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What to Expect from LeBron in the Finals

What might we expect from LeBron James in his NBA Finals rematch against the Golden State Warriors? On ESPN for the last couple of days I’ve noticed them really pushing Andre’ Iguodala as a “LeBron stopper” that slowed him during last season’s Finals, and that thus may slow him again this season. However, a closer look at LeBron’s production in those Finals suggests that while Iguodala may have done the best job among the Warriors, he really didn’t slow him any more than the other playoffs opponents.

Plus, this year’s Finals shapes up very differently than last year’s. The Cavaliers have Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love healthy this season, which makes them a much different offense. Plus, the Cavs are stylistically playing offense differently than they did even in the regular season with more small-ball and 3-point shooting. And, as usual, LeBron is at the exact center of everything that the Cavs do, so how he performs in the Finals will go a long way towards determining the final outcome.

So, what should we expect from LeBron in the 2016 Finals?

There are two ways to look at it. One way is that while the Warriors may not have a “LeBron Stopper” they may, in the words of Jason Rubin, have a LeBron Speed Bump. In the 2015 Finals LeBron did struggle with his scoring efficiency while Iguodala was on the court, with a paltry 47% true shooting percentage. I argued in the Nylon Calculus link above that Iguodala didn’t slow LeBron any more in those Finals than his other 2015 playoff opponents did, and that therefore he wasn’t dominating him defensively the way the narrative might suggest. However, @BrianLewis709 had a reasonable counter for me on Twitter, that LeBron’s other 2015 playoff opponents also had very good wing defenders in Jae Crowder, DeMarre Carroll and Jimmy Butler and thus that Iguodala holding him to the same level was an indication that Iggy was making a huge difference defensively.

That’s actually a defendable point. Especially when you factor in that in two regular season games against the Warriors this year, LeBron still managed only 20.5 points on 40.5% field goal percentage. Also, in the Warriors’ recent series against another dominant offensive small forward in Kevin Durant, they held him to only 53.7% true shooting after he had lit up the previously dominant Spurs defense for 60.2% true shooting just a round before. With Draymond Green helping out in addition to Iguodala, the Warriors do have some plus defenders that could make life difficult on LeBron.

However, there is also the opposing view-point that it wasn’t the defenses that slowed LeBron in the 2015 playoffs but instead the circumstances tripped him up. With Irving and Love both injured last season, the Cavaliers’ offense bogged down with a lack of talent around LeBron. Defenses were able to focus on him in entirety, which damaged his efficiency but not his volume. Also, because the Warriors in particular had such a high-powered offense, it behooved the Cavs to slow down and dirty up the game which helped contribute to LeBron’s low percentages while still giving the Cavs the best chance to remain competitive. I tend to agree more with this second point of view, which would suggest that LeBron’s performance in these Finals is less dependent upon the Warriors’ defense and more dependent upon his own approach. So, let’s look at what LeBron is doing differently in these playoffs than he did in 2015.

For one thing, LeBron’s minutes load has been down thus far in 2016 compared to 2015. In 2015 he had to play iron man minutes, 42.2 mpg, in large part because there wasn’t enough supporting talent for him to get much rest. In 2016 he’s playing more than four fewer minutes, down to a career-low pace of 37.9 mpg, that has allowed him to remain fresher. I believe it was Kenny Smith from TNT that pointed out just how high LeBron has been able to get on some of his postseason dunks, higher than expected from a now 30-something with so much mileage on the odometer. But the Cavs swept their first two series which has allowed for plenty of days off, and with healthier teammates LeBron has been able to sit more even during games than he ever has been able to in his career.

Another big difference is that in this year’s playoffs, LeBron has not been settling for jumpers but has instead been taking it to the rim. A LOT. According to his entry at basketball-reference.com, LeBron has taken almost half of his shots (48.6% of them, to be exact) within three feeet of the rim and he’s finishing those shots at a 74.6% clip. That would represent by FAR a career high percentage of close shots for James (his previous best was 38.1% of his shots from close back in 2006), and a sea-change difference from 2015 when he took only 30.3% of his shots from within three feet of the rim. Part of this is due to improved shot selection, but a lot of it is due to talented teammates that space the floor and prevent defenses from loading up on James the way that they used to. Qualitatively speaking, while the Warriors did a great job on Durant overall in the last round it certainly seemed to me that he enjoyed much more success when he went to the rim. A lot of his difficulties came from settling for contested long-range jumpers (he shot only 28.6% on 6.0 trey attempts per game). So if LeBron continues to attack the paint, it would seem that he should find success against the Warriors.

