CLEVELAND, Ohio — A 32-year-old superstar, in this era, shouldn’t play as much as LeBron James has played this season. None do.
When it comes to playing time, stop the Michael Jordan comparisons back to an era when the NBA thought very differently about the minutes it put on its superstars. Examine James in his own context.
This is too much. We’ll show the minutes of the greats of the recent past to prove it. James is the exception to every rule in basketball, and the Cavs are putting that to the test by failing to live up to the promise of tailoring the minutes of the 14-year veteran.
You can’t argue this is normal. You can only wonder if this will keep the Cavs from the most effective version of James in the playoff, when he’ll face younger, fresher stars whose teams didn’t ride them this way through a six-month season.
At age 32, James is the only player 30 years or older ranked in the top 10 in the league in total minutes. Even while sitting out a full six games of the 79 the Cavs have played so far, James ranks ninth in total minutes played after his game-high 41 minutes in Friday night’s loss to Atlanta.
That was six more minutes than any other Cav, 15 more than any Hawk.
At 2,747 total minutes, James sits ninth in the league in minutes.
That’s well ahead of 28-year-old Steph Curry (2,580 minutes), well ahead of 25-year-old Kawhi Leonard (2,389), well ahead of 26-year-old Draymond Green (2,625), well ahead of 27-year-old Isaiah Thomas (2,482), ahead of Klay Thompson and Paul George and DeMar DeRozan and Anthony Davis, all younger stars with less court time.
Even for James, it has been a lot to ask.
According to basketball-reference.com, there are 116 NBA players aged 30 or older. Entering Friday’s games, seven ranked in the top 50 in the league in total minutes:
• James, 9th
• Trevor Ariza, 14th
• Carmelo Anthony, 26th
• Marcin Gortat, 29th
• Wesley Matthews, 32nd
• Marc Gasol, 36th
• Courtney Lee, 43rd
Remember, this isn’t minutes per game, where James ranks second in the league, behind only Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. This is total minutes, taking into account the six full games he stayed on the bench. So this acknowledges that rest — and he’s still this high, in a class by himself in his peer group.
He’s the best player in that group, of course.
It doesn’t mean he has to play this much.
If you’re trying to compare James to 30-somethings of the past when it comes to how much he plays, stop.
The game has changed. Somewhere in the ’80s and ’90s, managers and pitching coaches and general managers and the best arms in Major League Baseball decided that starting pitchers no longer needed to throw 15 or 20 complete games a year and push 300 innings.
No pitcher has thrown 300 innings since Steve Carlton in 1980. None has thrown 270 since Randy Johnson in 1999. None has thrown 250 since Justin Verlander in 2011.
So today, no one wonders why the Indians’ Corey Kluber has never thrown more than 236 innings in a season, or completed more than four games in a year. In the ’90s, every season had a pitcher with at least 10 complete games. In the ’70s, the league leaders were well into the 20s in complete games.
Now? One player in the last 17 years, James Shields in 2011, has thrown at least 10 complete games in a season.
The same has happened in basketball.
In 1967-68, the first year of the 82-game schedule, 11 guys played at least 3,000 minutes, with 31-year-old Wilt Chamberlain setting a record for an 82-game season that still stands – 3,836 minutes.
In 1990-91, 18 guys played 3,000 minutes.
In 2000-01, 22 guys.
In 2003-04, 18 guys, with 19-year-old rookie James ranking ninth in the league.
In 2008-09, 13 guys.
In 2010-11, 9 guys.
In 2012-13, 5 guys.
In 2013-14, none.
In 2015-16, one.
This year, Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns are the only two with a chance to reach 3,000 minutes.
The norms changed. The league changed.
The desire, of course, is to compare James and Michael Jordan in everything. But some adjustment for the era is required, at least in certain statistical categories. Minutes is one of them.
This is despite that fact that James has already played more minutes in 14 seasons than Jordan played in his 15 seasons. The overall minutes battle is over, and James is the victor. One of Jordan’s seasons was limited to 18 games by injury and another was just a 17-game season coming off his retirement.
Jordan, however, also had those nearly two seasons away from basketball just before his age 32 season — the season James is playing now without a break.
These are obvious points, but they are required reminders when someone like former Jordan teammate Dennis Rodman is criticizing James for sitting out games, saying it’s something Jordan never did.
But let’s not focus on games missed. Let’s talk superstars and overall minutes.
So who played more than James at the same age?
James is sitting at ninth in the league in total minutes with three games to play, and Ty Lue has said he won’t rest James and Kyrie Irving until the Eastern Conference is clinched.
It may now take at least two more games to do that, with the Cavs’ lead over Boston currently at one game. So James may enter the realm of superstars at age 32 who finished in the top 10 in the league in total minutes.
Paul Pierce and Dominique Wilkins were both injured in their age 32 seasons, but were 10th and 11th in their age 31 years. But that’s not quite the same.
So here’s our list of recent age 32 stars who officially finished in the top 10 in total minutes played.
Karl Malone, 10th, 1995-96
Gary Payton, 5th, 2000-01
Allen Iverson, 1st, 2007-08, his first full season in Denver after his trade from Philadelphia. He only played three more seasons and never topped 57 games again.
And that’s it.
So here we are, the day after a 32-year-old legend played 41 minutes in his team’s 28th loss of the season. He’s handled it, because he handles almost everything.
But this isn’t typical for any current 30-something. Let the kids in their 20s rack up the minutes, like James did when he led the league in minutes at 20 and 22.
This isn’t typical for superstars of this age, not compared to the other players in their seasons. With 3,000-minute seasons all but gone, you have to live in the current reality. And James isn’t trying to stay fresher than legends of the past. He’s trying to make sure he has enough left in the playoffs for the stars he’ll face now — and they’ve virtually all been asked to do less.
Five of the eight players ahead of James in minutes will make the playoffs. But only three are stars of even possible title contenders — Houston’s James Harden (27, 3rd in minutes), Washington’s John Wall (26, 4th) and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (28, 8th).
James sat out six games, but he should have missed more. He’s played too many minutes, and for not enough of a payoff. The Cavs are still fighting for seeding, and he’s not rested. He may have wanted this, but this isn’t what should be expected.
It’s never been about James missing too many games this season. It’s always been about playing too many minutes. It may not tire him. It may not slow him. It may not stop him. But rarely has a star his age been asked to do so much more compared to the rest of the younger league around him.
This was too much LeBron. The Cavs have to hope it wasn’t too much for him.
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Source : Cleveland