Over the course of the last nine years, the scope of LeBron James’ overall basketball skills has greatly expanded in the opinion of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
Appearing on “The Rematch,” Cuban spoke about the differences in James’ game from when Cuban’s Mavericks upset James and the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals to now as James leads the Los Angeles Lakers.
“It’s night and day,” Cuban said. “He has the basketball-IQ level now; he’s just a basketball savant. The way he sees and reads what’s happening on the court in real time and stays three steps ahead is incredible. And that’s what makes him special – in addition to his athleticism. He didn’t have that [back in 2011]. We would run a zone against him and he would hesitate and not know what to do. He’s not going to hesitate now. He knows exactly what’s coming and what to do and anticipates it.
“He can talk to you about a basketball game and every single play that’s happened like some of us would talk about a book that we just read. Those two things are enormous differences. He can now beat you in so many different ways. He’s still athletic enough. His skill-set has improved. His passing. But those all tie back to his basketball IQ and that’s something that wasn’t as developed as it is now.”
Those 2011 finals began with James’ Heat squad jumping out to a 2-0 advantage in the series before the Mavericks went on to win the next four games and the series.
That loss to the Mavericks was devastating to James, who had joined the Heat the year before after leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers in controversial fashion.
James would return to Cleveland in 2014 before leaving again in 2018 to play for the Lakers. That move barely registered any controversy, but James’ first season with the Lakers last year turned out to be an injury-plagued disappointment.
However, with a fully healthy James now joined by fellow superstar Anthony Davis, the Lakers stand just one game away from their first NBA title in a decade.
James’ performance in the 2020 finals has seen him collect double-doubles in three of the four games, while the one game in which he came up short saw him finish with 33 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.
Numbers like that have put James once again in the conversation for Finals MVP, but it’s clear from Cuban’s perspective that such a reward would be due to the 17-year veteran’s combination of ability and basketball IQ.