Numbers From the Finals: Lebron Is Going to Need Help
LeBron James’ impending free agency is the story that the NBA now revolves around. After getting swept by the Golden State Warriors in the 2018 NBA Finals, James has a difficult decision ahead of him. James himself has said that his family will be a great influence on where he chooses to play next, but it is also no secret that he still wants to compete for championships. For the foreseeable future, it seems that any road to a championship will run through Golden State, so any basketball-related decision he makes with regards to his free agency will involve forming a roster capable of taking down the Warriors’ dynasty. James needs backup. Magic Johnson needed it, Larry Bird needed it, and yes, even Michael Jordan needed it (a story for a different day); even Superman needed the Justice League at times. Looking at the numbers from the most recent Finals illustrates just how important a well-oiled supporting cast would be to James if he wants to dethrone Golden State.
James very much played out of his mind. Even with the noticeable difference in his play after what was a self-inflicted hand wound, he still carried the Cavaliers through the length of the four games. Despite his efforts, James still needed help (that never arrived) from his teammates to win. The Warriors’ number of weapons, coupled with the level at which they play team basketball made it too tough for Cleveland to win when James finds himself all alone.
It’s a dead horse to beat, but it is still worth looking at how the “other Cavs” fared through the Finals:
Everyone not named LeBron James hovered around 37% from the field in the Finals. That simply wasn’t enough to compete with a Warriors team that led the league with 113.5 points a game during the season. The narrative throughout the playoffs had been that somebody other than James needs to step up for Cleveland, and even though Kevin Love was good for a solid 20 points and 10 rebounds in the Finals, the Cavaliers still lacked a consistent third option to keep up with Golden State.
Hypothetically though, let’s say that in every game of the series, James had Herculean performances as he did in Game 1 (51 points!). In every game, his total on-court impact somehow canceled out the Warriors’ two MVP caliber players, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant. The game would then come down to the players around James, Durant, and Curry. This is the type of firepower James was up against:
The ancillary support around the MVP’s isn’t even close in terms of quality. The fact is, Love was the only player on the Cavs who averaged over ten points in the Finals. In a word, that is simply absurd. Side note: this comparison assumes James will have somehow played well enough to nullify Curry and Durant’s performances, which is a near-improbable task in itself. After Durant’s Game 3 performance (43 points), this hypothetical becomes even less pragmatic, but it’s still a good demonstration of what James will have to consider in his free agency.
James clearly led the series in points-per-game, but what is so amazing is how he did it. The graph below illustrates a player’s efficiency by the volume of shots they take (at least 6 FGA/game, and appeared in every game).
Despite taking more attempts per game than any other player, James somehow managed to lead all players in field goal percentage. His greatness was on full display, yet it was wasted due to poor performances by his teammates. It seems that in order to beat Golden State, either James’ future teammates are going to have to hit shots more consistently, or James is going to have to take 30-35 attempts a game to keep it close (or James can simply hope the Warriors collectively have a terribly off-night shooting, something highly unlikely).
If James wants to beat the Warriors, something drastic is going to have to happen with the players around him. The Cavaliers, as currently constructed, have little to no chance of ever beating Curry, Durant, and Co. Either Cavs General Manager Koby Altman puts on a master class in roster overhaul, or James flees to greener pastures. Those are James’ only options if he wants another ring. Making matters especially dire are rumors that Klay Thompson and Draymond Green might take pay cuts to keep the team together, while players like Houston’s Trevor Ariza might do the same to join Steve Kerr’s empire in Golden State. Be it Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, James Harden, Joel Embiid, or whomever, Superman is definitely going to need a Batman. And maybe a Green Lantern too. You get the point.