When LeBron James "took his talents to South Beach" this past offseason, somewhere hidden underneath all the negative publicity were predictions about how successful the Miami Heat could be, both in terms of regular season wins and whether they would win the NBA title.
There were also numerous projections of King James' potential stats now that he would be sharing the load with two other superstars.
Most experts predicted a slight decline in his numbers since he would share the load with other elite players. For example, ESPN's fantasy projections had LeBron's numbers falling to an average of 24.6 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game and 6.8 assists per game from a 2009-2010 line of 29.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg and 8.6 apg.
On the other end of the spectrum, there was talk that although LeBron's scoring may decrease, his other stats could actually increase. The most optimistic of these rumors suggested that he may join Oscar Robertson as only the second player in NBA history to average a triple-double per game.
While predicting a player's potential stats for an upcoming season is clearly an improper science, especially in a situation where a player is switching teams and forming part of an almost completely new lineup, there is reason to believe that some of LeBron's numbers could actually improve.
The real key to predicting the type of numbers that James will put up in the 2010-2011 season is figuring out exactly what his role will be in the Miami offense.
Perhaps the best opportunity for James to produce would be for him to play more of a traditional point guard position. The 6'8'' James could be this generation's version of Magic Johnson, whose 6'9'' stature created quite the mismatch when he played the point for the "Showtime" Lakers of the 1980s. Playing the No. 1 position, his scoring may decrease, but his assists would almost definitely increase. The biggest question mark would be how this move would affect his rebounding.
First, let's take a look at King James' potential scoring.
In addition to LeBron, Miami has two other top 10 scorers in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. In an offense with all this firepower, the chances of James repeating his 2009-2010 average of 29.7 ppg or even his career average of 27.8 ppg are very unlikely, regardless of what position he plays. Even if his scoring were to dip below 27 ppg for the first time since his rookie season, he could still easily average somewhere around 24-25 ppg, which should still put him in the NBA's top 10.
Secondly, we'll look at his potential to create scoring opportunities for his teammates.
After a 2009-2010 season where James became the first forward in NBA history to average over eight assists per game, this number would surely increase with him bringing the ball up the court. As the Heat's primary passer, along with the scoring efficiency of teammates like Wade, Bosh and Mike Miller and the amount of attention opposing defenses will have to give LeBron, an average of 10 assists per game would not only be quite attainable, but it would also be very likely.
Finally, it's time to see how LeBron's rebounding will be affected now that he is in Miami.
James has a career average of 7.0 rebounds per game, including a career high of 7.9 in the 2007-2008 NBA season. Given his 6'8'' height and speed, LeBron is sure to maintain these career averages at the very least. However, there is a very good chance that he could improve upon this number.
This is where predicting gets to be a little more tricky. There is no tried and true way to predict any future statistics, especially rebounds for a team that was just recently put together. Analysis can only be performed using the prior statistics of the players on the team and the recent trends in the NBA. The following projections will be based upon the average rebounding totals of the prototypical NBA team over the past three seasons.
Taking into account the recent trends in the NBA, the Miami Heat team should probably pull in anywhere from 40-45 rebounds per game. On a Miami team without a dominant center, the rebounding should be distributed widely among the team's primary players.
On a typical NBA team in recent years, the five players who have accumulated the most minutes usually account for anywhere from 75-80 percent of their team's rebounds. In a best case scenario, the Miami starters should account for somewhere around 36 rebounds per game. If Wade, Bosh, Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony were to continue their career rebounding averages, they would account for roughly 26 rebounds per game. That would potentially leave 10 rebounds per game for James to grab.
Unfortunately, because there is no practical or fail proof way to predict any type of statistics for a team whose primary players are playing together for the first time, these are only very liberal estimates. However, using this analysis, it would be quite possible for James to come extremely close to averaging a triple-double per game.
If Erik Spoelstra and company do in fact decide to let LeBron James play the role of the primary point guard for the Miami Heat this season, look out Oscar Robertson: You may have company.