During his time with the Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James has started at every position sans shooting guard at some point during the regular season or playoffs. Traditionally a small forward, James spent time as the de facto point guard the season the team won the title, started at power forward in the team’s decisive Game 6 win over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals in 2020 (among other times) and, this season, has started at center.
That versatility not just during James’ time with the Lakers but across his whole career is part of what makes him arguably the greatest player of all-time. Specific to this season, though, James’ ability to play multiple positions has helped save the Lakers from an otherwise bad situation given their roster construction and how poorly many of the veteran minimum guys have played (looking at you, DeAndre Jordan and Kent Bazemore).
That importance is certainly not lost on head coach Frank Vogel, who spoke about James after Friday’s win over the Magic.
“He’s the most unique player in the history of the game,” Vogel said. “We won a championship with him playing point guard two years ago, he’s been a ball-handling wing throughout his career and he’s been playing center for us, you know what I mean? It’s just pretty remarkable. And for him to be doing it at this stage of his career is even more remarkable, he just continues to get the job done, and he’s had 25 or more in every single game since Anthony has been out, and it’s been a big part of every single win during that stretch.”
The 47% of minutes James has played at center this season is not only the largest percentage of minutes he’s played at the position in his career, it’s not even remotely close. Never in his career has James played more than 3% of his minutes at center.
James’ versatility also allows teams to be more flexible in who plays around him both on a night-to-night basis and when constructing a roster. On a micro level, riding hot hands in games is easier when James can conceivably play any position. On a macro level, signing or drafting the best players available is a lot easier when your star player can play anywhere on the court.
And it’s not just a matter of being able to play at any position, but rank among the best in the league in doing as well. This season, James is playing at an MVP level despite shifting to the center position and a more small ball style that he hasn’t traditionally run before.
It all adds up to a supremely talented and unique player playing in an era of basketball that both accentuates that flexibility and has been created likely because of his skill set. For the Lakers, it’s allowed them to (barely) tread water this season but has also produced a title during his time in purple and gold, both of which the franchise and fan base can be thankful for.