There seems to be an old fashioned notion of what a power forward is floating around this site. Images of large, physical players like Charles Barkley, Charles Oakley, and Karl Malone certainly affected my understanding of the position when I started watching basketball. I can understand, with that kind of imagery, why the idea of LeBron and Luol playing the forward positions together can seem so foolish.
Thankfully, though, the 90s are long gone and the need for 2 bruisers down low with them. A big, physical power forward is now the exception. There has been plenty of talk the last couple seasons about teams needing a stretch 4 or being able to match up with another team’s stretch 4. The NBA has become a much more perimeter oriented game with a great deal of emphasis on spacing the floor.
With that in mind, I think it makes perfect sense to play LeBron at the 4. First, with LeBron’s size and solid build, he should be able to hold his own against most other power forwards around the league. I took an average of the height and weight from the player who started the most games at PF for each team this season. (These all came from basketball-reference and, admittedly, there probably is some disparity in actual measurements. If anyone knows where more reliable data is available, I would love to run these numbers again.) That worked out to just shy of 6’10”, 237 lbs. James measures in at 6’8”, 240 lbs. With his athleticism, height is a negligible difference. Moving, then, onto weight, there were only 10 players who had greater weights listed than LeBron. Of those, 4 were within 5lbs of LeBron. Of those significantly less were Chris Bosh (228), Kevin Garnett (220), and Pau Gasol (227).
Holding his own on the defensive end shouldn’t be much of a problem for James. Even when the Bulls are matched up against a team with two physical post players, the Bulls should have an even bigger advantage. The problem will come when teams have to try to find a way to match up their forwards against James and Deng. Put the big guy on James, and he’s going to get torched from the perimeter. Switch him onto Deng and watch him get run around on screens all night and give Deng better opportunities to get a step and score off cuts to the basket. This becomes even more dramatic when you consider the PFs who weigh significantly more than James are those with some of the worst defensive reputations: Carlos Boozer; David Lee; Zach Randolph; Al Jefferson. Just imagine those guys trying to keep up with James on the break.
I might just be looking for some confirmation bias here. I always thought the Cavs were horribly misusing James by leaving him in a terribly slow system and not surrounding him with enough shooters. Reviewing, though, his size compared to the crop of starting PFs from this year, it’s hard to imagine injury and exhaustion being a necessary byproduct.