LeBron James perhaps never showcased his versatility as much as he has since joining the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018.
James promised the city of Los Angeles the Lakers would win the Larry O’Brien trophy again during his tenure as the team’s leader. He fulfilled his promise in 2019-20, triumphing with L.A. in the Orlando bubble during his first season alongside Anthony Davis.
James literally did everything to take the Purple and Gold back to the top of the NBA. Back in the title-winning campaign, he played as the Lakers’ primary ball-handler — making sure he made the most of Davis’ talent and skill set as the Lakers’ playmaker.
Along the way, James led the NBA in assists per game (registering a career-best of 10.2) for the first time in his career.
This year, the 36-year-old has spent most of the 2021-22 season back in the frontcourt — playing in both forward slots as well as at the center. Trevor Ariza said he believes James can successfully put in stints at the five for the Lakers, regardless of how physically demanding the position is.
“I think that would be an advantage. He’s just as big, just as strong,” Ariza said after the 115-110 loss to the Chicago Bulls.
“He’s used to playing physical and playing through contact. I think it would be a pretty easy adjustment for him. He’s a student of the game. Very smart individual, smart player. I don’t think it would be much of a challenge for him to convert to doing the things that he was doing today.”
James’ versatility couldn’t be more valuable for L.A. than it is during the current campaign. Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the NBA, the Lakers had only nine players available for the clash against the Bulls after more than a third of the team entered the health and safety protocols.
Ariza said the Lakers’ way of dealing with the most recent of the challenges they have faced this year is to play with even more determination when on the court.
“We’ve been talking to each other about trying to keep our effort up,” the veteran forward said. “Playing with a lot of energy and whatever happens after we play hard happens. That’s what we tried to focus on tonight. That’s what we try to do for as close to 48 minutes as possible and we fell short.”
David Fizdale thinks Ariza’s comeback will add even more versatility to Lakers’ roster
Ariza made his season debut in the loss to the Bulls, returning from the ankle injury he suffered in the preseason. Head coach Frank Vogel didn’t hide the fact he planned to entrust Ariza with a major role during the 2021-22 season before its tip-off.
Vogel’s assistant — David Fizdale, who took charge of L.A. on Sunday after the head coach entered the health and safety protocols himself — said he was happy to see the 36-year-old back in action, adding he will be a major boost for the team going forward.
“One was just getting him back on the court,” Fizdale said after falling to the Bulls. “Just sweating, hitting, cutting, all of the good stuff. For him to see the ball go in was huge. He’s gonna add a ton of versatility to our team as he gets stronger and gets his conditioning up.
“But I thought he added a nice little element. It was nice to be able to say with 2:30 to go ‘Trev, get in there for defense!’ That’s gonna be a nice knife in the shed for Coach to be able to go to Trev for late-game situations and be able to switch stuff and put him on different people and have a scoring ability.”
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