There is plenty of great information to be gleaned from Zach Lowe's exclusive look at the Toronto Raptors' camera tracking system, known as SportVU, but buried within the piece is yet another anecdote that demonstrates the fact that LeBron James is not of this planet.
Lowe's piece features multiple video clips of the SportVU system in action, and they are as oddly hypnotic as they are informative. Here's one depicting a play from a recent Raptors-Knicks game.
The blue circles are Knicks players, the white circles are Raptors players, and the grayed-out circles are "ghost" Raptors. These ghosts, according to the SportVU's complex measurments, are playing perfect defense from ideal positions on the floor. In other words, the ghosts represent how the perfect model of a Raptors defense would be moving at each precise moment during the play.
Of course, each clip Lowe shares with us shows the ghosts far outpacing their real-life counterparts. This is no serious knock to Toronto's defenders: Real basketball players are imperfect humans who can't always make flawless, split-second decisions based on dozens of factors, and ghosts don't get tired. But it isn't the case when LeBron is involved:
Ultra-aggressive help defense is really hard work. Replay that clip and watch how far DeRozan's ghost has to move as the Knicks swing the ball. That's brutal, and it's not a coincidence that the only team that consistently mirrors the help defense of its ghosts is Miami, Rucker says. The Heat have three of the best wing defenders in the league in Shane Battier, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade, and the latter two are among the NBA's most gifted pure athletes. James can mimic DeRozan's hyperactive ghost in a way no other player can, Rucker says. "LeBron basically messes up the system and the ghosts," Rucker says. "He does things that are just unsustainable for most players."
LeBron James is better at playing defense than the idealized version of an NBA defender, as conceptualized by an analytic system that factors in everything from the precise positioning of every player on the floor to the individual skill-sets of the players involved on a given play. LeBron James is not fair.