How is LeBron James still this good? Improved shooting, health among factors keeping Lakers star in elite company
2023/11/20

LeBron James, at 38 years old, continues to defy expectations and cement his status as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Despite his age, James remains a force to be reckoned with on the court, consistently ranking in the top 15 in multiple statistical categories including points, assists, steals, field goal percentage, and Player Efficiency Rating (PER).

What sets James apart is not only his longevity, but also his adaptability and continuous improvement. Throughout his career, he has transformed himself into a deadly shooter, significantly raising his 3-point shooting percentage from 29.0 percent as a rookie to an impressive 39.7 percent this season. His improved shooting extends beyond the perimeter, as he is also converting a career-high 68.0 percent of his 2-point attempts, largely due to his exceptional finishing at the rim. Within four feet of the basket, James is making an astounding 81.7 percent of his shots, surpassing even his peak MVP days.

Furthermore, James has increased his driving game this season, recording the highest number of drives since the 2019-20 bubble season. His field goal percentage on drives stands at an incredible 67.1 percent, the best among players averaging at least six drives per game. When James penetrates the defense and finds himself in the middle of the floor, he is virtually unstoppable.

Another aspect that sets James apart is his unparalleled understanding of the game. His preparation and deep knowledge of the league are evident in his ability to anticipate and read plays. Opponents have recounted stories of James accurately predicting their offensive strategies and even instructing teammates on their plays. His basketball IQ remains unmatched, as he continually demonstrates remarkable acumen on both ends of the court.

Interestingly, James has found success this season primarily playing as a small forward. In previous seasons, he had taken on more minutes at center, potentially placing additional strain on his body. However, with the Lakers' current roster boasting more size, James has reverted to playing more minutes at small forward. These lineups, particularly when paired with players like Christian Wood and either Anthony Davis or Jaxson Hayes, have proven highly effective. In fact, in 179 possessions, these small forward lineups have outscored opponents by an impressive 41.4 points per 100 possessions.

Despite his age, James appears to be in peak physical condition this season. With meticulous attention to his health, including investing a reported $1.5 million annually on various treatments and therapies, James has managed to stay relatively injury-free. This season, he has missed only one game out of the Lakers' first 14, and his average playing time of 34.4 minutes per game ranks 29th in the league. His improved health has allowed him to have more practice time, contributing to his impressive performance on the court.

In terms of playstyle, James has become more judicious with his minutes and has reduced the strain on his body. He has adopted a team-oriented approach, relying more on his teammates to shoulder the load. This is reflected in his usage rate, which is at one of the lowest rates of his career. Additionally, this season he has been assisted on 54.3 percent of his shots, significantly higher than any other point in his career.

Ultimately, James continues to perform at a top-10 level, defying the natural decline that usually accompanies age. He has been consistently ranked as one of the most impactful players this season according to Estimated Plus-Minus (EPM), a respected impact statistic in the basketball world. His exceptional skills, versatility, and basketball IQ make him truly one-of-a-kind, and he still has plenty of gas left in the tank.

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