As LeBron James enters his 17th NBA season, Bleacher Report is taking a look at where the four-time MVP sits in the history books in several statistical categories now, after his projected 2019-20 season and following the remainder of his Hall of Fame career.
Already near the top of the all-time leaderboards in numerous categories, James has passed some of the game's greatest players, and even more legends are about to be bumped down the rankings. Here's where the series stands:
Part I: James' total regular-season and postseason minutes.
Part II: James' total blocks, steals and rebounds.
In Part III of All the King's Records, we look at where James could finish his career in all-time assists and turnovers.
Assists: 2019-20 and Future Projections
When predicting James' stats both for this season and beyond, I've based his numbers on 71 games played per season, as that's the average amount of time he's spent on the court over the past five years. That allows him to miss 11 contests per season for injury or rest.
His final career projections for all stats came under the assumption he'll play five more years, meaning a retirement at age 39 following 21 total seasons.
Part III of this series focuses on James' ball-handing stats: assists and turnovers. James has been a magician with the ball ever since he donned the green-and-gold jerseys of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in the early 2000s, looking to make the right play instead of consistently searching for his own shot.
This unselfish style followed him to the NBA, where he averaged 5.9 assists per game as a rookie and a total of 465, which stands as the second-highest number for any 19-year-old in league history.
James isn't even a point guard in the traditional sense. He typically doesn't bring the ball up the court, defend other point guards or call out plays. By official counts, James has spent just 1 percent of his 46,235 minutes at point guard, including no time at all since his rookie year.
Despite this, James is almost always the best passer on the floor.
His 6'8" frame is Magic Johnson-esque, allowing him to take in the entire court and snap passes around or over opposing defenders. His cumulative knowledge of teams and individual players over the past 16 years has helped add tricks to the bag as well, resulting in never-before-seen passes.
James doesn't just have the height, but he also has a chiseled 250-pound frame that can put a great deal of power behind passes. While this unique physical advantage would be enough to land him among the all-time passing leaders, it's his attention to detail and knowledge of exactly what kind of passes each of his 14 teammates like the best that truly make James special.
"It's my responsibility to know how my guys want the ball," James said, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst in 2016. He continued:
"If they like it with no seams or with the seams. I know that might not make sense -- some guys like it different ways. I get the ball right in my hand before I throw it. I know the guys on my team like seams or guys who like the ball high when they catch it. I know guys who like it low or midsection. I know where everyone wants the ball, and I just try to put it there on time and on target. All they have to do is catch and fire. It's those guys working on their craft that allows me to do that."
No one can argue with the results.
Over the past three seasons, James' assist average has spiked to 8.8 per game, up from 6.9 per night during his first 13 years.
This has resulted in a career average of 7.2 assists per contest, sixth-best among all active players.
"LeBron breaks all the passing rules," a scout told Windhorst. "You're not supposed to leave your feet and pass, and he uses it as a weapon. You're not supposed to pass through traffic. He throws backhanded fastballs that buzz the ears of two defenders. He always knows where everyone is going to be."
James is already 10th all-time in assists with 8,662. The only active player ahead of him with more is Chris Paul in seventh with 9,181.
Instead of taking James' career average of 7.2 per game and projecting it over the next five seasons, let's account for his rise in assists over the past three years. James should once again log a heavy ball-handling load for the Los Angeles Lakers, given the only point guards on the roster are Rajon Rondo, Quinn Cook and Alex Caruso. With the additions of Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Danny Green, James' supporting cast is much improved over last season and should present plenty of assist opportunities.
|LeBron James Career Assists Projection|
Keeping this in mind, we'll take James' updated assist average for the past five years (8.1) and multiply it by his projected 71 games. This would give him an additional 575 helpers for his career—enough to move him as high as seventh overall, not factoring in Paul's potential move up the list.
If James can keep up this level of passing until age 39 (John Stockton averaged 7.7 assists during his age 40-41 season), he'll continue to make a dramatic push up the leaderboard.
At our established rates, James could land third overall, depending on the length of Paul's career, possibly jumping Jason Kidd for second all-time should the King play more than five additional seasons.
There's no way James, or anyone else, will catch Stockton for first place, however. Not only does the Hall of Fame point guard sit atop the leaderboard, but he's also a whopping 3,715 assists ahead of Kidd.
While second place is a slight possibility, it seems James is destined to finish his career third in career assists. Not bad for a small forward.
James' Current Rank: No. 10 all-time
Projected 2019-20 Rank: No. 8 all-time
Projected Career Rank: No. 3 all-time
Turnovers: 2019-20 and Future Projections
Turnovers typically come with assists, due to the nature of handling the ball at a high volume. James is no exception.
This can be the downfall of letting a wing take on so much playmaking responsibility—no matter how tall and strong they may be. James doesn't possess the ball-handling skills of a Kyrie Irving or deadly crossover of an Allen Iverson, resulting in the frequent mishandling of the ball. His strength can also be a curse at times, as he zips passes over the heads of teammates on the fast break or off the body of those not expecting one of his no-look missiles.
James already sits at No. 3 overall on the all-time turnover list, behind former Utah Jazz teammates Karl Malone and Stockton. Russell Westbrook (tied-16th) is the only other active player in the top 24 in career turnovers.
For his career, James has averaged 3.5 turnovers per game, although that number has increased slightly over the past five years. This makes sense, given the jump in assists James has produced.
While James averaged 3.3 turnovers per game over his first 11 seasons, this number has risen to 3.8 over the past five. This can't just be tied to workload, either, as his turnover percentage (turnovers per 100 possessions) has jumped from 12.3 percent to 14.9 percent over that same time. His usage percentage between these first 11 years and last five (31.6 percent to 31.3 percent), has decreased slightly.
Similar to when predicting his assist numbers, let's use the average of the last five years. Expect James to average about 3.8 turnovers per game moving forward. Based on a 71-game season, that adds 270 total turnovers per year to his career numbers.
|LeBron James Career Turnover Projection|
Unfortunately, James doesn't have far to go to move up the all-time leaderboard.
He'll almost certainly pass Stockton early in 2019-20 and is only 361 turnovers behind Malone for first place. While this won't happen next season (James' career high is 347 in 82 games), he projects to have turned the ball over more than anyone in NBA history sometime during the 2020-21 season.
While it may not be the record he wants, James will inevitably become the all-time leader in turnovers.
James' Current Rank: No. 3 all-time
Projected 2019-20 Rank: No. 2 all-time
Projected Career Rank: No. 1 all-time