Should you draft Lebron James for your fantasy basketball team?
So you’ve got the chance to put Lebron James on your fantasy basketball team. Is it worth the risk? Lebron’s almost always going to be snapped up within the first two or three spots in a draft-only league, so the argument there is whether to use the #1 pick on the NBA’s biggest star. In auction leagues it’s a trickier question, since Lebron alone is likely to chew up more than 40% of your available budget, meaning you’ll be surrounding him with a lineup of complimentary, non-superstar players. So is it a good risk? Here’s five reasons why picking Lebron might still be a great bet:
1. Positional Dominance
Lebron James’ overall stats outmatch by a wide margin virtually all the other players you’ll be able to use at small forward. What this dos is create a wide spread of performance within that position.
James himself tends to be overpriced in auction drafts, but there’s a hidden counter-effect to consider: If you’ve already got James, it’s a little bit easier and cheaper to find a replacement-level player at another position – say, point guard – who isn’t quite at quite as much a statistical deficit when compared against the biggest stars at that position.
What that means is that it’s often okay to overpay a little bit for James, and make it up at a different position where the second-tier players are available cheap. Many excellent fantasy-league managers put their teams near the top of a league year after year by exploiting such positional tradeoffs. But it doesn’t work unless you’re willing to take the risk on a superstar such as Lebron James.
2. Multiple-Position Eligibility
While his numbers vie with those of Kevin Durant for the best all-around performance in fantasy basketball, Lebron is usually eligible at power forward, in addition to his regular role at small forward.
That can open up interesting trade and waiver-wire possibilities as the season drags on, helping to justify Lebron’s always-premium price. But say you’re in a tight positional race or head-to-head matchup with another player, and you’ve got an extra small forward on your roster who puts up points, it’s a great chance to move James to PF. Positional diversity is an important concept in any team-based fantasy sport, but when that diversity is provided by a multi-category star like Lebron, it’s a big, big plus.
3. He’s Physically Fit, and Relatively Healthy for 29
It seems like Lebron’s been around forever, but he still won’t turn 30 until December 30th, 2014. In 11 pro seasons, he’s also only had one injury that’s caused him to miss double-digit games, and that was in 2011-12, when he suffered the worst of his recurring ankle sprains.
Yes, it’s an ankle, and it’s likely to be a lingering nuisance throughout the rest of Lebron’s years, but he’s shown the ability to play through the problem.
Lebron’s season-by-season stats show that he may even be taking steps to protect his ankles, saving his best leaping for big moments on offense. On D, his blocks plunged dramatically to 0.3 blocks per game in 2013-14, off markedly from seasonal figures that range from 0.6 to 1.2 BPG in each of Lebron’s other 10 seasons.
There’s no sign that there’s a physical cause for the dropoff, so the likeliest reason is that he’s altered his defensive approach, not leaving himself airborne and susceptible to injury on block attempts. If that’s the case, less blocks is actually good news for fans of Lebron.
4. He Still Has An Extra Gear
As you’ll see when we talk about his multi-category performances (next), Lebron can pick up when it seems it’s impossible to do so, and he’s demonstrated that trait throughout his career. There have been occasions when he’s tried to carry too much of the load, to both his and his team’s detriment, but as his career has progressed he’s found a way to channel that extra gear into extra-special performance.
The factor that goes along with that extra gear is that in order to show it, Lebron usually needs something to play for, such as home advantage during the playoffs. If there’s room to coast, Lebron can do that as well. Best bet: If Lebron and Co. are in second place, he’s worth more than if the Heat are already on top.
5. He’s a Multi-Category Monster
As overpriced as Lebron James usually is, there’s no one – absolutely no one – who can put up big numbers across multiple categories in the way that he does, night in and night out. While he’s the obvious #1 pick in draft-style leagues, as he has been for several years, he’s still a great value in auction formats, particularly for a GM who’s skilled at building a team of lesser stars to take advantage of small category edges.
Yet it all starts with Lebron. As of the halfway point of the 2013-14 season, as a Bleacher Report piece noted, Lebron was on pace to be the first ever NBA star to score 25 points a game, shoot 58% (!), grab 6.5 rebounds per game, and add in six dimes per game as well.
So what happened in the second half of the season? He got better. James finished with a scoring average of 27.1, slipped just slightly in FGP to 56.7%, grabbed 6.9 rebounds per and handed out 6.4 assists. He also made 1.5 threes per game and finished with 1.57 steals per game; both of those categories saw him post second-half upticks as well.
And all of that as a small forward, where he’s in the top two or three in every category.
That’s the biggest plus. No matter how high the bar seemed to be set, Lebron found a way to raise it. Yes, he costs three arms and two legs. And he still might be worth it.
Lebron James remains one of those once-in-a-generation performers whose game shows no sign of dissipating any time soon. While it’s hard to make progress in percentage terms with a player who costs so much, Lebron outclasses the average league performance in so many ways, so many categories, that he’s often worth the added risk.