LeBron James has had to play some major minutes for the Los Angeles Lakers so far this season.
Despite that, the organization is still hoping to be able to limit the star forward’s playing time when the team is healthy, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.
Across 13 games of action in the current campaign, James is averaging 34.4 minutes per performance.
“Still, all parties involved aspire to limit James’ minutes when the team can get fully healthy, sources told ESPN,” McMenamin wrote. “James has already missed one game in the early going because of a left calf injury, and the long-term goal is to get him to the finish line with the wheels still intact.”
Heading into the season, the goal was for James to play around 30 minutes per game for L.A. So far, though, he’s played below 30 minutes in just three games, and he’s played 35 or more minutes on eight occasions.
James’ heavy workload has been due in part to injury issues. For example, Jarred Vanderbilt, who signed a four-year extension with the Lakers over the offseason, has yet to play this season due to a heel issue, and he figures to be a major factor in the rotation once he gets out on the floor.
His return could potentially mean a lighter load for James, at least during the regular season.
In addition to injuries, another issue for the Lakers that has contributed to James having to log major minutes early in the season is the fact that they simply haven’t been very good without him on the floor. So far this season, the Lakers have a +7.1 net rating when James is on the floor and a -16.7 net rating when he’s sitting, per NBA.com.
This means that the Lakers are outscoring opponents by over seven points per 100 possessions when James is on the floor, but being outscored by over 16 points per 100 possessions when James is off the court. That’s an enormous discrepancy, and it paints an accurate picture of just how much L.A. has struggled without James doing his thing on both ends of the court.
So, while it might sound good to say that the goal is to limit James’ playing time during the regular season, Lakers coach Darvin Ham is finding out that doing so is easier said than done.
The Lakers understandably want James to be healthy for a playoff push, but if he’s not consistently playing major minutes, the squad might not even be in position to contend for a spot in the postseason come April.
For now, the Lakers just have to hope that once they’re healthier, it will be enough to allow them to pull out some wins while easing James’ workload a bit.