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The Lakers, LeBron James, and who will get their shots

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Trying to figure out how the Lakers’ offense will unfold in 2018.

Getty Images/Peter Rogers Illustrations

LeBron James began his NBA career in 2003. In every single season, Bron’s taken at least 17 shots per game: his two lowest field goal attempts for a season were both in Miami, 17.8 per game in 2012-13 and 17.6 per game in 2013-14. LeBron has averaged at least 18 shots per game in every other season of his career, and he averaged 20+ in 5 of those years.

Last year LeBron had the 6th highest FGA in the NBA at 19.3. He’s GOING to shoot in LA; even if he spreads the ball around more than he ever has, and even if he rests more than he ever has, and even if he demurs on offense and plays harder on defense more than he ever has, the King is STILL going to shoot his shot. I can’t imagine a world wherein LeBron James (LEBRON JAMES!) takes fewer than 15 shots a game.

Tim Hardaway Jr. averaged 15 field goal attempts last year. Do we think LeBron will shoot as much, or more, than Tim Hardaway Jr. this year?

But let’s be conservative and think about a worst case scenario, at least fantasy-wise. Let’s imagine that LeBron only takes 15 shots per game this year. What will that do to the rest of the Lakers?

Last year, the Lakers averaged the second most shots per game, 88.4. Here’s their shot distribution, courtesy of NBA.com (for players who played at least 50 games):

Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Brook Lopez, and Corey Brewer are all gone, while Rajon Rondo (career average of 9.5 FGA, 7.6 in 2017-18), Lance Stephenson (7.9 FGA career average, 8.6 last year), JaVale McGee (5.7 FGA career, 3.4 last year), Michael Beasley (11.1 FGA career, 10.9 last year), and, of course, LeBron (19.6 FGA career, 19.3 last year) are all new Lakers additions.

Let’s assume a few things: JaVale McGee is the starting Center; Rondo starts at Point Guard to start the season; Ingram starts; LeBron starts; and, after that, who knows? The Lakers keep threatening to play “positionless basketball,” which really just means that their only competent Center is JaVale McGee, which is not the most optimal thing I’ve ever heard of. Thus, LeBron will see some time at the 5, and Kuzma will, and blah, blah, blah, they’ll trade for a real Big later in the season. UNTIL THEN. Let’s try to make the math work. Who’s shooting?

Let’s use the Lakers players’ shots from last year as a starting point:

  • Kuzma - 13.5 FGA
  • Ingram - 12.9 FGA
  • Lonzo Ball - 10.8 FGA
  • KCP - 10.8 FGA
  • Josh Hart - 6 FGA

Total: 54 field goal attempts

Now, the new additions (also, last year’s stats):

  • Rondo - 7.6 FGA
  • Lance - 8.6 FGA
  • JaVale - 3.4 FGA
  • Beasley - 10.9 FGA

Total: 30.5 FGA

That’s 84.5 field goal attempts per game when added together. NOT counting LeBron’s (conservative) 15 FGA. Remember, the Lakers averaged 88.4 FGA last year, so we have some wiggle room, but I think it’s pretty clear that some guys are going to lose some of their shots. Let’s give ourselves even more wiggle room and imagine that the Lakers will average 89 FGA this year. That’s means we have a cushion of 4.5 FGA, so we need to free up 10.5 more shots in order to accomodate LeBron’s 15 per game.

The obvious thing to do is take shots away from the vets, Lance and Beasley in particular. If you take away half their shots, leaving Lance at 4.3 and Beasley at 5.4, then we free up 9.7 FGA. Do the same for Rondo, and you have 3.8 more, which equals 13.5 FGA per game; more than we need for LeBron’s 15 shots per game with our 4.5 FGA cushion.

Solved!

Except, there’s a problem. While we’ve accomodated a conservative estimate of shots for LeBron, we haven’t anticipated the increase in shots that are likely for the young Lakers: Ingram, Kuzma, and Ball. If they each up their average by one, then the extra shots from Rondo are spread out evenly between them.

Here’s a possible shot distribution:

  • LeBron - 15 FGA
  • Kuzma - 14.5
  • Ingram - 14
  • Ball - 12
  • KCP - 10
  • Josh Hart - 7
  • Beasley - 5
  • Lance - 4
  • Rondo - 4
  • McGee - 3.4

Total: 88.9 FGA

So, pretty close! Obviously, there are other players on the Lakers, but that’s a solid 10 man rotation that makes sense on paper. IRL: in their first preseason game, the Lakers shot 87 times. Here’s who shot what (not counting dudes we don’t care about, as they’re likely G League-bound, or will ride the pine at the end of the bench):

  • Ingram - 14 FGA, 27 minutes
  • Kuzma - 13 FGA, 24 minutes
  • McGee - 10 FGA, 20 minutes
  • Svi Mykhailiuk (rookie) - 8 FGA, 16 minutes
  • LeBron - 6 FGA, 15 minutes
  • KCP - 5 FGA, 21 minutes
  • Johnathan Williams (rookie) - 5 FGA, 12 minutes
  • Josh Hart - 5 FGA, 24 minutes
  • Lance - 5 FGA, 20 minutes
  • Rondo - 3 FGA, 23 minutes
  • Beasley - 2 FGA, 6 minutes

LeBron is almost certain to decrease in fantasy value this year, but probably not out of the top 10. Ingram, meanwhile, hasn’t been a fantasy star yet: he gave the same value as Dejounte Murray in my league last year (different/more stat cats than ESPN) with a line of 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists per game. In ESPN basic, Ingram wasn’t even in the top 150 (nor was Jaylen Brown, BTW).

But, y’know, if Ingram improves even a little bit, let’s say by just one point, then he’d join only 15 other guys in the NBA who averaged 17/5/4 last year:

All those guys are great fantasy players. Tyreke’s the only one who wasn’t in the top 50 in my league, and that’s because he missed a lot of games (he played in 52 of 82 games during the regular season). Do we think that having LeBron on his team will help Ingram get open shots?

Currently, it seems like people are drafting Lonzo Ball, then Ingram, then Kuzma (LeBron’s still a top 5 player on ESPN.com), and all three are in the 4th and 5th rounds. But, it’s tough, man, to have four top 50 players on one team. Last year, only two teams did that: Golden State and Minnesota. The Warriors are one of the best teams ever, with three of the best scorers of all time, and one of the best defenders of all time in Draymond Green. Minnesota, meanwhile, basically just played their starters to death, so their four top 50 guys got it from volume, as much as anything else.

Six teams had three top 50 players: Houston, Milwaukee, Toronto, Philly, Boston, and Utah. This seems like a more likely outcome for the Lakers, and honestly, I think Lonzo will be the odd man out (unless he goes crazy on triple-doubles). I think Ingram and Kuzma need their shots, but Lonzo may not even start, especially if LA does well with Rondo at PG. (Hell, Lonzo may still be outta town bound, if the Lakers do end up making a trade later in the season.)

In our best fantasy world, LeBron gives room to Ingram, Kuzma, and Ball to expand their games and improve as players, and the older Lakers are complementary rather than foci. But, on the King’s Planet, only one thing’s for sure: he’s gonna shoot his shot. All else is pure speculation.