Don't Worry About LeBron's Minutes


Written by Kevin Nye (@kevinpnye) on 22 November 2016   

LeBron James is clearly among the most scrutinized players in the history of the sport. Where previous generations had to worry about newspaper articles and an occasional evening news item, current players have those concerns on top of their millions of Twitter followers, hundreds of millions of Facebook users, and countless message board people who find the tiniest things to complain about and then go nuts. LeBron, for his part, came into the league as the internet generation rose and reared its ugly head. His every move has been under a microscope—ESPN has made headline articles out of his tweets, for crying out loud.

With a wealth of information and statistics available at a moment's notice, fans get to make assumptions and theories about players like LeBron James. One of those is that great players fade or their bodies break down as they near 40,000 career minutes. On the one hand, this must be true because only about 40 players have ever cleared that number. On the other hand, do players not clear that number because their bodies break down beforehand? Which thing causes the other? Is it just an arbitrary number? Adding to the effect, James has plowed through an additional 7,000 minutes in the playoffs for his career, so he's high on the minute list.

In either case, we've never seen anyone quite like LeBron James. The combination of playing style, off-court influence, and laugh-out-loud athleticism has put him into his own category. While our current crop of NBA players is under a microscope, they also benefit from this generation: They have the best body care regimens of any players, and they have the most comfort-driven schedule in NBA history. Because of these things and more, please don't worry about LeBron James's minutes this year.

LeBron has averaged under 37.5 minutes per game twice in his career, and those have been the last two seasons. This season he's sitting just over 36 minutes per night and has already taken one game off. That's the beauty of it - even if his minutes per game are a little higher, he's playing fewer games. Despite being perfectly healthy last year, LBJ missed six games. This year he'll sit the 2nd night of most back-to-backs (the Cavaliers have nine back-to-backs - you can play around with the schedule information here) and may sit out a couple at the tail end of the season if Cleveland has their playoff seed secured. 

The expected result will be a season in which LeBron averages 36+ minutes per game but misses out on 250-300 extra minutes by resting for 7-10 games. It's just a different way to look at the math.

Additionally, while I'm sure he didn't think for a second that it would come true, LeBron himself pointed out that he wanted to play in all 82 regular season games last season. This year, while he didn't put it out there at media day, the same feels true. He doesn't "need" the rest because he takes such great care of his body, but his coach will give him rest anyway. The result will be a fresh James come playoff time.

There are six active players with more (regular season) minutes than LeBron James: Jason Terry, Andre Miller, Joe Johnson, Vince Carter, Paul Pierce, and Dirk Nowitzki. Three others (Kobe, Duncan, KG) all cleared 47,000 minutes and retired this off-season. He is in good company with those guys, as several of them went a while longer before any body issues fell upon them - notably Kobe, who was a robot until back-to-back seasons riddled with an injury before his retirement. 

For James, the standard will be Karl Malone. The Mailman was legendarily fit and he ended up playing over 54,000 minutes, second only to Kareem. It's hard to grasp Malone's late-career numbers, but here's a look: At age 39 he averaged more than 20 points, eight rebounds, and almost five assists while starting 81 games and playing 36 minutes per night. The next year—his final season—he played in 42 games for the Lakers and started all 42. This time, he averaged 33 minutes per game and pulled down about nine rebounds. 

That's why I'm not concerned about LeBron's minutes. And here's another look at why you shouldn't be either.


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