How will LeBron's production change with the Lakers?

ByAndré Snellings ESPN logo
Monday, July 2, 2018

I don't know if you've heard the news, but rumor has it that LeBron James has agreed to a four-year, $153.3 million deal to play for the Los Angeles Lakers. This deal puts the biggest superstar in the game on the league's glamour franchise and has Laker Nation thinking championship again after having missed the playoffs each of the past five seasons.

But what does this move mean for the fantasy fortunes of King James? And what about his new Lakers teammates? It is not certain yet that the Lakers are done making moves, but immediately after agreeing to terms with LeBron, they announced new one-year deals with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee that could, theoretically, take up the rest of their cap space.

Thus, we can project the fantasy fortunes for the Lakers as they currently stand ... and if anything changes this offseason, we'll be ready to modify as needed. But for now ...

2018-19 Lakers projected rotation

PG: Lonzo Ball

SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

F: Brandon Ingram

F: LeBron James

C: Julius Randle

Sixthman: Kyle Kuzma

Bench: Lance Stephenson, Josh Hart, JaVale McGee, Ivica Zubac

Each of the top six players in the rotation are still fantasy-relevant for a team that projects to have a strong offense. ESPN's Kevin Pelton used an RPM-based projection system to estimate that this Lakers squad would produce an offensive rating about 4.0 points per 100 possessions better than league average, which is very similar to last season's Cleveland Cavaliers. The 2017-18 Cavaliers averaged 112.9 points per 100 possessions, which made them the fifth-best offense in the NBA. If the 2018-19 Lakers are that good on offense, that would mean that there will be a lot of fantasy production to go around. But how would the offense look?

One difference between this projected offense and the normal LeBron offense is that LeBron wouldn't necessarily be the best distributor on the team. Lonzo Ball has Jason Kidd-like court vision and passing ability, and he is both a natural floor general and an indifferent scorer. For LeBron, this is the first time that he will be playing with a point guard of this caliber who can actually set the floor and get the ball to LeBron in advantageous positions.

LeBron is a high-usage player -- he always has been -- so he'll still be operating off the dribble often. But when he's playing off the ball, he should be able to get into higher-leverage positions that create easier scoring opportunities. This could lead to higher shooting percentages and potentially more 3-pointers for LeBron, though that likely would come at the expense of some assists.

On the flip side, Caldwell-Pope (2.1 made 3-pointers per game), Kuzma (2.1 3-pointers) and Ball (1.7 3-pointers) were high-volume 3-point shooters last season. According to Basketball Reference, Caldwell-Pope was assisted on 87.4 percent of his 3-pointers, Kuzma on 88.1 percent of his and Ball on 74.4 percent of his. Thus, each should be adept at getting to open spots this season when LeBron has the ball and forces opposing defenses to collapse as only he can. If they do so and knock down what should be a higher volume of wide-open looks, each could make treys at a similar or higher volume but with higher accuracy.

Ingram and Ball likely will have to make the biggest adjustments to their games, as each is used to creating his own shots off the dribble (per 82Games, Ingram was assisted on only 36.3 percent of his 2-point field goal attempts, while Ball was assisted on 32.7 percent of his).

Ball is used to being the full-time point guard when he's on the court, but he is particularly poor at setting up his own jumper. He showed some promise as a spot-up shooter in the second half of his rookie season, and he should get a lot more spot-up opportunities playing with LeBron. Along with natural progression as a second year player, playing off LeBron should really improve Ball's effective scoring ability and perhaps get his field goal percentage north of 40 percent.

Ingram will have to show that he can be effective as a pure finisher who doesn't operate so much off the dribble, and that isn't always an easy transition. But if he can make it happen, he could prove to be the second-leading scorer on the team with better percentages than he's ever had.

Randle's production would depend on his ability to play primarily center, which would be necessary to maximize his minutes on a team that now has three starting-caliber forwards between 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-10 besides him. Randle would be undersized for a full-time center (he is listed at 6-foot-9), but his physical dimensions are similar to Kevin Love's and their production last season was in many ways very similar.

Love averaged 30.8 points per 100 possessions on 45.8 FG% with 16.2 rebounds/100 and 0.7 blocks/100, while Randle averaged 28.9 points/100 on 55.8 FG% and 1.0 blocks/100. Love was a great 3-point shooter, which Randle has never been, and was able to space the floor for LeBron, but he didn't have the defensive ability to play full-time power forward. If Randle can fill the Love offensive role with more of an interior bent but match his rebounding and play more solid on the defensive interior, he could be very valuable for the Lakers. He could also benefit from great looks from two great floor generals in Ball and LeBron, which would allow him to have double-double potential with plus-scoring and career-best shooting percentages next season.

All told, the move to the Lakers doesn't do much to diminish LeBron's value outside of the likelihood that he steps off the gas a bit, playing fewer minutes per game in likely significantly fewer than 82 games. He may give up some assists, but he may also pick up some higher percentage shot opportunities playing off of Ball.

The other Lakers will give up scoring volume while playing next to LeBron, but they also project to have higher efficiency shots on what should be a very strong team offense that produces prolific amounts of points. It is unclear whether this move will result in championship contention for the Lakers, but LeBron to L.A. should produce some strong fantasy results for the team as a whole.