I know, most of you read the title and were immediately filled with rage. LeBron is coming off one of the greatest NBA Finals performances in history, and helped give the city of Cleveland its first title in 52 years. However, as he enters his 14th season, nearing his 32nd birthday, I have to wonder if he can continue to play at the level we are used to.
Since LeBron entered the league in 2003 he has been the king of efficiency. The most games he has ever missed in a season is 20 in 2011 with the Miami Heat. In his 13 years he has rarely been injured, save for the occasional bruise. His ability to stay healthy, and perform at a high level nearly every game, is what has made him the best player in the world for the last decade.
He hasn’t averaged below 25 PPG since his rookie season, nor have his minutes dipped below 35 MPG. LeBron signed for three more years with the Cavaliers and in that time the reigns will most likely be passed to Kyrie. Kyrie made a statement in the 2015-16 NBA Finals, averaging 27 PPG and hitting the game winning 3 in game 7.
LeBron will continue his domination next season but I believe that we will see a noticeable decline in his game. 13 seasons is a long time in the League, and to go without a major injury throughout that period is unheard of. According to ‘Basketball Reference’ LeBron has played over 43,000 minutes, which was a number Kobe didn’t reach until his 15th season. Not only has he played the majority of the 82 game season, but he has also gone to the NBA Finals 6 straight years, adding about another season and a half under his belt.
TodaysFastBreak pointed out in an article titled “How Many More Prime Years Does LeBron Have Left?” that past stars such as: Dominique Wilkins, Julius Erving, Scottie Pippen, and Kobe Bryant saw large decreases in efficiency at the age of 32. Here’s a graph of LeBron’s VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) over the course of his career:
Of course his VORP increased to 7.6 last season, as he recovered from a uncharecteristically poor season in 2014-15.
As of now LeBron is still the best player on the planet, and the Cav’s are the favorite in the East; but, the East will be more competitive than ever next year, and it won’t quite be the cakewalk that it was in 2015-16. The League seems to get more competitive every year, and this year is no different. Even if LeBron manages to lead his team through the East once again, they will most likely face the Warriors, who, on paper, are better than they were last year.
Whether you like it or not, LeBron’s game will start to decline in the next 3 years. The League is full of new stars, and possibly the most talent that the NBA has ever possessed. Next year will be a test for the aging LeBron, and I will be very surprised if his numbers don’t dip.