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LeBron James’ return to the Cleveland Cavaliers has caused a ripple effect in the NBA. It’s caused major player movements and will definitely change the balance of power in the Eastern Conference. However, while we know the what the effect on the NBA will be, let us now take a look at the fantasy basketball implications of LeBron’s return to Cleveland.
Cast of Characters
It all started with the Big Three of Miami opting out of their existing contracts. When that happened, a lot of teams tried to create cap space in order to have a chance at luring LeBron James, and even Chris Bosh. For the purposes of this discussion, let us just limit the cast to the major players in this move. These are the following teams:
- The Cleveland Cavaliers, who are the luckiest team in all of pro sports
- The Miami Heat, who lost the best player on the planet to his hometown
- The Houston Rockets, who traded players in order to create cap space for a max player
- The LA Lakers, who had cap space and made a bid for LeBron, and took in one of the Rockets’ players.
Now let’s take a look at the players involved.
LeBron James is at the center of the storm here. If you look at LeBron’s numbers last season, you should’ve noticed a decline. His 27.1 scoring average was higher than the previous season’s 26.8, but it was the lowest since his second season in the league, when he averaged 27.2 points per game. His assists average of 6.4 was the third-lowest of his career, while the 6.9 rebounds per game were the lowest since 2006-07.
Does this mean that LeBron is past his prime? Definitely not. While James has perfected his game and improved his efficiency (he shot a career-best .567 last season), his volume declined, and so did his fantasy value, although the drop wasn’t much.
We’ve seen James adjust to a team with two star players, like what he did in 2010. So even if Kevin Love enters the picture, LeBron will always be King James. Some stats have to be sacrificed when you have three star players on a single team, but no matter who those other two are, it’s not LeBron’s numbers that are going down. So if Love enters town and joins LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, LBJ is likely to have at least the same numbers as when he joined the Heat in 2010: 26.7 points, 7.0 assists, 7.5 rebounds, 1.6 steals, and 0.5 blocks per game.
As for the Cavs’ young guns, like Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, Dion Waiters, and Tristan Thompson, their current fantasy value will take a dip because they will have to take a backseat. That being said, playing with LeBron will help them in the long run, as they will mature and develop consistency playing with the King.
Irving shot just .430 from the field and .358 from three-point range last season, but with another creator and playmaker like LeBron James, Kyrie will now get better looks by not having to create his own shot. Better shot attempts mean better percentages and more makes for Irving. Expect the 1.7 three-point makes per game to increase, and so will his field-goal and three-point percentages. However, with LeBron in town, expect Irving’s scoring and assist numbers to take a little dip, as James will take away some of the touches that were his last season.
If the Cavs decide to keep Wiggins, then he is the biggest loser fantasy wise because he will have to play third fiddle to James and Irving. That being said, while Wiggins won’t have the superstar scoring numbers playing as the third option, playing with LeBron helps him in the maturity process, although not much for the fantasy numbers, at least not next season. The best fantasy scenario for Wiggins, and Anthony Bennett for that matter, would be being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, who would be having a superstar void if Love departs. Wiggins could have a 20+ scoring average in his rookie season, while Bennett would have double-double potential under this scenario.
We know that Anderson Varejao can play well with LeBron. The problem with him is whether he will be healthy next season. Dion Waiters, like Wiggins, could be the loser, scoring-wise and in playing minutes, if Wiggins stays in Cleveland.
Heat and Miss
Miami missed on LeBron, but made hits with Luol Deng, Danny Granger, and Josh McRoberts. Not to mention that they were able to get back Bosh, although they did so at a luxurious price. There was no doubt that Dwyane Wade would be back, after all he is the true face of that franchise.
Wade averaged 26.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game during the 2009 season, when James wasn’t in South Beach yet. It’s tough to imagine how Wade can revert to the “Wade of Old” when he is now the “Old Wade.”
Wade averaged just 19.0 points per game last season, but if we go by points per 36 minutes, Wade is still a 20-point scorer at age 32. The problem is that there is no guarantee he can still play 36 minutes per game on brittle knees.
With James gone, Wade should share most of the offensive load with Chris Bosh, as this dynamic duo hopes to pick up where they left off last season. Yet, don’t expect Bosh to be CB4 once again. He himself admitted that, as reported by ESPN.com on July 13, 2014:
“A few years later, I think I’m a much better player. It’s funny, even all the way over here in Africa, people are telling me, ‘We need CB4 back.’ I can’t be that. That’s impossible.”
