LeBron James has been pretty depressed lately.
In the 16 games he has played since serving a one-game suspension, James averages 30.4 points, 8.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. He’s been incredibly efficient, posting those numbers in .544 / .390 / .782 shooting divisions.
James has 11 30-point games during that span, giving him 16 of those games on the season, which is more than anyone else in the NBA. He’s not far from scoring 43 points and 14 rebounds in a win over the Trail Blazers, making him the fourth-oldest player in NBA history to post a 40-10 game.
Father Time is undefeated, but you wouldn’t know it based on the level James is still playing.
The catch is, the Lakers won only eight of those 16 games, but they may have found something by playing James more in center.
You know what that means: to the movie theater!
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Malik Monk recovers a failed 3-pointer from Norman Powell and passes the ball to James immediately. James returns the favor shortly after crossing the middle of the court, returning the ball to Monk for a pick-and-roll from the top of the 3-point line.
The other Lakers on the court are Russell Westbrook, Avery Bradley and Stanley Johnson. Westbrook parks in the right corner as Bradley and Johnson overload the opposite side.
Westbrook and Johnson aren’t exactly 3-point threats, but the Lakers still have decent space by surrounding James with four perimeter players.
James is quick to block and roll, but makes enough contact with Monk’s defender Tony Snell to help Monk go downhill. That forces Larry Nance Jr., who plays center for Portland and is tasked with defending James, to slide to protect the basket.
With Nance stepping forward, Powell helps Westbrook into the corner to prevent James from getting an easy bucket. (You can see James gesturing for an alley-oop.)
This is where things get interesting.
Unable to lay a layup or sneak James under the basket, Monk moves the ball to Westbrook in the right corner. Westbrook has an open look at a 3, but turns it down and chooses to give the ball to James, who is now being defended by Snell at the post.
Meanwhile, both Johnson and Bradley bunt to make room for Monk in the corner. That’s important because it forces Nance, who is now defending Monk, to make a difficult decision: leave Monk in the corner to provide help at the rim, or stay with Monk in the corner so he doesn’t clearly see a 3. if James he kicks it out.
Nance opts for option n. 2, leading to a layup for James once he surpasses Snell.
why does it matter
James is giving off strong Magic Johnson vibes right now.
Two years ago, James logged the majority of his point guard minutes and led the league with 10.2 assists per game. Now, he plays primarily as a center for a Lakers team that continues without Anthony Davis for an extended period due to an MCL sprain.
This isn’t the first time in his career that James has played center, but we’ve never seen him do it to this grade. According to Cleaning The Glass, James has logged more than a third (35.0 percent) of his minutes as a center up to this point in the season. Your previous professional record? 3.0 percent in 2018-19.
James isn’t even a guard or forward disguised as a center. As Synergy Basketball’s Todd Whitehead pointed out, the way he’s building his offense when Westbrook is on the court and Davis, Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan are on the bench is a lot like a center, with him posting, cutting, rolling. and attacking the offensive cup a lot, much more when it moves to five.
I was intrigued by @RobMahoneyIt’s that LeBron was playing center without AD this weekend, “cutting and rolling to the rim much more often than he normally would,” so I looked up his mix of game types in different lineup combinations at so far this season: https: // t.co/L6kG9ncdWD pic.twitter.com/96Z4crFkUY
—Todd Whitehead (@CrumpedJumper) December 27, 2023
It talks about how incredibly talented James is that not only can he adapt his game to whatever position he’s playing in, but he can do it at a high level.
For example, only five players, Joel Embiid (9.1), Nikola Jokic (5.1), Jonas Valanciunas (4.5), Kristaps Porzingis (4.2) and Davis (3.9), currently average more points. per game that James (3.5) in the mail. He has been more efficient than those five players in front of him, averaging 1.18 points per post possession to rank in the 91st percentile.
Weighing in at 250 pounds, James is strong enough to fight other greats around the basket.
That size makes it an impossible cover for the guards, making each change a potential mismatch that he will try to exploit. (This is your reminder that no one messes with mismatches like James.)
He has made money from mid-range this season, achieving 50.0 percent of his looks from that distance, many of which have been of a high degree of difficulty.
And of course James is still a passer from another world.
Plus, James makes for a dynamic screen designer. (He does not do it everything That’s a lot, but he ranks in the 93rd percentile with 1.48 points per possession as the best player this season.) He is also a smart and punishing cutter.
Westbrook’s fit is still far from perfect, but he and James have had some good two-man moments recently, both with James as the cutter …
… and Westbrook being the cutter.
Once again, wins have been hard to come by for the Lakers during this stretch despite James going supernova, but the numbers with him at the center have been quite encouraging.
According to PBP Stats, the Lakers are outperforming their opponents by 7.2 points per 100 possessions with James on the court and all three of Howard, Jordan and Davis on the bench. Only one other combination (James with Howard without Davis and Jordan) has been so dominant.
The Lakers have performed at a below-average defensive level when James has been on the court without another great, but they have been virtually unstoppable offensively, scoring at a rate of 118.1 points per 100 possessions, which would be the best offensive rating. in the league.
|In the court
|off the pitch
|Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan
|3. 4. 5
|LeBron James Anthony Davis
|Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan
|LeBron James Dwight Howard
|Anthony Davis, DeAndre Jordan
|LeBron James, DeAndre Jordan, Anthony Davis
|LeBron James, DeAndre Jordan
|Anthony Davis Dwight Howard
|LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis
The Lakers need to get better at the minutes James and Davis are on the court together to have any chance of competing for a championship this season, but it looks like James’s recent streak in all five will lead to some big changes. Following his win over the Trail Blazers, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel made it look like we’ll continue to see lineups with James at center even when Davis returns.
While that’s bad news for Howard and Jordan, it could be what the Lakers need to make the most of this list and give them their much-needed identity.