There have been moments like this:
There have also been moments like this:
It’s no secret: LeBron James has played a lot of playoff minutes. In fact, he’s logged more minutes in the postseason than any player ever. What’s also relatively easy to see is the likes of Kevin Love, George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and JR Smith (among others) have been either underwhelming or flat-out nonexistent at times throughout this postseason. Because of this, many are wondering when 33-year-old LeBron James’ mileage will catch up to him. Some may question whether or not James has had to carry loads like this in recent playoff runs, so let’s get to the bottom of it to see just how much of the load “The King” has shouldered.
*Note: all of the following statistics were obtained from https://stats.nba.com/*
In 21 playoff games during his 2015-16 run, LeBron James averaged 39.1 minutes per game (MPG), landing him at the #6 spot throughout the league. He scored 26.3 PPG, grabbed 9.5 RPG and recorded 7.6 APG during that same stretch on 52.5% shooting from the field and 34.0% from behind the arc. Among players who logged at least 15 MPG and played in no less than four playoff games, James’ usage rate of 30.6% ranked 10th in the league.
Using those same parameters, we can see that James’ offensive rating of 114.4 and defensive rating of 102.0 were 4th and 45th, respectively. He was one of the best offensive players in the league during that playoff run that ended in him fulfilling his promise of bringing a championship back to the city of Cleveland. How did he do the following year?
In 18 games last postseason, James played a whopping 41.3 MPG, putting him second-highest in that category among all players. His per-game averages of 32.8 PPG, 9.1 RPG and 7.8 APG look better than those of the previous year but when factoring in a 56.5 field goal percentage and a 41.1% clip from behind the arc, they look even more ridiculous. James’ usage rate of 31.4% was a 0.8% increase from the previous postseason and ranked 4th in the playoffs (same parameters as the last year).
In terms of ratings, James saw his offensive one spike to 120.6 (4th) and defensive worsen to 106.9 (44th). Although both ratings saw significant increases or decreases, their ranks in relation to the league saw minimal change. James was incredible on the offensive end, but at the expense of some performance on the defensive side of the ball. Let’s jump forward to the present.
Although our sample size of games is obviously smaller for this postseason, it still should give us a very solid idea of how James has performed and how much of a load he’s carried this postseason in comparison to years past. In 13 playoff games this season, James’ MPG average of 40.8 ranks second in the NBA. His near triple-double stat line of 33.4 PPG, 9.2 RPG and 9.2 APG, when put alongside an even 54% from the field, looks nothing short of historic. In spite of his struggles from three-point land (29.4%), James has been able to put the ball in the basket at a very efficient rate. His usage rate of 36.0% marks a 4.6% increase from 2016-17 but is 3rd among players with 15+ MPG and 4+ GP.
A 109.8 offensive rating (32nd) shows James has come back down to earth. His defense has also continued to get worse, as indicated by a 110.1 defensive rating (84th). His efficiency score and player impact estimate (PIE) both lead all players this postseason, so there is no denying the 15-year veteran is still playing terrific basketball. Nonetheless, a struggling three-point shot, when combined with 3.6 turnovers per game and poor defense, makes for lower offensive and defensive ratings.
LeBron James is no stranger to carrying his team through the playoffs. Even when he had Kyrie Irving by his side, he was still among the tops in the league in both usage rate and minutes played per game. Although his PPG and APG totals have increased in each of the past three postseasons and his field goal percentage remains above 50%, James’ advanced stats haven’t done him any favors thus far in the 2017-18 postseason. One thing is for sure though: If I’m the Cleveland Cavaliers, 33.4/9.2/9.2 on 54% shooting doesn’t sound too shabby. The only place you can find that is in Ohio. Let’s enjoy LBJ playing at a high level while we can because there are no guarantees it will be sustained.
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