With the good vibes from LeBron James’ 56-point game still filling the back rooms of Crypto.com Arena, Lakers teammate Carmelo Anthony smiled as he tried to make an important distinction in the hooper’s glossary.
“We all know he can score the ball,” Anthony said. “I think the difference is some people aren’t pure scorers. Some people have a knack for scoring, know how to score and it just comes to them, skill sets and things of that nature. And then you have players like LeBron who know how to put the ball in the hole, who know how to score the basketball.
“It’s totally different types of players, different dynamics.”
As he tried to explain the difference between someone who knows how to score and someone who is a “pure” scorer, Anthony stumbled into what will undoubtedly be a debate talking point over the next year as James tries to track down Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA’s all-time scoring record.
Anthony said even James would admit there’s a difference.
Anthony’s opinion matters — James is the only player currently in the NBA to put the ball in the basket more than Anthony.
“There are guys who are out there in the league … he would attest to that … the [Kevin Durant’s], myself, the guys who just score. That’s what we do. That’s not what he does,” Anthony said. “He just knows how to do it at high clip and a high level.”
Eventually, assuming injuries don’t stop him, James will have done it at a higher level than anyone. It’s a unique situation, a player who seemed to fight off the “scorer” label who ends up doing it better than everyone else.
“It’s never been the No. 1 option for me,” James said after scoring his most points as a Laker against Golden State on Saturday. “I came into this league understanding what team basketball is all about and the importance of the pass, the importance of your teammates feeling comfortable out on the floor and being in a rhythm. I was just brought up that way. My little league coaches always just taught us the right way to play the game of basketball. The word ‘ball hog’ was something that we despised of and we never let creep into our ballclub’s view. It’s something we never wanted to do. I guess it just stuck with me, man.”
James is now just 208 points from passing Karl Malone for second on the all-time scoring list. He trails Abdul-Jabbar by 1,667 points — not bad numbers for a player who has viewed himself as a passer.
“I’ve always loved the success of my teammates scoring off of a pass of mine or even a hockey assist where we can get the ball moving from side to side,” James said. “But I also knew I wanted to be a triple-threat as well, to be able to score at all levels of the game, keep defenses at bay so they can’t just expect for me to pass all of the time. If you can do both, it really keeps the defense — they don’t quite know what to do at times.”
As the defense collapsed on him late in the fourth quarter against the Warriors, James whipped a pass to Anthony in the corner for a critical three-pointer.
Yet there’s still something that gnaws at James, a player willing to grab ahold at whatever slight he can as he tries to stay motivated as his NBA career nears completion of a second decade.
On a recent episode of his show, “The Shop,” James admitted it.
“When they talk about the best scorers of all time,” he said, “they never mention my name. It pisses me off.”
Told about the gripe, Anthony responded with a laugh.
“Can’t get everything,” he said.
It’s not going to stop James from trying.
AT SAN ANTONIO
When: 5:30 p.m. PST Monday
On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet; Radio: 710, 1330
Update: Despite these two teams combining for 75 losses, this game has significant postseason implications with the Spurs trying to chase down the Lakers for one of the final spots in the postseason play-in tournament. The Lakers are currently 4 ½ games ahead of the Spurs, and a win Monday could be enough to hold them off. San Antonio, like the Lakers were before their win against the Warriors, is ice cold. They’ve lost four straight, helping the Lakers have a little cushion as they try to wait for Anthony Davis to return. The Spurs are led by All-Star guard Dejounte Murray, and with a win Gregg Popovich will be tied for the most by an NBA coach.