- John Cregan, Fantasy Basketball
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As the "LeBron to Miami" rumors picked up steam, one question repeatedly rolled through my mind: If you were in an auction keeper league and had amassed a keeper list with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, would you be better off today than you were yesterday?
And the answer: You would be undoubtedly worse off than you were before LeBron's announcement Thursday night.
The new Big Three in Miami
Bosh is probably the easiest to peg in terms of his production. This past season, he posted a classic contract line, tallying 24 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game, but he also holds less obvious statistical assets. For instance, he's one of the top big men in terms of assists, he gets to the line with great frequency and he's a very good free throw shooter.
But those days of 24 and 11 on a nightly basis are going to seem like a fuzzy memory come Halloween. Wade (4.8 rebounds per game) and LeBron (7.3) are not only prolific scorers, but they're among the league's best rebounders at their respective positions. I think Bosh lands numerically somewhere in the land of recent Pau Gasol, but with fewer blocks (for some reason, Bosh's block totals have dipped in recent seasons). I'd say 18-19 points, 9-10 rebounds and a block per night. That would make him a late second-round pick -- or late third-round pick if he's stripped of his center eligibility for the coming season, which could happen -- in most league setups, slightly later than before LeBron's announcement.
Of course, the real debate comes down to how LeBron and Wade will co-exist. You're going to hear plenty in the coming days about egos, who's Batman and who's Robin, who's Michael and who's Pippen, etc. But in fantasy, it comes down to these statistics: pace, minutes per game and usage rate.
As of now, Miami will be coached by Erik Spoelstra, who is steeped in the slow-paced Pat Riley tradition. This past season, the Heat were 28th in the league in pace, putting them in the fantasy-killing section of the NBA's offensive standings. Yes, the Cavs were 25th, but the point is that LeBron is still stuck in a defense-first situation. You LeBron owners or prospective LeBron owners hoping for a huge boost from, say, a Mike D'Antoni system will be let down.
As for the minutes per game, all three players can be Sharpied in for 40 to 44 minutes per night. And while all three are used to big minutes, remember that, historically, Wade has been more brittle than the other two. His production expectations will be less, but it's hard to see this new situation allowing him the extra rest he needs to sidestep the injury bug. This is why I always avoid Wade in the first round. LeBron and Bosh shouldn't carry any additional red flags on the injury front.
And finally, the usage rate. This is going to be a very top-heavy squad in terms of who gets the touches. Wade led the league this pat season in usage rate at 34.9 percent, and LeBron wasn't far behind at 33.5 percent. Bosh also was sky high at 28.7 percent. So all three players are used to getting plenty of touches.
Devoting a large chunk of minutes and touches to three stars, on paper, is supposed to create something of a chemical implosion. But I would remind you that we heard a lot of the same things a couple of years back when Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen joined forces on a Celtics squad that also was thought to be painfully thin. And like Garnett, Wade and LeBron share a reputation for being relatively unselfish (given their talents and egos). And of course, the Celtics went on to win a title. So, it's all good, right?
No, it's not all good. Garnett, Pierce and Allen all took heavy dives in fantasy value, and it's hard to not see history repeating itself in South Beach.
Wade and LeBron are among the game's most efficient players and have histories of working well with others but in fantasy terms, both slide a few spots in the first round. LeBron goes from arguably the top spot to No. 3, after Kevin Durant and Chris Paul. As for Wade, he drops from the middle of the first round to the end of it, and in deeper leagues, he might be available early in the second round.
Overall, I'd predict an 8 percent to 12 percent drop across the board in both players' volume-based offensive numbers. That would mean LeBron becomes a 25.5-point, 6-rebound, 6-assist per night player, to go along with 1.5 3s, 1.5 steals and a block per game. Accordingly, Wade should slot into the 23-point, 4.5-rebound, 5.5-assist range, to go along with one 3-pointer, two steals and a block. Those projections still place those players among the elite, but not at the same ceiling both possessed hours ago.
