So what we have here, in all its majestic permutations, is the greatest basketball machine ever created basically telling us, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Can this even be?
Can LeBron James, with 14 punishing years of NBA wear and tear on his tires and axles, be, in year 15, greater than he’s ever been?
If so, how?
Is this just LeBron being LeBron?
Since when does an NBA player peak at age 33 — which he’ll turn Dec. 30 — in his 15th year in the league?
This is nuts.
But this is LeBron.
He was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Month for November. It’s the 35th time in his career he has won that award. The NBA regular season lasts about six months. So that’s roughly the equivalent of LeBron winning the Player of the Month Award every month for six full NBA seasons.
Maybe the NBA should only announce the winner of the Player of the Month Award if it’s NOT LeBron. Otherwise, we’ll just assume it’s him.
He’s shooting career highs from everywhere: 62 percent on 2-point field goals, 43 percent on threes and 58 percent overall. The top 13 in the league in field goal percentage consist of 12 centers, who score mostly on dunks and layups, and LeBron, who shoots from everywhere, and ranks seventh overall.
Throw in his 8.5 assists per game (third best in his career), 8.2 rebounds (second best), the best defensive rating and second-best offensive rating of his career, and remember he’s doing this against some players who are eight to 10 years younger than him.
His 31.2 PER leads the NBA, and the only two times in his career that he’s had a higher PER than that, he won the Most Valuable Player Award.
All this in his 15th season in the league. Michael Jordan played 13 years with the Bulls. Larry Bird was done after 13 years. Jerry West: 14. Bill Russell: 13. Oscar Robertson: 14.
LeBron has played more minutes of NBA basketball (42,086) than Jordan, Russell, Shaquille O’Neal, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, West and Nate Thurmond, just to name a few.
LeBron is not just still playing, he’s playing better than he’s ever played — in his 15th year in the league, and about to turn 33. This is unprecedented, and borderline inexplicable — but let’s give it a try.
What’s fueling LeBron’s thunderclap season? Here are three theories:
LeBron took the high road when Irving’s runaway ego made him the first player on the planet to NOT want to play with LeBron.
Following Irving’s departure, LeBron said all the right things, tried to minimize the big deal-ness of Irving’s franchise-rocking decision, and, when the Celtics came to Cleveland on opening night, even gave the little fella a hug right out there on the floor for everyone to see.
Then LeBron dropped 29 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists on Irving’s new team in the Cavs’ win.
I’m not saying the engine driving LeBron’s play this year is an ongoing “I won it all with you and I can win it all without you,” message meant for Irving. But I’m also not saying it isn’t.
It’s been five years since the best player in the world was named the best player in the NBA. From 2008 through 2013 LeBron was voted MVP in four of five years. Then the voters got tired of voting for him and he hasn’t won since.
The James Harden-for-MVP narrative has already started this year, while the indestructible LeBron is wham-jamming his way through the league with historic, age-specific, jaw-dropping production unheard of for an athlete in his 15th season in the league.
Who could blame LeBron — at 33, he would still be the first player taken in any NBA playground pickup game — if he didn’t go roaring into this season thinking, “You want an MVP season? I’ll give you an MVP season I dare you to ignore.”
The legacy thing
Chronologically speaking, no NBA player has ever been this great this late. LeBron knows that, it’s like he’s reveling in it, and the league has taken notice.
“I think it’s great for the league,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra told Bleacher Report. “It shows you can play at a high level if you do the right things off the court. The message has been passed along to our young players as well: You can extend your career. But you have to make sacrifices. You have to take care of your body. You can’t be out all night. You have to eat the right things. There’s a map now for players to play at a high level for a long period of time. Most players aren’t willing to do the things necessary to do that.”
Most players aren’t LeBron James.
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