Entering year 17 of his career, where does Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James rank among the league’s best players? Different people have different answers.
If fan-voting for the NBA All-Star Game is any indication of what the general public thinks of James, then he’s still right at (or at least near) the top in their eyes, as for the second year in a row he drew more votes than any other player for the event.
As far as the media goes, however, James’ stock has fallen a bit in the wake of a disappointing Lakers season last year, as he was voted onto the third All-NBA team, the first time since the 2006-07 season that James did not make the first team.
But while one player doesn’t speak for all of the members of the league, it would seem the view of James internally may be a bit closer to where the fans have him, as when presented with the idea by one of the hosts on “The Joe Budden Podcast” that Russell Westbrook might be the best player in the NBA because he averaged a triple-double three years in a row, Portland Trail Blazers guard Lillard didn’t think twice when naming James as the player he thinks is actually at the top:
Lillard: “That’s like a numbers thing. It’s hard to do, so having that type of energy, being in that type of shape to get 10 rebounds, to get 10 assists and to score 10 points... that don’t make you the best player, just because you can do stuff like that that other people can’t do. That’s like athleticism and heart. That don’t make you the best player though.”
Who do you feel like is the best player in the league?
Lillard: “I think LeBron is.”
So opinions clearly range on James’ status, but how close Lillard is to being right will be a major question for the Lakers this season. There is little doubt that James can still be the best player in the league on any given night, it just remains to be seen how many nights he’ll feel the need to while still trying to avoid overexerting himself.
While few believe that James will go all-out in every single game this year — he’ll need to try and stay as fresh as possible for the playoffs — he does certainly seem to have heard how many people not named Damian Lillard are doubting him, and be motivated to prove them wrong.
To do so, James doesn’t even have to turn on god-mode every single night, either. If James can load manage himself while still playing like a top-five to top-ten player offensively, that might be enough to push the Lakers up a level this year, especially now that he has Anthony Davis and the rest of an improved Lakers roster to pick up the slack.
And if all of that translates to better results for the team this season, it might just be enough to push the consensus on James back towards where Lillard (and surely plenty of other players) think he already is.