There is a lot of handwringing about LeBron James’ minutes.
That’s ultimately fair. LeBron is currently second in the league in minutes per game (37.6) behind Kyle Lowry (37.7). The argument for curtailing James’ minutes is an obvious one. The regular season doesn’t matter a ton for the Cavaliers, and LeBron James is getting up there in years.
As Marc Stein noted in this piece from February, if James leads the league in minutes in his 14th season, he’ll be the most experienced player to ever do so. Allen Iverson led the league in MPG in 2008 in his 12th season.
The Cavs have certainly had their reasons to give James such a heavy workload. The Cavaliers have simply been really, really banged up, and without a backup point guard for much of the season, there’s been nobody on the court to handle the ball without Deron Williams.
Tyronn Lue has talked about wanting to dial down James’ minutes, but he functionally hasn’t. That doesn’t mean James hasn’t gotten rest.
LeBron may be second in the league in minutes per game, but he’s all the way down at 13th in total minutes played, and getting full games off has been the key.
Lue has rested James in five games this season and he’s picked his spots to get James the maximum amount of downtime. Four out of the five games James has sat have come either on the front or back half of a back-to-back, cutting down on excessive fatigue. Three of the DNP-Rest games aligned with the Cavaliers schedule to give James three full days off between games, and that downtime gives the body room to recover.
LeBron James is known for a pretty crazy pregame routine, and when discussing how to make sure players are rested, the common refrain has been that the problem is number of games and not minutes per game. These guys don’t just stumble into the gym on game day right before tip, and LeBron’s workout is famously intense. Giving him the full day off saves his body the wear and tear of prep as well as game time.
The Cavaliers certainly could do a better job of finding James more minutes, but as Ty Lue noted to Dave McMenamin in February, the Cavaliers don’t do the best job of putting teams away once they get up big.
It doesn’t appear like the minutes load has hurt LeBron’s production, and that’s probably because he’s a cyborg that feels no pain or fatigue. His minutes load is certainly worth looking at and decreasing, and Lue has mentioned that he’d like to start cutting James minutes back in March. That hasn’t really happened, as he’s played at least 38 minutes in all three games he’s appeared in, but, as noted, he also sat a game out this month.
LeBron’s minutes will continue to be a point of contention, but we need to realize that his workload isn’t akin to what Tom Thibodeau used to do to poor Luol Deng. They’re strategically finding him full days off and while it’d be nice for the Cavs to be able to get away with James playing 32 minutes per game, it hasn’t been a practical reality.
Once the team gets healthy, we’ll see if Lue (and the famously stubborn James) can put their money where their mouth is and start cutting down his minutes.