'10 CLE '11 CLE
LeBron James J.J. Hickson
Mo Williams Ramon Sessions
Anthony Parker Anthony Parker
Anderson Varejao Daniel Gibson
J.J. Hickson Antawn Jamison
Delonte West Ryan Hollins
Zydrunas Ilgauskas Mo Williams
Shaquille O'Neal Anderson Varejao
Daniel Gibson Alonzo Gee
Jamario Moon Christian Eyenga
Of last year's ten main guys, only five carried over to this year. And of those five guys, two of them (Williams and Varejao) played 67 games for the Cavs...combined. Last year, Shaq was the first-string center and Ilgauskas was the second-string center. This year, the Cavs started the year with Varejao at center. Then he got hurt; so essentially, this year's team had what would've been last year's fourth-string center starting. And they didn't even have a consistent center, so their "fourth-string center" was a rotation of multiple guys.
It's not like the Cavs just lost LeBron. They lost a lot of production from last year's main contributors (Williams, Parker, Varejao, Hickson, West, Ilgauskas, O'Neal, Gibson, Moon). To prove that, let's compare the stats they had in 2010 and the stats those guys contributed to the Cavs in 2011.
5,316 points 2,548 rebounds 1095 assists in 14,704 minutes played
3,433 points 1,606 rebounds 857 assists in 9,035 minutes played
That's a drop of 1,883 points, 942 rebounds, 238 assists, and 5,669 minutes played. That would pretty much be the equivalent of last year's team losing Shaq, Parker and Ilgauskas (1705 points, 931 rebounds, and 285 assists in 4868 minutes) and then some. Unless you think that last year's team could replace Shaq, Parker, and Ilgauskas with three players from the '11 Cavs and still win 61 games, that lost production actually means something.
Just in case you're thinking that playing without LeBron contributed to his former teammates' lower production, let's look at the numbers some of those guys contributed to other teams:
1,016 points 605 rebounds 246 assists in 3,351 minutes played
Add those to the stats his former teammates contributed to Cleveland this year, the total is:
4449 points 2211 rebounds 1103 assist in 12,386 minutes played
Yes, their total stats is lower than it was in 2010, but so was their minutes played. In 2011, they played 84% as much as they did in 2010. Not coincidentally, they scored 84% of the points, had 87% of the rebounds, and over 100% of the assists they had in 2010. LeBron's former teammates were as productive without him as they were with him. The problem for Cleveland is that they were either injured or on other teams.
Cleveland didn't just lose their best player. They lost their starting center, their backup center, and they only had their starting point guard and last year's backup power forward for less than half the year. Their main holdovers were a 22-year old power forward, a 35-year old shooting guard, and their backup point guard.
Two final stats that show how the teams differ:
- 42% of the minutes played in 2011 were by guys who were not even on the team in 2010.
- Last year, the Cavs had 11 guys play in 50+ games (this includes LeBron). Those guys averaged 93% playing time for every game. How much playing time did those 11 guys average for Cleveland in 2011? 48%.
Losing their best player definitely hurt them, but so did injuries and the departure of other players. Seeing as LeBron's absence is not the only alteration from last year's team, Cleveland's record is not definitive proof of his value.
*stats taken from http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/