When LeBron James joined the Los Angeles Lakers in July, one of the theories on his reasoning was that he might finally be ready to take a step back in ballhandling duties.
On some level, James has done that. His usage rate (the percentage of Lakers possessions that end in a shot, assist, turnover of free throws for James) is currently at 31.2 percent, which ranks 10th out of his 16 NBA seasons. Getting James’ usage any lower than that has proven a challenge for the Lakers, and for James himself, who admitted after the team’s win over the Indiana Pacers that he didn’t think he’d be carrying this much of a load offensively.
“I figured I wouldn’t have the ball in my hands as much coming into the season with the multiple ballhandlers we have on this team,” James said, naming Rajon Rondo, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lance Stephenson as players he thought could ease his load offensively.
“Those guys have the ability to make plays as well, but I’m available any time we need a play to be made,” James said.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton said he feels like that’s a balance the Lakers are doing a better job of striking, even if he knows that at times teams will always by nature just rely on their superstar.
“He’s always going to have a lot of responsibility because of how good he is, and we’re going to continue to try and have other players make plays. I think we’re doing that, (but) I think there’s times in a game when you’re LeBron James, or you’re the best player on the team, you’re gonna take over,” Walton said. “He knows when those times are, and he’s good at that.”
Walton said the thing the team needs to improve upon is the moments in which they aren’t relying on James to carry the burden, something he thought the team made progress on against the Pacers.
“We’re continuing to grow to where it’s not just him all the time,” Walton said.
That’s a change James says he wants, despite anonymously sourced reports to the contrary.
He doesn’t think the Lakers are quite there yet.
“That’s the challenging thing I’ve been kind of battling with since the season started. How much do I defer, and kind of allow some of our young guys to figure it out, and how much do I try to take over games?” James asked reporters rhetorically.
“I think tonight was one of those instances where (the young guys) looked at me and they wanted me to close the game,” James continued. “I just tried to make plays, both offensively and defensively.”
James knows that for the Lakers to be as great as they can be, both he and the team will have to figure out how to split the games up into the times when he needs to take the wheel vs. when he can let the young core take the Lakers’ offense for a spin.
The Lakers and James learning when to do which isn’t always easy, but James is going to keep trying.
“It’s something that’s a challenge for me and an adjustment for me, but it’s whatever it takes to help our ball club be as good as we can be towards the end of the season,” James said.