So much for a slow start.
The Los Angeles Lakers are 13-4 through their first 17 games of the 2020-21 season, have yet to encounter a Covid-19 outbreak among their locker room and remain, as of now, the number one seed in the Western Conference. The defending champs have not been perfect–especially on Monday night against the Golden State Warriors–but have once again cemented themselves as an early NBA title favorite. Unsurprisingly, LeBron James is at the forefront, demonstrating the ability to take over games and break opponents’ wills even at the age of 36. Here are 17 numbers explaining how he, and the Lakers, got to where they are right now over their first 17 games.
23.9 — The amount of points per game LeBron is averaging through his first 16 games. If that holds over a full season, it would be the second-highest scoring average ever for an NBA player in his age 36 season or above. Only Karl Malone in 2000 averaged more at 25.5 PPG. Unsurprisingly, the leaderboard of top PPG marks for NBA players age 36 or older is dominated by the two guys ahead of LeBron in all-time scoring: Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
32.4 — LeBron’s minutes per game so far this season. Last season, his first under Frank Vogel, James averaged 34.6 minutes per game in the regular season and 36.3 in the playoffs, both career lows by far. This year, he is on pace to break his previous career low MPG in the regular season by more than two minutes. Though he has played in every game so far, it appears the Lakers are still load managing James by doubling down on last season’s strategy of limiting the amount of time he sees the court each game.
38.9% — LeBron’s three-point percentage on the season after going 6-10 from deep against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night. Again, it’s early, but LeBron is currently on pace to not only obliterate his previous career high three-point percentage but do so at a clip of 6.4 three-point attempts per game, which would also be a high-water mark for his career in year 18. James already shows no signs of slowing down any time soon, but if he keeps hitting from deep at a 40% clip, he’ll continue aging like fine wine.
22.1 and 16.1 — Until Saturday’s dominant performance against Chicago, things were not going as well so far for the Lakers’ other superstar, and Anthony Davis knew it. “I think I suck right now,” he told reporters on Thursday. Davis’s 22.1 PPG and 16.1 shot attempts per game seem to agree. Both are his lowest marks since his second full season in the league. Davis has been more aggressive this week, taking 18 and 21 shot attempts against the Bucks and Bulls, respectively.
38% — Davis’s shooting percentage over the previous three games before his 37-point outburst in Chicago. Before then, AD had not even cracked 20 points since Jan. 10 at Houston. For reference, the Rockets still had James Harden at that point.
14-for-21: Davis’s ratio of makes to shot attempts in Saturday’s slump-buster. In addition to his season-high 37 points, AD also attained a 39.7% usage percentage, also a season high. Usage percentage shows how active a player is in a team’s offense–in other words, Davis’s renewed aggression is starting to show.
1 — Montrezl Harrell’s place among the NBA’s leading isolation scorers right now, according to the Lakers’ own Mike Trudell and Joey Ramirez. Harell has posted double-digit scoring in eight straight games for the Lakers, including at 21-point outburst in Oklahoma City last week. With Anthony Davis having already sat out two games this season in addition to his on-court struggles, getting a higher level of consistency from Harell as a frontcourt scorer off the bench will be key to the Lakers’ success going forward.
46 — Harrell has also taken the lead as the Lakers’ top offensive rebounder, with his 46 boards on that end this season–by far the most on the team. Only Enes Kanter and Jakob Poeltl have more among bench players this season.
1 and 3 — Where Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope rank in three-point percentage among all NBA players with at least 25 attempts. Caruso is shooting a whopping 56.7% from deep, which probably is not sustainable–he’s only taken 30 shots from deep this year and shot just 33% from three last season. KCP’s mark is even more impressive. As one of the primary deep threats in the Lakers’ starting five, Caldwell-Pope is shooting 55.6% on 54 attempts, averaging nearly the same clip as Caruso in almost twice as many shots. That includes a 7-10 performance from deep against the Bucks on Thursday. “I know where to find my spots,” Caldwell-Pope told Trudell after the game.
7.5 — LeBron’s assists per game, his lowest since the 2015-16 season. Last year, of course, he posted a career-high 10.2 APG that also led the entire NBA. With another capable ball handler starting alongside him in Dennis Schroder, however, James does not have to shoulder nearly as big of a playmaking load as he did last year, when there was no secondary ball handler on the Lakers’ roster until Rajon Rondo came alive in the playoffs. (Remember the Darren Collison sweepstakes?)
38.5% — Kyle Kuzma’s three-point percentage so far this season. Very quietly, Kuz is off to a hot start as a spot-up shooter, settling nicely into a full-time wing role often with lineups that feature two other big men such as Markieff Morris and Montrezl Harrell. Kuzma’s shot attempts this season have been split between two-point and three-point land, and so far, he’s hitting nearly as well from deep as he is closer to the basket.
9.8 — The Lakers’ net rating, or the amount by which the Lakers are outscoring their opponents per 100 possessions. No other team has a net rating even close to tht mark, not even the Clippers who, at 13-4, are tied with the Lakers for first place in the Western Conference.
6 — The amount of players that the Lakers have averaging double-digit scoring through their first 16 games. The six: James, Davis, Harrell, Schroeder, Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope. All six of them scored in double figures in the Lakers’ win over the Pelicans on Jan. 15.
0 — The number of times, before this season, that the Lakers have started 9-0 on the road. They have a chance to improve to 10-0 away from Staples Center on Monday in Cleveland.
149578 (rough estimate) — The amount of times Dennis Schroeder has commented “That’s Tuff” on Instagram posts from his teammates. Build that brand, Menace.