LeBron James’ versatility is the key to the Cavaliers’ success

LeBron James might go down as the most versatile player in NBA history. Throughout his career, he’s been able to fill in spots where his team needs him the most.

Don’t have a good point guard? James can do that. Need a bucket? James has it covered. Need someone to guard the opposing point guard? Bron will get it done. Your center out on short notice? Why not throw James in there.

On Tuesday night against the Thunder, James did that in every way while playing power forward with Kevin Love out. He dropped 37 points to go along with eight assists and eight rebounds. He scored from inside and out and he did it all efficiently with 23 shots. He’s the Cavaliers ultimate Swiss Army Knife.

James will literally do anything for a win

The Cavaliers are in a peculiar spot. Their entire roster shifted in the span of a few days — they sent away six players and got four in return. It’s rare that you see roster overhaul like that in the middle of a season while a team is competing to get back to the NBA Finals.

But the Cavaliers knew they could do it because they’ve got the league’s most versatile player. James’ best skill is being able to adjust on the fly to any roster he’s put on while raising the talent levels around him. He does that by filling multiple roles.

The best part about the Cavaliers’ new roster is that it’s filled with shooting, so as the defense gravitates toward James, he’s able to find open players as the team’s point guard.

While he’s able to function as a ball handler in the pick and roll, he’s also playing the power forward position almost exclusively with Love out so he can’t be the only ball handler. He has to be able to function with ball handlers like George Hill and Jordan Clarkson.

But that doesn’t become a problem because James is able to function as a screener, too. He can make plays as a roll man.

And he doesn’t always need the ball. When the guards are handling it in pick and rolls, James can function as an off-ball shooter spotting up for threes.

And when he’s feeling really good, he can just hit you with one of these.

That’s just unfair.

James has been this good at doing everything for a while

In his earlier days as a Cavalier, James almost exclusively played small forward and functioned on the perimeter as a guard and a scorer. But he’s always had multi-positional basketball talent. It just wasn’t fully utilized until he went to Miami where Erik Spoelstra figured out how to use him in multiple ways.

Spoelstra used the term “positionless basketball” in 2012 during a training camp with the Miami Heat and James was at the center of that. He wanted to use his team’s versatility on both ends at multiple positions, starting with playing James at power forward — the same position he dominated the 2012 NBA Finals at.

Here’s what Spoelstra had to say about his team ditching positions:

“We have to view this team in a different lens. When we try to think conventionally and put guys in certain boxes or positions, it really hamstrings us. Not only in terms of our flow, but mentally too. We developed that term (position-less) just for guys to understand our versatility and how we need to play.”

Whenever James plays big, he creates so many mismatches for defenses to deal with. Defenses can exploit James at times on the inside, but now that he’s playing with solid defenders around him there’s a bit less pressure on him to make defensive plays.

This could be a look for the Cavaliers going forward

Even once Kevin Love returns, the Cavaliers should continue to get James minutes at power forward. He doesn’t necessarily have to start there, but it’d be a mistake not to get him minutes as a small-ball four.

He’s the perfect fulcrum to get things moving with the second unit once Love returns. He can facilitate or score from inside and out with a unit that’s going to need shot creation. Kevin Love will be back in a few months, so the Cavs still have time to experiment with things. Once that happens? The Eastern Conference better watch out.