LeBron James’ stop-and-start season has somewhat diminished the great year he’s having statistically. Battles with injuries and trips in and out of health and safety protocols for both James — and the Lakers as a whole — have led to an odd season on many fronts.
But the recent strong run of form from both parties has the Lakers on a 3-game winning streak, and winners of four of their last five and James on the fringes of the MVP conversation.
Officially, James can’t qualify for the scoring leaderboard, or any leaderboard for that matter, due to his lack of games played. But since he only needs to play 70% of his team’s games to qualify, James will hit that threshold in Friday’s game against the Hawks.
Regardless of where he ranks, though, his averages speak for themselves this season. And after practice on Thursday, James spoke about what it means to start to be included in the discussion once again.
“I think when you are placed in the MVP conversation, that means that your team is winning games and you’re playing at a level that’s helping them win games,” James said. “So, if my name starts to be in the MVP conversation then I’m happy about it in a sense, (because) that means the Lakers are winning basketball games and that’s what I want. That’s all I care about.
“I know what I bring to the table every night. I know what I’m capable of doing every night. But I want that to result in wins and that’s just always been my mindset in this league.”
James’ 28.6 points per game would be the most he’s averaged not only during his time in Los Angeles, but as well as more than any season during his second stint in Cleveland or his time in Miami, going all the way back to the 2009-10 season. That has largely come from his improved shooting from beyond the arc, as his 37% conversation rate is his best since 2013-14, his final season in Miami, when he shot 37.9%.
His assist and rebound numbers have come down, largely due to playing alongside Russell Westbrook this season, but his overall efficiency as a shooter with his 59.3% effect field goal percentage is the highest of his career since 2016-17, when he led Cleveland to the Finals. He’s also doing it all while playing the most minutes per game of his career since his time in Cleveland, and (lately) while playing the center position with Anthony Davis sidelined.
As James notes, though, for him to be a serious contender in the MVP discussion, the Lakers will have to win more games. While they are on a winning run, it also has come on the heels of five straight losses during the holidays, when the team was decimated by positive COVID tests and players in health and safety protocols.
Only if the Lakers begin to rapidly rise up the rankings will James become a serious contender for the MVP. But regardless of where he ranks in the race, he’s been an irreplaceable piece for the Lakers while they have started to turn their season around. For both James and the Lakers, that’s been more than enough so far.