LeBron James played with many future Hall of Famers in 16 seasons in the NBA. From Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, LeBron has spent the last ten years with some of the best players in the league. But he has never played with anyone as good as Anthony Davis, a legitimate superstar at his peak. The Lakers gave a king's ransom to get the pelicans' announcement – three former first-round picks and three future first-round picks – and form one of the most talented duos in NBA history. The question is the timing. With James turning 35 in December, what version of him will the Lakers get in the coming seasons?
LeBron showed the first real signs of aging from last season, his first in Los Angeles. His stats per game (27.4 points on 51% shooting, 8.5 rebounds and 8.3 assists) were consistent with his career average, but he was not as powerful as he was. as much in both directions of his career. The problem was not a loss of skill. LeBron is still one of the best ball coaches and passers in the league, and he is a better shooter than when he was younger. But you could see a decline in physical abilities. He did not jump as high, nor run as fast, nor as much energy as before. In other words, LeBron started playing more like an old man. He did not attack the rim so much, begged for the toughest missions on the defensive and eliminated the game. He can still do anything on a basketball court at a high level. He only has to choose his places with more care.
James is slowly changing the way he plays the offensive. It takes more than 3 and fewer hits to the rim. He still took a ton of shots (44.6%) less than 5 feet from the rim last season, but he was below his career high of 49.7 for the 2015-16 season, so that he was 31 years old and that he won an NBA title in his second season. back with the Cavs. This number has decreased each season since, while his number of attempts by 3 points has increased. LeBron went from an average of 3.7 3s per game in 2015-16 to 5.9 in 2018-19. It's not just the number of 3; that's the type of 3 he takes. A career high of 65.8% of his 3 were unassisted last season. For better or for worse, LeBron will take 3 pulls from anywhere, like he's Steph Curry or James Harden. The question is whether this is really the shots he should be doing, or whether he is settling because he can not or does not want to go to the edge as often. It is much easier for a player of his age to shoot goals than to lower his head and score goals in the game. It did not shoot very well either: 33.9% of the 3 and 66.5% of the free throw line. The Lakers need him to be more specific, as this will become a more important part of his game as he gets older.
His physical decline is more visible on defense. The Lakers tried to hide LeBron as much as possible. The players James most defended last season are P.J. Tucker (154 possessions), Al-Farouq Aminu (144) and Dante Cunningham (125). Peak LeBron had the ability to be the main option in attack while eliminating the top scorer of the opposing team. He can not do that anymore. Even worse, he is not very committed. He fell asleep a lot last season, while making quite uneven efforts. Los Angeles was not an excellent defensive team last season and LeBron was part of the problem as much as anyone.
James can not do everything alone anymore. The good news for the Lakers is that he would not have to do it. Davis is the perfect partner to help LeBron make his way through his thirties. He is what LeBron was at age 26: a two – way force that can win the title of player of the year and defensive player of the year in the same season. AD has made significant improvements in recent seasons; they have just been overshadowed by all the drama and lack of success in the playoffs in New Orleans. Davis has no holes in his game. He has averaged at least 25 points and 11 rebounds in each of the past three seasons, and he has reached a career high in three attempts (2.6 points). per game) and three assists (3.9 points per game). It's not just because James and he will instantly form one of the best pick-and-roll combinations in the league. LeBron has never played with a great man capable of creating shots for him, like Davis, or covering him also in defense. Davis should be a much more versatile offensive partner than Bosh or Love, whom James has turned into an elite sniper. And although Bosh is an excellent defensive center, he has never averaged more than 1.4 blocks or one flight in a single season. Davis averaged 2.4 blocks and 1.6 interceptions per game last season.
The big question that remains for the Lakers is who they can surround LeBron and Davis. The amount of space available for the Lakers salary cap depends on two things: that the Davis deal be submitted to the league as soon as possible (July 6) or that both teams wait 30 days to use the no. 4 global choice for salary reconciliation, and if AD cancels its commercial bonus ($ 4.2 million). They could have up to $ 32.6 million, which would allow them to bid a maximum deal to another star like Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Khris Middleton or Jimmy Butler, or just 23.7 millions of dollars. Kawhi, the most valuable player in the Final Finals, far exceeds the other four, but all five would make sense. It could be argued that Los Angeles should instead divide this money into more 3-D players such as Patrick Beverley and Danny Green. The problem is that these players are already in their thirties and that they have little margin of error in case of refusal. The Lakers will not have much flexibility for the future. They can not afford to commit an error in free will. They have given pelicans so much of a future that they will not be able to join raw players or young players to get a bad deal like they did with D'Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov.
