As LeBron James watches his hairline fade away, his game just seems to keep growing. King James turns 35 next month, but he’s leading the Lakers to the best record in the NBA with his usual gaudy statistics. James leads the NBA in assists per game (11.1) to go with 8.3 rebounds and 26.1 points. He’s currently on pace to have a season unlike we’ve ever seen from a 35-year-old.
Although it’s considered elderly in the NBA, there have been plenty of standout seasons by 35-year-olds. Take Alex English, who scored 26.5 points per game in 1988-89, or Steve Nash whose 11 assists per game helped lead the Suns to the conference finals in 2009-2010. But no one has put it all together like LeBron has, so far.
Player efficiency rating (PER) is one of the NBA’s leading, catch-all stats. According to its creator, ESPN’s John Hollinger,
The PER sums up all a player’s positive accomplishments, subtracts the negative accomplishments, and returns a per-minute rating of a player’s performance.
LeBron James is among elite company for PER this season.
While LBJ is known as one of the best players ever, Michael Jordan still sits atop the pinnacle. Jordan has the highest career PER ever. He also still has the best PER for a 35-year-old with a 28.7. He was technically 34 for half of that season, but since LeBron won’t be 35 until December, we’ll make an exception. Jordan went on to lead the Bulls to the title that season.
LeBron currently boasts a 30.2 PER, which would be his highest rating in six years and the highest ever by a 35-year-old. To put in perspective how incredible this achievement is, the average age of the other nine players in the top 10 is 24. If LeBron can find a way to keep this up, he will pass that ghost in Chicago. He’s already passed everyone else.
Even though James and Jordan stand tall above the rest, there have been a few incredible seasons by players in their mid-30s. Karl Malone won the MVP at age 35, scoring 23 ppg with a 25.60 PER. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Tim Duncan have never reached LeBron’s heights, but their longevity is noteworthy. They both earned a 20+ PER rating from 35 to 38 years-old. Perhaps the most impressive is John Stockton. From 87-88 (age 25) through his last season in 2002-03 at age 40, Stockton’s PER never went below 20.
What’s more incredible is that LeBron James is also having a defensive resurgence. His defense had become so lackluster during the last few regular seasons, he was starting to be viewed as a liability. That has not been an issue this year. The Lakers are the top defensive team in the league, and LeBron is 10th in defensive win shares.
He’s exerting more energy on defense while operating at an MVP level offensively. This just doesn’t happen at 35.
LBJ’s immaculate body regimen is second to none. In 2015, he spent an estimated $1.5 million on his body.
He’s also spent a good chunk of this summer resting, something James had not been able to do since making eight straight NBA finals. Last year, he played a mere 55 games, compared to the 104 total games he played the previous year.
James is also on a mission to prove he’s still got it. Analysts have finally begun to question James’ reign. They’ve started to rank players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard above him. James has noticed. He recently clapped back at his critiques on Twitter after posting his third-straight triple-double.
While Father Time is undefeated, James is proving that he can be delayed. At least from the forehead down.