How far will the LeBronless Cavaliers drop?


I heard the guy who is the “Robin” on the Scott Van Pelt radio show predict the Cleveland Cavaliers would be the worst team in the National Basketball Association.  Hardly.

The Cavaliers should not drop nearly as far as people believe.  Last night while watching the Monday Night Football game I did a Win Prediction for this season’s Cavaliers based upon the last three seasons of MWS48 produced by each player on Cleveland’s roster, along with a guesstimate at the player’s projected playing time based on his past playing time, and I project the Cavs to win 42 games.

Don’t be shocked.  Cleveland was a 60+ win team the last two seasons.  For them to become the worst team in basketball, or among the worst, they would have to drop 40 wins.  One player does not account for 40 wins. 

We’ve seen similar phenomena in the past.   When superstars in their prime leave teams we find that although the superstar accounted for a substantail number of wins, he was not the entire team.  When Orlando lost Shaq O’Neal to the Lakers, they dropped 15 wins (60 to 45).  When Portland lost Bill Walton they dropped 12 wins (57 to 45).  When the Lakers lost Magic for a third of a season to knee injury they lost 6 games (60 to 54).  When the Bulls lost Michael Jordan to baseball they dropped only 2 wins (57 to 55).  And when the Bucks lost Kareem to the Lakers they dropped zero games (that’s an aberration.  Kareem was injured in his last Milwaukee season, and the team’s Pythagorean that season was low while the next season it was high).  The largest drop caused by the loss of a superstar in his prime that I could find was the San Francisco Warriors 31 game drop after they lost Wilt Chamberlain.  But there were mitigating factors there, and Wilt was far more valuable in his day than any player today.

So the Cavaliers can clearly expect a drop off from losing LeBron, but not a drop off of a cliff.  Absent the panic sell-off Dan Gilbert has been threatening, the Cavaliers should finish around the .500% win mark.  (I will provide the specific player win projections in a later post). 

LeBron did not win 63 games by himself.  No player in NBA history has ever done that.  The best single season “One Man Army” performance was Wilt Chamberlain in 1966-67, winning nearly half his teams games.  No other player has ever approached that value, and LeBron, while being amongst teh NBA’s most valuable players over the last two seasons, certainly did not.


6 Responses to “How far will the LeBronless Cavaliers drop?”

  1. brgulker Says:

    IIRC, didn’t Mo Williams see a rather significant boost in productivity in his first year with Cleveland that was relatively sustained afterward?

    The thing that people seem to forget is that someone else will play LeBron’s minutes, and while those people won’t come close to approaching LBJ’s production, the guys they had backing up LBJ were and probably will remain decent players.

    I don’t see why this team can’t be in the hunt for the 8th seed next season … which would be beautifully ironic if it actually happens. Can you imagine a Game 3 in Cleveland against Miami? Awesome.

    • tywill33 Says:

      Yes, I agree. With more shots available, I’ll bet his internal shot governor goes back to the “off” position. For that reason I reduced his numbers to their Milwaukee norms. The main source of above average wins for the team, I think, will be Jamario Moon, Varejao, and Antwan Jamison. Each player has consistently been above average over the last three seasons, and Moon has produced wins for a number of different teams. After those three, the team should get decent win contributions from Sessions, Parker, Mo, and Gibson, but nothing special from any of them.

  2. Jeramey Jannene Says:

    We have some data that may serve as a better guide than just Lebron. They team lost Big Z and Shaq as well, what did they produce? What will their replacements produce?

    Also, what are Mo Williams and Antwan Jamison’s numbers without Lebron vs with? Say with the Bucks and Wizards.

  3. Chicago Tim Says:

    What is the story with the Jordanless Bulls? I know he didn’t do it alone, but Jordan had to be responsible for more than two wins. Isn’t that another aberration of some kind?

  4. Xavier Q Says:

    Chicago Tim,

    I’d attribute the Jordanless Bulls’ 50 wins to three factors.

    1) Incumbents Scottie Pippen, Hoarace Grant, and BJ Armstrong played better than they did the previous year. More shots were available to go around and they took advantage of it.

    2) They picked up Steve Kerr, who was a very efficient scorer without taking a lot of shots.

    3) Their defense didn’t really drop off (went from 2nd to 3rd in the league).

    Without looking at the advanced numbers, that’s what really stuck out to me.

  5. Hit Denver with your best shot. « Nerd Numbers the Blog Says:

    […] has already made a good point that it is not as bad as it seems over in Cleveland. We could help that out by replacing a young […]

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