LeBron James wants to reflexively tell you that “you’re not supposed to be here” this season.
In many ways, what LeBron wants to tell you about himself in his new Nike commercial is wrong. You’re not supposed to be here? You were on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school junior, LeBron — this is exactly where you’re supposed to be.
But in one significant way, LeBron is right about being out of place.
James is in his 14th NBA season, and you’re not supposed to be reaching your prime after posting a Hall of Fame career twice over.
But that’s where LeBron is now — he’s not supposed to still be this good.
How good? He’s averaging nearly a triple-double a game (22.9 points, 9.9 assists, 8.9 rebounds) this year.
There’s something different about LeBron’s game this season, though. We knew that things would change in Cleveland after the Cavs won the title in June, but no one was sure how that change would manifest.
It’s impossible to say if the success of the summer is connected to this change in the fall, but LeBron is playing with an incredible patience so far this year. There’s a coldness to his game, and that’s not a bad thing.
So far this season, James’ effect on the Cavs’ games — while always significant — isn’t as overt as you might expect from one of the greatest [if not the single greatest, (don’t @ me)] NBA players of all-time.
It’s a rebound here, an assist or two there, a few made shots here, and then flashes of that unfathomable skill.
It’s calculated, it’s spaced. James’ game has always been unique because of its selflessness, but he’s taking it to a new level this season.
It’s fascinating: a player with the rare ability to win a game singlehandedly is instead deciding to play a more passive game — to spread his impact into different areas and let others carry the heavy offensive load possession after possession.
This isn’t to say he’s regressed — far from it. No, James is playing winning basketball. His shots aren’t down — they’re just smarter; he’s still running the point at times — but he seems more deferential this season. James’ usage percentage so far this season is the lowest it’s ever been, but he’s only scoring one less basket per game and his assists and rebound numbers are significantly up this year.
Every team needs a glue guy — someone who does it all and doesn’t need credit for doing anything. LeBron seems content to be the Cavaliers’ glue guy.
That’s not fair.
Especially when you consider that this is probably temporary — that he has shown no signs of slowing down and that, should he decide to put his body on the line, he could decide that he’s going to the hoop on nearly every possession (a la the NBA Finals) and leave the opponent in his wake.
You’re not supposed to get better if you’re trying to take it easy, but that’s exactly what LeBron is doing this year.
You’re not supposed to have an infinite prime, but that’s what LeBron seems to have.
You’re not supposed to be able to do that, but then again, there’s a lot of things LeBron wasn’t supposed to do.