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James often off with his jumper

Posted: Sunday, October 19, 2003

LOS ANGELES After LeBron James' first five exhibition games, the word ''Hype'' could stand for: ''Hey, You Practicing Enough?''

James can't shoot that's the early word around the NBA.

The Cleveland Cavaliers' No. 1 draft pick is a great passer and tremendous athlete, but he needs to work on his jumper.

''His shot has a little of what we call 'play' in it,'' Cavaliers coach Paul Silas said. ''When he brings it up and locks it in, he's fine, but sometimes he doesn't lock it in right away, and that's the reason you get the waver in it.

''He flips it up there sometimes.''

James is shooting a mere 29.8 percent from the field, and opposing defenders are already backing off.

When he shoots, the ball leaves his hand with a nice rotation and plenty of arc, but it's not a soft shot. If it is slightly off-target, the collision of rubber and rim is a violent one.

''When I first started, it was elbows out and all,'' James said. ''So it's evolved a lot. It gets better every year.''

Part of the problem is James' tendency to fade away as he jumps a habit he developed in high school and resolved to correct over the summer. The transformation remains incomplete, however, with James still stuck somewhere between his old technique and the new.

Until he works out the kinks, defenders will dare him to let fly.

''I'd do the same thing,'' Silas said. ''That's part of pro ball. They did that to Baron Davis his first year, and he stayed three weeks (after his rookie season) and worked on his shot and became more proficient the next year, and they couldn't back off.''

James enters the NBA as the most hyped prep-to-pro rookie in league history, and like all No. 1 picks, he'll be a marked man in every arena he enters.

''It's not like this is going to be an easy thing,'' Minnesota's Kevin Garnett said. ''He should have an endorsement with Target, because he has a bull's-eye on his back.''

Opponents have been pressuring James in the backcourt when he brings the ball up, getting a measure of his ballhandling skills.

Marcus Banks of the Celtics overplayed him to the right during summer league, daring James to show whether he could drive to his left. Tayshaun Prince of the Pistons blanketed him on the perimeter, forcing James to dribble and create. Devean George of the Lakers was the first to back way off.

''He's going to be scrutinized more probably than any rookie in the league, but right now they're going to step back and see what he has,'' Pistons director of scouting George David said. ''I think everyone realizes one of his main assets is his body. He doesn't have a body for a kid his age, and that allows him to be explosive, to be quicker than a lot of people his age. The main thing now is to see how well he can shoot the basketball.''

James says his daily practice routine includes making 100 jump shots, even if it takes 500 attempts to do it.

But shooting hasn't been a big part of his pregame routine. James typically hangs back in the locker room, stretching and listening to music on headphones while the rest of the Cavaliers are out on the court shooting an hour before tipoff.

He insists his jump shot will be fine, citing his 3-point prowess over the final three years of high school at St. Vincent-St. Mary's in Akron, Ohio.

But the 3-point line in those gyms is almost five feet shorter than the NBA line, and James does not have the type of pure natural stroke that will allow him to easily adjust to the long-range nature of shooting in the pros.

''When Michael (Jordan) first came in, he was not a real good shooter. Kobe (Bryant) was not a real good shooter, and both those guys worked and worked and worked, and with the confidence and the hard work they put in, became excellent shooters,'' Silas said.

''The expectations are way, way, way too high. LeBron has the potential to be great, but it will take a while.''



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