The Lebron Impact
Few would argue against the positive impact LeBron James brings to his teammates. He has led two different franchises to the last eight NBA Finals appearances. This includes winning the title on three occasions between the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers. During his most recent stint with the Cavs, James has averaged per game: 36.6 minutes, 9.8 field goals on 18.7 attempts, 7.7 rebounds, 8 assists, and 26.1 points. In addition to this, James also played in all 82 regular season games last season, as well as starting in every Cavalier playoff game. LeBron James is an immense offensive talent. But at what cost to his teammates.
For starters, we need to understand the likelihood of LeBron James leading his team in points per game and assists per game is very high. In fact, he has led his franchise in points and assists for 15-straight seasons. He takes over a large portion of the offensive scheme and opportunity. Because of this, it takes away some of the large upside his teammates could attain in this type of system. He is the Laker’s playmaker, and everyone else will follow his lead.
The good thing is that even if James takes away opportunities, he will give his teammates more efficient ones. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton gives the new Lakers an offensive RPM (Real Plus Minus) of 3.6 better per possession than the league average. This would have ranked 7th in the league last season. Keep in mind that last season Cleveland ranked 5th. So this keeps with the King James machine. An improving offense with James will translate to better possessions, double-teams on James, and more open shots for everyone else. Their shooting should be at a higher percentage this season.
So who will benefit from this efficiency? The projected starting-five for the Lakers is Lonzo Ball at point guard, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at shooting guard, Brandon Ingram at small forward, LeBron James at power forward, and JaVale McGee at center. It is unlikely that McGee will command a strong percentage of minutes of offensive statistics. He has averaged less than or equal to 11.5 minutes per game in his last five seasons. And in 12 seasons, he has only averaged more than 20 minutes per game three times. Most likely the center position will be a rotation. With that said, the three starters to look at are Ingram, Caldwell-Pope, and Ball.
In his second season with the Lakers, Ingram increased his field goal percentage and three-point percentage from .402 and .294 to .470 and .390. If he continues to get high percentage looks from LeBron, he could reach the 19-25 points per game average that Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving attained beside LeBron. While his points per game might increase 3-8 points per game, his assists should dip. 3.9 assists was a great improvement form 2.1 last season, but LeBron and Lonzo will be the main playmakers on offense.
Caldwell-Pope had his best season in both field goal percentage and three-point percentage in his first year with the Lakers. His .383 was good, but behind him in the roster is the sophomore Josh Hart who shot at a higher three-point percentage (.396) and field goal percentage. This push for play-time should be looked at. Fantasy gamers must watch Caldwell-Pope’s minutes very closely.
This leaves us with Lonzo Ball, the purest point guard James has played with in recent years. To compare him to another high draft-pick, Kyrie Irving, let’s look at their assist statistics. In seven seasons, Irving’s highest assist per game average was 6.1. This was in the season before LeBron came to town. That average dropped to 5.2 in the following season. However, Ball’s assist per game in his rookie season was 7.2. He showed that he wants to pass and create. In a system where LeBron is king, Lonzo could push for playmaker. If he improves on his poor shooting percentages (.360 field goal and .305 three-point and .451 free-throw), and continues to show promise as a passing point guard, he could gain the trust of James. In both the James-Wade and James-Irving systems, the plays would start with one of those two kings. Lonzo’s shooting leaves a lot to be desired, but he has shown creativity as a passer. His best bet is to help LeBron facilitate the offense.
The largest concerns of Ball are his recent knee surgery and the signing of Rajon Rondo. His arthroscopic surgery on his left knee was a success and he’s since been cleared for 100-percent cleared to play basketball. In their first preseason game, Lonzo was the starter. Which also eases concern on his role. He started over Rondo and he is listed as the Lakers starting point guard on their depth chart. The Lakers confidence in playing Ball in their first preseason game, ahead of Rondo, is a very good sign.
To conclude, I would draft, play, and rank my upside players in this order. LeBron James, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball. Lonzo’s has the most to lose. He was the leader of the offense last year, yet he struggled immensely. Now that LeBron is in town, he is likely to see his totals decrease. But if Ball is able to take a major step forward and earn significant play time over Rajon Rondo, he will become a top fantasy contributor. Ingram is a great bet to see his points per game increase. His high shooting percentage on a bad team displays a good shooter. With James on the court, he will see even better looks and see his percentages and totals increase. Always trust King James and put your hope in Ingram.