Let’s begin this week by checking in on the LeBron James Revenge Tour. We’re not yet a month into the season and he’s already using hashtags like #WashedKing to let us all know he’s very aware of those who said he was on the decline after last season’s injury-riddle 50-game debut in Los Angeles.
Hey, I like it. Many times we’ve heard pro athletes try to tell us they don’t consume what is said in the media about them. That’s disingenuous. LeBron doesn’t even try to hide from it. Yes, he consumes it and yes it consumes him.
And now he’s going about the business of consuming all opposing defenses to an eye-popping start to his second year with the Lakers.
LeBron through 13 games is averaging 25 points per game, but the most notable statistic is the 11.2 assists per game he’s posting. No one has averaged over 10 assists a game as a Laker since Magic Johnson (he did it, by the way, nine times!).
LeBron is thriving with offseason acquisition Anthony Davis, who, understandably, receives the most passes that LeBron delivers in a game. AD is a big reason for LeBron’s assist success, as the big man shoots 47.5% from the field and is money (51.4%) from inside the arc.
The best stat, of course, is the 11-2 record the LeLakers have, which leads the NBA. Kobe Bryant must like what he sees because he was courtside on Sunday for the latest performance, a shellacking of the Atlanta Hawks. Kobe dapped LeBron from his courtside seat and the King acknowledged the Mamba on social media afterward.
So let’s be clear, the King is not washed. He’s come back for the crown and already has media members locking in their votes for him as MVP.
If he keeps this up, he might also convince people he should win Most Improved Player, too.
While LeBron is back on the podium as the best player in the world, Carmelo Anthony is just happy to be back in the NBA. He signed a one-year, non-guaranteed deal with the Portland Trail Blazers, who have a dynamic backcourt in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, but not much else going on at forward.
Melo fills a need after the injury to Zach Collins and the uncertainty of Pau Gasol’s availability. But what kind of role can he fill on a team with both guards averaging over 20 field goal attempts per game? Lillard said it was “worth a shot” and believes Melo can still contribute. He also candidly added he didn’t think his stops in OKC and Houston were “a good fit.”
Both teams, obviously, felt the same.
It’s been over a year since Melo appeared in an NBA game. While he has kept himself in shape waiting for his next opportunity, you have to think it’s going to take some time for him to find his conditioning and his rhythm. But there’s no reason to think, if he can adapt to a lesser role that he’d in the past often struggled with, Melo should still be able to get buckets in the NBA.
Around the NBA, the talk is about a game that continues to trend toward offense and statistical marvels. James Harden is averaging 40 points per game (39.5) in his first 13 games. That’s just insane stuff we haven’t seen since Wilt Chamberlain. Harden is also leading the NBA in three-point attempts per game (14.6) and free throws (14.8) so he knows how to get his points in bunches. There’s no doubt he’s changed the game, but the debate continues to rage on if it’s for the better.
Goran Dragic, at 33, is seeing life through the eyes of a veteran who’s had enough of the NBA treadmill and the status put on being a starter. The Heat guard this season accepted a role off the bench after coach Erik Spoelstra approached him about the move. His reply? “Most of the time, I’m in the game at the end. All that matters is we win.”
Vince Carter has 10 games to go to reach 1,500 for his career. He’d be the 5th player in NBA history to reach that milestone. With load management today, that’s one of those numbers you may never see reached again. Jamal Crawford, who hasn’t signed with a team but has not retired, is second on the active list at 1,326 games played. Others include Joe Johnson (1,276), Pau Gasol (1,226) and LeBron (1,211). The only name you can see hitting 1,500 is LeBron.
Andre Iguodala (1,108 games played) is on the Grizzlies, technically, but waiting for a buyout or trade. Rumors say he’d sign with the Lakers if he’s bought out, but the Clippers could look to add him to their roster of defensive hawks as more reason to believe they’re built to beat the Lakers. How much are the Clippers willing to block the Lakers from landing him?
Speaking of longevity, my old friend Magic coach Steve Clifford recently coached his 500th career NBA game. He got his start as an assistant coach on Jeff Van Gundy’s staff with the Knicks in 2000. When he was asked if he could see himself doing it as long as Gregg Popovich (24th season), the 58-year-old Clifford, who missed some time while coaching in Charlotte because of a health issue, didn’t pause for a second. “Nope,” he said. “I’m serious, no way. Not for me. I love it, but I would never be able to do it.”