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Advanced Stats Analysis: LeBron James' Value with the Cavs

Marc Roberts

Marc Roberts

Marc F Roberts writes about fantasy basketball for RotoWire. He has won no fantasy awards, but his mom thinks his writing is "fantastic". Hubie Brown is a national treasure.

On Friday, LeBron James announced to the basketball world that he is returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers. James is the best basketball player in the world, and this move should alter the NBA landscape. (Miami could be a ghost town soon).

From a fantasy perspective, James is a great option but isn't necessarily the best fantasy player in the league. Check out his fantasy stats, along with the fantasy stats of the other players who ranked in the top five in fantasy last season:

2013-2014

MIN

FGA

FG%

FTA

FT%

3PM

REB

AST

STL

BLK

PTS

Auction Value

Fantasy Rank

Kevin Durant

38.5

20.8

50%

9.9

88%

2.4

7.4

5.5

1.3

0.7

32.0

$86

1

Stephen Curry

36.5

17.7

47%

4.5

87%

3.3

4.3

8.5

1.6

0.2

24.0

$66

2

LeBron James

37.7

17.6

57%

7.6

75%

1.5

6.9

6.3

1.6

0.3

27.1

$66

3

Chris Paul

35.0

14.0

46%

5.6

86%

1.3

4.3

10.7

2.5

0.1

19.1

$62

4

James Harden

38.0

16.5

45%

9.1

87%

2.4

4.7

6.1

1.6

0.4

25.4

$61

5


James and Stephen Curry finished basically tied as the second most valuable fantasy player on a per-game basis ($66 auction value), but both were significantly behind Kevin Durant, who finished first ($86 auction value). While James outpaced Durant in field goal percentage (57% vs. 50%), steals (1.6 spg vs. 1.3 spg), and assists (6.3 apg vs. 5.5 apg), his advantage in those categories were no match for the value Durant provided fantasy owners in free-throw percentage (88% on 9.9 attempts vs. 75% on 7.6 attempts), and points (32.0 ppg vs. 27.1).

Will James' return to the Cavaliers push his fantasy value closer to Durant's, or will the move drop him further down the list? Let's look at how the move will affect his playing time and pace of play to find out.

Pace Impact

A common misconception about the Heat, particularly when James first joined the team, was that they played an athletic, fast paced style. The truth is that, since James joined the team four years ago, they have consistently played at one of the slowest paces in the NBA (per basketball-reference):

Team

Season

Pace

Miami Heat

2013-2014

91.2

Miami Heat

2012-2013

90.7

Miami Heat

2011-2012

91.2

Miami Heat

2010-2011

90.9


Last season's pace of 91.2 was the fastest the Heat had played at during James' career with the team, which was good for fourth slowest in the league, far behind the league average 93.9.

The Cavaliers will be lead next season by rookie head coach David Blatt, which means we don't really have much data to use for an expectation of the Cavs' pace of play next season. Former Cav Jeremy Pargo, who played for Blatt in 2010-11, gave the following quote:

"Blatt is a great coach, his pace of the game is pretty much NBA pace, and he coached guys that are familiar with the NBA style. He's really a smart guy."

Since we don't have much to go on, I think the safest thing to do is assume that Blatt will play at a league average pace next season. If that is the case, James' stats, adjusted for an improvement in pace from 91.2 to 93.9, become worth $70 auction dollars and moves him clearly into the second overall rank.

Playing Time Impact

Although we don't know Blatt's planned rotation, the only real question is whether or not he will try to limit James' minutes in a way that Erik Spoelstra never did. Check out the minutes per game played by James over his 11 year career:

Player

Tm

G

GS

MPG

2003-04

CLE

79

79

39.5

2004-05

CLE

80

80

42.4

2005-06

CLE

79

79

42.5

2006-07

CLE

78

78

40.9

2007-08

CLE

75

74

40.4

2008-09

CLE

81

81

37.7

2009-10

CLE

76

76

39.0

2010-11

MIA

79

79

38.8

2011-12

MIA

62

62

37.5

2012-13

MIA

76

76

37.9

2013-14

MIA

77

77

37.7


Assuming Blatt chooses not to give James more rest, I think a reasonable expectation is 38.0 mpg next season. My thought is that James won't start resting during the regular season until he wins a championship in Cleveland. This modest increase in playing time would be worth an additional dollar to James' value, bringing his value to $71.

Projection For Next Season

Compared to his lofty standards, James actually had somewhat of a down year last season. Check out his stats, per 100 possessions, for the past six seasons:

Season

MPG

FGA

FG%

FTA

FT%

3PM

TRB

AST

STL

BLK

PTS

2008-09

37.7

28.6

49%

13.5

78%

2.3

10.9

10.4

2.4

1.6

40.8

2009-10

39.0

27.1

50%

13.7

77%

2.3

9.8

11.5

2.2

1.4

40.0

2010-11

38.8

25.6

51%

11.4

76%

1.6

10.2

9.6

2.1

0.9

36.4

2011-12

37.5

26.4

53%

11.4

77%

1.2

11.1

8.8

2.6

1.1

38.1

2012-13

37.9

24.9

57%

9.8

75%

1.9

11.2

10.1

2.4

1.2

37.5

2013-14

37.7

24.5

57%

10.6

75%

2.1

9.7

8.8

2.2

0.5

37.9


James averaged six-year lows in rebounds (9.7 per 100 possessions), assists (8.8 per 100 possessions), and blocks (0.5 per 100 possessions). I don't think this is a downward trend in production as much as James simply being worn out by the situation in Miami. I believe that next season his performance will be more in line with his career averages during the regular season, as he tries to reinvigorate the Cavaliers.

If we combine James' previous seasons on a per-100-possessions basis to develop his projected stats, and then adjust that projection for the league average pace and an average playing time of 38 minutes per game, we get the following projection for James next season:

2014-15 Projection

MIN

FGA

FG%

FTA

FT%

3PM

REB

AST

STL

BLK

PTS

Auction Value

Fantasy Rank

LeBron James

38.0

19.7

55%

8.5

75%

1.4

7.3

6.9

1.7

0.8

27.7

$73

2


This projection is an improvement over last season's value for James of $66 and makes him the clear second best player in fantasy leagues next season, providing significant fantasy value in every category except for free-throw percentage. I'd still take Durrant first in fantasy drafts next season, but if I had the second pick, I wouldn't hesitate to take James.

Do you have an opinion about LeBron James that you'd like to share? Would you like to know how he would rank at a different level of playing time? Leave a comment below, or contact me on twitter @MarcFRoberts. I'll also be posting the impact of free agent signing for players outside the top 130 on my twitter feed for those interested in deeper leagues (for example: Danny Granger, Aaron Gray, and Jordan Farmar).