Everyone is assuming LeBron James is out in Cleveland after this season. And that makes him one of the biggest names entering the 2018 free agency. Of course, it's worth noting that LeBron James will be well into his 30s at that point. For fun, I looked at LeBron's career minutes played and his age compared to some other greats. Here are the five most interesting things I found!
For age comparisons, I used the player ages at the completion of the NBA playoffs for a given season. However old the player was when the last game of the NBA Finals completed is how old I considered them. LeBron James, for instance, was 32 at the completion of the 2017 NBA Playoffs.
Reminder, Points over Par 48 (PoP48) is the margin of victory a team of four average players and our player would be expected to beat a team of five average players if all players played a 48-minute game.
5. If he were Shaq, he'd have played his career minutes already!
There have been eighteen players to play over 50,000 regular season and career minutes. Shaq is one of these players. And last season, LeBron James passed him in total minutes played! Shaq finished his career with 50,016 minutes, which LeBron has passed by almost 1,500 minutes now! Of course, Shaq still had a star season left in him, and one more Finals push.
4. He's almost played as much postseason play as Tim Duncan!
Tim Duncan made the playoffs every year of his career (although he sat out the 2000 playoffs due to injury). During the Spurs last Title run, he lead the Spurs in playoff minutes played. He was 38 at the time! He is currently the all-time leader in career playoff minutes played at 9,370! LeBron James is currently only 243 minutes away in second place with 9,127 career playoff minutes! He's almost a lock to pass that this season and a few more playoff runs could make LeBron the first player to cross 10,000 career playoff minutes.
3. If he were Kareem, this is the season he'd team up with Magic.
Kareem and Magic defined the Lakers in the 1980s, but funny note, Kareem was quite old by the time Magic finally joined the Lakers. Much like LeBron he'd already racked up four MVPs by the end of the season that he turned 32. He did have one MVP season left in him, three more star seasons, and one Finals MVP worthy performance left in him. As a note though, regarding longevity, at this point in their respective careers, Kareem had played over 15,000 fewer total minutes (35,295 total regular season and playoff minutes) than LeBron.
2. If he were Kobe, he'd be done with the postseason.
At age 32 LeBron James has put a ridiculous amount of wear and tear on his body. There is only one player in NBA history that has more regular season and playoff minutes combined by age 32 than LeBron. At the end the 2011-2012 NBA playoffs, Kobe Bryant had 51,018 regular season and playoff minutes. LeBron James currently sits at 50,399.
It's also worth noting that Kobe Bryant's playoff career was over after the 2012 playoffs. If LeBron were Kobe, his seasons of competing would effectively be over. Kobe had one more good season left in him in 2012-2013. Of course, that was it. Speaking of one more good season ...
1. If he were MJ, he'd have two more star seasons left.
Many are already speculating that LeBron James will leave Cleveland at the end of the season. And it's possible LeBron will turn the tides for a franchise; there's an uncomfortable reality. LeBron is in his thirties and has slowed -- a little.
- 2011-2012: 7.5 PoP48, 16.6 Wins (20.6 Wins for an 82 Game Season)
- 2012-2013: 6.6 PoP48, 18.6 Wins
- 2013-2014: 6.3 PoP48, 18.2 Wins
- 2014-2015: 4.1 PoP48, 12.1 Wins
- 2015-2016: 5.4 PoP48, 15.4 Wins
- 2016-2017: 4.2 PoP48, 13.7 Wins
And here were Michael Jordan's six seasons where he made the NBA Finals:
- 1990-1991: 7.5 PoP48, 16.6 Wins (20.6 Wins for an 82 Game Season)
- 1991-1992: 5.2 PoP48, 18.6 Wins
- 1992-1993: 4.5 PoP48, 18.2 Wins
- 1995-1996: 5.2 PoP48, 17.1 Wins (LeBron James is here next season)
- 1996-1997: 3.1 PoP48, 12.8 Wins
- 1997-1998: 1.3 PoP48, 9.2 Wins
Michael Jordan won his fourth NBA title the season he turned 33. If LeBron does that this year, he can match MJ! That said, it was arguably MJ's last MVP worthy season. And in 1997, Michael played arguably his last star level season. The 1996-1998 Bulls were ridiculously good!
As noted, LeBron seems to be slowing down, at least a little. Now, Michael Jordan had a good bounce back in 1996, but a few important notes. First, he had taken almost two seasons off to play baseball. While baseball isn't a trivial task, I'd argue it was less arduous than a full NBA season and playoffs. Second, the NBA changed the rules and shortened the three-point line. Jordan shot well from three for one of the only times in his career. It's doubtful LeBron will get a rule change from the NBA to help out his game. I'm not saying LeBron James only has two seasons left. I'm just noting that the optimism of him after next season may be a tad high.
I started looking at LeBron's playing time and age in large part due to the hype around the Cavaliers and the question of where LeBron will go. LeBron's decisions have dictated which team has represented the East in the last seven NBA Finals. And, it's probably even money he makes his eighth this season. That said, when we look at other star players, it's worth noting that either by age or minutes played, many were close to being done at this point. Even players with longevity like Kareem or Tim Duncan either got a lot worse (Kareem) or played a reduced role (Tim Duncan). I'll note that with LeBron we're in uncharted territory. LeBron has a few more years left in him, and I'm curious how they'll play out