How LeBron James Embraced Analytics and Became a Legend

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The Miami Heat have just won their second National Basketball Association (NBA) championship in a row, vanquishing the San Antonio Spurs in an all-time classic Finals series that went down to the wire in Game 7. The Heat were led by LeBron James’ 37 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists, an unbelievable performance on the biggest stage from the world’s most famous – and polarizing – athlete. The fact that LeBron put up such a fantastic stat line should surprise no one; after all, he recently completed his first decade in the league with all the dominance that has been expected of him since the day he was anointed ‘The King’ at the age of 16. No, what was truly surprising was his stunning efficiency, a once-weak area of his game that he has honed through rigorous study of advanced analytics – and a lot of hard work. Here’s the story of how LeBron James embraced advanced analytics and how it paid off with a transcendent performance that further cemented his legacy as one of the greatest athletes of all time.

 

Efficiency has become one of the hottest buzzwords in professional sports. With access to a wealth of data and more intelligent, creative minds curating this information, athletes are expected not just to perform, but to do so at a highly efficient level. One of the most important nuggets gleaned from this burgeoning field of basketball analytics is that the most efficient shots are shots at the rim, free throws and three pointers, especially from the shorter corners.

LeBron James has always played well, but once upon a time, he was notorious for his low-efficiency game. As a rookie, he had a field goal percentage of 42%, a three-point percentage of just 29% and a free throw percentage of 75%, on only 6 attempts a game. By studying advanced analytics, shot charts and video of his game, he knew he had to improve his play in the three key efficiency offensive areas.

“I’m just a more efficient player [today],” James recently told Grantland.com. “I take no shots for granted. When you’re a young player, you cast up low-percentage shots, and you’re not really involved with the numbers as much as far as field goal percentage. As I’ve grown, I’ve made more of a conscious effort to become a more efficient player and I think it’s helped my team’s success over the years.”

His efforts to improve efficiency culminated in Game 7 at the American Airlines Arena. LeBron scored his game-high 37 points on a stunning 12-23 shooting from the field, connecting on 5 of his 10 three-point attempts and all 8 of his free throw attempts. Check out his shot chart for Game 7 below for a study in efficiency improvements:

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He was a perfect 3 for 3 on shots at the rim, with many of his other aggressive forays to the hoop resulting in free throw attempts. He made only 4 of his 10 shots from the mid-range area, the least efficient shot in the game. However, what really won the game was the Heat’s incredible three-point shooting, not just from LeBron but also role player Shane Battier. LeBron’s 10 attempts from distance included 2/2 from the short right corner. Even when he wasn’t shooting, his passing was highly efficient – 2 of his 4 assists on the night (both in the fourth quarter) went to Battier for wide-open three point makes, part of Battier’s sizzling 6 for 8 three-point performance for the unheralded substitute. With such efficient shot-taking and shot-making, it was clear that the Miami Heat and LeBron would overcome the tough Spurs, the never-ending chorus of critics and the heavy burden of pressure to win their second NBA championship in a row and spark talks of the next great sports dynasty.

 

Building the next great sales team dynasty full of highly efficient sales reps is an attainable goal – with the proper leveraging of advanced sales analytics. The key to achieving this is twofold; to identify areas of efficiency that should be prioritized and areas of weaknesses that should be improved upon. By studying league-wide efficiency trends and his own performances, LeBron discerned that he should be attempting more layups and dunks, three pointers and free throws. Outside shooting was a big weakness of his, so he worked hard in the offseason to shore up this area of his game, working with a shooting coach.

Just as LeBron worked diligently to bolster his basketball efficiency, sales managers should study ways to improve the efficiency of their sales teams and address areas of weaknesses. Traditionally, many sales managers demand a higher number of rep activities to grow sales, erroneously believing that more connects leads directly to more deals. The truth is that performing activities more efficiently is better than simply performing more activities. Look not only at the number of calls a rep makes but how many of those calls lead to connects, demos, and eventually, deals. That ratio will give you a better indication of your team’s efficiency than merely looking at total activities.

Another key area of sales analytics that sales managers can study and use to coach their teams and reach championship levels is the sales funnel for each rep. LeBron was not able to correct his weaknesses until he identified them. The sales funnel report can pinpoint at which specific stage reps are struggling to convert. According to the example below, this rep struggles to convert from the second to the third stage. This suggests to the manager that this is an area of weakness for him or her – perhaps the rep isn’t qualifying opportunities well enough or faltering in his conversations at this stage. Now that this weakness has been identified, coach and rep alike can work to correct that, just like LeBron corrected his once-wayward three-point shot.

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LeBron James cemented his legendary status with his second consecutive championship, due in large part to his full embrace of advanced analytics to correct his weaknesses and improve his efficiency. You can do the same with your sales reps by studying the right sales analytics to craft a more efficient and better-performing championship team.

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