LeBron James is the best basketball player on the planet. However, we have a tendency to continuously seek more from him. We want more titles from him, more points and we want him to play more positions. Sometimes they're in different sports. James played the point guard position for much of his rookie season. Former Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Joe Thiessman thinks James could be an elite NFL quarterback and Eric Mangini believed he could have been a Pro Bowl tight end.
However, you can add the hardwood philosopher Bill Walton to the list of believers. In this weeks Sports Illustrated, Walton insists that James could play the center position for an entire season and flourish.
James has a slew of post skills, but if he were to play center for an extended period instead of short spurts here and there, he'd get physically worn down by true centers like Roy Hibbert, Dwight Howard and Marc Gasol. James caught Indiana by surprise with his rudimentary post-up skills in Game 3, but by Game 4, the Pacers had adjusted. It's a whole different beast when you get caught with a lighter forward on your back and when you turn around and are staring into the armpits of your average seven-foot center.
James has flirted with playing in the post on both sides of the floor throughout the Pacers series, but he's clearly grown fatigued from defending brolic power forward David West and fouled out in Game 4. The natural comparison is Magic Johnson's 42 points, 15 rebound after playing center in Game 6 of the '80 NBA Finals, but Walton compares James to Celtics legend, Dave Cowens. Yep, that's a first.
And while LeBron is a "new" player in terms of size and strength, he's also a throwback. You go back to those Celtics teams of the early 1970s — which I think are among the most underrated teams of all time — and they put a quickness team on the floor with players like John Havlicek, Jo Jo White, Paul Westphal and Don Chaney. And the center was Dave Cowens, who is not that much different from LeBron in terms of size [Cowens was 6-foot-9 and 230 pounds] and style.
James can play the post in a pinch, but it's not the best utilization of his skills. James is too talented at facing up, breaking down defenders and charging towards the rim with a head of steam to take that away from him. Roy Hibbert has served as an effective deterrent for James in this series, but plodding him down in the post and would take much of his size and strength advantage. On the defensive end, James' chase down blocks are his trademark of his Defensive Player of the Year-worthy ability, but on the low block even he would get whipped around against bigger, but slower, players. There are some advantages, but they don't outweight the advantages he would give up by changing positions
Bill Walton is renowned for his hyperbole and embellishing and it's easy to attribute these word to one of his infamous acid trips, but he makes some valid points. Unfortunately, I can’t get with this one. James is an athletic freak, but I think he's best served playing on the perimeter.