LeBron's Best Ability

There’s an old sports adage that became applicable to the Lakers the moment LeBron James signed his contract: "The best ability is availability."

I’d argue that LeBron being the best basketball player in the world is the actual best thing going for the Lakers. But the point is, his abilities on the court wouldn’t do as much good if he weren’t able to … you know … stay on the court.

In fact, Akron’s finest has played in 95.1 percent of the combined 1,453 games across his 15-year career, including 1,143 of 1,214 possible regular season games, and all 239 of his playoff games.

Furthermore, of the 71 career games LeBron missed (4.7 per season), many were scheduled “rest” days that have become superfluous in the NBA in the last several seasons, due largely to the introduction of medical analytics.

So, theoretically, LeBron’s ability to stay on the court should be a difference maker in a stacked 2018-19 Western Conference in which more than just eight teams think they should make the playoffs.

But to check that assumption, we took a look at how the rest of the Western stars – defined by those that either made an All-NBA Team last year or were Defensive POY – stack up with LeBron.

The chart includes how many regular season games each individual played out of the total possible games by their team, then goes to playoffs, and finally the percentage: regular season games played plus playoff games played divided by regular season games possible plus playoff games possible:

  • The fact that LeBron comes in just 0.7 percent from second on this list is all the more impressive considering he’s played 1,453 games, nearly double 29-year-old James Harden’s total.
  • That 22-year-old Karl-Anthony Towns is three for three in perfect attendance seasons is certainly an impressive start to his career and bodes well for his future. Injury history – or lack thereof in his case – is an excellent predictor of future injury.
  • After making All-NBA Second Team in 2016-17, Gobert actually didn’t make an All-NBA team last year, due mostly to his missing 26 games. He was, however, still the Defensive Player of the Year.
  • Gobert and Jimmy Butler both get a qualifier, in that each received several DNP-CD’s as rookies, which hurts their overall number a bit. Speaking of Butler, I removed the four total minutes he played in a 6-game playoff series (loss vs. PHI) as a rookie from his average.
  • Chris Paul didn’t make an All-NBA team last year, but is certainly still a star. His number is 85.7%, which includes playoff-ending injuries for three of the past four seasons.
  • A few players were on the 2016-17 All-NBA teams but not last year, and thus I left them out of the chart. But … Klay Thompson scores a 96.8%, second only to Towns; Draymond Green isn’t far behind his teammate at 95.6%, and DeAndre Jordan clocks a 93.7%.
  • It’s interesting to see Paul George and Anthony Davis coming in around the same percentage. George missed nearly the entire 2014-15 season after breaking his leg with Team USA, while Davis has missed about 12 games per year with varying minor injuries.

Where LeBron takes things to a different level than anybody on that list is the sheer total number of minutes he’s amassed, which, at age 33, already ranks 8th in NBA history at 54,347 (combined regular season and playoff minutes).

He owns a ridiculous career average of 38.8 minutes per game in the regular season, and 42.0 in the postseason, where he’s played more than any player ever (10,049 playoff minutes). All the mileage hasn’t seemed to slow him, or increase his injury risk.

According to FiveThirtyEight.com, Karl Malone and John Stockton were the only other "superstars" to have played in a higher percentage of their teams’ total games, and they join LeBron on this impressive list:

#NameRegular Season Min.Playoff Min.Total Min.
1Kareem Abdul-Jabbar57,4468,85166,297
2Karl Malone54,8527,90762,759
3Kobe Bryant48,6378,64157,278
4Tim Duncan47,3689,37056,738
5Dirk Nowitzki50,5735,89556,468
6Jason Kidd50,1116,08856,199
7Kevin Garnett50,4185,28355,701
8Wilt Chamberlain47,8597,55955,418
9LEBRON JAMES44,29810,04954,347
10John Stockton47,7646,39854,162