Is it the sleeves?
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - LeBron James has never been one to make excuses.

"I'm not going to make any excuses," he said after a tough loss Thursday in San Antonio.

See?

"But I'm not a big fan of these jerseys," James continued. "Every time I shoot it, it feels like it's just pulling right underneath my arm."

Okay, maybe I should have waited for him to finish that sentence.

Either way, LeBron James was LeBron Lame against the Spurs. He connected on just 6-of-18 field goal attempts for 19 points. That outing represented his lowest point total since February 8 against Utah (season-low 13 points).

Could it really be the sleeves?

I wouldn't rule it out. Including the All-Star Game, James has now worn uniforms with sleeves three times this season. In those contests, James has put up 20 ppg on 44.4 percent shooting. Those are way below his season averages (27.2 ppg on 57.7 percent shooting).

At 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, it's a miracle James and his massive shoulders can fit into any clothes. But come on, LeBron. You get paid $19 million a year to play a game. How hard could it really be?

So your jersey's a little snug? Big deal. Larry Bird won a three-point contest wearing a warmup jacket. Half the league is covered in wrist bands, bracelets and shooting sleeves. Range of motion is overrated. Quit whining and hit the jumper.

Of course, the other side to that argument is quite simple. If uniforms with sleeves are a good idea, why did it take us 70 years to come up with it? You'll never see any black and white photos of George Mikan wearing a Minneapolis Lakers jersey with sleeves.

The NBA's sleeve initiative, which began last season when the Warriors introduced their new alternate digs, is a marketing ploy. It's all about moving merchandise. Christmas Day uniforms, All-Star jerseys, 1970s throwbacks, they're all fair game to the consumer. If LeBron wears something on TV, odds are, someone out there will want to buy it. Because who doesn't want to be like LeBron James?

Capitalism sure is great, huh?

Well maybe not if you're a fantasy owner. The NBA's recent Sleeve-apalooza seems to be more than just a passing phase. At last count, 12 of the 30 teams in the league have worn them this season. Four of those teams have rocked the sleeve look five or more times.

In total (not including today's Lakers/Thunder game that is still in progress), sleeves have been featured in 40 games this season. And the results are all over the place.

Though the Warriors have done well as a team while wearing sleeves (4-2), three-point aficionado Steph Curry hasn't been as fortunate. In his six games with sleeves, Curry has dropped 18.2 ppg on 40.4 percent shooting.

A lot of players would kill for those numbers but remember, this is Curry we're talking about. The difference between sleeveless Steph and Steph with sleeves is shocking to say the least. In 54 games sans sleeves, Curry is shooting an incredible 46.7 percent from the field while scoring over 24 ppg.

That's not what fantasy owners want to hear but maybe the sleeves just take some getting used to. Phoenix swingman Gerald Green was having all kinds of trouble in his first three games wearing sleeves (11 ppg on 34.2 percent shooting). But since then, he's been unstoppable (26.5 ppg on 45.7 percent shooting).

Green's teammate, Goran Dragic, was also a late bloomer when it came to sleeves. Dragic's 18.3 ppg scoring average in his first three games was passable but not anywhere near the level he's performed at recently. In his last two games with sleeves, Dragic has generated 31 ppg while shooting at a 56.4 percent clip.

The Suns as a team have been quite successful with the new look, making better than 50 percent of their field goal attempts in each of their last three games. All three were blowout victories.

The Clippers may want to consider going to sleeves full time. They've averaged an insane 115.3 ppg in six games wearing non tank-tops. Their shooting percentage during that stretch is an other-worldly 51.2 percent.

That's not to say everyone has adjusted to the sleeves. The T-Wolves have worn sleeves 11 times this season and still can't get the hang of it. They're 3-8 in those games with a shooting percentage just north of 43 percent. Minnesota's 102.5 ppg average with sleeves doesn't even compare to their average without them (107.1 ppg).

Admittedly, all the stats I've just given paint a rather unclear picture of how the sleeves are actually affecting those wearing them. Some players have benefited while others have struggled mightily. Though I think there is one aspect of the sleeve movement that we can all agree on.

Almost any way you look at it, the sleeves have not been good for long range shooting. LeBron still hasn't made a three-pointer in sleeves (combined 0- for-12) and he won't get another chance until next season. Thursday was Miami's last game wearing sleeves.

Minnesota sharpshooter Kevin Love hasn't fared much better, hitting a mere 23.8 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. Normally, he's a 37.8 percent shooter from that distance. If you add it all up, teams are shooting 34.4 percent while wearing sleeves. The league average is just under 36 percent.

So how'd LeBron do without sleeves on Sunday? He shot just 34.8 percent (8- for-23) as the Heat lost in overtime.

Have any of us considered that LeBron might just be in a slump?

I say we leave the sleeves out of this.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

FOX29 WUTV Buffalo :: Advertise with us!