The Point: Lakers Understood the Value of Consistency—Especially in Volatile Season
Seven months ago, LeBron James was honest in clarifying that any additional rest he was getting from the NBA’s COVID-triggered hiatus was not necessarily great for him or the Lakers.
“My body when we stopped playing was asking me, ‘What the hell are you doing? ... It’s March 13. You’re getting ready for the playoffs. Why are you shutting down right now?’ “ James said on the Road Trippin’ podcast. “I was right there turning the corner. I felt like I was rounding third base and getting ready for the postseason.”
James’ athletic ability is such that it’s easy to envision him rounding third, catching a football over a defensive back and churning forward to dunk a basketball on the catcher’s head at home plate.
So many skills and gifts. How we truly know LeBron, though, is only as this uniformly excellent presence on the court, at his best almost every spring in his usual place on the NBA’s biggest stage—perhaps the most consistently great player the game of basketball has ever known.
He trusts his regular training. He is dedicated to his routines. His preparation has been unbelievably consistent in producing something very close to 27 points, eight rebounds and eight assists a game … year upon year, whatever the locale, and competing in so many championship series.
As we remember the Lakers’ 2020 NBA championship, what we should understand is how much this team—led by James being a steadying leader—met its goal only by being consistent at a time and in a place there was no normal.
Truth is, times of upheaval are when it’s most important to establish consistency in one’s life.
James tinkered with the fitness formula and found a way in Year 17 to rev his supertruck in the fall instead of the spring. He remained like clockwork: 27.6, 10.8 and 8.8 in these playoffs.
His first Lakers season had showed some great flashes but fallen victim to inconsistency. James refused—even in a world of tumult—to let that happen to his second Lakers team.
When a bubble isn’t supposed to have any firmness, it should be a lesson to us all how the Lakers managed to stand so solidly anyway.
That game everyone wanted to win so badly ended, well, badly.
Danny Green, the 2014 and ‘19 NBA champion promoted all season by James as “Dead-Shot” for his distance shooting, accepted the pass after James drew every Miami Heat player. But Green missed the open Game 5 three-pointer that would’ve put the Lakers seconds from the title in those heralded black Mamba jerseys.
Here’s the thing about consistency: It’s not an every-time deal. The math will never add up if you want something to be always or somebody to be perfection.
That said, consider this striking summary of the Lakers’ bubble playoff run : Green’s plus-minus rating (net team scoring while he is on the court) was a minus in five playoff games. The Lakers lost all five.
Green was a plus in the 16 other playoff games. The Lakers won all 16.
Games are never won or lost on one play, as we always hear. Certainly, championships are not.
If Green hits that shot and the Lakers win that night, of course his memory is magnified in Lakers lore. That’s the nature of highlight plays. He did hit three three-pointers in the Game 6 victory, for the record, despite his finger and hip injuries. But break it down better, and you gain a truer appreciation for how much Green’s consistency meant to this Lakers title:
He usually played well and did the right things for this team. They only lost when he didn’t.
Let’s take it a step further: You have James and Anthony Davis, who rightly get credit for being the team’s stars.
Those two together in 566 playoff minutes were a plus-14.1 points per 100 possessions.
The heralded basketball-IQ duo of James and Alex Caruso didn’t play nearly as much with 355 minutes, but was almost as good at plus-13.2.
Then you have James and Green, who were better than both those aforementioned tandems at plus-15.0, in a legit 429 minutes, to boot.
And now consider that Green was even more valuable next to Davis, with a whopping plus-19.6 in 458 minutes—making Green playing with Davis the actual most productive duo during the Lakers’ playoff run.
It was one of the ways the Lakers built on their regular season as opposed to having to create something altogether new: Green and Davis played together in the regular season (1,402 minutes) almost as much as Davis and James (1,455), building chemistry and consistency. And James and Green (1,343) was actually the third-most used Lakers tandem in the regular season.
This is not to argue that Green is as valuable as James or Davis. But it should illustrate how important it was to have Green’s consistent style of smart, defense-first play there next to James or Davis.
James reminded everyone in the midst of the playoff run last month. The words echoed what he has said a lot throughout his career: “One of the things I pride myself on is being available to my teammates.”
The most fundamental element of consistency is indeed just being there, especially when you give as much as James does to a team.
James didn’t just live that philosophy, however. He shared it with co-star Davis, who credits James with helping him tend to his body to be consistently available.
“He’s always trying to give me little hints of how to be better, how to be a better player and help my body,” Davis said. “I think this year, besides that major fall against the Knicks, it’s the least in my time I’ve been off the floor for my injuries. Just being around him and having him help me take care of my body and some of the things he does, I’m able to stay on the floor and play the game that I love and compete.”
When Rajon Rondo had to leave the NBA’s campus in Florida with an early thumb injury, the team worked hard to keep consistency and engagement for him by including him on all the coaching-staff Zoom meetings and eventually having Kurt Rambis personally facilitate Rondo’s recovery workouts. A creature of habit who would admit to being annoyed that he couldn’t hand-pick exactly what he wanted to eat in the bubble to maintain his body the way he wanted, the consistency was invaluable to Rondo jumping in after missing the first round and giving the Lakers 8.9 points and 6.6 assists per game with his usual strong voice.
Caruso stayed in the bubble early on rather than leave for his sister’s wedding. Who knows how that decision going the other way would’ve altered his and the team’s stability? Kentavious Caldwell-Pope opted not to bring his kids into the bubble late because “I wanted to focus on this playoff series and become world champs. That was my focus. I wanted my kids here, but I didn't want that distraction. I just wanted to be focused.”
Up and down the roster, the commitment was consistent. Lakers vice president Rob Pelinka took to saying that this difficult process would produce a champion that deserves “a gold star instead of an asterisk.” It was appropriate, because the Lakers became the study group that took pride in doing its homework every day, finding joy in the consistency of work and togetherness.
Pelinka organized team-bonding activities besides all the customary road-trip stuff of video games or rookies singing birthday serenades. Much of the steadiness, though, was Frank Vogel and James demanding focus in the film room as they did from the very first day of training camp.
Asked about specific efforts from James to unite this team, Vogel answered: “That’s tough to say. It literally happened every day. Every day, we’re in film and we’re talking about our team.”
And during that awkward pre-Florida stretch when they couldn’t huddle at all together, the Lakers still had weekly tele-conversations to keep connected. They did the best they could looking consistency before the bubble—and then they made sure to find it inside.
But hark back again to how James was feeling at one time, fretting about the team’s “slippage,” and understand that all the Lakers’ consistency could never be assumed.
“We’re not together,” James said in early April. “We’re not preparing, we’re not practicing, we don’t have the film sessions, we’re not preparing every single day for combat. So how long will it take for us to get back into a rhythm? That will be the most challenging thing, I believe.”
It was not a season restart for this team. It was a renewal. This group already had the relationships built, the professionalism ingrained and the on-court identity of defense, pace and passing.
They would up being spectacular. Inspiring. Everything champions are in their glory.
Just don’t forget that they were consistent, because that’s how the great ones truly do their great things.
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Kevin Ding is an independent sports writer, and the statements and views expressed by him do not necessarily represent the views of the Los Angeles Lakers.
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