Is LeBron Running Out of Time?
LeBron James is basketball’s greatest athlete ever. He is a physical anomaly in every sense of the word. As Kevin Durant mentioned to Bill Simmons on his podcast, LeBron takes care of his body “religiously.” Despite being one of the most successful athletes off the court, The King makes his keep on it.
He’s historically great in so many facets but the one which has stuck out is his consistency over an extended period of time. Right now he is second in the league for total minutes at 1042 behind only Jrue Holiday (1068). He is 7th all-time in minutes per game with 38.86, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
Despite the recent trend of James resting a few games in the past couple of seasons, he’s still been top 10 in minutes played in 10 of his 15 seasons (including this one). In all but two seasons across his career has he not been in the top ten for minutes per game (including top five in eight of them). That’s a heavy load for any player, despite the superhuman nature of LeBron’s physique. The question remains though, does he need to take a step back?
Player Comparison in Minutes Played for Aged 33 Season
The most notable comparison you can make with the above is that The King and The G.O.AT. are set to have very similar seasons. Bryant and Iverson did it in a smaller sample size but also most of the players above had great seasons in their aged 33 year. Kobe scored 48 points against the Suns, the most ever by a player in his 16th season, Karl Malone won the MVP (beating out fellow 33 year old, Michael Jordan) but was beaten out by MJ in the finals thanks in large part to one of the game’s most iconic performances.
LeBron himself has had quite the season, putting himself in the MVP conversation with career high percentages from the field as well as a career high in assists per game.
With James putting up such ridiculous numbers it begs the question, do his minutes even need to change? LeBron is already second all time in playoff minutes played (9127) only 243 behind Spurs’ great, Tim Duncan; that number will surely be broken in this year’s post-season barring any unforeseen catastrophe for James or the Cavaliers. When looking at that number it certainly paints the picture that James needs some rest. You could argue as well, the modern pace and space game is more taxing than the slower, grittier style of the mid-90’s (come at me Chuck and Shaq). Though, unlike Malone and Jordan who played full 82-game seasons in their aged 33 year, LeBron is likely to take a few game’s rest. In fact, James has missed or taken off five games or more every season since his first year in Miami.
Just a month ago, one of James’ foes out West in Draymond Green spoke of his concern about the toll LeBron James has had on his body so far this season:
“My concern would be that LeBron is playing so many minutes right now. Yeah, he's superhuman but eventually his superhuman powers go away.”
As for the man himself, well he doesn’t seem as fased:
"You make so much a big thing about my minutes. It's not a huge issue.”
Though he also said this to Cleveland.com:
“Draymond’s right, we want to get those minutes down for sure. But as of right now, we’ve had two point guards out and we’ve had some different lineup changes, so, I’ve had to play more minutes than I would like, and more minutes than my teammates would like me to have.”
Early in the season when the calls were much louder for Lue to taper LeBron’s minutes he argued the fact of James missing a large portion of training camp and the extra minutes load helped his conditioning. It doesn’t seem like things will change anytime soon when you look at LeBron’s minutes in his past ten games (barring a few outliers in a couple of blowout wins):
When you take into account that the majority of those teams aren’t world beaters by any stretch, it seems an issue LeBron’s high minutes have continued.
The key to it all may be Isaiah Thomas. Thomas is scheduled to be back around the end of December and if he’s anywhere around full health his presence will surely help. Whether he returns as the Isaiah we know and love remains to be seen. For Coach Lue it doesn’t seem to be much of a worry. He made the comparison to some of the game’s greats; like yours truly, telling Cleveland.com:
“Yeah, I hear about that all the time, but I played with Michael Jordan when he was 39, and he played 37 minutes a night, Karl Malone was 37, played 38 minutes a night. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Kobe. Everybody’s built different. If you’re one of the greats, sometimes you’ve got to play, sometimes you get rest like tonight.”
Let’s hope Cleveland can start having some dominant wins so he can rest during junk time, and the return of Thomas comes sooner rather than later. Time is not only running out for the Cavs and their championship window with LeBron, but the biological clock stops for no one, no matter how superhuman they may be.
All stats provided by Basketball Reference.