The question of how to stop LeBron James is one that has been asked for 20 years. Nobody has found a good answer, which is precisely why James is about to become the leading scorer in NBA history.
That hasn’t stopped some of the greatest players of all time from sharing their opinions on how they would try to at least slow him down.
Here are some of the scouting reports on James — from the players who have guarded him the best, the all-time greats who have studied him and the guys who are still battling against him today.
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“When LeBron goes right, he usually drives; when he goes left, he usually shoots a jumper. It has to do with his mechanics and how he loads the ball for release.
“So if I have to guard him, I’m gonna push him left so nine times out of 10, he’s gonna shoot a jump shot. If he goes right, he’s going to the hole and I can’t stop him. So I ain’t letting him go right.”
“You have to stop letting him go left. Every big shot that he makes is going left. He’s remarkable about getting to that left hand and being able to raise up and shoot. That’s the first thing I would do, disrupt his ability to go left.
“It’s amazing, all those shots are either coming right shoulder from the post or off the dribble with his left hand. That’s the first thing I would look at if I was guarding him in these playoffs — make him do something different besides going to that left.”
“It’s really not about stopping him, because you can’t. It’s about beating him to the spot before he gets there. And that starts when Stephen [Curry] shoots.
“As soon as Steph shot the ball, I would be looking for LeBron, like where’s he at, and what point of attack will he be taking the ball out of bounds?”
“It’s about mixing it up. You can’t always pick LeBron up and pressure him, but you can’t always sit back. You’ve got to do both.
“So with him, as a defender, one possession you’re playing him one way, the next possession you’re playing him a completely different way, and you just try to keep him off-balance as much as you can. Give him a steady diet of one thing, he’ll pick that s— apart. He’s one of the smartest players to ever play the game.”
“I’m going under every screen. I might be physical, mix it up a little bit, considering my big is going to be aggressive in the pick-and-roll. If my big is back, I might fight over it the first few times to give him a different look, then go under the next seven times, just to mess with his head.”
Kawhi Leonard during the 2013 NBA Finals, via CBS Sports
“I just basically try and keep him in front of me. Try to make him take tough shots. If he gets by me, it’s just basketball. My teammates will come help.”
“You gotta crowd him, make him always uncomfortable with what he’s doing. You can’t let him back up, then come at you with a head of steam. I would get up into him and make him go just one way. Make him go [toward the sideline].
“Hit him, bump him. If we can get LeBron to start crying to the referees and get him out of his game, I’ve done what I need to do. I’ve got him worrying about other things, and that’s what I have to do.”
“At the time [I guarded him], it was different. He’s better now than he was back then. I don’t think I could guard him the same way now. Back then, his shot was not as reliable. Pretty much, it was pick your poison.
“I was taller and big, so I could guard him closer to the basket. I would back up a little bit and give him some space. I didn’t want him going by me. Nowadays, his shot is way more reliable. You cannot do that any more.”
“Alert to leakouts. Looks for pull up 3’s in transtion. Right shoulder in the post. Can’t let him get a rhythm. Baseline fadeaway jumper. Alert to top cuts when others are posting.”
Paul Pierce in 2018, via ESPN
“The best way to guard LeBron is to limit his easy opportunities first. Transition, when he’s running the lane, pushing full court and getting an easy layup. You limit those points and force him to take contested 2-point shots, you have your best chance of guarding him.
“There is a sense of helplessness. You’re in the middle of his personal highlight tape. When he’s in that zone, there’s pretty much nothing you can do about it but accept that greatness is happening.”
LeBron James in 2022, via “Mic’d Up” segment
“Don’t let LeBron go left. Shade his left hand.”
LeBron sharing the scouting report on LeBron pic.twitter.com/ugrFFP5795
— Steph Noh (@StephNoh) December 25, 2022