- Brian McKitish, Fantasy Basketball
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Which Cavaliers are most affected by the departure of LeBron James?
It's been months since LeBron James announced his "decision," but it still seems that most of the fantasy chatter has been focused on the Miami Heat, rather than the deserted Cleveland Cavaliers. It would be wise not to ignore the Cavs, however, because if there's anything we've learned through the years it's that bad teams almost always create an opportunity to find value in the fantasy game. And rest assured, despite Dan Gilbert's "personal guarantee," this post-LeBron Cavs team is not going to be competing for an NBA championship anytime soon.
So how do the Cavs go about replacing a guy who averaged 39.0 minutes, 29.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 8.6 assists per game? That's a lot of production to replace, folks, and there are going to be a lot minutes and additional opportunities to go around. Granted, LeBron was able to create quality scoring options for his teammates (resulting in higher field goal percentages), but we should still count on a bump in production for almost every relevant Cavs player now that Bron is out of town. Let's take a look at how James' departure affects some of the key components of the new Cavs lineup:
J.J. Hickson: As the Cavs look to rebuild, no player will see a bigger jump in value than the third-year power forward. After averaging a productive 8.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 0.4 steals and 0.5 blocks in just 20.9 minutes per game last season and dominating summer league play, he'll be the cornerstone of the rebuilding effort in the post-LeBron era. With increased minutes and opportunities on the horizon, Hickson is in line for a big breakout season. I should also note that he has looked simply phenomenal during preseason play thus far.
Antawn Jamison: Easily the most proven of the scoring options in a lineup void of offensive talent, Jamison will be asked to carry a heavy load this season. He's been a top scoring option before (in Washington) and handled the role flawlessly with the exception of a slight downtick in his shooting percentage from the floor. Remember, Jamison averaged 21.4 points, 10.2 boards, 1.3 steals and 1.5 3-pointers in 2007-08, and 22.2 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.4 3-pointers in 2008-09 as the Wizards attempted to adjust without Gilbert Arenas. Similar numbers are not out of the question, though we should keep in mind that Jamison is now 34 years old.
Mo Williams: During his first two seasons in Cleveland, Williams deferred most of the traditional point guard duties to James and instead played off the ball acting more like a shooting guard. As a result, his 3-pointers skyrocketed to around 2.3 per game while his assists plummeted from slightly more than six per game in Milwaukee to four to five per game in Cleveland. With LeBron no longer around to dominate the ball, Williams will transition back into a traditional point guard, meaning we're likely to see around 1.5 3-pointers and six-plus assists going forward. He'll also be asked to score more, so expect to see his scoring improve at the expense of his field goal percentage, as he takes more shots from the floor.
Anderson Varejao: Varejao benefits more from the departures of Shaquille O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, but he bears mentioning here as he'll likely see 30-plus minutes for the first time in his career and will be a big component in helping to replace the 7.3 rebounds LeBron pulled in per game.
Jamario Moon: Though he won't have the impact of Jamison, Williams or Hickson, Moon stands to profit from the departure of James simply due to an expected increase in minutes. Moon is not a scorer, but he's a solid defender and has some upside as a late-round glue guy capable of stabilizing your steals, blocks and 3-point shooting. For his career, he's averaged 0.9 steals, 0.9 blocks and 0.6 3-pointers in just 24.1 minutes per game.
Ramon Sessions: Aside from Williams, the Cavs' backcourt is anything but set in stone, with Sessions, Daniel Gibson and Anthony Parker all vying for minutes. Sessions is more of a point guard by nature, but for right now he looks like the favorite for minutes alongside Williams, even if he comes off the bench as a sixth man. He has proved to be highly productive when given minutes in the past and makes for a solid back-end sleeper candidate to consider in deeper leagues if he continues to play well throughout the preseason.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3hMichael C. Wright