Like James, getting better for Wade means making better shot selections and making the right plays, which usually means making the passes. Once volume is sacrificed, the ability to produce more stats is limited, but Bosh had better numbers in Miami when James didn’t play. Take a look at this:
|Chris Bosh||With James||Without James|
|Points Per Game||17.1||23.2|
|3 PT Field Goal Percentage||30.2||45.2|
These won’t be Bosh’s exact numbers next season, but this is an indication of how his fantasy numbers could improve without James.
Then there are the newcomers: Granger, McRoberts, and Deng.
People have forgotten how good Danny Granger was from 2008-10 when he was a 20+ points scorer in the NBA. No, he isn’t going to return to that form, but at 31 years old he will give Luol Deng a run for the statistics at the 3 spot. Granger is a good three-point shooter, and with that void in Miami, especially with Rahsard Lewis gone (and maybe even Ray Allen), expect Danny’s 1.1 three-point makes per game to increase.
Deng will start at the 3 spot, but he has played as either the number one or two offensive option before on his previous teams. With Bosh and Wade, it remains to be seen if he will be a 20-point scorer there or not.
Josh McRoberts will be a crucial contributor for the team and will give them a quality frontline, but with Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem on board, it doesn’t seem like his numbers will increase much, or will ever increase at all. They might even go down considering he will share the minutes with Bosh and Haslem, unless of course Miami doesn’t get a center and CB reverts to the five position. If that happens, and McRoberts starts at 4, he’s of good value in points and rebounds for any team.
Houston, We May Have a Problem
The Rockets unloaded Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin to different teams in order to clear cap space. The Rockets also let Chandler Parsons walk away to the Dallas Mavericks.
That being said, they got Trevor Ariza to replace Parsons. Ariza is coming off a great season in which he averaged 14.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game. The void left by Parsons makes Ariza a valuable fantasy pick in Houston, but with James Harden in town, don’t count on Trevor to score in the 20s there. Three-point shooting is Ariza’s forte, and it will continue to be his forte in Houston.
Asik’s departure could also mean an increase in Dwight Howard’s minutes. Last season Howard played 33.7 minutes per game, which is lower than his career 35.9 minutes per game average. According to basketball-reference.com, Howard averaged 19.5 points, 13.0 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per 36 minutes. So if the Rockets don’t get another big man as solid as Asik, Howard may have to return to the Superman minutes again.
With Jeremy Lin gone, Patrick Beverly is the fantasy basketball winner in Houston because he is now promoted to starting point guard status. Beverly’s 8.3 points per game looks to go into double digits, while his 2.8 assists per game could easily double next season with more opportunities as the starter.
No Hollywood Ending
After the Lakers lost out on the battles for LeBron and Carmelo, they settled for Houston’s salary dump in order to maintain competitiveness next season, along with still having financial flexibility for next offseason.
Enter Jeremy Lin. Lin will stabilize the Lakers backcourt just in case Steve Nash doesn’t return to peak form, whatever that is right now. Nash could be the starter, while Lin can even play 2 given his shooting and score-first mentality. That being said, it’s almost definite that Lin will play the major minutes at the point considering Nash’s age and physical condition.
Lin averaged 12.5 points, 4.1 assists, and 1.3 steals last season while playing 28.9 minutes per game. Remember Linsanity in New York? Lin played with a great scorer in Carmelo Anthony, but given the opportunity, he produced there by scoring 14.6 points and dishing off 6.2 assists per game.
With Kobe Bryant as the only legit star there, Lin should be a hit in LA. Given the situation in LA, Lin is ripe to make a fantasy impact with the Lakers.
As stated earlier, these are just the major players in the LeBron fantasy effect of 2014. The Chicago Bulls amnestied Carlos Boozer in an attempt to lure LeBron, Carmelo, or Bosh, however they ended up landing Pau Gasol instead, whom the Lakers didn’t re-sign.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have implications too, but those are contingent to Kevin Love’s departure. Among other NBA teams there are more implications, although those are not as material as these that we mentioned.
However, one thing is certain here. Without a doubt, LeBron James is at the center of the NBA’s universe. We started the summer with a lot of questions, but once the King was in place, all the other stars aligned.