This dovetails in with the third major difference from a year ago: this time LeBron doesn’t have to create everything himself. While only 22.3% of LeBron’s 2-point shots were assisted in 2015, in 2016 a whopping 48.3% of his 2-pointers come off assists from teammates. Similarly, last year 48% of LeBron’s treys were assisted while 68.4% of them are off of assists in 2016. Not coincidentally, LeBron’s 2-point field goal percentage has increased from 46.5% to 61.5% and his 3-point field goal percentage is is up from 22.7% to 32.2%.

Bottom line: the Warriors have two strong defenders in Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green that have proven that they can make life difficult for over-sized superstar small forwards, especially when they try to create a lot off the dribble and are willing to settle for jump shots. However, this season LeBron no longer has to force the action the way that he did in 2015, and I think that this will be the more important factor in determining his Finals production as opposed to Golden State’s defense. I look for LeBron to be a monster in these Finals, which will help make the Cavaliers a lot more competitive in the 2016 Finals than they were in 2015.

Mission Possible: Black People Absolutely Use NBA Analytics

My name is Dr. Andre’ Snellings, and I absolutely LOVE NBA analytics. And…in case you didn’t know…I’m as black as the ace of spades, like my grandma used to say.

As you probably know by now, that “confession” was in response to Michael Wilbon’s article Mission Impossible: African-Americans & Analytics that has the premise that black folks don’t talk about sports in terms of advanced analytics.

Why the Thunder can beat the Warriors

On the first Monday of May, I went on the Rotowire Fantasy Sports Today radio show on XM/Sirius with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson, and was asked to weigh in on the Thunder vs Spurs series. The Spurs had just beat the Thunder by roughly 100 points in the first game of the series, and Liss gave me an over-under of 5.5 games for that series. I took the “under”, that the Spurs would finish off the Thunder in five.

Yeah, not all predictions pan out.

So now, two weeks later, the Thunder have completed their unlikely comeback over the seemingly juggernaut Spurs, and are gearing up for a series against the even-more-invincible-seeming Golden State Warriors. The Warriors are the defending champions, they won an NBA-record 73 games this season, they continued to win even when unanimous MVP Stephen Curry got injured, and now Curry is back and doing Curry-like things. The Warriors beat the Thunder all three times they played this year, including by a combined 23 points in two games at Golden State. In a related note, the Warriors have home court advantage in this series.

So of course, when Ken Crites asked for my picks…I said Thunder in six.

Wait, what?

The FanDuel Partner Basketball Championship – Contest No. 10

Reaching the final stage of the five-week competition known as the FanDuel Partners Basketball Championship (FPBC), RotoWire has nudged its way into second in the standings with the help of our daily fantasy (DFS) tools. In Wednesday’s 10-game slate, we trusted in former teammates Andre Drummond and Brandon Knight to augment Chris Paul in his long-running rivalry with Stephen Curry. However, Paul fell short of his standard with just 31.2 FanDuel points (FDP), while Drummond (51.3) and Knight (50.1) both eked past the 50-FDP threshold. With the help of four other 30-plus FDP showings, namely Kevin Love’s 44, RotoWire posted its top score of the contest (325.3) and fifth 300-FDP performance in the last six.

To wrap of the FPBC, we’ll again touch on the Top 5 FanDuel plays of the day.

Elfrid Payton, PG, ORL at MIA ($5,400) – Only three games removed from missing five outings due to an elbow injury, Payton initially eased into action but exploded Wednesday in Detroit, posting a triple-double on his way to 48 FDP. While his production on the glass can expect to scale back against another team with a rebound rate among the NBA’s Top 6, he should benefit from a backcourt sans Victor Oladipo, who will don street clothes Friday as a result of a wrist concern. With Oladipo out of the picture, Payton should take on most of the ball-handling duties, while also filling a portion of the offensive void. The Heat’s pace factor may force a bogged-down affair, but Payton posted 29.9 FDP in 33 minutes during their other matchup this season on Dec. 26, which if repeated would reap greater than 5.5 times his current sticker price.

James Harden, SG, HOU vs TOR ($10,800) – Harden represents far and away the top-scoring two-guard on the schedule Friday, as he’s churned out at least 35 percent more FDP than the available options at the position over the past five games, according to RotoWire’s NBA Daily Fantasy Value Report. The preceding likely induced RotoWire’s Daily Lineup Optimizer to generate his name, though the value associated with his projection could spur owners to search elsewhere.

