All-Star Analysts

LeBron playing at a different pace

Published May 12, 2023, 1:30 PMIsaac Go

Age may be starting to catch up to LeBron James, but he still finds ways to become effective on both ends of the floor.

In the first 19 years of LeBron James’ career, we have been spoiled to watch the GOAT of our generation combine God-given athleticism with impeccable skill and understanding of the game. 

With countless highlight plays and multiple championships, he seemed indestructible. I remember listening to a podcast where Al Horford talked about this one game where the entire Celtics team looked exhausted. He then looked at the other side of the court and saw LeBron, slowing his breath, looking completely calm as if he hadn’t played a single minute of that game. This is the LeBron we have come to expect. 

However, the 2023 playoffs has revealed that LeBron James is actually human.

If you’ve been watching the postseason, you’ll notice that LeBron looks fatigued. He isn’t as spry as before, which is unfair to say since he’s already in his 20th season. The thousands of miles played and traveled finally caught up to him. Don’t get me wrong - he is still playing at an extremely high level, but he isn’t the same LeBron. 

One clear visual evidence is that LeBron is playing more off-ball possessions. I cannot remember a time when I saw him run up and down the floor without the ball for a five-minute stretch. You would always want the ball in his hand, but that takes a toll on his endurance, especially with the games being played now every other day. The Lakers are allowing guys like Austin Reaves, D’Angelo Russell, and Dennis Schroder to bring up the ball and run more actions.

For those who love analytics, there are also clear signs that he plays differently now. In this year’s playoffs, LeBron’s usage rate, which is an advanced metric that computes the number of a team’s possessions that a player uses, is the second-lowest ever in his NBA career. His counting stats across the board and minutes played are lower than his previous years. 

However, there are benefits to lowering the usage of LeBron. First of all, the playoffs is a marathon. By allowing LeBron to play off-ball, the Lakers are lowering his workload and allowing him to pace himself through the game. This allows him to preserve just that little bit of effort for the endgame. He can now time when he’s going to erupt. 

Take for example Game 3 against the Warriors. LeBron barely took a shot in the first half of that game. He paced himself and exploded in the second half where he finished with 21 points in the Lakers’ 30-point win. He can now pick and choose when he will take over rather than having to do it for 48 minutes. 

Because the Lakers allow him now to save some energy on offense, LeBron can now put more effort on the defensive end. Many critics point out how he would always take plays off on defense. I’m not saying that he doesn’t take possessions off, but the defensive effort is now more consistent. He’s sprinting back, grabbing boards, and doing the little things. We always knew that he was a world-class defender, but because he was expending so much energy on offense, he had to rest on defense. 

With the Lakers one game away from advancing to the Western Conference Finals, there may be a lot of talk that LeBron isn’t dominating the game as he did before. And there is merit to that statement. Players tend to slow down and lessen their workload as they get older. But, so what if he takes a little bit of a breather or reduces his workload? As we all age, isn’t that what we expect? At least, he is still averaging 20-10-5 while doing so. 

LeBron may seem “human” now, but that shouldn’t discredit what he can still do. At the end of the day, I can say this with confidence: there will be no other player like LeBron who can still produce at this level—in the playoffs of Year 20. We shouldn’t take him for granted. 

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