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How LeBron James Changes the Lakers, Part 2 - Post Ups

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LeBron James is posting up more than ever, and has become devastatingly effective at it. This could be a big weapon for the Lakers.

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LeBron James is heading into his 16th season and will be turning 34 before the end of the calendar year. On the off chance that he is not, in fact, a cyborg, the combined 54,347 regular and postseason minutes that he’s tallied are likely to have an impact on the nature of his game over his next three seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers.

His transformation into more of a power player began a few years ago, culminating in a career-high 358 possessions of post-up-derived offense in the 2017-18 season. He’s become one of the best players in the game in these situations, scoring 1.04 Points Per Possession himself (88th percentile in the NBA) and generating 1.26 PPP (74th Percentile) on his passes out of the post.

All told, his 1.14 PPP on post-up derived offense puts James in elite company, in the 91st percentile league-wide on high volume. As a basis of comparison, the average half court play in the NBA generates approximately 0.95 PPP.

Let’s take a closer look.

LeBron’s post game isn’t particularly sophisticated, but it’s lethal against the right matchups. He seeks out smaller players who he can bully — a descriptor that fits a good portion of the NBA — and overwhelms them with his size and coordination. Putting bigger players on him leads to difficulties in other situations, such as isolations and pick & rolls, so there are no ideal options for the defense.

Sometimes LeBron bails out the defense by taking Jordan or Kobe-esque fadeaway jumpers from mid-range, where he’s much better at going over his left shoulder (1.13 PPP) than his right (0.57 PPP).

He isn’t bad at these jumpers in aggregate — and is virtually unstoppable when he’s hitting them — but those probably represent the best case scenario for the defense. I suspect that he does this in part as a means of conserving energy during the regular season. He didn’t do this as frequently during the playoffs, aside from a couple of games where he went nuclear against the Toronto Raptors.

The young Lakers have the necessary attributes to thrive off of LeBron’s post-up abilities, although that potential went somewhat unrealized last season, where the Lakers often missed open cutters in half-court sets. It’s a chicken-or-the-egg question. Will they set better screens and cut harder this season because they know they’ll get the ball more often if they do, or will they get the ball more often because they’re setting better screens and cutting harder?

The answer to both questions is probably “yes,” and I can’t wait to see it.

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