(Ty Nowell/Los Angeles Lakers)
LeBron to the Lakers: As Advertised
Checking in on the King 16 Games In
There’s a lot going on in the world of LeBron James.
Being the best basketball player on earth seems like enough of a full-time commitment, but James clearly excels in other areas, like as a family man (we get a look via his @KingJames account) and as a businessman, with "The Shop" and "More Than An Athlete" just a few of the projects he has rolling.
Furthermore, as the Lakers arrived in Cleveland on Tuesday afternoon, LeBron has a chance to check in on his I Promise School (scroll down) for the first time this season.
But James made it very clear on Media Day in September – in case his previous 15 years of basketball dominance hadn’t convinced someone – that he knows where his bread is buttered.
“Listen, I’m a basketball player,” he said. “I play ball. That’s what I do. That’s what I live by, and when I do it at the level I do it at everything else will take care of itself. As far as business, those things had been taken care of long before I even been out here to be part of the Los Angeles franchise.’’
Before LeBron’s 16th season began, he had already logged more combined playoff and regular season minutes than all but nine players ever, and he’s averaging a team-high 34.7 minutes – the fewest of his career – while playing in all 16 games.
That’s why it’s so much more impressive that LeBron put up a 50-piece (51 points to be precise) in Miami just a game removed from a 44-point explosion against Portland. In between, he scored 22 points in three quarters of a blowout in Orlando, and still averaged 39.0 points for the week on 58.0 percent FG’s, a red hot 70 percent from 3 (14 for 20) plus 7.3 boards, 6.3 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.0 steals.
LeBron’s 12th career 50-point game put him past Allen Iverson for the sixth-most in NBA history, while the only other player to post a game of 50-plus past his 15th season is a guy named Kobe. James was a finalist to nab the Western Conference Player of the Week award (he already owns 62 of those).
The win in Miami improved L.A.’s record to 9-7 nearly 20 percent into the season, which has them in the No. 8 spot in the West, just two games out of the No. 1 spot in a wildly crowded conference. After the game, James explained one reason he’s still able to play like this.
“I put so much craft and so much mind and time into my body,” he said. “Being available to my teammates is the most important thing for me. For me to continue to play at the level that I am playing at and just be available for my teammates, I don’t know sometimes. I really don’t know.
“I just go out and my love for the game keeps me going. My ability to put in the work and see what happens after that. I know if I put in the work and be true to the game, then everything else will take care of itself.”
James acknowledged that it hasn’t always been easy adjusting to his new surroundings after 15 years in the East.
“It’s been thirty-three years of my life in the East coast, so going to the West coast, everything changes,” he said outside the Lakers locker room on Sunday. “Even though it is only three hours. Everything has changed for me drastically. You live on the East side of the country for so long, and I think it has just taken me some time to get adjusted. For my game with the moving, my family, everything.”
The biggest difference in LeBron’s last few games compared to the first chunk has come from his perimeter shooting. You can find a LeBron quote from most NBA coaches over the years that basically mirrors “When he’s hitting his jumper, you can’t really do anything with him,” and that’s what it’s been like of late.
In eight October games, James shot 27.3 percent from three (12 of 44). In eight November games, he’s hitting 50 percent from three (26 of 52). LeBron’s been drilling stepback J's this season, hitting 19 of 31 overall (61.3 percent) and a ridiculous 12 of 20 from 3 (60 percent).
“Figuring things out, I have been shooting the ball extremely well,” he noted, which included pulling up from nearly midcourt to hit the final three of the game on Sunday, getting him to 51.
Until Kemba Walker averaged over 50 points per game for two games this week, LeBron was the NBA’s scoring leader at 28.8 points per game, while his 6.9 assists per game ranked 11th. It shouldn’t be a surprise that his assists are down from his 9.1 average last season, when he didn’t have nearly as many playmakers on his Cavs roster as the Lakers currently offer. LeBron's shooting percentages aren’t far off, though he is making one additional free throw per game, basically accounting for a jump up from 27.5 points per game last season.
LeBron has always gotten to the rim and finished, and his 67 made layups/dunks are third in the league, trailing only Enes Kanter (70) and Julius Randle (68). He’s converting 80 percent at the rim in the last three games (16 of 20).
Now, given how much he’s still asked to do nightly on the offensive end, LeBron can’t be expected to dominate nightly at this stage of his career on the defensive end. Through 16 games, his defensive rating is 108.0, which falls somewhere in the middle for the Lakers roster. Tyson Chandler’s 94.7 mark is at the top, Michael Beasley’s 122.2 at the other end.
But of course LeBron, who’s been to the NBA Finals for eight straight seasons, knows what it takes to get his body through a full season. He should pick his spots defensively, as he has in various fourth quarters this season, where his blocks, steals and rebounds tend to tick up in crunch time. He knows when to crash in from the weak side to make a play on that end of the court.
Up next for LeBron is a return to Cleveland, where the Cavs are the league's worst team at 2-13, as he enters an arena that’s sure to be emotionally charged.
What should we expect? Exactly what he’s already delivered to L.A. through 16 games. The full LeBron James experience.
I PROMISE SCHOOL, KICKS
You likely heard about LeBron’s fantastic venture in founding the “I Promise School” in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, through the LeBron James Family Foundation, and this trip provides his first chance to check in on the school since the regular season started. The school just opened its doors in the fall with students attending grades three and four, and will be fully operational by 2022 with first through eighth graders.
For the occassion of his return to the area, James and his partners at Nike Basketball announced the “We Are Family” Draw on Nov. 19th, where entrants can go to wearefamily.rallyup.com and enter to win a pair of the Nike LeBron 16 "I Promise" colorway, plus one of seven signed surfboards. Tickets are $10 donations to the School, and there's no limit to the amount of tickets per individual, with proceeds going directly to the I Promise School. The Draw lasts until Nov. 23rd, with winners to be announced on Nov. 24th.