How Many Prime/Elite Years Does LeBron James Have Left?
Many people have been asking me this question lately so I’m going to answer it based on what we’ve seen in the past, what the future looks like, and what we already know.
“HOW MANY PRIME/ELITE YEARS DOES LEBRON JAMES HAVE LEFT?”
First of all, there is no easy, correct or straightforward way to answer this question. It’s highly complex and many factors have to be considered.
So let’s begin.
Firstly, we have to remember since he came into the league, no one has played more regular season and Playoff minutes than James. Taking into account all these minutes, he’s played the equivalent of two extra seasons, so he may only be 30, but his body may be around 32. There is a lot of mileage on that body which makes this task even harder to predict, as it seems like we are always waiting for LeBron to slow down, but he continues to break records and put in MVP type calibre years. For length purposes we won’t dive into that any deeper, but it’s very worth noting. In short, I think LeBron has 2-3 possibly 4 really super ATHLETIC years left Gongfu Tea Cuphim. I emphasize athletic because he will still remain PRODUCTIVE throughout his entire career.
During his time in Miami, LeBron was in his athletic prime. In his early Cleveland days, he was still ridiculously athletic, and he entered the league that way, however in Miami, he really learnt and displayed how to fully maximize his athleticism to his advantage and began to fully understand his body and his athletic abilities for optimum production. He has now returned to Cleveland, possibly slightly less athletic, but his mind has matured and his understanding of the game has also, which is the biggest plus for Cavalier fans and NBA fans alike. This has again, further transformed his game and set the initial foundations for the rest of his career as he continues to allow the game to come to him and pick his moments as energy conservation becomes a factor. LeBron’s leadership and maturity has also really shone through this past season and will only continue to get better as he ages and leads a young and improving squad which will actually help his game moving forward.
After his athletic abilities slowly decrease, he will transition from Point Forward to more of a Point Guard type role. He is currently the ultimate triple threat, and has been for some time now. On any given night, especially come Playoff time, LeBron can, and will, do it all. Previously as well as presently, LeBron has been able to be a big scorer and high assist man. This role will change slightly as he ages and undertakes a more pure playmaking role. This doesn’t mean he won’t score the ball, but his numbers will alter and he will begin registering numbers along the lines of 16 points, 12 assists and 6 rebounds instead of now going for 32 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds or something similar. He will also spend more time in the post and facilitate out of the post as well. As he spends more time in the post, don’t be surprised if his post-game improves even more than it already is. You may see LeBron use genuine Centre/Power Forward moves to create scoring and assisting opportunities. Those workouts with Kareem Abdul Jabbaar in the Summer working on his post moves and Skyhooks a couple of seasons ago may result in us going from seeing the occasional Skyhook from LeBron, to a move he looks to use consistently.
LeBron already uses the move quite well when he does bring it out, so seeing this tradition may be more likely than we expect. I also see him continuing to try and improve his jump shot in the future. LeBron has already worked tirelessly on his jumper and it has come such a long way and he now possesses it as a damaging weapon on any given night, however, it will need to go to another level and become excellent if he’s able to continue to put pressure on defence’s. In saying this, the jumper is something that either falls or doesn’t with any superstar in this league. It’s a make or miss league and with that being said, with LeBron’s array of talents, it won’t be as huge of a factor as people think it might be as he ages. He will still be able to get into the paint as he’s highly intelligent, excels in pick and roll situations and frankly, size and strength doesn’t diminish as you age.
As for moving forward right now, in Cleveland, LeBron finds himself in the perfect situation (which he shaped by the way). LeBron brings in a superstar in Kevin Love who people forget is only 26 years of age with his best basketball ahead of him. He has a young, dynamic, superstar scorer in Kyrie Irving who has just come off a career year playing with LeBron and he has a back office that will literally bring in players LeBron seems fit to help the team. This group looks like it will be together for the foreseeable future and this effects and fairs well for LeBron as he moves forward with his career.
As James gets older and Kyrie Irving and Kevin love continue to improve, it will eventually become Kyrie’s team, with Love and LeBron playing big factors. By then, I believe that they will have a Championship together, perhaps multiple. It is likely that this group will have a Championship together because they will be contenders every season and make deep Playoff runs in a weak Eastern Conference for the foreseeable future. As long as they stay together before another team builds a Championship calibre team in the East, they will remain contenders for a long, long time. All in all, the Cleveland situation allows LeBron to proceed through his career pretty much at his own pace, without forcing anything. Due to the overall talent, set up and situation, LeBron will be allowed to age gracefully unlike other superstars that have gone before us.
