None of us are strangers to debates regarding the King. Undoubtedly, the most common NBA discussion of the 21st century is who is better, LeBron James or Michael Jordan. While I have no doubt that there will always be arguments over who is the greatest basketball player of all time, there is something else much more relative to the 2019 season that we must discuss.
LeBron James is currently out with a groin injury he suffered against the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day, where the Lakers, to everyone’s surprise, beat the Warriors in Oracle Arena, 127-101. James suffered the injury midway through the third quarter, but the Lakers still went on to handsomely defeat the winner of last years NBA Championships.
Since their Christmas Day victory, the Lakers have played a total of eight games, going 3-5 without Lebron on the court. However, the record is not what is most important for the Lakers in LeBron’s absence. Currently, the Lakers sit in 8th place in the Western Conference, with an overall record of 23-19. Since it is still relatively early in the NBA season, this is by no means a bad standing. In fact, I believe these circumstances are going to help the Lakers down the road.
Although the Lakers are currently dropping games because of LeBron’s absence, his injury has forced other players to step up and play a more prominent role. Prior to LeBron getting hurt, it was clear from watching any Lakers game that he was in charge. Players were skeptical of making their own plays and looked to him to be the leading producer, both offensively and defensively. However, since he has been out, we have seen a much more impressive role come out of many of the Lakers’ players, including Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and JaVale McGee. The performances from all of these players have been exponentially better in the Lakers’ past eight games, simply because the team needed everyone to step up in order to compensate for the influence that LeBron typically would have on the court.
That being said, I am in no way saying that LeBron being injured makes the Lakers better right now. Everyone in their right mind would have to agree that including arguably the greatest player of all time on a roster would help improve it. What I am stating is this. Since LeBron got hurt, his teammates have had to step up in order to make sure that his absence did not cause them to fall behind detrimentally. As a result, the members of the Lakers roster have gained more confidence, motivation and overall experience on the court. They managed to show, not only to the world, but to themselves, that they are still capable of winning games and competing in the NBA, even without James. That makes me very excited to see what the Lakers will be like when LeBron returns.
Now that the rest of the Lakers have been able to play without James, and truly push their limits, once he returns, he is stepping back into an entirely different team. The combination of this newly experienced Lakers team and LeBron James should make other NBA teams very concerned. LeBron will be able to have significantly more trust in his teammates and they will have more confidence in themselves. That is a recipe for some excellent momentum going into the rest of the NBA season, and I am excited to see, just how high, the Lakers can fly.