Jun 12, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) reacts during the third quarter of game four of the 2014 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Miami Heat: Is LeBron James in Decline?

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After being summarily stomped by the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat have been subject to intense national scrutiny, as questions about their uncertain future loom large. Though most Heat-related topics have been beaten to death, there is one issue that has gotten surprisingly little attention. Specifically, LeBron James, and his noticeable drop in production during the 2014 NBA season.

To be clear, LeBron was outstanding this past year, and arguably the best player in the league. To those who frequently follow the Heat however, it was apparent that James was a step slower than he was in previous seasons, and it showed on the stat-sheet.

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As depicted by the table above, LeBron has suffered a drop in every statistical category since 2013, outside of his slight increase in shooting efficiency.

When breaking down LeBron’s play with adjusted plus/minus derivatives, it appears that his game has suffered the most on the defensive side of the ball.

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James, once known for his dynamic and versatile brand of defense, fell off a cliff during the 2014 season. At best he was a mediocre defender, and when not factoring in box-score or prior-year data (D-RAPM), an argument can be made that he was significantly below average.

In a sense, such regression was to be expected. LeBron has played more total minutes then any other NBA player since joining the Miami Heat, and regardless of how indestructible he may seem, that workload takes a toll.

However, there is concern that LeBron’s (relatively) underwhelming 2014 season is a sign of things to come, as his majesty will be turning 30 this coming season, an age where players typically began to decline.

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LeBron James is still an elite player in the NBA, and will likely remain one for years to come. That being said, many refuse to acknowledge the natural decline of their favorite superstar (until he’s hobbling around the court with a ruptured Achilles), so its refreshing to look at LeBron like he’s human, and not the alien-cyborg he’s impersonated for years.

Similarly, recognizing LeBron’s inevitable decline could serve as an incentive for teams to surround him with reliable help, as he simply won’t be able to shoulder-the-load like he has in previous seasons.

Special thanks to Jeremias Engelmann for the RPM/RAPM and Age-Curve data, and Daniel Myers for the ASPM data.

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Tags: LeBron James Miami Heat NBA

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