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Friday, January 8, 2010

Talking With Chris Jent About LeBron James

Posted By on Fri, Jan 8, 2010 at 3:48 PM

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Most of you know by now that Cavs assistant coach Chris Jent is LeBron's personal shot tutor, of sorts. There's a great story from the Dispatch that goes over how the relationship began — LeBron basically saying, "I trust you, Chris," and Chris going, "Me? Really? Ok." — and how it's helped LeBron and what it's meant to Chris. Here, we mainly talk about where LeBron is now shooting-wise, where he might go, and how Chris is still helping him get there.

VG: So what is with LeBron's off balance jump shot lately? It's not all the time, but sometimes he looks like he's falling and throwing his right leg out, and I've started noticing it a lot more lately.

Chris Jent: I don't know. I think anytime you take shots, you work on things and try to do it a certain way each time. To shoot the ball the same way each time is harder for some than others. He does lean, and I think he's had a tendency to do that — I think ever since he started shooting. But overall, I think he's done a great job of consistently shooting the same shot.

VG: When you're watching, if you start to notice something hinky in his shot, do you give him some time to see if he's going to self correct, or do you say something immediately? Do you wait for off days? What's the procedure?

CJ: I say to him immediately when time presents itself during game or practice, because of where we are now. Before, I would wait. Now, with his recognition and muscle memory, now he can apply it right away. He can identify mentally right away what I'm talking about.

VG: Is it like fixing a hitch in a golf swing or a baseball swing? Is it harder for jump shooting?

CJ: I think what people don't consider a lot of times, someone like LeBron has to take different shots because he typically shoots of the dribble. When you shoot off the dribble with a contest, because people are always aware of where he is, he's going to have a repertoire of different shots. Now, some you don't like, some you don't want to see him use, but we're not out there with people 7'1" coming over to contest shots with someone on your hip.

VG: So, it's different than Parker or Boobie, who are usually spotted up in the same spot?

CJ: I think so. Those guys are jump shooters, and they have been since they picked up a ball, and they're between 170-185 pounds.

VG: Right, not 270 pounds.

CJ: So, there's a lot of different things that go into LeBron's shooting. Obviously, you're always searching to shoot the same shot every time. That's what makes you a good jump shooter. That, and forgetting about the misses and trying to replicate the makes.

VG: Something I've wondered about, and I think fans have to, is how coachable LeBron is. Whether it's deciding not to run a certain play, or doing something that you suggest, even if he does trust you with his shot and did handpick you to help him. Does he immediately listen to you, or is it a process?

CJ: That's a good question. I think that itd' have to make sense to him, or any person as talented as he is. It'd have to click, for him to say, 'I see what you're saying.' If you typically are dealing with professionals, you better have something to back it up. So, if I'm going to come to him with something, I'll have tape or know well enough that he'll know in his mind what I'm talking about, and that makes him more open to what I'm saying.

VG: You probably don't do it the same way as the "Hoops Whisperer" does. There was an excerpt from Chris Ballard's book about LeBron's trip to see Idan Ravin and one part is still stuck in my head. Ballard quotes Ravin as saying, ""You are far and away the most talented player in the league, way more talented than Kobe. But you don't even have a go-to move in isolation, you can't handle the ball that well, and you can't shoot, really. Think about that." I'm assuming there's more diplomacy involved in your relationship?

CJ: Um, yeah. I don't know anything about that, but yeah.

VG: I've been wondering about LeBron's post moves. We know that was his big offseason push — to further develop his game in the post and add some moves to his repertoire. But it seems like we haven't seen much of that this year so far, save for a few plays. Is there more that he's holding back? Is it a matter of just playing in the post more? Is he saving it?

CJ: I think he has more to his game down there. I think that typically people aren't going to allow him to sit down there and go to work. A lot of times they will double team right away or show double team or we'll anticipate double team, so finding a rhythm posting up is more difficult for him than other guys.

VG: Plus he's looking to pass first.

CJ: Right. He's pass first in the post. No doubt about that. He's thinking pass, and to be honest with you, for him to be a better post player he's got to think score first. For him to expand his post game, whether it's quick spins or face and go, whatever avenue he decides to go, you'll see him be a better post player when he thinks to score first. Right now, where he is, he's thinking pass first.

