Few would dispute the positive impact LeBron James brings to the Lakers and his teammates. He has led two different franchises to the last eight NBA Finals appearances and 3 titles. During his most recent stint with the Cavs, James has averaged per game: 36.6 minutes, 9.8 field goals on 18.7 attempts, 7.7 rebounds, 8 assists, and 26.1 points. James also played in all 82 regular season games last season, as well as starting in every Cavalier playoff game. James is an immense offensive talent. But what is the DFS impact in terms of cost and benefit to his teammates?
First, we must assume James will lead his team in points per game and assists per game. He has led his franchise in points and assists for 15-straight seasons. He takes over a large portion of the offensive scheme and opportunity. Because of this, it takes away some of the large upsides his teammates could attain in this type of system. He is the Laker’s playmaker, and everyone else will follow his lead. You will pay up for James, starting DFS salary is $10,800 on DraftKings (DK), $11,700 on FanDuel (FD), and a whopping $13,500 on Fantasy Factor. You will pay up for James, and often you get what you for: elite performance and consistency. Fantasy Factor’s salaries, due to the site’s more recreational nature and single-entry only contests, are based solely on customer supply and demand and historical performance while the salaries at DK and FD are set by experts.
But even as James takes away opportunities, he provides his teammates with more efficient ones. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton gives the new Lakers an offensive RPM (Real Plus Minus) of 3.6 better per possession than the league average. This would have ranked 7th in the league last season. Keep in mind that last season Cleveland ranked 5th. So this is line with the King James machine. An improving offense with James will translate to better possessions, double-teams on James, and more open shots for everyone else. The Laker’s shooting should be at a much higher percentage this season.
So who will benefit from this increased efficiency? The projected starting five for the Lakers are Lonzo Ball at point guard, Caldwell-Pope at shooting guard, Ingram at small forward, James at power forward, and JaVale McGee at center. It is unlikely that McGee will command a strong percentage of minutes or offensive statistics. He has averaged less than or equal to 11.5 minutes per game in his last five seasons. And in 12 seasons, he has only averaged more than 20 minutes per game three times. Most likely the center position will be a rotation. Best to avoid him in your lineups early in the season. So the three starters to look at are Ingram, Caldwell-Pope, and Ball.
In his second season with the Lakers, Ingram increased his field goal percentage and three-point percentage from .402 and .294 to .470 and .390. If he continues to get high percentage looks from James, he could reach the 19-25 points per game average that Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving attained beside James. While his points per game might increase 3-8 points per game, his assists should dip. 3.9 assists was a great improvement from 2.1 last season, but James and Ball will be the main play-makers on offense. He has a salary of $6500 on DraftKings, $6800 on FanDuel, and $7000 at Fantasy Factor. We recommend fitting him in your lineups at this price. He should have a good start, and his salary will likely climb.
Caldwell-Pope had his best season in both field goal percentage and three-point percentage in his first year with the Lakers. His .383 was good, but behind him in the roster is the sophomore Josh Hart who shot at a higher three-point percentage (.396) and field goal percentage. This push for play-time should be looked at. Fantasy players must watch Caldwell-Pope’s minutes very closely. At $4800 (DK), $5000 (FD), and $4400 at Fantasy Factor, we would take a wait and see DFS approach, we need more info on what his role will be.
This leaves us with Lonzo Ball, the purest point guard James has played with in recent years. To compare him to another high draft pick, Kyrie Irving, let’s look at their assist statistics. In seven seasons, Irving’s highest assist per game average was 6.1. This was in the season before James came to town. That average dropped to 5.2 in the following season. However, Ball’s assist per game in his rookie season was 7.2. He showed that he wants to pass and create. In a system where James is king, Ball could push for play-maker. If he improves on his poor shooting percentages (.360 field goal and .305 three-point and .451 free-throw) and continues to show promise as a passing point guard, he could gain the trust of James. In both the James-Wade and James-Irving systems, the plays would start with one of those two kings. Ball’s shooting leaves a lot to be desired, but he has shown creativity as a passer. His best bet is to help James facilitate the offense. At $5400 (DK), $6600 (FD), and $7200 at Fantasy Factor, he is very risky until he proves himself. We would avoid in DFS lineups for the first week.
The largest concerns of Ball are his recent knee surgery and the signing of Rajon Rondo. His arthroscopic surgery on his left knee was a success and he’s since been cleared for 100-percent cleared to play basketball. In their first preseason game, Ball was the starter. Which also eases concern on his role. He started over Rondo and he is listed as the Lakers starting point guard on their depth chart. The Lakers have a lot invested in Ball, but Rondo, when playing his best, is still one of the most dynamic players in the game. Rondo, incidentally, is $5800 (DK), $4500 (FD), and $8800 on Fantasy Factor. While we need to wait and see, Rondo will be gunning for Ball’s starting position. He’s said publicly that he wants to be the first player to win a title with both the Celtics and the Lakers. And when Rondo gets interested and focused, he’s at his best.
Get Ingram in your lineup. Spend the money with confidence on James if you have the cap room. Avoid the rest of the Laker starters for the first 2 weeks of the season until we see how this new Lakers team unfolds, unless you want to gamble on the upside. And get ready for Rondo. His salary, especially at Fantasy Factor, should drop quickly, and if his minutes pick up, he’ll be a difference maker and triple-double threat.