When he suited up for the Los Angeles Lakers earlier this week, LeBron James joined an exclusive club. Prior to this season, only 66 players had played at least 17 seasons in the NBA. Further, only seven have been All-Stars this deep into their NBA careers.
While we’ll have to wait until February to see if James will officially join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Karl Malone, Dirk Nowitzki and Shaquille O’Neal in that club, it’s a safe bet based on what he’s done in his previous 16 seasons. But which of those 16 seasons was his best? And, perhaps more importantly for the near future, was his most recent season — his first in a Lakers uniform — his worst?
That’s the question we posed to our expert panel, in addition to having them rank James’ best teammates. We had each of our panelist rank each of James’ previous 16 seasons, encompassing both the regular season and playoffs for each year, then compiled those rankings to determine when James was at his best, worst, and everything in between.
35-47, missed playoffs
20.9 PPG | 5.5 RPG | 5.9 APG | 41.7% FG | 29.0% 3FG
What would’ve been a career year for most players from an individual standpoint was a near-unanimous pick by our panel as the worst of James’ career — and it was still good enough for him to win Rookie of the Year honors in 2004. At the time, James was just the third rookie in NBA history to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game. The two to do it before him? Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan.
15. 2018-19 Los Angeles Lakers
37-45, missed playoffs
27.4 PPG | 8.5 RPG | 8.3 APG | 51.0% FG | 33.9% 3FG
James’ season changed on Christmas Day, when he suffered a strained groin that would keep him out for weeks and eventually lead to an early end to his first year in Los Angeles. He played a career-low 55 games, but still managed to do enough in those games to earn a 15th consecutive All-NBA nod. Only Abdul-Jabbar, Bryant and Duncan have made 15 All-NBA teams, and no player has made 16, something James can shoot for in 2019-20.
14. 2004-05 Cleveland Cavaliers
42-40, missed playoffs
27.2 PPG | 7.4 RPG | 7.2 APG | 47.2% FG | 35.1% 3FG
James improved across the board in his second season, leading the league in minutes per game and finishing behind only Allen Iverson and Bryant in points per game. However, it wasn’t enough to lead the Cavaliers to the playoffs. Head coach Paul Silas was fired with 18 games left in the season, with the Cavs fifth in the East at the time. However, they skidded to an 8-10 finish, despite James upping his scoring to 30.3 points per game in that stretch.
13. 2005-06 Cleveland Cavaliers
50-32, lost in Eastern Conference semifinals
31.4 PPG | 7.0 RPG | 6.6 APG | 48.0% FG | 33.5% 3FG
Averaging a career-high 31.4 PPG, James led the Cavaliers to the postseason for the first time and finished second in MVP voting behind Steve Nash. It was the first of 13 consecutive seasons in which he finished in the top five of MVP voting, a streak that only came to an end last year. James also earned All-Star Game MVP honors for the first time in his career. In the playoffs, James was electric in leading Cleveland to a 4-2 series win over Washington in the first round, posting a triple-double in his postseason debut and averaging 35.7 points per game in that series. The Cavs took a 3-2 lead over the top-seeded Detroit Pistons in the second round before eventually falling in seven games, one of just two times (in eight tries) that James has lost a Game 7.
12. 2007-08 Cleveland Cavaliers
45-37, lost in Eastern Conference semifinals
30.0 PPG | 7.9 RPG | 7.2 APG | 48.4% FG | 31.5% 3FG
That other Game 7 loss? It brought this season to an end when James and the Cavs fell to the eventual champion Boston Celtics, despite James’ 45-point effort in Boston. It was a bitter end to a season that saw James lead the league in scoring for the first and only time in his career and saw the Cavs overcome a midseason roster shakeup to return to the postseason a year after coming up short in the NBA Finals. This was also the season in which James became the Cavaliers’ all-time leading scorer, passing Brad Daugherty despite having played 100 fewer career games.
11. 2006-07 Cleveland Cavaliers
50-32, lost in NBA Finals
27.3 PPG | 6.7 RPG | 6.0 APG | 47.6% FG | 31.9% 3FG
During the regular season, James’ numbers dipped across the board, though he still led the Cavs to their second consecutive 50-win season. However, by the time the postseason rolled around, he was once again locked in. He led Cleveland to the conference finals for the first time since 1992, and there against the Pistons, he produced one of the most iconic games of his career. With the series tied 2-2, James put up 48 points in Game 5, including 29 of the Cavaliers’ final 30 points and their final 25 consecutively. The double-OT win helped propel Cleveland to its first NBA Finals appearance, where the Cavs were swept by the San Antonio Spurs.
10. 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers
53-29, lost in NBA Finals
25.3 PPG | 6.0 RPG | 7.4 APG | 48.8% FG | 35.4% 3FG
James’ first season back in Cleveland after his four-year run in Miami resulted in the Cavaliers’ first trip to the Finals sinc