One of the biggest storylines of the NBA season thus far has been the struggles of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The three-time defending Eastern Conference champions are a mediocre 7-7, with losses to the Magic, Nets, Pelicans, Knicks, Pacers, Hawks and Rockets.
The obvious retort is that the Cavs have been lacking focus early in the season, given the fact that they've lost to so many subpar teams -- generally the result of a lackluster first quarter. Cleveland was well on its way to another one of those defeats on Monday, but the team was saved by a Herculean fourth-quarter effort from LeBron James, who finished with 23 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds in the 104-101 win.
However, there's another number that's significant when it comes to LeBron: 38.1, the number of minutes he's averaging per game this season. It leads the league, and when Warriors forward Draymond Green was asked about the Cavs' struggles, he pointed to LeBron's large workload as the biggest concern. Via USA Today's Sam Amick:
Q: Would you be panicking if you were one of their fans?
Green: "To a certain extent yes. And to a certain extent, no. I don't think anyone should be panicking 12 games in, or 13 games in. However, there are some glaring concerns with them. And at the same time, you're missing a 30-point (per game) player (in Isaiah Thomas) on the bench who's hurt. So my concern would be that LeBron is playing so many minutes right now (James, in his 15th season, is leading the league in minutes at 38.1 per game; it's his highest mark since the 2010-11 season).
"Yeah, he's super human but eventually his super human powers go away, so that would be more of my concern if I'm a Cavs fan or somebody with the Cavs or a player, is like 'Man, he's been playing a lot of 40 minute (nights) and it's only Nov. 12.' But I wouldn't be pressing the panic button just yet. At the end of the day, they know how to win. They've got a guy who knows how to win, so I wouldn't necessarily press the panic button. I would see certain things and I would panic about those certain things, just because … I don't think nobody should be playing 40 minutes a game in November (James has played 40-plus minutes in six of his 14 games)."
The concern about LeBron's workload is certainly nothing new -- he led the league at 37.8 minutes per game last season after a career-low 35.6 the season before -- but there's something to what Green is saying. James has taken such incredible care of his body over the course of his career and has seen so few significant injuries that we're almost immune to it.
But at age 33, in his 15th season, with all the playoff and Team USA minutes that he's accumulated, the train has to slow down eventually. As the saying goes, "father time is undefeated."
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said that he was playing James more to help him get back into shape after missing most of training camp and the preseason with an ankle injury, so perhaps he'll slowly begin to ramp down the minutes as the season progresses and things start to normalize in Cleveland.