VG: Do you think more of that will come out if he spends more time playing the 4?

CJ: I think it'll all just come with the repetition of posting. If you look at the sheer numbers, you're looking at 5-6 times a game it happens now — not isolation on the wing, but actual posting up, and I think that it's going take more repetition and being in that position of the floor. But i hope that when he knows he's going be one on one that he'll be more aggressive and looking to score and take better advantage of those opportunities.

VG: Are you guys finding a high success rate for plays that involve LeBron in the post?

CJ: We've been pretty efficient because of the way he approaches posting up. Becahse he's a passer. But a lot of that depends on us making shots, because he's going to allow guys to double team. We have a system of spacing on the floor when there's help, and he knows where his outlets are, and he reads the defense and tries to find the open guy, whether it's someone knocking down a 3 or Andy or Shaq making a move to the rim to finish. We do get good things, though, out of him posting up.

VG: What about the quality of his shot selection. How has that changed over the years? Has it gotten obviously better?

CJ: I think so, because i think he's a better shooter. Now, he's gong to have the ball in his hands, as much as he does, and if you look at where he shoots the balls, the areas, and how many times he gets to the line, and how many times he's shooting a jump shot compared to other players in his situation, of which there's only a few — he's the best, if not up with the best. Now does he lean from 16-feet? Then you have to determine things by looking at the tape. But if you go by sheer numbers, as a guy that we expect to help us win ballgames, he's doing the right thing with the basketball.

VG: I guess 'ceiling" is an odd word to be using with LeBron, but what are your thoughts on his ceiling as a shooter, both in terms of just jump shots and in total field goal percentage. I mean, he's improved every year for the past four years — going from 47% to 49% last year, on a lot fewer shots, to over 50% this year with a TS % of over 60%. Can he keep getting better?

CJ: We do talk percentages a bit. His goal is to always get better. I think he'll get better. I think the challenge for LeBron is playing off the ball. He's been better this year off the ball — playing pick and roll, maybe off Shaq posting up — and if he accepts and grows with playing off the ball then I think you'll see his percentages go even higher. He'll have an edge on his chances then. But anytime he does something, everyone knows where he is, especially with the ball in his hands, and that's something that we're going to continue to ask him to do for us and it's he wants to do that. But as he grows without the ball, his percentages will go higher.

VG: You've been working with LeBron for awhile now over the summers.

CJ: This was the third summer.

VG: How much of the summer worldwide tour did you go on?

CJ: We actually sat down before the summer. He kind of clued me in, saying, 'This summer is going to be crazy. This summer is going to be insane. I can't even tell you all the places we're going to go.' This was right at the end of the year. And he said, 'I understand you've got family.' He knows where I'm coming from. If we're not working, then I'm going to be home. If I'm going to travel, we need to work. He told me he wanted to work this summer and I want to make sure you have a schedule for this.' So I got a preliminary schedule and I sat down with his guys and we went through the entire summer. There were only a couple of segments that I couldn't do, whether it was a family vacation I couldn't miss, or whatever it was. Like, I coach the summer team, so obviously I couldn't miss that. Other than that, though, I was there for everything.

VG: Very hard, I would imagine, with a family and a wife and kids to be gone that extensively over the summer after being gone so much through the season.

CJ: Yeah, it's really hard. I love working in basketball, and I certainly enjoy working with LeBron, but on my list of priorities, my family is number one. My job, our job in this league, you know that no matter what you're doing, the time is tough and the schedule is tough. But then to do it during the summer, you absolutely have to have a very special family, and my wife being very close to me, to — honestly — even tolerate it. I'd be lying if I didn't say it causes friction and stress. I mean, listen, I'm a dad, and I want to be a father to my kids most of all. You can't lose sight of that.

VG: So what was the breakdown for the summer — home vs. being on the road?

CJ: I don't know exact percentages, but I would say somewhere around 65-35 or 70-30, with the majority on the road. It was an arduous summer.

VG: Hopefully it all pays off.

CJ: Definitely.

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