Exactly where he belongs on the list will remain a heated debate until the end of time, but there's no question that LeBron James is one of the best basketball players to ever live. Scoring, playmaking, defense, championships, historical accomplishments ... he has it all. For a player of his magnitude, it's hard to even find holes in his game. But if there was one to point to, it would be his shooting.
For his career, LeBron is a 34.4 percent 3-point shooter, which is a perfectly fine mark, but not especially impressive. He's a much better shooter now, though, than he was when he first entered the league. In his first eight seasons, LeBron shot 32.9 percent from 3, and teams were more than happy to play off of him, crowd the lane and give him that shot. Since then, he's been a 35.8 percent 3-point shooter, and although teams would still rather have him shoot 3s than drive inside, he's been better about making them pay.
It was fitting, then, that on Monday night when he moved into 18th place all-time on the 3-point list, he did so against the Spurs. After the game, LeBron credited the Spurs' defensive schemes early in his career with motivating him to become a better shooter. Via ESPN:
"I just want to be able to not have any weaknesses, you know, and allow a defense to dictate what I do," James told Spectrum Sports after the game. "Because of the Spurs, in a lot of my early years, [they are] part of the reason why my jump shot is a lot better today. My first Finals appearance in '07, they went under on everything and I didn't shoot the ball, I wasn't comfortable with shooting the ball at that point in time in my career. So I give a lot of thanks to their scheme, a lot of thanks to a lot of other teams that I went against."
During the 2007 Finals -- a four-game sweep for the Spurs over the Cavaliers -- LeBron shot just 4 of 20 from behind the arc. Fast forward six years to the 2013 Finals, and LeBron hit a 3 in every single game of the series and shot 12 of 34 from downtown as he led the Heat past the Spurs in an epic seven-game series. The very next year -- in the 2014 Finals -- LeBron shot 14 of 27 on 3s, even as his Heat got crushed by the Spurs, 4-1.
For a player as talented as LeBron, it's not a surprise that he's improved his shooting, as well as many other areas of his game over the course of his career. But this quote is an interesting bit of insight into what drove him and gave him extra motivation. It's also, in a roundabout way, just one more example of how Gregg Popovich and the Spurs have shaped the league over the past two decades.