Carrying the Cavs: NBA Finals Déjà Vu for LeBron?
Lebron James' performance in these playoffs so far has been impressive, especially considering that he has played mostly without Kevin Love (dislocated shoulder) and that Kyrie Irving has been out or struggling with knee tendinitis.
Since Love dislocated his shoulder in a tie-up with Kelly Olynyk in the opening round, James has averaged 28.3 points, 11.2 rebounds and 9.2 assists per game, against Atlanta and Chicago who ranked third and sixth in Defensive Rating in the Eastern Conference this year.
James' performance has especially taken notice as of late as the Cavs have relied on him so much more, as seen through his increase in isolation situations and high pick-and-rolls, creating flashbacks to the 2007 season.
Although the reliance on James has understandably increased after the first round of the playoffs -- his usage rate has shot up from 31.8 percent in the first round to now 40.5 percent against the Hawks -- what made the 2007 Finals run so remarkable was the (seemingly) lack of talent around James.
So, how does LeBron's supporting cast compare sans Love and Irving?
All LeBron or Team Effort?
One way to gauge how much LeBron has done for the Cavs is to measure his Win Shares in each playoff season.
|Player||Playoff Win Shares (2007)||Playoff Win Shares (2015)|
In comparing LeBron's playoff performance between the two seasons, it is clear -- according to Win Shares -- that the Cavs needed LeBron more in 2007 than now, with his contribution to the team's playoff wins being nearly double that of 2015.
How did the rest of the team chip in?
|Player||Playoff Win Shares (2007)||Player||Playoff Win Shares (2015)|
|Zydrunas Ilgauskas||2.3||Tristan Thompson||1.7|
|Daniel Gibson||1.8||Iman Shumpert||1.5|
|Drew Gooden||1.7||J.R. Smith||1.3|
|Anderson Varejao||1.4||Timofey Mozgov||0.9|
|Larry Hughes||0.4||James Jones||0.6|
While his current Win Shares do lead the team, LeBron is relied upon far less in the Cavs' playoff wins this year as opposed to 2007. LeBron contributed 1.4 more wins than the next player on his team and nearly two more wins than Daniel Gibson, who ranked third. Also, Irving's playoff Win Shares is also 1.7, so LeBron's edge hasn't been as significant as it was in 2007.
The current differential is a mere 0.2 wins.
Filling LeBron's Shoes
For most conversations discussing a player's overall value to the team, with the Steph Curry versus James Harden MVP debate being the most recent example, wins over replacement is a valuable evaluation.
VORP, or Value over Replacement Player, estimates how many more win a player provides to an average team than their replacement-level counterparts.
|Player||Playoff VORP (2007)||Playoff VORP (2015)|
LeBron's VORP in 2007 was 0.9 points per 100 team possessions higher than it has been this year. His wins over replacement, though, (calculated by multiplying VORP by 2.70) was 6.5 in 2007. This year, it's been 4.1.
How do the rest of the Cavs stack up?
|Player||Playoff VORP (2007)||Player||Playoff VORP (2015)|
|Daniel Gibson||0.5||Iman Shumpert||0.7|
|Zydrunas Ilgauskas||0.4||J.R. Smith||0.6|
|Anderson Varejao||0.4||Tristan Thompson||0.4|
|Drew Gooden||0.3||Timofey Mozgov||0.2|
|Larry Hughes||0.1||James Jones||0.1|
The current supporting cast, without Irving, is similar if not slightly more improved than LeBron's teammates in 2007 when it comes to compared value. However, while the change is minute, there major difference at the wing positions, most notably with Shumpert and Smith.
It's easy to notice that many of the main contributors on the 2007 Cavs were big men, which makes sense as the "small-ball four" was not a trending topic at the time, thus making LeBron's perimeter dominance that much more valuable.
The Cavs' current contributors are essentially a starting lineup, while the 2007 team focused on a solid big-man rotation with limited perimeter help for LeBron.
Similar Story, Same Ending?
It would be safe to say that Cleveland will be advancing to the 2015 NBA Finals after going up 3-0 in the series to Atlanta, and no NBA team has ever come back in a series down 3-0.
LeBron taking this team to the Finals, without essentially two-thirds of their "Big Three," is remarkable, but did not require quite the heavy-lifting it did eight years ago.
Eight years ago, while having quality bigs, LeBron was the only offensive and perimeter threat Cleveland had (aside from the random 31-point game by Gibson to close out the Detroit series). That is not the case this year as he can rely on Shumpert and Smith for shooting and some shot-creating, as well as Matthew Dellavedova to somehow get one of the other team's best player ejected.
Another factor that has made LeBron's job this year a bit easier is that Kyrie has played, albeit injured and missing a few games, and may return for the Finals. LeBron's usage rate would surely reduce and resemble the rate he had during the Boston series when Kyrie played, putting much of the burden on someone else, a luxury he did not have in 2007.
In 2007, Cleveland got swept in the Finals by the Spurs as even LeBron's greatness was not enough to overcome that good of a team. With the Warriors perhaps becoming the best team since the 2001 Lakers, let alone becoming better than the 2007 Spurs, history might just repeat itself for the Cavs, who have a 19.1 percent chance to win it all, once again.