Just when you think you’ve seen it all from LeBron James, he does something like lead the Lakers to the In-Season Tournament championship while taking home MVP honors.
It can’t be overstated how incredible it is that James is still playing at this level. We’re talking about the league’s all-time leading scorer who is still among the league leaders with 25.0 points per game. The most points anyone has ever averaged in their 21st season is 7.4. James is on pace to almost quadruple that number.
It helps that James is one of the most gifted athletes we’ve ever seen in any sport and is an unequivocal basketball genius, but a few things are helping him get the upper hand on Father Time right now.
Here’s one of them.
This LeBron James stat is helping Lakers star defeat Father Time
According to NBA.com, James has been assisted on 55.4 percent of his baskets through a quarter of the 2023-24 season.
Why is that notable? It’s the highest mark of his career.
James has never had more than half of his field goals assisted on in a single season. The closest he’s ever come to a 50-50 split was 2003-04, back when he was a 19-year-old rookie on the Cavaliers.
I hope you’re ready for a long table because we’re going allllll the way back to the beginning.
|% FGM assisted
|% FGM unassisted
A few things are fueling this version of James.
First and foremost, James is shooting the lights out this season. He’s knocked down 40.7 percent of his 3-point attempts, which is the best mark of his career. Not only that, but a third of his shot attempts have been 3s, which is the third-highest mark of his career.
It’s not just that James is making 3s at a high clip. It’s that he’s doing it in volume.
A decent amount of James’ 3-point attempts have come off the dribble, but the bulk have been catch-and-shoot opportunities. He’s connecting on them at a similar rate (45.7 percent) as some of the best shooters in the game, such as Kyrie Irving, Doug McDermott and Devin Booker.
There’s not much that can be done if James is doing this with any sort of consistency:
Why? The closer defenders have to guard him out on the perimeter, the more it opens up the drives he’s been picking teams apart with for two decades now.
Somehow, someway, James remains one of the top drivers and finishers in the game.
Two, James is still a freight train in transition.
There are only four players who have scored more points than James in the open court this season. While he can still grab and go, he’s done a nice job of letting others push the ball while he fills the lane as a cutter.
It was honestly stunning watching a soon-to-be 39-year-old James leave a 23-year-old Zion Williamson in the dust in the In-Season Tournament Semifinals. He runs the floor hard when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands and his teammates are always looking for him. (As they should, by the way. James has made a mind-boggling 69.7 of his shot attempts in transition through 21 games. That’s as close to a guarantee of an assist as you can get.)
Lastly, James has developed some nice pick-and-roll chemistry with Austin Reaves and D’Angelo Russell.
The Lakers aren’t a good 3-point shooting team, but James almost always plays with only one big on the court (Anthony Davis or Jaxson Hayes) or a big who can shoot (Christian Wood). That usually gives him the space he needs to screen and roll.
Reaves and Russell are different threats in those situations. Whereas Reaves puts more pressure on defenses as a driver, Russell is a slightly better shooter off the dribble, particularly from 3-point range.
Also, a lot of those pick-and-rolls create switches. And a lot of those switches lead to James getting the ball in the post, where he can use his size to pummel mismatches.
Once a bully, always a bully.
Nobody has assisted James more than Russell (37) so far this season. Reaves (31) and Davis (22) aren’t far behind, and they’ve already set James for almost as many baskets this season as they did all of last season.
James is still more than capable of creating his own offense, of course, but not dominating the ball quite as much as he used to allows him to pick and choose his spots more on offense. It adds a different dimension to the Lakers on offense and could be the key to James sustaining this unprecedented level of scoring.
Source : ESPN.com