. The other one who comes to mind is Oscar Robertson since he’s the guy LeBron is most often compared to anyway. I can’t say how either of them was used on defense. For all the attention that gets focused on his flaws, LeBron is one of the most talented and versatile players in the history of the league, and physically he’s almost without compare in terms of his strength, size, speed and passing ability.

The “Big O” was the 1st one I thought of.

I agree. But it’s worth noting that Lebron would not generally cover a true center in the mold of a Tim Duncan or Shaq. Covering Garnett, or Amare, or someone like that requires a different skill set.

I think that’s true because you’d prefer to have LeBron playing more on the perimeter. For the record, though, let’s note that Duncan and Garnett and Stoudemire are all basically the same size (about 6’11" and 250 to 260 pounds) and you could have LeBron guard any of them if you needed to.

True, though it’s a better fit though on a player like Garnett than Duncan. Since you mentioned size, its also worth noting James is 6’8" 250. So while he gives up 3 inches on those guys, the contrast is not as stark as someone like Jordan doing it at 6’6", 215. In fact, James covering Garnett is easier in some respects than Garnett covering Bynum who has an inch and 35lbs on him.

It’s also worth noting that James is often covering these guys out of necessity as the Heat lack size.

Interesting point about the heights: Garnett is really 7 feet tall but insists on being listed at 6’11" for whatever weird psychological reason. I think he wants to be seen as an underdog trying to keep up with bigger guys and has to stay out of that Seven Footer category for that to work. Anyway it’s working for him. I think Duncan is also taller than his listed height, but I’m not positive. In any case, yes, you’d prefer to have LeBron in more of a perimeter position because he can be so disruptive out there instead of down in the post, but he can guard taller guys if necessary. He’s a bit shorter than they are, but he has that kind of build and he’s very strong.

I also think he’s closer to 280 than 250. I wouldn’t be shocked to find out that if you lined up Lebron and Ben Wallace, you’d find Lebron was taller and heavier. So he could defend in the post all the time if you really wanted him to, except that he handles the ball too much on offense. He’d have a stroke trying to defend the post and still be a primary ballhandler on offense.

He’s the most versatile everything ever, is basically my opinion. I don’t want to highjack the thread into a discussion about his popularity/reputation, but I think the fact that the weakest facet of his game is one-on-one halfcourt scoring obscures the mindboggling things he’s constantly doing, his defense included. I think in terms of aggregate contributions over the course of a season he’s the most valuable player that ever played.

Yeah, that seemed off to me, too. I’m seeing an SI story from 2009 that puts him at more like 270, and not that I can really judge the difference between 250 pounds and 270, but the bigger number feels more credible. Garnett and Duncan and the others may weigh more than the press guides say they do, too - certainly Shaq’s listed weight was often a joke late in his career. But LeBron is built like a truck and if he’s giving up less weight against a Garnett or Duncan or Stoudemire than the press guides say he is, I wouldn’t be surprised.

You’re joking but I’m reading Robert Caro’s new book and I really did think the OP was talking about the President.

I would probably agree, but the odd part is that the parts of his game that are the weakest are things you would think would be strengths. Notably, lack of finishing power, and weak post game against smaller weaker guards. His end of regulation one on one vs. Rondo in (I think) Game 2 was pathetic. He settled for a 20-foot jumper for no reason.

Eh. I don’t think he’s in the top 10 right now, given that he doesn’t get in done during crunch time.

Like I said, I don’t want to turn somebody else’s thread into an argument about that, but I think it’s nonsense that he doesn’t get “it done” in crunch time, and it’s funny, where I specified “over the course of a season” to avoid this argument it’s still an argument about it. He’s not primarily a scorer and he’s 4th all-time in postseason scoring. He’s had fewer than 27 twice this postseason and leads everybody in the 4th quarter. I think he’s doing OK in crunch time.

His reputation for failing in the clutch is overstated, yes. Kobe’s clutch states are surprisingly bad, nobody says that kind of stuff about him. Sometimes a guy’s reputation takes on a life of its own. If you take LeBron’s contributions in aggregate rather than isolating particular moments, there are not a lot of guys who can compete with him.

Have at it, JC - I know that you know your hoops, and if this thread should turn into something not expressed in the OP, so be it.

I am not a Lebron hater, but let’s get real here. His failings aren’t captured primarily in his stats. It’s that his teams lose when it matters. I would largely give him a pass during his time in Cleveland, as those teams were generally overachievers. But I question whether Lebron wants to be the man. Whether he really has the all-encompassing selfish desire to embarrass his opponents on the road to winning. Jordan had it, Kobe has it, Lebron doesn’t seem to IMO.

He’ll have that rap till he earns a ring