It might be a simple mistake, but sometimes, when Washington Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan tries to get the attention of his reserve swingman Laron Profit, he blurts out another name.
"Sometimes, we call Laron LeBron," Jordan said. "And I just say, 'Geez. If only, if only. . . . ' "
Jordan might well pine for LeBron James, Cleveland's second-year swingman who entered play yesterday leading the NBA in scoring (28.6 points per game) after winning the league's rookie of the year award last season. But then, who wouldn't?
The Wizards (3-2) will get their first look at the 6-foot-8, 240-pounder today at Gund Arena when they meet the Cavaliers (2-3). James headed an impressive rookie crop last season that included Denver's Carmelo Anthony, Miami's Dwyane Wade and Washington's Jarvis Hayes. There are few signs of a slowdown as they enter their sophomore seasons.
James still leads the class, averaging 46.2 minutes, 7.8 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.9 blocks.
"Obviously, LeBron is a special player," Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld said. "He can do so many things out on the floor. He's a great competitor. He's a great scorer, but the best part of his game is really his passing. He' s one of those few players that makes people around him better. He's exceptional. Not only is he athletic, he has great size and he's improved his outside shooting."
With his headband and seemingly boundless energy, James still looks like a kid -- and it's easy to forget that he won't even reach age 20 until the end of this calendar year. But Cavaliers Coach Paul Silas said he has noticed a much different James this season, one who shows no fear and has "got Jordanesque kind of stuff."
"He reminds me of Magic in a sense," said Eddie Jordan, who played with Earvin "Magic" Johnson for four seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. "Not totally like Magic, but he likes to share the ball. He helps his teammates and he's a big body who can bring the ball up the floor. He's one problem to defend."
James scored a season-high 38 points with 10 rebounds to lead the Cavaliers to a 114-109 overtime win against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night. The Cavaliers trailed by 19 points going into the fourth quarter when James turned to Silas and said, "We're going to get this done, coach!"
James got it done, scoring 17 points in the period and making three assists, including a pass to center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who sent the game into overtime with a three-pointer at the end of regulation.
"There's an inner confidence that he has now that he didn't have last year," Silas told reporters in Cleveland. "He understands that he can take over a game and win it for you. It's all mental now. The physical was there last year but the mental is the most important thing. He knows if you give him the ball, he'll get it done. You have to have big-time athleticism but you have to have the mental capacity also and that sets him apart."
James's progression has overshadowed the successes of several members of last season's all-rookie team. The Wizards already have seen how much Wade has grown in his second season in averaging 25.6 points and 7.4 assists and twice leading Miami to wins over the Wizards.
Nuggets forward and Baltimore native Anthony has struggled early -- he shot 31.3 percent in his first five games, and Nuggets Coach Jeff Bzdelik considered benching him -- but after scoring a season-high 34 in a win over Detroit, he has lifted his scoring average up to a respectable 19.5.
Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich is averaging 18.7 points and seven assists and Hayes, the 10th pick of the draft, has scored in double figures in each game for the Wizards and is averaging 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds.
"It's one of the greatest classes in recent memory," Hayes said. "All of us got better after a year in the league and we're doing a lot better than we did last year, individually. I just want to do the best that I can. Those guys are in different roles. They have to do that for their teams. I don't have to do that here. I can just wait for my time."
And admire what he has seen from James.
"He's an amazing talent," Hayes said. "He's real good now and he's only 19. It's scary to think what he's going to be like when he's 26, 27."