As time passes, the team loads will change. LeBron’s ridiculous team load will slowly be distributed more evenly as Kyrie and Love improve and gain familiarity, especially Kyrie. With the potential to be an all-time great Point Guard, the load, especially scoring load, will be placed on Kyrie as the years go on. Kevin Love will also undertake a larger scoring load and continue to crash the glass but Kyrie will be the main man. These adjustments doesn’t mean LeBron won’t have a huge load, he always will because of who he is and what he does on the floor, but it will be spread more evenly. As this happens, LeBron will take the bulk of the facilitating and picking and choosing the times he wants to attack and score. He has this luxury because he will not be asked to make a play nearly every time down the floor, and we have started to seen evidence of this already. The ball is slowly moving into other teammates hands and LeBron is ensuring this happens as he understands what the future holds and what it takes to be successful.
When we talk about players losing their athleticism, we often fear the worst. We think it will be difficult for them, however, LeBron is a unique animal with unique aspects to his game. For example, as pure scorers athletic capabilities continue to decrease, they often find it hard to adjust and often struggle. Scorers struggle with no lift and elevation on jump shots, no explosiveness to the basket and are overall to slow and not agile enough to be as effective as they used to. They can’t get to their spots, and when they’re not scoring, they basically next to useless and have zero production or impact on the game. These aspects as well as injuries have recently effected Kobe Bryant’s game as he aged, this is just one of many examples. Players like Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson also spring to mind. Those were two players that relied heavily on their athleticism and slashing ability to score and make huge impact. To stay relevant in this league, they’ve had to become spot up 3 point shooters, playing limited minutes and becoming a shadow of their former selves. This is why point guards, even when old, are still valuable and hold worth in this league. Facilitating has increasingly become very underrated and being able to effect the game in multiple ways is massively important. This is where James separates himself. He has an all-time high basketball IQ. Accompanied by his Magic Johnson type passing, making his team mates better will continue to keep LeBron producing at a supreme level throughout his career, despite his age. Even if he finds it more increasingly difficult to score, his ability to find team mates on point and on target for them to be successful will allow him to still dominate games and will actually open up avenues for him to score points. His passing ability has always allowed him to score the ball also as team are afraid to double him or lean over to help because he can pick defenses apart with his passing ability and vision. This will continue to happen as he ages, leaving players to try and guard him by themselves, usually on an island. These are only a few weapons in his arsenal that will allow him to stay productive for his entirecareer.
LeBron will also have to become an expert in energy conservation as he ages. We are accustomed to seeing LeBron lock players down, however, with players like Iman Shumpert on the roster, he may take on a lesser one on one role on defense. He may transform into a more a help defense type role as he gets older which already suits him as he plays that role brilliantly already with his active hands and ability to block shots on the weak side. This is all because of energy conservation. A method used in all sports, LeBron will have to use his energy and legs wisely as he ages. Don’t get it twisted, we will still see him lock down an opponent for a couple of possessions and occasionally still witness the famous chase down block here and there, however, it will decrease as his energy and output need to be used wisely. This method will be greatly aided by his ability to consistently bring his minutes down with the talent around him. As players are always attracted to play with him, James will have a strong and talented team around him for the foreseeable future and likely the rest of his career, which makes energy conversation an easier process.
In saying all this, LeBron is the most freakish athlete I’ve ever seen. This doesn’t just go for basketball, but for any sport. He takes care of his body as well as any athlete ever has and he’s never had a major injury that’s kept him out for an extended period. With this being said, he may never really lose his athleticism dramatically like others, which is a pretty scary thought for oppositions. Of course father time is undefeated, however, LeBron may not dramatically change as much as some are expecting. His game will alter and take a different approach, but it might be quite the same as well. His legs may become more tired over time, and he might not be able to do it for prolonged periods, but his hop and first step may stay closely the same. This could also be a very real possibility and if so, then he will still remain an animal well into his late 30s.
In conclusion, even as the minutes continue to pile up, LeBron will still remain productive for his entire career. The emerging young talent that will always surround the NBA will eventually take “The Best Player in the World” mantel off James, however due to all his weapons and overall Greatness, his numbers may go down, but his productive influence and genius will remain.