Over the last couple weeks, LeBron James has been questioned as a leader and a player in ways he never has been before. Some of this noise has been earned, some of it overblown. This was always going to be the case as soon as he committed to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, but now that the team is knee-deep in a playoff pursuit, James is snapping back at some of the knocks on his game.
James told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports after beating the New Orleans Pelicans Wednesday night that he’s noticed that criticism, and that some offenses testing him in ways they might not have in years prior, but is welcoming the challenge:
“I mean, every team has the right if they want to single me out defensively. Come on with it,” James told Yahoo Sports. “Hey, listen, come on with it. Every team has the right to be like, ‘Oh, ’Bron’s over there.’ Hey, just come on with it. … We’ll see what happens.”
More on that strategy from opposing offenses in a bit, but at the very least, this is exactly what you want to hear from someone willing to take on whatever teams have in store for him on either side of the ball.
James continued, this time about jus the criticism itself:
“I really don’t care. Criticism doesn’t bother me,” James told Yahoo Sports after posting 33 points, 10 assists, six rebounds, two steals and a block in 37 minutes. “I love to play the game and my teammates know what I do for them and that’s all that matters. … The only thing motivating me is how I can try to help my teammates be successful and trying to win ball games.
“So if [teams are] switching out on me with a guard and me having to try to get a stop, I mean, guys, they’re going to score. These are NBA players. I just try to make it tough on them. I tried to make it tough on Julius [Randle] all night, and obviously he was a monster [with a game-high 35 points], but I tried to make it tough on Jrue as well. To be able to get that stop for our team and then be able to make that shot for our team, that’s motivating for me. That’s all that matters to me.”
The thing is: The Lakers should welcome this strategy from their opponents. James is perfectly fine (if not actually good) as an on-ball defender. Just let one of his stans tell you.
Opponents shot 1-10 FG going at LeBron James last night.— JA (@RiseJA23) February 26, 2019
LeBron forced an incredible 10 turnovers defensively. pic.twitter.com/lBAGr26aaF
It’s while he’s off the ball on the weak side that his energy and focus tends to wane. Watch him when he isn’t guarding the ball and you’ll get to see the ways he can actually hurt the defense. All too often he’ll just wander over to help somewhere that doesn’t need it, and then hardly attempt to recover to the shooter he left open.
So if I was devising an offense to best take advantage of James, I’d merely run him through a screen or two to ensure he’s guarding a shooter, stick that player in the corner, and let James do the rest of the work for me.
Frankly, it’s good that James is hearing some of this criticism. The effort on defense he’s shown for stretches since he announced that he was going to ramp up to playoff intensity has been borderline laughable. If he hears this criticism and uses it to ignite his game, then great.
All that really matters is that he leads by example and defends the way he’s capable of defending, no matter if he’s on or off the ball. But just to be safe, opposing teams, by all means, please challenge him on it. Just go right at him and see what happens.