LeBron James has led his team to the NBA Final for eight seasons in a row, the type of achievement that would leave anyone feeling pretty confident about what they could do on a basketball court.
James has said that his finals streak “means a lot” to him, and so it shouldn’t be surprising that he isn’t convinced it’s coming to an end anytime soon. In fact, he told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports that he “doesn’t really buy into defeat,” which is one of the most singularly badass quotes an NBA players (or any competitor) has ever given:
“I don’t really buy into [defeat]. I feel like with me on the floor, I can compete versus anybody individually. But at the end of the day, in order to win, your teams have to be great. Individuals are very great, but in order to win a championship, you have to have great teams.”
James thinking defeat is a myth aside, he is right about teams needing multiple great players to take themselves over the top.
That said, James is also great enough that he can prop up a team by himself. Out of Lakers players to average more than 11 minutes per game during the preseason (aka the regular rotation players), James ranked first on the team in net rating, as the Lakers outscored their opponents by 10.1 points per 100 possessions while he was on the floor. That is over two points higher than the next closest regular, JaVale McGee (7.9) and more than four above Lonzo Ball (5.8).
Preseason stats should be taken with a grain of salt — exemplified by the two players that ranked higher than LeBron in net rating over a very small sample, Travis Wear (27.3) and Isaac Bonga (12.9) — but it’s probably fair to predict that the Lakers will be at their best with LeBron on the floor. In order to be as good as they can be, though, they’ll need other players to step up as well.
Brandon Ingram will have to live up to his prolific potential. Ball will have to ball out. Kyle Kuzma will need to demonstrate he can be the perfect off-ball scorer alongside James. All the other Lakers role players will have to show the specific skills the front office brought them in for to complement James.
If the Lakers can do all of that while James remains at his peak, the team can hit its collective peak as well. If they can’t, then the Lakers may have to (at least slightly) pivot away from their non-traditional roster building style by prioritizing a bit more shooting as they simultaneously chase stars this summer.
Given that LeBron doesn’t believe in defeat during a career and life that hasn’t given him a whole lot of reason to, it’s probably safer to bet on the former scenario. Where that collective peak lies remains to be seen, but a top-four seed in the Western Conference and two to three playoff rounds doesn’t seem unreasonable. With a little luck and a quicker-than-expected cohesion process, maybe James can even keep his finals streak alive too.