Much has been made of the return of Playoff Rondo. The phenomena that sees Rajon Rondo raise his game to a new level during the postseason. In Games 2 and 3 of the Los Angeles Lakers’ series with the Houston Rockets, we’ve seen Rondo be a major factor, and rightfully, he’s getting plenty of attention for it.
But Rondo’s emergence from his regular-season cocoon just in time for the playoffs shouldn’t distract us from an even more breathtaking metamorphosis: Playoff LeBron has arrived.
LeBron James is, unquestionably, one of the greatest basketball players of all time. If he wins a championship with the Lakers, he will have brought NBA titles to three different franchises and force us to re-open the Greatest Of All-Time debate.
Perhaps Michael Jordan will counter by releasing another documentary.
During the course of his 17-year NBA career, James has been so dominant that it’s difficult not to become jaded by his excellence. He makes the spectacular look routine on a nightly basis, and set a bar so high that sometimes we need to remind ourselves just how special of a talent he is.
Like Rondo, James has kicked his play into another gear in the playoffs, leading the Lakers on both ends of the floor. It’s a year later than Lakers fans were expecting, but the legion known as Lakers Nation is finally getting a glimpse of what Playoff LeBron is all about, and it has not disappointed.
If anything, he has been even better than advertised. James, who shifted to point guard full-time for the first time in his career this season, put up an MVP-caliber year with averages of 25.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, 0.5 blocks, 1.2 steals and a league-leading 10.2 assists.
These are stats only a few elite players can even dream of, but it’s clear now that he was putting up those lofty numbers while essentially still in neutral. Now that it’s playoff time, James is pushing down on the gas pedal, and that’s bad news for the rest of the NBA.
James’ playoff numbers showcase how unbelievably fantastic he is when he is giving his full effort. So far, Playoff LeBron is averaging 27.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 9 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks.
In terms of advanced stats, James’ Net Rating has increased from 8.5 in the regular season to 13.5 in the playoffs.
That’s a significant increase in production across the board, save for assists as he’s looked for his own shot more frequently in the postseason. James’ work on the boards and highlight-reel blocks have stood out as examples of just how much his effort has increased now that the lights are at their brightest.
He’s everywhere on the court, directing both the offense and defense. When his teammates struggle to put the ball in the basket, there’s James, burying one big shot after another. He sprints across the floor to spring a double team or flies in from out of nowhere to viciously block shots at the rim.
He’s battling in the paint, taking the bumps and bruises that he steered clear of during the regular season and setting the standard that teammates have to meet. After all, if a 35-year-old with a claim to being the GOAT is putting in the extra effort, no one has an excuse to do any less.
In 17 seasons, James has learned when to rein himself in and when to fully unleash his powers. It’s helped him stay productive for as long as he has. That said, Father Time is undefeated, and at some point, even James’ abilities will fade, a fact that makes it all the more important that we appreciate what we have while it’s still here.
Lakers fans have been blessed to see some of the best ever put on the Golden Armor, from Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West to Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, and all the greats in between.
While James may have come to Los Angeles later in his career, he’s reminding us of what playoff basketball, what Lakers playoff basketball, is all about.
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