5 Lakers Who Will Benefit Most from Playing with LeBron JamesJuly 23, 2018
5 Lakers Who Will Benefit Most from Playing with LeBron James
There are many benefits to being on the same team with LeBron James.
There's the physical gifts he's purchased for his teammates in the past, including Beats by Dre headphones, Apple Watches, Samsung Galaxy phones and those customized matching playoff suits.
Plenty of players have gotten paid playing next to James, as he's inflated the stats of role players around him and parlayed that into big deals either with his team or others.
James' vision and playmaking have led to thousands of buckets for those around him, and his presence alone sucks up the bulk of media attention others have preferred to shy away from.
Teammates of James for the past eight years with the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers have been guaranteed a free ride to the Finals as well.
While not everyone may have enjoyed playing with James, the vast majority of teammates have raved about his leadership both on and off the court.
Now with a young Los Angeles Lakers team, James' presence can have a huge effect. Here are the five players who will benefit from James the most.
5. JaVale McGee, C
Primary Benefit: Easy Looks on Offense
McGee has carved out specific roles as a basketball player now at the age of 30.
He's a massive force in the paint at 7'0" and 270 pounds, but he's still athletic enough to run the floor and shuffle his feet on defense. His size and bounce make him an excellent shot-blocker, something the Cavaliers never gave LeBron James in Cleveland the past four years.
On offense, the Golden State Warriors did a good job of simplifying things for McGee to maximize his efficiency. He averaged just 9.5 minutes a night, but his stats per 36 minutes (20.8 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.3 blocks) were starter-worthy.
His offensive duties should be similar in Los Angeles next to James: hard screens, rolling to the rim and looking to finish lobs or clean up any misses on the glass. A whopping 82.4 percent of McGee's field goals were assisted last year. Of his 136 total made shots, 108 were made via a dunk or layup (79.4 percent), per NBA.com.
James' pinpoint missiles should only help boost McGee's offensive numbers.
"I'm definitely excited. He's a great player; definitely a positive impact on the team. Just the way he's impacted L.A. already, it's going to be amazing," McGee said, per ABC7.
4. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG
Primary Benefit: 2019 Contract
Playing alongside James has been quite fruitful for a number of teammates.
After Cleveland won a championship in 2016 with Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov as bench contributors, James' Midas touch left both with extreme financial security.
Dellavedova landed a four-year, $38 million contract with the Milwaukee Bucks, while Mozgov signed for four years and $64 million with the Los Angeles Lakers (and has since been traded three times in two years).
There was a time when Caldwell-Pope seemed like he was heading toward a max contract with the Detroit Pistons. He was seen as a rising two-way player with star potential who fit the NBA's need for wings. While that kind of contract has yet to come, he has been a quality starter with both the Pistons and now heading into his second season with the Lakers.
Another strong season could land Caldwell-Pope something close to the max, especially if the Lakers can't sign a second superstar next summer.
It's important to note that Caldwell-Pope is also represented by James' agency, Klutch Sports. The last two teammates of James who shared Rich Paul as an agent? Tristan Thompson (five years, $82 million in 2015) and JR Smith (four years, $57 million in 2016).
Smith's numbers in 2015-16 at age 30 (12.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.1 steals) weren't as good as Caldwell-Pope's last season at age 25 (13.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.4 steals). Smith struck his deal in a year the salary cap made a major leap, and Caldwell-Pope will hit 2019 when many of those deals will expire and open up significant cap room for a lot of teams.
Playing alongside James should help Caldwell-Pope's overall game and also net him a huge deal next summer.
3. Josh Hart, SG
Primary Benefit: Catch-and-Shoot Threes
Hart showed off an impressive overall game during the summer league, taking home MVP honors while getting some love from LeBron James both on the sidelines and social media.
It's unclear what his role will be with James as a teammate. Lonzo Ball and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will likely begin the season as the team's starting backcourt, but Hart could see big minutes as a sixth man.
His role last season as a rookie was simple: space the floor and knock down the open three-pointer. Over half of his total shots (197 of 375) came from outside the arc. Of those 197 three-point attempts, 167 were off the catch (84.8 percent), per NBA.com.
