Coming Home: Fantasy Impact Of LeBron James’ Return To Cleveland
“I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.”
Those were the words of LeBron James. The words that so many Cleveland Cavaliers fans have wanted to hear for years now. The words that single-handedly altered the NBA as a whole. And as we crept closer to LeBron’s free agency, folks were hinting towards the idea of a return home, but many thought it was outlandish, impossible.
But it happened.
In a Sports Illustrated Exclusive, James told Lee Jenkins, and the world, that he would be returning to Ohio, a place he called home for the majority of his life. He will be returning to the thousands of fans that burned his jersey, booed him repeatedly, stated they would never want him back. That will all change so, so quickly, for sure. And yes, I understand you may be here for the fantasy spin, which we will dive into momentarily. But I did want to touch on LeBron’s decision, and the way he went about it, because I do feel that it was the right way to approach the situation.
Sure, the Cavs are an instant favorite to win the NBA title. In fact, they are already 4-1 odds, which is remarkable. But James makes that much of an impact for a young team. And sure, this team has talent and potential to get it done, but this move wasn’t solely about basketball. It was about doing the right thing, being the best person for the city of Cleveland and his community. LeBron is accepting this challenge to help the city grow, but also realizes that their is a leadership role that needs to be fulfilled. One that only he can. When he departed for Miami, it was about him. His goals to win a title and grow his legacy.
This time around, it’s about the city, his family and his team.
Now onto the fantasy aspects, because there are plenty.
Adding the best player in the world is obviously tremendous for real life purposes, but for fantasy, it can be tricky.
For instance, does point guard Kyrie Irving see an uptick playing alongside LeBron, or are there only so many touches to go around? Last year, both Kyrie and LeBron ranked inside the top-10 in usage rate, 29.1 for LeBron, 27.8 for Irving. We all know LeBron loves to bring the ball up himself, which should certainly take some looks away from Kyrie as the team’s “point guard.” Last season, using NBA.com’s Player Tracking Data, Kyrie Irving ranked 16th in offensive touches per game (81.1). LeBron, meanwhile, touched the ball a lot, but also passed it quite a bit, too, averaging over 50 passes per game, good for 21st in the NBA. And his 12.3 points per game created off assists ranked 11th.
Kyrie may not get as many shots as his 17.4 per game from last year, but with LeBron, they will be better shots.
And while Kyrie has never been a major assist guy (career 5.8 assists per game), that could change this season, especially if the Cavaliers use him as more of a point guard than scorer. James’ play can result in easy buckets, as he drove to the basket seven times per game a season ago. And, of course, he has shot the ball absolutely lights out over the past few seasons.
The guy has been shooting the bell better than anyone over the last five combined seasons, and with the way he is playing, assists will come a lot easier for Kyrie. Alley oops will transpire, oohs and ahhs will ensue.
I’m Lovin’ It
Let the dominoes fall.
Highly touted trade target, Kevin Love already stated that if LeBron were to sign in Cleveland, he would sign there long-term, assuming the Cavs could acquire him. Don’t look now, but this could very well happen, as Cleveland has pieces. Reports are that they are already offering a first round pick, Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett. First overall pick Andrew Wiggins could be involved in the deal, too. If he were to land in Cleveland, it would be very interesting, as the Cavs would suddenly have three players who ranked inside the top-10 in usage rate last year. But Love isn’t a ball dominant player at all, and playing with LeBron could be insane.
James is the best player in the league in attacking the defense, drawing a double team and then kicking it out to the open shooter. During the last two seasons in Miami, Chris Bosh set career-highs in three-pointers attempted per game (1.0, 2.8), and Love is easily a better perimeter shooter. And, as I stated before, LeBron was one of the twelve-best players in basketball in creating points off assists last year. This would also be another great addition for Irving’s assist totals, too. I mean, can you imagine a pick-and-pop between Love and Kyrie?
Because the NBA was pretty much handcuffed by the LeBron decision, signings and trades are going to fly all over the place.
In fact, they already have.
-The Houston Rockets are likely to land Chris Bosh after this news, making Houston a serious contender out West. It’s a good fit for his fantasy value, although James Harden is particularly ball dominant. But still, Harden averaged a healthy 6.1 assists per game last year, and Bosh could see more volume in Houston than Miami. The Rockets played at the league’s 5th-highest pace last year (98.8), while Miami was a more methodical unit, averaging 93.3 possessions per game (27th). Bosh only touched the ball 50 times per game last year, so expect that number to go up in Houston, assuming this move happens.
-And because the Rockets need cap to offer Bosh the max, they are trading Jeremy Lin to the fantasy friendly Lakers, a terrific fit for his fantasy value. Last year, the Lakers played at the league’s second-highest pace, and they had multiple point guards find themselves fantasy relevant. Guys like Kendall Marshall, who had six weeks averaging at least 30 fantasy points, or Kent Bazemore, who finished the season strong. Playing alongside Kobe Bryant should be fun, and Lin’s value is definitely on the rise.
-Meanwhile, Dwyane Wade is feeling like Mario Chalmers every time the Big Three was together– left out. Wade could possibly return home himself, heading to Chicago to play for the Bulls, but that may be the destination of one Carmelo Anthony sooner or later.
LeBron James has shell-shocked the sports world, and whether you like him or not, it’s exciting to have him back in Cleveland. For fantasy purposes, it’s terrific, and while many believe Kevin Durant is the unquestioned number one pick, you can make the argument for LeBron, who has posted near triple-double averages on far worse Cleveland teams.
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