LeBron James finally has some balance

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /

LeBron James has always carried his teams in the playoffs. This season he finally has some balance.

The defining image of LeBron James during his first stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers was a gargantuan talent carrying a gargantuan weight.

James was on rosters that were good enough to help him rack up regular-season wins, but never seemed to have enough juice in the playoffs. The burden would fall to James to score, defend, rebound, and facilitate his team forward. Obviously, the formula never quite worked and James took his championship pursuit to the Miami Heat who offered the supporting firepower to finally get him over the hump.

Last season’s NBA Finals loss against the Golden State Warriors was the penultimate example of that version of LeBron, weighted down by a roster that needed him to be everything at every moment. However, these two years in Cleveland have actually featured a much more balanced roster, particularly during this season’s dominant playoff run.

Borrowing an idea from Todd Whitehead at Nylon Calculus, I looked at each one of LeBron’s playoff runs and calculated the percentage of total team VORP (value over replacement player) that was contributed by each player. The graph below plots the results for each season.

LeBronBalance /

This year, LeBron has contributed just 29 percent of his team’s playoff VORP. That’s an enormous drop-off from the 44 percent he produced last year, or the 53 percent he produced in 2007-08 — his previous low in a Cavs’ uniform. This pattern looks more like his first three seasons in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but he’s producing even less, relative to his teammates, than he did in those three seasons.

The effect is not just because of the strong play of Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving either. Looking at the distribution of VORP further down the roster, J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert are all playing as well as supporting cast LeBron has ever had in the playoffs.

All this helps explain why LeBron has been able to focus on punishing opponents at the rim in the playoffs — more than 60 percent of his shots have come inside of 10 feet — and why the Cavaliers are 10-0 in the playoffs despite their best player averaging career playoff lows in both points and minutes per game.

LeBron James is a dominant player and, focusing on Cleveland’s playoff run, this might be the most dominant team he’s ever played on.

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