On Wednesday night, LeBron James lifted the Los Angeles Lakers over the New Orleans Pelicans with a shot that only an absolute superstar can pull off: a contested, one-legged fadeaway from behind the 3-point line.
To many, it served as a reminder that James is still one of the best players in the league and, when he wants to be, arguably the greatest player in the entire NBA. However, James knows that he can’t hold that title forever.
Following the Lakers’ win, James told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports that, like those that came before him, he’ll have to pass the torch one day:
If he fails to make it 14, the scrutiny would only intensify with opinions suggesting he might not be the game’s best player. But for now, James isn’t passing the torch — he’s only passing to teammates.
“[Expletive], it’s going to happen someday,” he told Yahoo Sports. “[Expletive], MJ had to pass that thing, didn’t he? We’ll see.”
By the time Jordan retired for good, though, the torch had already been taken from him. Could the same thing happen to James in the near future?
For the first time since his rookie season, James isn’t in the top-10 in the Value Over Replacement Player statistic (VORP), which, according to Basketball Reference, is a box score estimate of the points per 100 TEAM possessions that a player contributes over a replacement-level (-2.0) player.
James has previously led the league in VORP nine times in his 15-year career, including last season.
He’s still among the league leaders in other telling statistics like box plus-minus and player efficiency rating, but there’s been a noticeable slippage this season. That rapid decline can be attributed to the fact that he missed the most games he’s ever missed with an injury earlier this year, but then again, the reason he missed so much time was because his body doesn’t heal the way it used to.
James could have a 3-1 lead over Father Time, and Father Time would still come out on top like James charging past the 2016 Golden State Warriors. Luckily, James is still an incredibly valuable player at the age of 34, which is more than most other players his age can say.
Do you know how many 34-year-olds are averaging a near triple-double this season? Just one, and he plays for the Lakers. Do you know how many players still remain from the historic 2003 draft class? Just four, and James is the only one that is a net positive for his team.
Is James getting older? Sure, but he’s aging like fine wine. He’s right to remain confident in what he brings to the table.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Christian on Twitter at @RadRivas.