This is the most bizarre season we have seen in the illustrious and storied career of LeBron James ever.
It doesn’t take a casual fan to observe that James hasn’t played with the same enthusiasm, intensity or focus that fans across the globe became accustomed to during his stint in Miami. Maybe King James has simply peaked at this stage of his career.
I say maybe, because with the recent trades made by the Cleveland Cavaliers and James’ two weeks of rest the Cavs still will be in the mix in the Eastern Conference playoffs at 19-17, but people tend to forget that even in all of James’ greatness, a lot of his game relied on his freakish athletic ability.
The league has never seen a perimeter player built like Karl Malone that could move like a point guard. James up until this season has been a running locomotive that has been simply unstoppable. Despite all the efforts and pressures to compare James to Michael Jordan, he is more comparable to Shaquille O’Neal and Oscar Robertson.
James is only 30 but has logged over 41,000 minutes. That’s the most by any player before 30 in NBA history. Robertson played 14 years and logged 43,886 minutes. The forgotten one who is the only player to ever average a triple-double was dominant and versatile like James throughout most of his career until age 30.
In his final season with the Cincinnati Royals (season he turned 30), Robertson averaged just 24.7 points per game. In his previous eight seasons he never had a season where he averaged less than 28.3 points per game.
The Big O would go on to win a championship in 1971 with Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) but it was clear that he was not the same player as his numbers continued to drop averaging less than 20 points per game in his final four seasons.
The 1964 MVP was an oversized guard for his time and despite consistently flirting with a triple double over the course of his first eight seasons, father time immediately impacted his career. He would go on to average less than 20 points per game in his final four seasons before retiring at age 35.
O’Neal at one point of his career was the most dominant center in league history. In his 19 seasons in the NBA, the Big Diesel played just 900 more minutes than James. Before being traded to Miami, O’Neal had played 12 great seasons, won three championships and had appeared in five NBA Finals. At age 31 he averaged 21.5 points per game, his lowest since his rookie season and that’s when he was traded to the Miami Heat.
And we all know who won the 2006 NBA Finals MVP (Wade).
In eight years with the Los Angeles Lakers, O’Neal averaged 27 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. In four with the Orlando Magic he averaged 27.2 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. Father time shot O’Neal in the leg, literally. In his last four seasons he played for three different teams and never averaged a double-double or 20 points again.
He last played with the Big Three in Boston and couldn’t manage to run up and down the court without getting injured before officially retiring at age 38.
Let’s not forget to mention players like Tracy Mcgrady, Allen Iverson or Penny Hardaway who were never as good as James but at some point, their athleticism dropped and essentially ended their careers sooner than expected.
Mind you, none of them played in four straight Finals like James has.
James already lost a step last year with the Heat. He posted the lowest defensive win shares of his career since his rookie year. He tied his worst defensive rating. This season, the most challenging of his career has shown that James is worse.
He has already missed six games tied for the most games he has missed since 2008. James’ field goal percentage had gone up each year over the past five seasons, this year he is shooting his lowest since 2008. Not to mention shooting below his career free throw percentage, averaging a career-high in turnovers and his lowest points per game since his rookie season.
We’ve watched James peak from age 24-26, then evolve into a machine in his four seasons with Miami. 29 games into his second stint with the Cavs it appears that James’ best days are behind him. Larry Bird at age 30 was a three-time champion, Magic Johnson at age 30 was a five-time champion and Jordan had just secured his first of two three-peats.
James is without a doubt one of the top 10 players of all-time but the Jordan comparisons will evaporate quickly if this is the best James can play.