The Lakers can not afford LeBron to experience age-related slippage or spend too much time with injuries. They will need Davis and LeBron to be among the top five players if they do not get a third star. And if they get a third star, they will not have much room to complete the rest of their list.
Health was LeBron's main problem last season. The groin injury that he suffered at Christmas against the Warriors was the worst injury of his career. He missed more than a month and it took him a while to get comfortable again. In the end, he played only 55 games, by far the lowest of his career in the NBA (although that number was lower than what he could have been because he missed the last weeks of the season when the Lakers were no longer in the running for the playoffs). . We know that older players tend to take longer to recover from an injury. LeBron had never seen it before, partly because he had never been seriously hurt before. He was so tall and fast that he inflicted far more punishments than he had taken, and he bounced back after seemingly serious falls as if they were nothing. He can not get up that fast. The groin injury was not so serious though. The rest of LeBron's loss in the playoffs could be the sabbatical that his body needed before the next stage of his career.
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel will still have to pay attention to how he uses LeBron. He will be tempted to play it as much as possible. With James and Kyle Kuzma, the only regulars remaining after Davis trading, the Lakers will form a brand new team without much depth to explain their lack of continuity. No matter what they will end up doing the rest of the summer, the list will be heavy. Vogel, however, can not afford to continue the victories of the regular season, whether with LeBron or Davis; the latter had minor injuries throughout his career in New Orleans. Davis might not be able to keep LeBron fresh for the playoffs by playing more minutes in the same manner as LeBron with Wade at the end of their stay in Miami. Vogel's biggest priority should be to keep his two stars healthy for the playoffs, which could mean resting LeBron as much as Gregg Popovich used to do with Tim Duncan.
LeBron has already traveled an incredible number of kilometers on his body. It is no. 15 in the history of the NBA in the minutes of the career played in the regular season (46 235) and no. 1 among active players. No. 2 is Vince Carter (45.491), and no. 3 is Pau Gasol (41 001). LeBron is in unknown territory. Michael Jordan retired at no. 28 (41,011) on the list of career minutes. He will pass Kobe Bryant for no. 7 (48,637) in his 69th game next season, he's got the same number of minutes (35.2) on average last season. And all those minutes do not count the playoffs, where he is not. 1 (10,049) among all active and retired players. LeBron competed in the final nine times and never lost in the first round in 13 appearances. It should not be possible for him to keep his game level longer. But it will be fascinating to watch it try.
Jordan and Kobe have never had the chance to argue for a title in their late thirties. The match between LeBron and AD is as if Jordan had played with Tim Duncan after his last title with the Bulls, or if Dwight Howard had been in good health and at its peak when he teamed up with Kobe. The only players as old as LeBron are now stars in a championship team are important men like Duncan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. LeBron, as a perimeter player the size of a tall man, could perhaps grow older like those two seven-footers than MJ and Kobe. He is as big as Karl Malone, who started in the finals at 40. The Lakers hope LeBron and Davis will reverse the dynamics between Magic and Kareem. Kareem was 37 when he won a title with Magic, then 25. He won two more at 39 and 40 because Magic was 27 and 28 years old.
Chances are against the new Lakers duo. It's hard for players, even those who are old, to stay healthy after deep playoff races each season. Watch how the Warriors are decimated after five consecutive trips to the finals. LeBron knows it better than anyone. Wade was 29 and Bosh was 26 in his first season with LeBron. Love was 26 years old and Irving, 22 years old. All four sustained serious injuries after many series trips next to him. LeBron has never formed a Big Three with people as close to his age as today. He did not risk his luck by pairing with an older star. Davis risks his. Forcing his way onto the Lakers was a huge bet for a superstar who could have chosen any team. LeBron sold Davis for his role as costar. Now he must respect his commitments.