The rest of the Heat
It doesn't sound like Michael Beasley is long for Miami, which is too bad because he could be the rare fourth wheel who's touch-hungry/crazy enough to hold any real fantasy relevance in this situation. One rumor has Miami clearing his cap space to sign Mike Miller, who would be a perfect, space-opening complement to the new Big Three. If not Miller, some free agent floating around now is going to be a nice 3-point specialist in deeper leagues.
And what about Mario Chalmers? Well, he had a brief moment in the fantasy sun his rookie season, when he displayed his upside in the steals and 3-point categories. Chalmers' problem is that the rest of his production seems to really rise and fall with his outside shot. Chalmers still has elite steals potential, but he hasn't developed his outside shot to the point that he has become a reliable fantasy option.
The only spot we haven't discussed is the center position. In the end, someone is going to be this team's starting center; it won't be Bosh. Someone will be signed on the cheap, and whoever that is will have to have loads of blocks potential to hold any fantasy value, because there's almost no way that dude, whoever he is, is going to be allowed to shoot much.
Assessing the Cleveland Cavaliers
I feel bad for Cleveland, even more than I thought I would. But as dire as things are for the Cavs faithful, LeBron's desertion does mean the Cavaliers are going to be a nice little hotbed for under-the-radar fantasy sleepers in 2010-11.
Immediately the Cavs crater in terms of hype, which is one of the most underrated forces in fantasy basketball. The amount of exposure a team receives has a direct effect on where players go in drafts and the speed with which they're scooped up off the waiver wire. Without LeBron -- or any other superstar, for that matter -- Cleveland joins Milwaukee in the lower rungs of the hype rankings. Less hype means more sleepers.
There still are some talented offensive players on this squad, and Cleveland now has the cap space to add more firepower. There are tons of newly vacated touches to dole out. And most importantly, the staid, Mike Brown, pseudo Spurs system is being swapped out for an uptempo Byron Scott attack. It's a sad new era in Ohio, but all of this spells opportunity for savvy owners.
The truth is that there isn't a single player on the Cavaliers outside of J.J. Hickson who won't be mentioned in a trade rumor in the coming weeks. But the Cavs still must field a team this season, so let's examine the rubble:
• First, cross off Shaquille O'Neal. He will settle into a nice midlevel exception on a contending team, destined for the 14th round in a less-informed fantasy draft near you.
• Antawn Jamison might be in his mid-30s, but he now has emerged as scoring option 1A or 1B for the new-look Cavaliers. He's still a 20-10 guy, and he's capable of hitting 30 points on any given night when his 3-point shot is falling. If he stays on the Cavs, he's a nice bet in the fourth round.
• I'll be eagerly checking preseason box scores to see if/how Mo Williams responds to his new role (questionable effort has been a problem for Williams in the past). If he sees the glass as half full, Williams could emerge as a 20-points-per-game player. If half empty, he could sulk and land in the 15.5-point range. No matter what, he should still be an elite (2.3 3-pointers per game) and efficient (42.9 percent from behind the arc) 3-point producer. He'll be leaned on for more assists as well, and his dimes could climb into the 5.5-6 per night range.
• I think Anderson Varejao's numbers will stay where they are because he's going to yield minutes to Hickson, who in my mind will emerge as a hot sleeper in fantasy drafts.
• If Hickson isn't dealt, he should see a big bump in minutes and could become this year's Paul Millsap. (I know, "Paul Millsap" is cold comfort, but I'm trying to find silver linings here.)
• Finally, Delonte West and Jamario Moon will bear watching come training camp. When he puts it together, West is a sneaky-good contributor with dual backcourt eligibility. Moon has that Doug Christie-esque potential I've always loved and should step in as LeBron's replacement at small forward. Given the minutes, he could be a great endgame grab in medium to deep leagues.
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
John Cregan spins LeBron James' decision to go to the Miami Heat, from a fantasy perspective.