Real Time Analytics

Is It Time To Worry About LeBron’s Minutes?

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Does LeBron have less than four effective years left?

On Oct. 29, 2003, LeBron James made his NBA debut at 18. Over 12 years and 37,800 minutes later (45,377 with playoff minutes), James now stands 45th in all-time minutes played in NBA history.

At 6‘8, 250 lbs, James is a physical freak. He attacks the basket at will on offense and guards all five positions on defense. Much of the time, he plays point-guard and brings the ball up. He has never missed more than 15 games in a season and is involved in almost every single play.

But his physical style of play comes at a cost and causes one to question his longevity as a premier star in this league. He is seventh all time in average minutes per game, with 39.06 per game. As James continues to play more minutes, father time will come just a bit sooner. And, as Charles Barkley says, Father Time is undefeated.

It’s difficult to find an athlete who has had a similar game to James. His ability to attack the rim is unparalleled, but he has notoriously struggled from the outside. This season he is shooting 28.4% from three, second-worst in the league behind Kobe Bryant at 27.4%. As James ages, he will be less physically dominant and will have to rely on his jump shot more, which could have a major impact on his effectiveness

He is even worse from deep in the fourth quarter, shooting 12.2% this year. 

LeBron James 2015-2016 4th Quarter Shot Chart ( title

Below, we compare James’ minutes to that of basketball icons and to try an get an idea of how much longer James can be elite.

First, we we look at the players listed in ESPN’s top 10 players of all time

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At 31 years of age, James has already played more regular season and playoff minutes than Magic Johnson and Larry Bird did in their careers. While Johnson had  to retire in 1992 because of illness, Bird, who rarely missed a game during his first nine seasons, began to break down around the 35,000 minute mark. He was not nearly as effective in his last two seasons, playing only 60 and 45 games, respectively, due to a back injury.

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James is approaching the same minute mark as some of his childhood heroes and will quickly pass them in the next couple of seasons. 

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While Robertson has played almost 2,000 total minutes more than James, his game became much worse around the 37,000 minute mark. In his last four seasons, he averaged 19.4 points per game, 17.4, 15.5, and 12.4, respectively, well below his career average of 25.7 ppg. His assist and rebound numbers also suffered a major drop, indicating a decline in the elite skill Robertson once had. Robertson averaged about 2500 minutes per season during those last four seasons, so we evaluate his breakdown at around 10,000 minutes below his total minutes. 

Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest man to ever play the game of basketball, has played just 3,000 minutes more than James. And, if you take out his two Washington years where he clearly didn’t have the elite skill that he did in his younger days, James would have already played more minutes than Jordan. Even scarier is the fact that Jordan learned to shoot the ball in his latter years to preserve his career because he knew that relentless attacking style meant a shortened career. 

Shaquille O’Neal, who has logged almost 5,000 more minutes than James, clearly lost his dominance after he left Miami. He played 6,890 regular season minutes and about 400 playoff minutes after departing Miami in 2006. So, if you take out those minutes where he was relatively ineffective, James would again have already played more minutes.

Next, we will look at the two modern guys who have prided themselves on the longevity of their careers

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Kobe and Duncan have both enjoyed lengthy careers, both playing at a high level even after 50,000 minutes. Kobe, who never had injury trouble for his career, started to break down around 53,000 minutes due to injury. Duncan, however, continues to avoid major injury but does not take a fraction of the beating that James faces on a night-in night out basis. 

Here is the scary part. For the past five seasons, James has averaged 3,627 minutes per season, even with the lockout shortened 2011-2012 season. He has logged thousands of gruesome playoff minutes, reaching the finals in each of the past five years. If James averages just 3,500 minutes over the next four seasons (he has already played a little over 2,000 this season), he will be around the 60,000 minute marker, more minutes than any of the top 10 greatest players of all-time except for Kareem. 

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History tells us he won’t be able to maintain this level for the next four years. Kareem is the lone exception who has played effectively past 60,000 minutes because of his graceful game and unstoppable skyhook. He was also 7‘2, and history has told us big men can be more effective later in their careers.

Here is a look at where the top 10 players of all-time ranked by have deteriorated. We are using estimates based on major drops in points per game, rebounds, and assists compared to the players career averages. Typically, these are the last two/three seasons of players.

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So looking at the historic trend of NBA greats, James will be entering a decline much faster than we anticipate. If he continues at his historic pace in minutes played per season, he may begin to break down rather sooner than later.

Even at 31 years of age, we could see a major drop in skill level and effectiveness within the next two to three seasons, unless the Cavaliers start to give James days off and more rest. So, Mr. Tyrone Lue, listen up.

All statistics courtesy of and

Edited by Jazmyn Brown, Jaidyn Hart.

Who has played the most NBA minutes?
Created 3/4/16
  1. Kareem Abdul Jabbar
  2. Julius Erving
  3. LeBron James
  4. Wilt Chamberlain

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