LeBron James did it. It may have taken him a year longer than he would have liked, but he did it. In his 17th season, LeBron led the Los Angeles Lakers to their first championship in 10 years, and their 17th all-time.
However, James couldn’t do it all on his own.
Following the Lakers’ underwhelming 2018-19 campaign, the team’s front office committed to re-tooling the roster to fit James’ style of play, and the result was one of the most dominant teams James has ever played for, if not the most dominant.
With a win over the Miami Heat in Game 6, the Lakers finished their championship run in 21 games, which ties them with the 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers for the fastest championship run by a James-led team.
That’s not the only similarity between the 2015-16 Cavaliers and 2019-20 Lakers, but to say James has ever played with a team like this year’s Lakers would be inaccurate. Let’s go over all of the ways this team is built different.
Flip the switch
LeBron James and Rajon Rondo weren’t the only two players on the Lakers that activated playoff mode — the whole team did.
During the regular season, the Lakers posted an offensive rating of 111.7, which ranked 11th in the NBA. In the postseason, they improved that rating by 3.9 points per 100 possessions, which not only gave them the second-best offensive rating of the 16 teams that qualified for the playoffs, but it also made them the best offensive team James has ever won a championship with, at least on paper.
Their defensive rating dropped from 106.1 to 108.7 in the postseason, but they still had the best net rating (6.9) in the postseason in spite of that. They had the fifth-best net rating (+5.6) in the regular season. They were able to take their games to another level in spite of the season being suspended for four months, and while playing against (at least theoretically) the best teams the NBA had to offer. That’s kind of astounding.
There are only two players that have averaged more than 20 points per game while playing alongside LeBron James in the postseason: Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis. However, only one of James’ teammates has ever more points per game than James, and it’s Davis.
Through 21 games in the postseason, Davis averaged 27.7 points per game on 57.1% shooting from the field, including 38.3% shooting from behind the arc. He also averaged 10.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. No other player in NBA history has ever matched those averages or those shooting percentages in the postseason.
Davis is in a class of his own, and those are just the raw stats. He also had more win shares in the postseason (4.7) and the best box plus-minus (+8.8) than any of James’ former teammates, not including Jordan McRae, who posted a team-high box plus-minus of +57.8 in the four minutes he played in the 2015-16 postseason.
People forget Jordan McRae was a bucket.
But anyway, while Davis might not have the number of championships that Wade has, or the iconic play that Irving has, he has made his case to be James’ best teammate ever.
The Other Guys
In all of LeBron James’ championship runs leading up to this year, he had a third guy he could turn to. In 2012 and 2013, it was Chris Bosh. In 2016, it was Kevin Love. In 2020, it was whoever made the most plays.
The Lakers’ third-leading scorer in the postseason this year was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Caldwell-Pope averaged 10.7 points per game on 41.8% shooting from the field, including 37.8% shooting from 3-point range. The 10.7 points per game Caldwell-Pope averaged were the fewest number of points a “third option” on a James-led team has averaged in the postseason.
Kuzma wasn’t too far behind Caldwell-Pope at 10 points per game, however, even their combined 20.7 points per game is the least amount of points the third and fourth-leading scorers have combined for in a postseason for any of James’ title teams. This season was different for James, but sometimes different is good.
This supporting cast earned their minutes by making winning plays on the defensive end. For example, Alex Caruso and Danny Green didn’t hit their shots at an especially high clip in the postseason, but they still ranked first and fourth, respectively, on the team in net rating because of their contributions on the defensive end.
The key to winning a championship with James has always been a supporting cast that makes 3-pointers and plays defense, but luckily, the latter was enough for the Lakers this season. That’s a testament to the dominance of James and Anthony Davis, but it’s also a testament to how the team bought in on the defensive end.
Are the Lakers the best team LeBron James has ever won a championship with? I don’t know, but the conversation is definitely more interesting than it was before the season started. Plus, even if they’re not the best team James has ever won a championship with, they’ve still cemented their spot in NBA history. This is a team everyone will be talking about for a while, for better or for worse.
Let us know how you feel about this team in the comments, and for more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.