Playing for a team that has no other All-Star, LeBron James could be chosen as the Los Angeles Lakers’ Player of the Week with plenty of regularity. Out of respect for the other members of the roster, the honor is usually spread around, but this time James is the only possible choice.
Even by his elevated standards, King James really outdid himself the past week. To start the period of recognition, the Lakers defeated the Portland Trail Blazers for the second time this season, a feat the team hadn’t accomplished in what seemed like forever.
The defense was instrumental in the victory, but it was James who grabbed national headlines with an iconic performance that was his best to date in a Lakers uniform. He finished with 44 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists, barely missing a rare 40-point triple double.
His three-point shots, which were not falling earlier this season, were on target that night. James was also very engaged on the defensive end for one of the few times this season. It was an astonishing performance, even for one of the best players of all time.
The next game was a terrible one for the Lakers, as they travelled across the country to play the Orlando Magic. Orlando is another site where the Lakers have rarely prevailed since they dispatched the Magic (and its then-star Dwight Howard) in the NBA Finals nearly a decade ago.
The Lakers were never in the game and for most of the night trailed by 20-plus points. It was such a rout that James played only 26 minutes, but he still finished with 22 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds and a block. He was 3-of-6 from three-point range.
The loss to Orlando snapped a four-game winning streak for the Lakers. The question was, did the team’s poor performance against the Magic mean the Lakers were reverting to their old bad habits, especially on defense, or would they bounce back the next night in Miami?
James was not taking any risks, so he attacked early and pretty much won the game for the Lakers by himself. He finished with 51 points, making 19-of-31 shots from the floor and 6-for-8 from three-point range.
For much of the night, on offense, the other four Lakers cleared out, gave James room to work, and watched him score in an astonishing number of ways. The team did have an impressive defensive outing, however, as they held the Heat to only 97 points.
On the season, James is averaging 28.8 points per game on 52 percent shooting from the floor, and a career-high 39.6 percent behind the arc. He is also averaging 7.7 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game. He will turn 34 next month but there is no discernible decline in his level of play.
The Lakers have not gotten this kind of production from a player in a long time, and one could argue that when all statistics are considered, they have never had a player whose overall stats were close to what James is doing this year.
The only time Kobe Bryant met or exceeded 28.8 points per game was during the 2005-06 NB season, when he shot 45 percent from the field, 34.7 percent from three-point range, and averaged 4.0 assists and 4.7 rebounds.
It is not just his scoring that is impressive. James is outstanding at getting the ball to others for easier shots. He really does put his teammates in a position to excel, even if they don’t always make the most of the opportunities.
His assists are likely to decline a little this season only because the Lakers are not a team of talented scorers, so they do it by committee. He only had three assists against the Heat. The dilemma for James and the Lakers is that none of the team’s young players has improved as much as was hoped and expected, and the veterans are career reserves or in the case of Tyson Chandler, at the end of his career.
It is great that James can carry the team by himself, and the Lakers are a franchise that is in desperate need of wins however they are achieved. But is this model really sustainable for an entire season, and could it possibly work in the playoffs in the Western Conference?
For the moment, fans should sit back and enjoy the privilege of watching a basketball genius, someone who is arguably the best all-around player of all time.
But Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart are going to have to step up, and soon. Otherwise, out of fairness to James, who took a leap of faith in joining a team that missed the playoffs for five straight years, the prospect of a trade that will bring in another star player is going to look more and more likely.