It has been three summers since Cavs assistant coach Chris Jent was made responsible for the NBA's equivalent of the Mona Lisa. He is the one man LeBron James trusts to tinker with his shot, and that's got to be on par with guarding da Vinci's masterpiece.
The main difference is that LeBron's jump shot has never really been a work of art. Teams would rather let him hang out around the wing and launch 20-footers. But with Jent, LeBron has raised his shooting percentage from 47 four years ago to 49 last year (on his fewest shots attempted since his rookie year) to more than 50 this year.
"I think what people don't consider a lot of times,' says Jent, "is someone like LeBron has to take different shots because he typically shoots off the dribble. When you shoot off the dribble with a contest, he's going to have a repertoire of different shots."
This off-season, LeBron's post game was the target. And while fans have gotten a taste of what LeBron can do when he gets the ball with his back to the basket, he still tends to look for his teammates.
"He's 'pass first' in the post, no doubt about that," says Jent. "For him to be a better post player, he's got to think score first."
LeBron has a long history of involving teammates — sometimes to a fault. But other times LeBron hogs the ball, and for all the amazing things he can do with the rock in his possession, many wonder how much better he could be if he didn't feel the need to orchestrate every play. It may seem absurd to use the word "ceiling" with LeBron, but there might be a limit on the percentages he can hit as long as the offense continues to run the way it does.
"I think he'll get better," says Jent. "I think the challenge for LeBron is playing off the ball. He's been better this year off the ball, and if he accepts and grows with playing off the ball, then I think you'll see his percentages go even higher.
"But any time he does something, everyone knows where he is, especially with the ball in his hands. That's something that we're going to continue to ask him to do for us, and it's something that he wants to do."
Which brings up another point that many fans have wondered about: How coachable is LeBron?
When it comes to shooting, Jent says that James is, in fact, coachable: "I think that it'd 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.' 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."
It's a testament to the trust the King has in his instructor, built through long nights at the gym. LeBron even brought Jent along on his worldwide tour last summer, to work in between his endless appearances for his new Nike shoes and documentary.
"We sat down before the summer," says Jent. "He kind of clued me in, saying, 'This summer is going to be crazy.' And he said, 'I understand you've got family.' If we're not working, then I'm going to be home. If I'm going to travel, we need to work. So I got a preliminary schedule, and I sat down with his guys and we went through the entire summer. I don't know exact percentages, but I would say somewhere around 65-35 or 70-30 [time spent traveling vs. time at home]. It was an arduous summer."
A few summers ago, LeBron visited Idan Ravin, a retired lawyer turned basketball instructor. Many NBA superstars trust the "Hoops Whisperer," even though Ravin has never coached before. In his book The Art of a Beautiful Game, author Chris Ballard relates a quote from Ravin to LeBron during their workouts: "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."
For all their nights together — in Akron, in Independence, on other continents — and for as coachable as LeBron is, Jent remains a little more diplomatic than that.
"Um, yeah," he says about the anecdote. "I don't know anything about that."
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