The Whiteboard: Should the Lakers be resting LeBron James more?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

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I don’t presume to know the correct answer to this question, of whether the Los Angeles Lakers should be resting LeBron James more. The team has medical staff and proprietary data and information about his health and fitness level. They have the experience, the insights and the big picture. None of us on the outside is better prepared to make an informed judgment about the risks and rewards of pushing his court time in pursuit of regular-season wins.

That being said, it’s worth pointing out that, whether by intentional decision or unintentional creep, the Lakers have LeBron on the court more this year. He’s averaging slightly more minutes than he did last season and he has yet to miss a game. The Lakers have played three straight overtime contests and LeBron has topped 40 minutes in each of them, something he did just twice in 67 games last year. Maybe these are just one-off circumstances that happen to have lined up back-to-back-to-back but if it represented an ongoing pattern he’d be on pace for more than three times as many 40-minute games.

However, minute totals may not be telling the whole story.

LeBron James is finding ways to conserve energy during games

While LeBron has been on the court slightly more this year he seems to have found ways to conserve energy in his minutes. He’s driving far less (10.8 per 36 minutes compared to 14.7 last year) and putting his body on in an opponent in a box out half as often as last year. His free throw rate is the second-lowest of his career and his 3-point rate is the highest it’s ever been, by a wide margin. LeBron has also cut the average distance he travels on offense per game and his average speed on offense by about seven percent.

These are all incidental measures implying a lighter functional load on his body even when he’s spending more time on the court. But together they represent a meaningful shift in his style of play and make it even more incredible that his overall production and effectiveness haven’t really dropped off at all.

All that is to say, any concerns about LeBron being overused are probably overblown. The Lakers’ regular-season record and playoff seed are likely as irrelevant as they’ve ever been for any LeBron team. But continuity and rhythm serve a purpose and if the Lakers (and LeBron, who certainly has a say in this) feel that adding a few extra minutes to his load is worth it, he’s clearly made accommodations in other ways to try and balance out the risk.

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