by Ryan Isley
Just when the NBA thought they had seen the best of LeBron James this past season as he led the Miami Heat to the NBA championship – LeBron’s first title – it seems that the league may be in for a rude awakening when the season starts this October.
One school of thought during the playoffs this past season (and one that I shared) was that once LeBron was able to win that first championship, he would loosen up and be able to play even more freely than he already has en route to his three NBA MVP awards in the past four seasons.
If the Olympics are any indication, LeBron may just be poised to prove those who thought that right and have his best season yet.
The fact that LeBron has looked even more impressive than usual during this Olympics run has not escaped other coaches around the NBA, as Brooklyn Nets assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo talked about LeBron on MSNBC Thursday morning. Responding to a comment on the MSNBC Olympics coverage that LeBron has proven during these Olympics that his is the best basketball player in the world, Carlesimo said:
“He has. And it is strange – not that he wasn’t playing at an unbelievable level anyhow, but right now he just seems to be a little more relaxed, a little more comfortable. I think that championship really made a difference for him. He is the face of the team, there is no question about that. The one time really they have been in trouble against Lithuania in the fourth quarter, they went to him and he just tore it open. Even the first Argentina game was really close – one point at the half – and they came out in the first four possessions in the second half and it was LeBron stepping up.”
Carlesimo is right – LeBron has been there any time the United States has been in trouble in these Olympics. It is reminiscent of what LeBron did in the postseason every time the Heat had their backs against the wall. We all remember what the NBA Finals MVP did in those games – game three against Indiana, game six against Boston and then game two against Oklahoma City. In those three games, LeBron averaged 39 points, 13.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game.
It has been more of the same in London, except instead of wearing the red and black of the Heat, LeBron has been wearing the red, white and blue of the United States.
The first meeting with Argentina in the Olympics – the team the United States will face in Friday’s Semi-final – was the first glimpse of LeBron taking over for Team USA. With the United States clinging to a one-point lead heading into the third quarter, LeBron scored the first seven points for Team USA, setting the tone for a 42-17 quarter and a 126-97 victory.
That game against Lithuania? With the Uniteds States leading Lithuania 87-86 at the four-minute mark, LeBron hit a three-pointer and then scored on a fast break dunk to put the United States up by six. After Deron Williams hit a three, LeBron scored the next two baskets, giving him nine points in a three minute stretch and gave the United States a nine point lead with 1:10 remaining.
While there has been a lot of attention paid during the Olympics on Carmelo Anthony’s USA Olympic record of 37 points against Nigeria, The United States scoring an Olympic record of 156 points as a team against Nigeria and Kevin Durant’s lights-out shooting from three-point range (57 %), anyone who has watched each of the USA’s games in this tournament knows that LeBron has been the best all-around player – not only for the United States, but in the entire Olympics.
Whether it was a full-court pinpoint bounce pass to Durant against France in the Olympics opener, his rebounding, his ability to draw fouls, his defensive pressure and leadership or that one game where he put everything together in the quarterfinals against Australia in the first triple-double in United States Olympic history, LeBron has been the true star of the basketball competition in London.
Unfortunately for the rest of the NBA – including those playing on Team USA – they have to have a bad feeling that the best is yet to come from LeBron. And that is a scary thought.
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