Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we pose a question to a panel of ESPN fantasy basketball experts to gauge their thoughts on a hot topic.
Today's contributors are ESPN Fantasy's André Snellings, Jim McCormick and Kyle Soppe.
LeBron James is wrapping up his 15th NBA campaign and is 33 years old, yet he sits at No. 2 on the Player Rater. How concerned are you about a noticeable decline in production next season due to getting older and/or possibly switching teams as a free agent?
André Snellings: In recent years, LeBron has played with much more talent than he did at his box-score statistical prime, and as he's gotten older he's learned to pace himself in the regular season so that he can shine during his consistently long playoff runs. However, this season the trade of Kyrie Irving, the injury and subsequent struggle to integrate Isaiah Thomas, and chemistry issues combined to make this Cavaliers team much weaker than previous iterations. All this, in turn, forced LeBron to expend max effort throughout the whole season, allowing him to have his best fantasy basketball numbers in years.
Next season, my expectation is that LeBron will play on a team that has better support than what he got this season. Thus, I do expect LeBron to be able to go back to his "physical maintenance pace" in the regular season. So, yes, I expect his fantasy production next year to noticeably decline (by volume) even if he maintains or even improves his efficiency.
Jim McCormick: James is producing his highest offensive plus-minus since 2013-14 and currently leads the league in value over replacement (VORP). His gaudy surface stats and all of the advanced data seem to agree that he somehow remains in the thick of his prime into his mid-30s. Additionally, we've yet to see James take a back seat in regards to usage and opportunity rates whenever he's joined a new team. In fact, he led the NBA in offensive win shares in his first year with the Heat.
I'm not concerned at all with age or mileage here, as James is arguably the greatest outlier in regards to injuries in the history of the game, having never missed more than 15 percent of a single season. No matter where James lands, he'll remain a top-five fantasy asset.
Kyle Soppe: Zip. Zero. Nada. James' scoring average has risen each season since returning to The Land. He continues to defy logic in terms of aging, so until he gives us a reason to think a decline is inevitable, I'll continue to assume he will continue to produce at an elite level. Not only is he not getting tired from a season-to-season perspective, he also isn't flaming out during the grind of a long season. Assuming nothing changes over the next month or so, this will be the third straight season in which The King's fantasy production has actually improved over the second half of the season.
As for where he is playing next year? I don't care. Either Cleveland retains him after an impressive playoff run -- one that keeps him thirsty for another title -- or he starts a new chapter of his career where he'll try to improve his legacy by putting his stamp on a third franchise. Look, we have yet to establish what LeBron's kryptonite might be, and perhaps James might well be allergic to Lakers Purple and Gold. However, I'm not betting on a jersey color slowing down this freak of nature.