NBA: We Are Watching LeBron James at His Offensive Apex
No NBA player has had more mileage in their age-33 season than LeBron James. However, despite that, the 15-year veteran is playing with the same athleticism, energy, and confidence as a wide-eyed 25-year-old about to enter his prime.
James’ has displayed an unprecedented level of durability during his career; the most games he’s missed during a single-season was 20 in his 2011-12 with the Miami Heat. Every other season James has played 69 or more games. He led the league in minutes-per-game last season and is on pace to do so again this year.
Of players currently in the Hall of Fame, only 20% of them even reached a 15th season.
In his 15th season, LeBron is RAISING his career averages in scoring, assists, rebounds, blocks and PER.
Dude's legit getting better at a point where most legends are already finished.
— Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13) March 26, 2018
Is This the Best Offensive Season of His Career?
The most incredible thing about what could be James’ tenth-straight season on the all-NBA first-team, is the fact he’s putting up the best offensive numbers of his career. This year James is averaging a career-high in both rebounds (8.6) and assists (9.1). His 27.5 points-per-game would be the fifth-best of his career. If the season ended today, it would be his third-best season in terms of field-goal-percentage (55), three-point-percentage (36.6) and true-shooting percentage (62.5). If you’re still not convinced this is his best overall offensive season, watch his highlights this Sunday against the Brooklyn Nets:
LeBron James has reached a level of freedom offensively where he can do anything he wants when he wants. He controls the tempo of the entire game and has become a master at picking his spots to push the pace, slow down the offensive, or go into an isolation and knock-down his go-to three-pointer from the left hash.
Much Improved Jump Shot
James’ jump shot has come a long way from when he entered the league in 2004. In his rookie season, he shot under 30 percent from three on only two attempts-per-game. Now, James is taking the second-most threes-per-game of his career, only behind 2009-10, a year in which he only shot 33 percent from deep that season.
According to NBA Savant’s shot tracking data, James is taking most of his outside shots from three, but specifically near the left hash-mark. In crunch-time, the step-back from this location has become his go-to, and LeBron James is knocking down these shots at a solid clip. On his 45 attempts this season, James has made 19 of them (42.2 percent). Other than the conventional spot-up, the step-back is James’ second most-common shot from three. Check out this step-back James hit over Kristaps Porzingis earlier this year:
Although James started-off the season red-hot from deep, he’s cooled down since then. In the months of October and November, he shot 42 percent from three on 4.6 attempts per game. Since he’s shot 34 percent. Even though his shot isn’t falling as much, this has been one of his best shooting seasons to date.
The one thing holding LeBron James back this season is his depreciation on the defensive end. Of the 507 players that have found this floor this season, James ranks 435th in defensive real-plus-minus (-1.29). Currently, James defensive rating (111.9) is a career-low. James even had a negative net rating for a brief time this season for the first time since his rookie year.
James hit his defensive peak with Miami when he was hitting his late-20s. Since his defensive prowess has taken a gradual hit year-by-year. Whether it be falling asleep on rotations, or staying un-engaged off-the-ball, James hasn’t been the same.
The Cleveland Cavaliers defense has also been awful. The Cavs are third-worst in defensive rating (109.7), and fourth-worst in opponents points-per-game (110.3) and opponent’s field-goal-percentage (47.3). James is not the sole reason Cleveland has been so poor on defense, but it’s hard to imagine they’d be this bad if he put in more effort.
Does this mean he can’t ramp it up in the playoffs? Of course not. James is going to get better defensively, specifically in the later rounds and potentially in the finals. That being said, we can only evaluate James’ on what he is accomplishing now, and not based on assumptions.
LeBron James has already solidified his spot on the Mount Rushmore of NBA greats, and he’s shown no sign of slowing down. The question now is whether his prime will come to a screeching halt — like Kobe Bryant — or will his effectiveness fade into his late 30s — like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.