X

Despite Distractions, Don't Forget How Many Cavs Depend on LeBron James

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterMarch 25, 2016

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) and Kevin Love (0) talk after a timeout during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns on Monday, Dec. 28, 2015, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

LeBron James has caused quite the stir off the court in recent weeks, but let's not dare forget for a second how crucial he is to the Cleveland Cavaliers' overall success.

This was painfully obvious in the Cavs' 104-95 loss to the lowly Brooklyn Nets on March 24. James was brilliant (30 points on 13-of-16 shooting), but those around him failed to do their share.

Perhaps sadly, the Cavaliers need James to do even more.

From the moment he entered the league, James has always benefited others with the attention he constantly commands on offense. For someone of James' size, his pinpoint passes are rivaled only by Magic Johnson's, often finding the hands of ready and willing shooters.

Beyond that, James' on-court leadership and understanding of the game have allowed him to recognize when and where to feed teammates the ball and which matchups to exploit.

Some require his presence to perform at their best levels, opening up driving lanes or creating open shots on the perimeter. While every Cavalier has benefited from James in one way or another, these are the teammates who see their game improve the most.

Channing Frye

Although he's played in just 16 games with the Cavs following a trade this season, power forward Channing Frye has already greatly enjoyed teaming up with James.

After bouncing in and out of the rotation while getting acclimated, Frye's hot shooting from the outside has earned him minutes. He's averaging 7.6 points and 3.4 rebounds in 15.9 minutes with Cleveland while shooting 47.8 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three.

Now for his combined averages with and without James on the court. As it turns out, there's a pretty big correlation between his success and the four-time MVP's presence.

Mar 18, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Channing Frye (9) and forward LeBron James (23) high five against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Amway Center. Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Orlando Magic 109-103. Mandatory Credi
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When both are in the game, Frye's shooting percentages rocket to 52.8 from the field and 51.3 from deep. These figures drop to just 40.4 and 35.0 when James sits.

What's more remarkable is Frye's success when receiving passes directly from James. The former Orlando Magic forward is knocking down a blistering 71.4 percent of his threes when LeBron dishes him the ball, a considerably higher mark than the next closest Cavalier.

While this will slowly drop with time, the early pairing of James and Frye appears golden.

Matthew Dellavedova

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 24:  LeBron James #23 shakes hands with Matthew Dellavedova #8 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks during the 2015 NBA Playoffs on May 24, 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena in C
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Dellavedova should be in the running for Most Improved Cavalier this season. He's been consistently ranked in the top 10 for both three-point percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio for the entire NBA.

With that said, much of this success has to do with James by his side.

Dellavedova owns the third-highest three-point success rate (behind Frye and former Cavaliers guard Jared Cunningham) off passes from James, drilling a cool 50.8 percent. Already tied for sixth overall in the NBA, if Delly only shot threes when the ball was delivered by James, his percentage would be far and away the best in the league.

While he's a solid backup point guard, Dellavedova is still just an average ball-handler and struggles to create off the dribble. His strengths lie in moving the ball around the perimeter, making few mistakes and throwing accurate lobs to James, Tristan Thompson and others.

He's not quite quick enough to split pick-and-rolls or get to the rim with regularity and almost needs a second playmaker like James to help open things up.

J.R. Smith

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 13: LeBron James #23 and J.R. Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrate after a scoring play in the second half of an NBA game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on March 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. The
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Joining teammate Thompson, Smith is set to benefit from James both on and off the court. Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com recently reported that Smith will join James' agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports.

Smith can opt out of his current contract and become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Not only has Klutch worked out James' one-and-one contracts to maximize his earnings based on ever-increasing salary caps, but it also secured Thompson a five-year, $82 million deal in October.

While Smith won't get anywhere close to this kind of money, one can bet the Cavs will be forced to take good care of him now with James' agency involved.

On the court, like Dellavedova, Smith has enjoyed a spike in his efficiency when receiving those wide-open looks next to James.

Thanks to LeBron, Smith registers an offensive rating of 111.6 and a net rating of plus-8.1. When the former needs a rest, his ratings drop to 101.3 and minus-8.9, respectively.

Unlike Delly, the 30-year-old Smith doesn't have as much time to develop and grow as a player. At this point, we know what he brings.

What's encouraging is that Smith seems to have sharpened his game and overall focus under the watchful eyes of James. He's averaging more three-point makes (2.7), attempts (6.9) and a higher percentage (39.2) with the Cavs than any other team during his 12-year-career.

Although Smith was primarily a sixth man with the New York Knicks, Cleveland has been wise to stick with him as a starter next to James.

Kevin Love

Perhaps no relationship has been more scrutinized on this team than that of Love and James.

Despite their occasional disagreements, Love rarely has a bad word to say of his superstar teammate, even going out of his way to compliment James' mental aspect of the game.

"It starts with Bron. As far as basketball IQ goes, I don’t think there’s anybody better," Love told Bleacher Report earlier this season. "No one has a higher basketball IQ than him."

James appears to be the only one to have figured out where Love likes the ballapparently a complicated formula that's contributed to the latter's drop-off in efficiency this season. When receiving a pass from James, Love is shooting a fantastic 41.0 percent from deep. A dime from anyone else, and his clip drops to just 26.5 percent.

Not only has James helped to bump Love's shooting, but his passing numbers increase as well.

With the All-Star forwards together, Love has a higher assist percentage (12.7 percent to 7.7), assist ratio (14.6 to 6.8) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.46 to 0.74). The pace at which Love plays actually increases a bit as well (94.75 possessions per 48 minutes compared to 93.99).

When Love tends to become too passive, it's usually James who's first to get in his ear about it.

Greg Swartz is the Cleveland Cavaliers Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @CavsGregBR.

All quotes obtained firsthand unless cited. Stats via Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless otherwise sourced and are current as of March 24 unless otherwise noted.