There is no way that LeBron James should still be the best player on the court given that he’s about to turn 39 in a few weeks. When looking at how other Hall of Famers performed at a similar age, he blows all of them out of the water.
Despite Father Time’s undefeated record, James has been one of the most dominant players in the league at the end of games, and he showed it again in leading the Lakers past the Suns in Tuesday’s In-Season Tournament Quarterfinals. He put on a clinic, scoring 31 points to go along with 11 assists and eight rebounds.
James saved his best for the fourth quarter, scoring or assisting on the first 19 points for Los Angeles.
There are a lot of stats that show how dominant James has been at the end of games. He currently ranks third in Inpredict’s Clutch Player of the Year model. The Lakers are 8-3 in games that have been within five points during the last five minutes thanks largely to him. And he’s shooting 65.5 percent from the field on clutch shots.
How is James still this good during winning time?
Three reasons LeBron James continues to dominate crunch time
1. He is still the smartest defender on the floor
James has definitely lost a step defensively from his prime, back when he was one of the best defenders at his position. He can’t move his feet laterally quite as well, as evidenced by the blow-by that he gave up to Devin Booker toward the closing moments of the game.
What hasn’t deteriorated at all is his knowledge of the game.
James always knows exactly what other teams are running, where he’s supposed to be standing and what rotations are necessary. He used that anticipation to grab five steals on Tuesday, including one to start the fourth quarter in which he executed a tricky defensive coverage perfectly.
It’s cool that LeBron can still turn it up and make heady defensive plays in crunch time.
Watch him hedge and recover here to help contain Booker, then rotate over as the low man to get the steal. pic.twitter.com/gPjkuT17TF
— Steph Noh (@StephNoh) December 6, 2023
There were other moments where James was directing teammates where to stand, allowing the defense to operate on a string and bring extra help to Booker down the stretch.
The Lakers have had by far the best defense in clutch situations this season, per NBA Stats. James is the one setting the tone for those plays, talking to his teammates during timeouts and explaining exactly what’s going to happen.
2. He has old man strength
James is still supremely tough to guard because he will pick out the weakest defender on the court during key possessions and bully them relentlessly. He was doing it to Grayson Allen on Tuesday, manipulating the matchups over and over until he got Allen and took him to the rim.
Allen was far from his only victim. James also backed down guard Jordan Goodwin, drawing the attention of the defense and threading a beautiful pass to Rui Hachimura for a dunk. When the Suns tried to help with a stronger, slower defender in Jusuf Nurkic, James slammed on the brakes for an easy jumper and later went right through Nurkic for a layup.
James uses that strength to get to the rim at will, where he is still among the best players in the league. Cleaning the Glass has him in the 93rd percentile of all forwards at rim finishing.
3. He has added a killer 3
James has shot the ball from 3 extremely well this season — his 38.7 percent from deep is the second-highest mark of his career. That is miles ahead of where he was as a rookie when he connected on only 29.0 percent of his 3-point looks for the Cavaliers.
His evolution into the modern game has included the addition of transition 3-pointers, which make him even more impossible to guard. He hit a big one on Tuesday, pulling up a foot behind the line and drilling it over the outstretched arm of Allen.
James isn’t the same player he was 20 years ago, but he can still dial it up in the most important moments. His strength, intelligence and shooting touch probably aren’t going away any time soon, either. He’s been a winner at the end of games, and that will continue until the day he retires.
Source : ESPN.com