Father Time may be undefeated, but LeBron James isn’t going down without a fight.
After a tough 2018-19 NBA season that included suffering the worst injury of his career, James vowed to prove to everyone that he hasn’t vacated the throne just yet.
Well, he didn’t lie.
James has led the Lakers to an 11-2 record, something they haven’t done since the 2010-11 season. Along the way, he’s hit big shots, thrown highlight-reel passes, and even energized what has been the league’s best defense.
Here’s the thing, though: Sometimes it’s a little too easy to lose sight of just how special James’ season has been if for no other reason than because we’ve become accustomed to his greatness. Heath Ledger’s Joker has a classic speech in “The Dark Knight” where he describes the phenomena where people have stronger reactions to things that aren’t ‘part of the plan.’ It’s simply human nature. When we expect something to happen, our reaction to it tends to not be as strong. If we get that $50 that Grandma sends in a birthday card every year, it’s certainly appreciated… but randomly find a $50 bill on the street and you won’t be able to believe your good fortune.
With that in mind, James being really good at basketball simply isn’t that surprising because he’s done it for so long. As such, Dwight Howard doesn’t run down the floor in a face-melting state of shock when James drills a stepback three-pointer with the game on the line because that’s what we expect him to do. Now, if Danny Green throws down a vicious tip dunk as he did against the Atlanta Hawks, Howard and everyone else understandably loses it because that’s not something he typically does.
In some ways, it’s a shame that we are wired the way we are because what James has done is absolutely worthy of our dumbfounded awe. He’s been dominant, but it’s not the end result that’s extraordinary… it’s how he’s getting there.
James has fully embraced the point forward role that’s been thrust upon him and is now leading the league in assists per game for the first time in his career. He’s picking up a whopping 11.2, which is over two assists more than his previous career-best. Even better, James is leading the league while also playing a career-low 34.8 minutes per game and averaging a career-low in turnovers as well.
In other words, the Lakers are somewhat managing his minutes and he’s been so efficient that he’s still sitting atop the league.
It certainly helps that James has a target like Anthony Davis on the floor with him (most assists passing to Davis than any other Laker) plus shooters like Green to space the floor, but him completing his transformation into something very Magic Johnson-esque at this stage in his career is absolutely remarkable.
James has also mastered the difficult art of picking his spots. He has an excellent understanding of when to score and when to pass, when Davis needs the ball in the post to get going, and when the defense will be unprepared for one of his own thunderous drives down the lane. If an opponent has their sights set on a comeback, there is James ready to keep them at bay with a well-timed bucket or pinpoint-accurate pass. He’s controlling the entire game by using his own skill and those of his teammates to constantly keep the Lakers one move ahead.
James has mastered the offensive end to the point where the team’s offensive rating plummets from 114.7 with him on the floor to 88.8 with him off. If there is a flaw to this Lakers team, it just may be they are too dependent on James to conduct their symphony.
Meanwhile, on the defensive end of the floor, James has been a leader and — along with Davis — has helped set the tone that has pushed the team to excellence. He flies out to contest shooters, defends the paint, and even sacrifices his body to get a stop by stepping in front of drivers at just the right moment. Only Alex Caruso has drawn more charges for the team this season as James has proven himself more than willing to absorb a hit if it means the Lakers gain an advantage.
While the offense slowly but surely comes together as chemistry is built, it’s the defense that has carried them through to some difficult wins and James has made himself a huge part of that end of the floor.
The bottom line is that while we have come to expect greatness from James, that shouldn’t diminish our sense of wonder and appreciation for what he is accomplishing this season. Regardless of what we have become accustomed to seeing him do, being this good at this age is never ‘part of the plan.’