King James: The Ageless Phenom
18. That’s the number of years that LeBron James has been dominating the league, and in his 18th year and age-36 season, that fact has remained unchanged. Unreal. Simply put, King James should not still be this good. Carmelo Anthony is the only other player from his draft class (2003) who is still playing, but Melo is a shell of his former self, while James has been putting up MVP numbers for the 22-9 Lakers. That just doesn’t happen. Traditionally, a player begins to decline around the age of 30, but James has thus far refused to comply with that narrative, despite ranking inside the top-8 in all-time minutes played and being on track to breach the top-5 club in that category by the end of the season.
Perhaps most impressively, despite a 10-week turnaround from L.A.’s Finals run, James has yet to miss a single game this season and he’s been a first-round stud (if punting FT and TOs) with averages of 25.6 points, 8.2 boards, 7.9 dimes, 2.4 triples (career-high), 1.0 steal and 0.5 swats per contest on 50.2% shooting.
He doesn’t seem to be at all interested in missing games for “rest” purposes, but he also doesn’t really have that luxury with Anthony Davis (calf) expected to miss at least the next four weeks, and Dennis Schroder (COVID-protocol) now being forced to go through a seven-day quarantine. Over the past two games with both those guys on the sidelines, LBJ’s assist percentage has skyrocketed to 50 and his usage has climbed to 33.5, so those with King James on their roster can anticipate some royally remarkable stat lines as we head into the All-Star break. Appreciate His Greatness.
Saben Lee’s arrival
Saben Lee had an impressive showing in 33 minutes off the bench on Sunday, registering 12 points (4-of-7 FG, 4-of-7 FT), four rebounds, five assists, three steals and just one turnover while severely outplaying the starter Dennis Smith Jr. in a loss to the Magic. Killian Hayes (hip) and Delon Wright (groin) won’t play again until after the All-Star break, so that leaves Lee, DSJ and Frank Jackson (DNP-CD Sunday) to fill all the point guard minutes for at least the next six games, and given that Wright is dealing with a Grade 2 groin strain it wouldn’t be shocking to see his absence extend well into March.
Dwane Casey heaped praise on the rookie point guard after Sunday’s game, saying, “He’s a true point. Talking to coach [Jerry] Stackhouse at Vanderbilt, he loved him. He’s a leader. He’s a leader, he plays with pure heart. There’s no ‘me’ in his game whatsoever. That’s something that comes out when he’s out on the floor. He has that leadership. He’s learning, he’s young, he’s a rookie. Like a lot of our guys, they’re doing some good things. Just not enough to win in the NBA right now. That’s gonna come, that’s gonna come.”
Based on that quote, it sounds like Casey is going to take Lee’s development seriously, so there’s a decent chance he’s flirting with 30-plus minutes a night over the coming weeks. If you need a PG, Lee is worth a look.
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Kristaps Porzingis began his 2020-21 campaign on the sidelines as he recovered from an offseason knee procedure, and he got off to a bit of a bumpy start with some inefficient games, but he’s completely turned the corner in February flirting with top 15 value behind averages of 22.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 2.8 triples and 1.6 swats per contest on 50% shooting from the field and 90.3% from the stripe.
In January, KP had been connecting on just 28.6% of his 3-point attempts, but that number has jumped to an uber-efficient 42.3% from distance in February, and with the 3-point shot accounting for roughly 40% of Porzingis’ total shot attempts – him getting hot from distance is a big reason why he’s seen such a large uptick in his overall efficiency. He’s also just been better at knocking down open looks, as he was converting 48.6% of his “open” shots and 30.8% of his “wide-open” shots in January, but in February, those numbers have jumped to 56.8% and 46.7% respectively.
He has had some big shot blocking games, but that’s still something he hasn’t been able to do consistently this season, averaging a career-low 1.6 swats per contest. However, just like his 3-point shooting, I’d expect to see a reversion to the mean as he gets more comfortable on the court. For the past three years, he’s never averaged fewer than 2.0 blocks per contest, so the odds are in his favor of returning to that range – and if he’s able to partner the elite swats with his efficient scoring ways – the 25-year-old PF could find himself in the first-round equation.