This is a huge part of Hart's game and one that he's really good at. The 23-year-old made 39.6 percent of his overall three-pointers last season, aided by a 41.3 percent catch-and-shoot success rate.
It's also important to note how Hart was getting these looks. The majority of his attempts weren't delivered by Ball at point guard but rather by driving forwards such as Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Julius Randle, who would kick out when the double-team came. Sound like something James is capable of?
Hart should only get more open looks when sharing the floor with James and boost his already impressive outside shooting numbers.
2. Lonzo Ball, PG
Primary Benefits: Leadership and Court Vision
Ball and James seem to share a lot of similar qualities already.
Both are perfectly happy to get others involved first before worrying about their own stats. James' admiration of Ball and his style of play go back to the beginning of the 20-year-old's rookie season.
"Can he play ball? Absolutely. The kid can play ball," James told ESPN's Dave McMenamin last December. "Do guys want to play with him? Absolutely, because it's a guy who is not about him. It's about the success of the team. And he gives the ball up, and he passes the ball, and there's energy behind the ball."
James has long coveted a pass-first star to play alongside. The Cavs had no such player last year between Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas and George Hill. Even Kyrie Irving prioritized his own shot first.
James can push Ball on the practice court and in the weight room, installing the attributes of unselfishness and getting others involved.
From a passing standpoint, few have ever done it better than James. As Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman writes, Ball should be just fine sharing the rock with James and keeping the offense humming:
"He averaged 7.2 assists, needing just 3.18 dribbles and 3.82 seconds per touch. Those are low numbers for a starting point guard. In comparison, Kyrie Irving took 4.47 dribbles and 4.82 seconds per touch. Ball shouldn't have trouble adjusting to a new teammate who'll dominate the ball over him.
"Lonzo is a ball-mover. He isn't ball-dominant," one scout texted Bleacher Report. "Shooting is a different conversation. But their play styles are totally compatible."
Ball will never be the scorer that James is, and that's OK. Instead, he should try to emulate James' intense leadership and court-vision qualities.
1. Brandon Ingram, SF
Primary Benefits: Less Pressure and Offensive Style
Before James, Ingram seemed destined to become the face of the Lakers.
While Lonzo Ball and even Kyle Kuzma could throw their hats in the ring for that honor, Ingram seemed destined to break out heading into his third season. Still just 20, he put up 16.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists and shot 39.0 percent from deep during his sophomore year.
While he may have put up numbers like a franchise star this season had James not arrived, it would have been tough for someone not yet legally able to drink alcohol to shoulder that mental responsibility in a market such as L.A.
James takes the pressure off Ingram while allowing him to develop on a more comfortable schedule. He probably has three to four years of really good basketball left, letting Ingram reach his mid-20s first.
As Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson said in an ESPN interview, he believes James can have the biggest impact on Ingram (h/t LakersNation.com).
"Listen, I want to put LeBron with him—in August—every day. September, then training camp, and then also in practice, on the bus, on the planes. Listen, these young guys didn't really have a veteran to really teach them when we drafted them. So now they have not only the best player in the world but a world champion.
"And this guy, LeBron, man, he's in such top shape today. And this is July. So that'll help them understand how to train, how to also eat right, on and on and on. I think the guy who LeBron is going to have the biggest impact on is Brandon Ingram. Because he has the size and length to be really special."
James' presence on the court also lets Ingram alter his offensive style.
Ingram was 19th among qualified players in isolation percentage last season (14.2 percent), going one-on-one more often than players such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMar DeRozan and Paul George. However, his measly 0.78 points per possession ranked dead last among the 27 players averaging at least two isolation possessions per game.
With James, Ingram doesn't need to isolate nearly as often anymore. His 6'9" frame and 7'3" wingspan make him an ideal cutter and finisher around the rim. He's also become an excellent catch-and-shoot three-point shooter (41.4 percent).
James should let Ingram have his offensive opportunities while also turning him into a high-efficiency off-ball player.
Greg Swartz covers the Cleveland Cavaliers and NBA for Bleacher Report. Stats provided by NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.