FD Lineup - 25 Mar 2016

Fear not, though, as this Houston-Toronto clash is accompanied by the median over/under (212) of the evening, which may be understated following a 113-107 victory by the visiting Rockets on March 6. In the course of that contest, Harden constructed 68 FDP on the backs of 40 points (11-20 FG, 3-7 3Pt, 15-19 FT), 14 assists, five rebounds, and one steal in 43 minutes. On the heels of three point-assist double-doubles in the last four tilts, he’ll attempt to break through again.

Nicolas Batum, SF, CHA at DET ($7,700) – Elite small forwards like Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony each have the night off, so the hunt is on for palatable options. During an exploration of the aforementioned Value Report, a check of recent workloads reveals that Batum has notched the most FDP per minute (0.96) of those SF to rack up at least 35 minutes in the last five games.

FD Lineup2 - 25 Mar 2016

In two games versus the Pistons in 2015-16, Batum’s lines have yielded more than 1.00 FDP per minute – 1.05, to be exact. If duplicated Friday, a significant sum should accrue, as he’s received 34-plus minutes in 12 straight games, and 15 of 18 since the break.

Paul Millsap, PF, ATL vs MIL ($7,700) – Given the price tag, Millsap has fallen short of 5X his value in seven of the last 10 outings. Overall, his output is nothing to sniff at – 15.9 points (on 50 percent shooting), 9.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.0 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game – but his allotment of minutes (32 per game) and subpar stroke from three-point range (26 percent) during that span have impacted his offerings. Looking to turn the page, Millsap will welcome the sieve that is the Bucks into Philips Arena. Over the course of the past 10 games, Milwaukee’s frontcourt has conceded the sixth-most FDP (45.8 per game) to power forwards and fifth-most FDP (50.8 per game) to centers, per RotoWire’s NBA Defense vs. Position Stats tool. Millsap himself didn’t contribute to those marks, but two previous showdowns with the Bucks produced a whopping 54 and 52.2 FDP, which would equate to 48.4 FDP per 36 minutes and 6.3X his prevailing salary.

Tim Duncan, C, SA vs MEM ($4,900) – After the Spurs ruled out Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw, Danny Green, and Patty Mills for Friday’s contest, the rotation was whittled down enough to consider the likes of Tony Parker and Duncan, who are typically too inconsistent to rely upon for DFS purposes. On Monday of this week, Duncan informed the basketball world that his all-around chops remain intact, as evidenced by 42 FDP in 31 minutes at Charlotte. The showing mimics a pair of fruitful endeavors against the Grizzlies already in this campaign, including 37 and 32.5 FDP in 67 combined minutes. Assuming he can exploit a frontcourt without the services of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, Duncan should have no problem aiding Friday’s pursuits.

FD Lineup1 - 25 Mar 2016

The FanDuel Partner Basketball Championship – Contest No. 9

The FanDuel Partners Basketball Championship (FPBC) has grown tight, with less than 13 FanDuel points separating the Top 5 competitors. Ringing in in third place overall, RotoWire has put together four 300-FDP showings in the past five, riding James Harden (53 FDP) and Karl-Anthony Towns (51.7) to 312.1 on Friday. Once again, we’ll cover the Top 5 FanDuel plays of the day.

Chris Paul, PG, LAC at GS ($9,900) – After dialing up RotoWire’s Daily Lineup Optimizer, the player that stands head and shoulders above the others is Paul, who seems to thrives in the quicker environment presented with Stephen Curry and company on the other side.

The FanDuel Partner Basketball Championship – Contest No. 8

The end is near for the FanDuel Partners Basketball Championship (FPBC), which features nine sites within the fantasy sports industry competing twice per week over the course of a five-week span. In the seventh installment Wednesday, RotoWire posted 309.8 FanDuel points (FDP) on the backs of Kevin Durant (52.9), Anthony Davis (51.8), and Victor Oladipo (42.5). However, non-existent showings from Marcus Smart (12.9) and Nikola Mirotic (8.7) ultimately hindered our cause. While one can peruse the current standings here, we’ll again delve into the Top 5 FanDuel plays of the day.

The FanDuel Partner Basketball Championship – Contest No. 7

At this point in the game, the FanDuel Partners Basketball Championship (FPBC) has brought nine sites in the fantasy sports industry within striking distance of the top spot after wiping away the two lowest scores for each entity. RotoWire sits comfortably in sixth place with a pair of 300-point nights among six contests and four remaining on the slate. Once again, we’ll explore the Top 5 FanDuel plays of the day to aid in the decision-making process.

Brandon Jennings, PG, ORL at CHA ($3,500) – The Brandon Jennings plan is entirely contingent upon the health of Elfrid Payton’s right elbow, which is reflected in RotoWire’s Daily Lineup Optimizer: