LeBron James has been so good for so long that it's easy to forget how amazing some of his accomplishments are. For example, he currently has one of the best series in the world of sport: his team has participated in the NBA finals in eight consecutive seasons, from 2011. It's amazing in a league where a single final can be the highlight of the performance of a player. his entire career – and he did it for two different franchises.
Of course, everyone knew that it would be difficult for James to continue his momentum this season after leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers – and the relative ease of the Eastern Conference – towards the Los Angeles Lakers and scary West . The thing that caught the NBA watchers by surprise is the reason Why the finals series might not happen: the James' Lakers are likely to not participate in the playoffs.
According to our NBA projection model, Los Angeles currently has only a 26% chance of reaching the playoffs. L.A. is less than .500 in the No. 10 West, three games in the eighth-seeded Clippers, with 25 games to go, and will face the ninth toughest schedule in the league. The only thing that saves the Lakers is that our model think they are the eighth best team in the West, much better than the Clippers and the Sacramento Kings, No. 9. But it will be a race for arrival for which James has not had to worry for a long time.
The last team led by LeBron to completely miss the playoffs was the 2004-05 Cavs, during James' second season in the NBA. They went 42-40 – which was always good enough to qualify for the playoffs in the East – but lost on a tiebreaker with the New Jersey Nets (who beat Cleveland 3 -1 in the season series). From the point of view of talent, this team was far from even more recent versions of the Cavs that would be prematurely eliminated from the playoffs: the guard of the companion Jeff McInnis was the second of the team in a few minutes behind LeBron, and the swinger low scoring Ira Newble was also a full-time starter. (The other scoring options behind James were Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden.) James himself had not yet reached the GOAT performance level either, posting what would ultimately be the fifth and worst worst Box Plus / Minus and the fourth worst win. 48 minutes of his career so far.
On paper, the Lakers this season should not make comparisons with Jeff McInnis and Ira Newble. Although Los Angeles actors do not have the same immediate appeal as James, it was assumed that Kyle Kuzma's young quartet, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball would support their promises. 2018 performances – especially playing alongside James – and a mix with the odd hodgepodge of Lakers veterans to form a functional team. But that was not always the case during James' first campaign in purple and gold.
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Among a variety of parameters, young LeBron players have mostly seen their performance decline this season, although they have benefited from an extra year of development and have been able to play alongside one of the greatest attacking creators of the game. history of the NBA. Only Kuzma can credibly claim that it has been improved, by increasing its utilization rate and actual shooting percentage, while reducing its turnover rate. The others, particularly Ingram, whose advanced stats have slipped into a chasm, have stalled or worsened, and none have even been compared to an average league player, according to consensus statistics.
To make matters worse, one could argue that these four have cost Los Angeles a helping hand to trade against the New Orleans Pelicans star, Anthony Davis, by the deadline (assuming that the four of them have not been able to do so). former CEO of the Pelicans, Dell Demps, actually had the intention to negotiate with Davis). If even some of the young Lakers had played well this season, showing the star potential required to be included in a commercial package for Davis, it is possible that Los Angeles has engaged a duo LeBron-AD in his training for a push in playoffs. this year. Instead, there is nothing left to do but wait for Hart and Ball to return after an injury and hope that the kids can play better in the stretch.
Veterans did not really help much either. JaVale McGee and Tyson Chandler are an effective couple of great defensive players. Both of them have above-average earnings, making them the highest number of wins (48) – while the recently acquired Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Reggie Bullock rangers are at least close to average in the metric. (As is the case of striker Mike Muscala.) But Rajon Rondo shot the ball badly this season and Lance Stephenson has not been an effective player for years. All in all, James's cast was not significantly better than the one he had fled to Cleveland after last season.
And it is worth mentioning that James himself was not as statistically dominant as in his last seasons as a Cavalier. Its utilization rate, actual shooting percentage, support rate, bounce rate, stealing rate, blocking rate and defensive BPM are all down from the previous year. ;last year. He gets worse at two, three, and free throws. And most worrying, the 34-year-old missed 18 games between Christmas and early February due to a groin injury. He only played 49.5% of the Lakers' available minutes this season – by far the lowest mark of his career.
During the All-Star weekend, James told reporters that he "felt good" and that he was ready to lead a playoff campaign for Los Angeles.
"[I’m] I'm looking forward to seeing what we can do to get back into this playoff race, "James said. "That's the only thing that's going to happen in my mental space for the next two months, pretty much about how I can make this team play at the basketball level we were playing before my injury."
The Lakers will have to use all the efforts and talent of James to return to the image of the playoffs. It's more than possible, especially if James is really healthy. But our forecasts remain low for a LeBron team, even after taking into account James' return to training – and the fact that the Clippers were sellers at the trade deadline. (That's why we give LA a 26% chance, while simpler forecasts like Basketball-Reference.com set its odds at around 5%.) And even if the Lakers do the playoffs, they'll probably finish to be heavy. outsiders against the Golden State Warriors in the first round.
The long-term future of the Lakers should be brighter: the team will have plenty of free registration space for free agents surrounding James and many options for superstars to choose from (in addition to the potential of a business with Davis). For the moment, however, James' final series has a real chance of finishing well ahead of schedule: April 10, the last day of the NBA 2018-19 regular season.
Discover our latest NBA forecast.