LeBron's Best Ability

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

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:

Name Regular Season (Games) Postseason (Games) Total (%)
Karl-Anthony Towns 246 of 246 5 of 5 100%
James Harden 687 of 722 105 of 105 95.8%
Damian Lillard 469 of 492 35 of 35 95.6%
LEBRON JAMES 1,143 of 1,214 239 of 239 95.1%
DeMar DeRozan 675 of 722 51 of 51 93.9%
Russell Westbrook 748 of 804 93 of 102 92.8%
LaMarcus Aldridge 869 of 968 65 of 65 90.4%
Marc Gasol 716 of 804 59 of 59 89.8%
Kevin Durant 771 of 886 127 of 133 88.1%
Steph Curry 619 of 722 90 of 102 86.0%
Paul George 527 of 640 71 of 71 84.1%
Anthony Davis 410 of 492 9 of 9 83.6%
Jimmy Butler 458 of 558 40 of 40 83.3%
Mike Conley 718 of 886 56 of 59 81.9%
Rudy Gobert 325 of 410 20 of 22 79.9%

TAKE AWAYS

  • 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:

# Name Regular Season Min. Playoff Min. Total Min.
1 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 57,446 8,851 66,297
2 Karl Malone 54,852 7,907 62,759
3 Kobe Bryant 48,637 8,641 57,278
4 Tim Duncan 47,368 9,370 56,738
5 Dirk Nowitzki 50,573 5,895 56,468
6 Jason Kidd 50,111 6,088 56,199
7 Kevin Garnett 50,418 5,283 55,701
8 Wilt Chamberlain 47,859 7,559 55,418
9 LEBRON JAMES 44,298 10,049 54,347
10 John Stockton 47,764 6,398 54,162

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