It was reported this week that the Lakers would prematurely end LeBron James’ season, as they are officially eliminated from playoff contention. This anti-climactic end leaves a lot of mixed feelings within the NBA community. Many projected that LeBron would be the piece needed to end the Lakers’ six-season playoff drought. Some even believed that this team, with LeBron leading the way, would end up in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors.
The question has now become- what caused the Lakers’ poor results in year 1 of LABron? Some have blamed the Lakers’ management for not setting up a cohesive and balanced team, and by allowing trade rumors to leak, hurting the overall demeanor in the locker room. Some have blamed LeBron’s groin injury, which sidelined him for multiple games and caused the team to slip from the 4th seed all the way down to the 10 seed.
Yet there are a multitude of people that blame LeBron for these failures, even going as far to say that he is no longer the best player in the world. While one can understand the anger and disappointment, last week LeBron showed that he is not only the best player in the game right now, but if he stays healthy, the Lakers will have success in the future.
The first game that LeBron played this week was against the Washington Wizards. LeBron scored 23 points while dishing out 14 assists and grabbing 7 rebounds. LeBron did what he has been doing all season for the Lakers- handling most of the offensive burden by either creating his shot, or finding open players for wide-open three pointers or easy dunks. It also demonstrated the main issue with this team, which is their reliance on LeBron James in every game. Against the atrocious Wizards, this game was still close in the fourth quarter, until LeBron took over and sealed the win for LA.
In the next game LeBron was placed on the bench against Utah. In this game the offense was extremely inefficient and they ended up losing that game by 15 points. The Lakers have a 7-15 record when LeBron is not playing. When LeBron is playing they have a record of 28-27. Through the efforts of LeBron, he can turn a losing team above .500 simply based on his offensive presence alone.
In what would end up being his last game of the season against the Charlotte Hornets, LeBron scored 27 points while also dishing out 9 assists. In this game, LeBron scored at will, with both his overall field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage over 50%. The man showed that he is still an unstoppable force on the basketball court, and can give any team a chance to win with him on the court.
With all the drama that has occurred this season, LeBron has faced a lot of heat from the media. Some media personalities have even claimed that he is no longer the greatest player in the NBA. This “living in the moment mentality” ignores all the success that LeBron has had in the past few years. In the last 4 seasons, LeBron has nearly single handedly lead average or worse teams to NBA Finals appearances. Even in this season, despite all the critics, the Lakers still have a winning record with LeBron on the court. This is not to say that LeBron should be absolved of criticism this season. Of course, he has had a bad year, and if one states that other players around the NBA are having a better season that is a more than fair argument. But to be the best player in the league, one has to prove that by being on the court, one’s own talents and skills can be enough to win games for a team. LeBron has shown that for his entire career, and even this year where he missed 22 games, he still proves that concept.
The title of best basketball player cannot be given to many of the stars because the majority have had major help and have not proven the same ability as LeBron James. For example, if Kevin Durant was injured, the warriors would still be not only a playoff team, but a still major title contender. In a down year for LeBron, he is still putting up 27/8/8 a game while averaging 35 minutes per game. KD in ’19-’20 is putting up 26/6/6 while teammate Steph is averaging 27/5/5. It appears James Harden is on his way to a 2nd consecutive MVP season with 36/7/6 with an effective FG% of 53.8%- but keep in mind LeBron’s EFG% is at 56% at 2 less minutes per game.
Despite all this, the truth is that LeBron is getting older and there will eventually be someone to overtake him as the best in the game. But before then, do not be surprised when LeBron comes back next season to silence the critics and to show that he still owns the throne.