How Good Would the Cavaliers Be Without LeBron?
This week, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers started things off with a narrow, yet impressive Christmas Day win over the Golden State Warriors. However, after winning the rematch of last year's Finals and LeBron resting in the back-to-back, the Cavs fell to the Detroit Pistons in Detroit on Monday night.
The Pistons blew out Cleveland by a score of 106-90, and the game was all but over with more than four minutes yet to be played, with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love resting for the remainder of the game.
It was the third time this season the Cavaliers have been absent the services of King James, and for the third time they've lost. You may look at it like it was a perfect setup for a letdown game -- they were riding too high off of a big win, it was a back-to-back on the road and the Pistons were playing on two days rest.
No matter the numerous possibilities for excuses, this shows us why LeBron is always in the conversation for Most Valuable Player.
Value, in its strictest sense, is easily determined when something is money. For example, if you're missing $20, you know what that exact value is.
What's the value of a LeBron when he's missing from Coach Tyronn Lue's metaphorical wallet?
A King's Ransom
To the Cavaliers, that value 16.2. That is, with LeBron on the court, the team is 16.2 points better per 100 possessions than when he's off it. With him, the Cavs have a net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating) of 12.9. That figure drops to -3.3 without him.
According to Basketball Reference, here are the biggest changes we see:
James' across-the-board impact isn't hard to decipher. We know he does much more than score when he's on the floor. His elite passing and strong rebounding are a big part of what make the Cavs as lethal as they are on a game-to-game basis.
A crucial part of the team's success stems from the production of LeBron's sidekicks, Irving and Love.
However, as you can see, when the two are without their leader, they fail to produce at a significantly higher level. They tend to at least partially make up for the vacant rebounds, but without a sizable increase in assists and points, it's hard to see the team winning without their top stud.
After all, that's 25.5 points and 8.6 assists per game the team must live without.
Just Another Good Team
If you are unfamiliar with the term, nERD is our in-house metric that measures a player's total contribution throughout the season, based on efficiency. This provides an estimate of how many games above or below .500 a league-average team would be with that player as one of their starters. By totaling the nERD for all players on the team, we get an idea of how many games the team is expected win above .500.
For the Cavaliers, that number is 12.8, making for a projected win total of 54.8 -- the third-highest according to our power rankings. But, if you take away James' nERD of 5.5 that leaves the Cavs with an expected win total of 49.3, or just 7.3 wins over .500.
That figure would place them sixth in the NBA and second in the Eastern Conference (behind the Toronto Raptors) at this point in time. While that's nothing to thumb your nose at, it is hard to believe Cleveland would be the repeat title contender they currently are.
LeBron is key to the Cavs' defense and is a big reason for the successes of both Irving and Love. With his ball-handling skills, James allows Irving to be a secondary playmaker. His ability to distribute also creates easy perimeter shots for Love as the team's third scorer.
Since the Cavaliers have shown an inability to basically do the impossible and make up for all the things LeBron does on the basketball court, we have no choice but to believe Cleveland would be just another contender in the Eastern Conference.
Their lack of star power would prevent them from competing for a championship with the Golden State Warriors of the NBA today.