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Just how good will LeBron’s newest super team be?

If you go by the numbers — shooting numbers, that is — maybe it won’t be so super after all

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Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook greets forwards LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Carmelo Anthony.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook (0) greets forwards LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Carmelo Anthony as he is introduced before a preseason game against the Golden State Warriors in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021.

Ringo H.W. Chiu, Associated Press

My mother always told me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.

My mother never had to write a column.

Nor did she have to write about the NBA.

I prefer Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s twist on that quote: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit next to me.”

So pull up a chair. The 2021-22 NBA season is underway. It’s difficult to think of anything nice to say about a league that is such a mess, dominated by super teams that were cobbled together by colluding superstars, aided by a laissez faire league that does nothing to address the dearth (or death) of parity and the soft salary cap that enables select teams to stockpile talent.

Speaking of which, LeBron James, the man who is really in charge of the league, has put together — what is it now? — his third or fourth (more?) custom-made edition of a hand-picked team, from the Heat to the Cavaliers (the second time) and the Lakers, with ever-changing additional iterations at each stop.

He couldn’t win a championship with his team, a la Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and almost every great player, so he began recruiting stars from other teams and custom-made his own all-star squad. As noted here previously, it’s analogous to the neighborhood bully being allowed to pick the first three players for a pickup game on the playground. The other kids would never have allowed it, but the NBA does.

So James has stacked the deck by arranging unions with various sidekicks — Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, etc. — and now he has rolled out the 2021-22 model with some new sidekicks — Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony.

Westbrook and Anthony signed with the Lakers in the off-season, teaming them with James and Davis to form a superduper trio (Anthony doesn’t really qualify as a super talent at this point, if he ever did).

So, the Super Team Era continues as another NBA season gets underway this week.

The Lakers are the latest collection of basketball vagabonds to set up shop together. It’s James — the player and de facto coach and general manager — and Davis, plus the two new additions, Westbrook and Anthony. Westbrook is playing for his fourth team in four years;  Anthony his fifth in six years. 

So is all hope lost for the rest of the league? It might not be as bad as it seems. When you cut through all the hype, how good are these guys really? Well, for one thing, none of them could be considered a good shooter; quite to the contrary. See the accompanying chart.

LeBron’s super team’s shooting accuracy
LeBron James Russell Westbrook Carmelo Anthony Anthony Davis
Overall FG % .513 (29) .439 (97) .421 (109) .491 (46)
3-point % .365 (110) .315 (149) .409 (36) .260 (below 155)*
2-point % .591 (25) .475. (106) .429 (122) .536 (57)
Effective FG % .576 (33) .474 (118) .506 (97) .512 (95)
Note: The rankings included only the first 120-155 players, depending on the category; therefore, Davis didn’t even make the list for 3-point shooting (he made only 26 of 100 attempts).

James’ shooting percentage is the best of the four, shooting 51.3% from the field — 29th in the league last season — and he takes a lot of his shots close to the basket. What has escaped the notice of most is that James is a bad shooter when he is outside the paint. During the 2015-16 season, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann determined that James had the worst field goal percentage in the league outside of the paint to that point in the season — 34.4% (31.9% from mid-range, 24.8% from 3-point range). The shots in the paint improved his shooting percentage to 48.6.

On the occasion of James’ 34th birthday in 2018, ESPN’s Kirk Goldsberry reported that more than 36% of James’ career field goal attempts had been taken from within 3 feet from the rim.

Westbrook receives much acclaim for his triple-doubles, but he scores a lot of points because he takes a lot of shots and not very good ones at that — last year: 43.9% from the field, 30.5% from 3-point range, which ranked 106th and 149th, respectively. He also commits a lot of turnovers — more than four per game during his career, and 4.5-5.0 the last five seasons.

Anthony, who is somehow perceived as a great long-range shooter, made only 42.1% of his field goal attempts last season, which ranked 109th in the NBA. He shot a respectable 40.9% from 3-point range, 36th best in the league.

Then there’s Davis. He’s not a 3-point shooter, but he still took 100 shots from behind the arc, making only 26. He shot 49% overall from the field, 46th in the league.

These are surprising numbers for four players who are touted as future Hall of Famers. Meanwhile, the scouting report for the Lakers this season should be this: Make them shoot jump shots, especially 3-pointers.