How Bettors Should View LeBron James’ Reduced Playing Time
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This isn’t exactly what LeBron James had in mind when he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in July. Just one day after James passed Michael Jordan for fourth on the all-time scoring list, Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reported that James will play between 28 and 32 minutes during the final 17 games of the season and “likely won’t play in back-to-backs.”
It’s hardly surprising, given that James suffered a groin injury on Christmas Day that caused him to miss five weeks, by far the longest absence of his 16-year career. Also, the Lakers have been a mess over the last two months and have fallen out of playoff contention after losing six of their first eight games out of the All-Star break.
The Lakers have just one back-to-back set remaining this season – March 26 and 27 against Washington and Utah – though it certainly sounds like James could be rested for more than just one of those games.
It won’t affect the playoff race or any NBA Finals betting odds – the Lakers have plummeted to +10000 and have a 0.1 percent chance of even making the playoffs – but James’ change of plans will have an effect on the Lakers each time they take the floor.
Lakers Struggle Without James
News flash incoming: The young Lakers are much worse without James than when he plays. In the five weeks James was out the Lakers went 6-11 straight up and 7-9-1 against the spread. In that stretch they had the fifth-worse offense in the NBA and stayed afloat only because their defense picked up the slack, ranking seventh with James out.
So, it shouldn’t be surprising to NBA betting fans that the under hit 11 of 17 times while James was out. James also missed the Feb. 2 game against the Warriors to rest, and that game also went under (and the Lakers lost).
Games in which James sits are going to be a struggle for Luke Walton’s bunch. Oddsmakers will obviously take his absence into account but the struggles could be even more pronounced: Of those 11 Lakers losses while James was recovering, six were double-digit defeats.
Expect Lebron’s Numbers To Decrease
This rest for James is long overdue. The past two seasons, at ages 32 and 33, he led the NBA in minutes per game and has played into June each of the last eight seasons. There’s also rumored concern from the Lakers that James’ groin isn’t even all the way healed.
So, we’ll give him a pass as he coasts to the finish line before preparing for an important summer that will include max cap space, a top-10 pick and potentially a new teammate in Anthony Davis.
For now, that coasting will mean fewer counting stats. James will be a risky player in NBA prop betting each time he takes the floor, but we do have a sample size to look at regarding what those numbers might be.
James has played in 47 games this season, and in 12 of those he played between 28 and 32 minutes. Here are his numbers in those games: 21.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.3 3-pointers in 30.4 minutes per game. To put that in context, James is averaging 27.1 points, 8.6 rebounds, 8.0 assists and 2.1 3-pointers in 35.6 minutes per game this season.
Then again, James could also exert himself more in games knowing he isn’t going to be coming close to the 40 minutes he’s topped 10 times this season. He certainly showed that on Saturday when he scored 30 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out 12 assists in just 28 minutes.
Still, expect a decrease across the board from James in those counting stats and be weary of using him for player prop bets.
Kyle Kuzma Should Benefit
So, if James isn’t putting up numbers, who will? Brandon Ingram has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a DVT, or a blood clot, in his right arm. Lonzo Ball is also out for the rest of the season, meaning the depleted Lakers will have to find their scoring elsewhere.
Kyle Kuzma is a good bet to pick up the slack. He’s missed the last two games with an ankle injury but should be returning shortly, and when he does, he’ll be the No. 2 scorer next to James.
And if James sits, keep in mind that Kuzma averaged 21.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in the five weeks LeBron had his groin injury. Compare that to his 18.8 points and 5.6 rebounds this season and you have the making of a good player prop bet on nights LeBron sits.