Wherever LeBron James goes, the headlines follow. He's become much more than a basketball player, and the move to Los Angeles further cemented that. While a lot of focus has been placed on LeBron's extracurricular activities (producing movies, "The Shop", being a corny dad on social media) and his young teammates, it feels as if his continued dominance on-court is being brushed under the rug a bit. It may be Year 16 in the Association for LeBron, but he's showing that, at least for him, age is just a number.
Last night, LeBron showed why he's still the best basketball player on the planet. In his first game against the Miami Heat as a Laker, LeBron put up an insane stat line of 51 points (19-31 FG, 6-8 3FG), 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and a block. His dominance seemed almost effortless as he pulled up for deep threes and faded away off his left foot from either side of the paint. When LeBron wants to go off, he can because he's the greatest player to ever step foot on a court, and it's even more impressive considering he's almost logged 45,000 career minutes. At the beginning of the season it seemed like LeBron might have been taking a slight step back but now I think he was simply conserving his energy for when he needed to, and a fully charged LeBron should still be a terrifying thought for everyone in the league. (Imagine guarding LeBron. What do you do if he posts you up? Do you even try to stop him, or do you just kind of let it happen?)
It was well-known that this season would present LeBron and the Lakers with a few challenges. On one hand they have the best player on a team being run by seemingly the most charismatic man in history, Magic Johnson, along with a handful of veterans with championship experience (JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo, Tyson Chandler). On the other is a young core (Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart) with zero combined playoff experience who just had their expectations bumped up a whole level. Basketball was finally back in Los Angeles, filling a hole left by Kobe Bryant's Achilles tear in 2013 (shit, I'm in my feelings now. I miss Kobe so much.) Things got off to a rocky start as the Lakers dropped their first three games of the season and would have a lackluster 2-5 record through their first seven games. As aforementioned, LeBron was still putting up numbers similar to his stellar career averages (27.2-7.4-7.2) but it didn't feel like he was taking over games like we're accustomed to seeing. The Lakers were still trying to navigate their way through the media firestorm that follows LeBron, but his lack of sheer domination surely played a role in the early paltry record.
Things have changed since mid-October, however, and for the best. The Lakers now sit at 9-7, good for 7th in the West, and are only two games behind the Blazers for the top seed. Things seem to be clicking more and chemistry will only continue to improve as the team gets more games under their belt. Playing with LeBron is probably so nerve-wracking and there's a definitely a learning curve that comes along with it, but it seems as if everyone's starting to adjust. Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram are the next two scorers behind LeBron with averages of 16.9 and 15.2 points a night, respectively. Josh Hart is filling his role well, providing 11.1 points a night off the bench while lighting it up from three (43.4%). The biggest question mark of the young guys to this point has been Lonzo Ball. His minutes have been semi-inconsistent, mostly due to the presence of vet Rajon Rondo, but so has his play. He's averaging 7.8-4.9-4.9 on 38.0/34.3/61.5 shooting splits. He's once again having some offensive woes, but he's moving the ball well as Zo has excellent court vision and knows how to run the point. He's been solid on defense with 1.7 steals and 0.8 blocks a night, and is holding his opponents to 44.5% shooting (could be better, but certainly not bad). There's a lot of basketball left to be played this season, and it's going to be interesting to see who the Lakers believe will be the future of the franchise.
Enough about everybody else: this is LeBron's team. Through 16 games, he's averaging 28.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, 6.9 (lol) assists, 1.4 steals, and 0.9 blocks on 52.0/39.6/75.0 splits. For a guy that's about to turn 34, it's absolutely insane to see him go out every night and still be the best player. He's only had two games where he's shot under 44% and continues to help facilitate the offense through his Einstein-level basketball IQ. LeBron hasn't been named league MVP since 2013, but it's clear that he is the most valuable. Just look what happened to the Cavs: LeBron led their roster (sans Colin Sexton) to the NBA Finals four months ago, and now they sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Even though he's been stopped in five out of his eight Finals appearances, LeBron has shown how much of a winner he is. While he likely won't reach his ninth straight championship, he may add another MVP trophy to the mantel. It'd be the perfect Hollywood ending to his opening season in LA, and if LeBron can lead the Lakers to the playoffs for the first time since 2013 while continuing to dominate on a nightly basis, it just might happen. #LABron
Note: JaVale McGee is having... a really good season. 13.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks (!!!) on 62.3% shooting. He's not going to be an All Star or anything, but damn. Good for him.