If there is one position in the NBA with more available jobs to fill than qualified candidates, it’s point guard. There simply aren’t enough talented players who play the 1 spot who aren’t already under contract.
Case in point, the Los Angeles Lakers, whose complete list of point guards is Rajon Rondo, Quinn Cook and Troy Daniels — not exactly Stephen Curry and John Stockton talent-wise.
The Lakers’ novel solution to the problem of lacking a good primary ballhandler? They’re going to start LeBron James at the point when the 2019-20 season tips off in October, according to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes.
This may sound like absolute lunacy. After all, according to Basketball-Reference, James hasn’t played minutes at point guard since his rookie season in Cleveland, and for his career, the sum total of his point guard experience is 1 percent of his overall minute total, less than 500 minutes of a 1,198-game, 46,235-minute regular season career, and exactly zero minutes at the point out of 10,049 in the playoffs.
What’s more, James is listed at 6 feet 8 and 250 pounds, which is about as prototypical a forward’s physique as you’ll find in a basketball player, consistent with James playing 92 percent of his career regular-season minutes at small forward or power forward (and even 1 percent at center) and almost all of his playoff minutes except for a stretch at shooting guard in 2018 in the frontcourt.
But with Rondo oft-injured and Cook and Daniels considered starting-level talent only if you’re talking about the South Bay Lakers in the G-League, someone has to step up.
And it’s not like the Lakers haven’t blazed this trail before.
After all, if someone says “great point guard for the Lakers,” the mind instantly goes to Magic Johnson, who was the floor general for the “Showtime” teams that won five titles and went to eight NBA Finals in the 1980s and a ninth in 1991.
Johnson was 6 feet 9 and 215 pounds in an era before the NBA embraced weightlifting and strength and was so versatile that he even played center in a Finals game in 1980 and turned in one of the greatest performances in NBA history, scoring 42 points in relief of the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the championship-clinching Game 6.
Johnson is the all-time NBA leader in assists per game with 11.2, so having a big guy — especially a big guy like LeBron, who averaged 8.3 assists per game in 2019 and has averaged 7.2 for his career — playing the point isn’t completely unheard of, especially for the Lakers.
The move also makes a measure of sense for a team whose strength is in its frontcourt with power forward Anthony Davis and likely small forward Kyle Kuzma. When you have a guy who’d be a surplus player in one role but fills a gaping hole at another, why not give him some run at the point?
The bigger problem for the Lakers is James’ ability to stay healthy — he was limited to 55 games in 2018-19 with a groin injury.
And while James is still solid defensively against forwards, quicker guards may be able to blast right past him, especially as James turns 35 in December.
But it’s not like the Lakers have a bunch of depth. Considering the other guys who can play the point for LA, even a half-strength LeBron is still a huge step up in quality.
Rondo was subpar last year, with just a 0.1 value over replacement player, .047 win shares per 48 minutes (.100 is average for a starter-quality player) and a player efficiency rating of 12.1 (league average is 15). The 33-year-old looks close to cooked career-wise and injuries limited him to 46 games in 2018-19.
Cook is so awful defensively (a minus-2.7 defensive box plus-minus) that his overall advanced stats (minus-0.2 VORP) suggest that the Lakers would be better with a replacement player from the G-League.
Daniels can shoot 3-pointers (38.1 percent in 2018-19) but does absolutely nothing else well on a basketball court.
So why not just plug LeBron in and let him bring the ball up?
That’s pretty much the Lakers’ challenge — they need a 34-year-old with a million miles on his odometer to suddenly learn how to be Magic Johnson.
Good luck with that.
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