Through 20 games with the Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James is averaging the fewest minutes per game of his career (34.8). While James could probably lead the league in minutes per game again at the age of 33, team president Magic Johnson doesn’t want to run James into the ground.
“We are trying to make sure that we watch his minutes but also that we don’t run everything through him because now it is Cleveland all over again and we don’t want that,” Johnson said in an interview on SiriusXM NBA Radio.
“Basically minutes, trying to make sure we don’t overplay him and then also usage of the ball in his hands. We got a lot of ballhandlers so we feel we won’t overuse him in terms of his ballhandling and also every play has to run through him. I think we got proven scorers -- Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram ... and then when you have two point guards like Ball and Rondo, we don’t have to have LeBron having the ball in his hands all the time.”
So far, that plan has worked out all right for all the parties involved.
Despite averaging the fewest minutes per game of his career, James is averaging 27.6 points per game, the most he’s averaged since the 2009-10 season, when he was almost 10 years younger playing five minutes per game. That’s pretty good, probably.
James has said himself that he feels can still play heavy minutes, but before the season started he admitted he wouldn’t mind his playing time being rolled back a bit (via ESPN):
“I’m always fresh,” James said after shootaround Thursday morning. “All my coaches want to figure out a way of how to lessen my minutes. I keep telling them I’m strong enough to play most minutes, but they won’t listen to me, so, it’s OK. I like it.”
His actual usage, however, is roughly the same as it’s been throughout his career.
Per basketball-reference, James has a 31.2 percent usage percentage (the amount of possessions that end in a shot, assist, turnover or drawn free-throw from James while he is on the floor) this season, which is just 0.3 percent less than his career average and 0.4 percent less than his usage percentage last season. As you can imagine, he also leads the Lakers in usage percentage by almost 10 percent.
Now, this could be for any number of reasons, such as:
- LeBron just likes the ball in his hands
- He is calling off Luke Walton’s plays
- He doesn’t have anyone reliable to pass the ball to, and
- Luke Walton’s offensive scheme, or lack thereof, is reliant on isolation possessions for James.
As long as they’re winning games, that shouldn’t be a huge issue, but his supporting cast will have to step up sooner rather than later if they want to be serious contenders in the Western Conference.
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