One of the biggest issues the Los Angeles Lakers had last year was their lack of a go-to option down the stretch. The team played close game after close game — especially during their frisky start to last season — but not having a closer to go get a bucket limited the team’s performance in close games at times. To address this, the Lakers added LeBron James.
After the Lakers’ win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, head coach Luke Walton said that — as one would expect — having James as a go-to option in crunch time helped the team a lot (via Bill Oram of the Athletic):
“He is one of the best closers our game has ever seen,” Walton said, “so having him on the court, we knew if we could put together some stops, that was going to be the key.”
Now, whether the Lakers should have needed the full breadth of James’ powers to beat the league-worst Cavaliers aside, having a scorer and player of his caliber has helped the team have success when their offense gets bogged down in the clutch.
And, for all of James’ well-publicized free-throw struggles this season, he is actually shooting better from the free-throw line during fourth quarters (80 percent) than he is on average (74.2 percent). He is, however, shooting just 42.4 percent in fourth quarters compared to the 52.2 percent he’s shooting overall.
There is also the reality that learning to play with a high-usage player like James takes time, and even a basketball savant like James needs a little bit to learn his teammates. 17 games into the season, Walton feels like the Lakers are starting to find the chemistry they’ve been searching for.
“We’re getting to know how to play with one another,” Walton said before the game, “and strengths and weaknesses is starting to happen, the bond of being a team — all these different things have to take place this season. And now we’re 16 games in, it’s happening. And I can see it happening.”
Continuing to find a balance between James carrying the Lakers in the clutch when necessary — and his teammates learning how to be useful without the ball — will be a continuing storyline to watch for the team, but for now, the Lakers feeling like they’re making progress is a step in the right direction.