LeBron James Illustration
Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Who are the best, worst, and most forgettable players LeBron has lifted to basketball’s biggest stage? It’s time to pass judgment on the entire list, from Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving to … well, about that.

 

The final chapter to another thrilling and completely unpredictable NBA season will begin on Thursday night, as the Finals will tip off and provide the answer to the one question that fans all over the world have been dying to know: What would happen if LeBron James played the Golden State Warriors in a best-of-seven series? While analytics have advanced to the point that we can now quantify exactly how bad Evan Turner is, we still somehow lack the technology to project what a LeBron-versus-the-Warriors series could look like. That means instead of being able to rely upon spreadsheets and simulations to tell us, for example, that the Warriors are going to completely obliterate the Cavaliers over the next two weeks, we have to wait for these Finals to be decided by the players themselves.

 

This is bad news for the Cavs because, as you may have heard, LeBron’s teammates are … woof. In fact, many people are saying the non-LeBron Cavaliers are “trash.” Others are calling them “hot garbage,” while the most ruthless fans are even going as far as calling this Cleveland team “as bad as the 2007 Cavaliers.” No matter which way you slice it, the reviews are in and a consensus has been reached: The 2018 Cavs would be a subpar professional basketball team without LeBron.

 

 

In fact, the general public thinks LeBron’s teammates are so bad that one of the easiest ways to pander to NBA Twitter and rack up likes and retweets these next few weeks is to pretend that LeBron’s teammates are a list of random and unrelated inanimate objects. Here are a few examples that you can steal:

“In his 15th year in the league, a 33-year-old LeBron James just carried a sack of potatoes, a leaky faucet, three glue sticks, a VHS copy of Harry and the Hendersons, and a pocket full of broken rubber bands to the NBA Finals. Wow.”

“I couldn’t believe it when LeBron took a carton of expired milk, an upside-down mop, and six rectal thermometers to the Finals in 2017. But carrying a wet cardboard box, a blown-out speaker, and a Super Soaker full of urine to the Finals this year might be even more impressive.”

“It makes no damn sense how LeBron is back in the Finals playing alongside two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, and a sesame-seed bun.”

 

The perceived inadequacy of LeBron’s teammates has become a major talking point in these playoffs, as has the fact LeBron is set to play in his eighth consecutive NBA Finals (and ninth overall). With that in mind, it seems fitting to hit on both points the only way I know how: POWER RANKINGS. Specifically, I’m going to power rank every single teammate LeBron has ever led to an NBA Finals berth, from the rectal thermometers to the future Hall of Famers. Before we get started, a few notes:

  1. These are only the power rankings of LeBron’s teammates who made the Finals playing alongside James. That means former LeBron teammates Shaquille O’Neal, Derrick Rose, Antawn Jamison, Carlos Boozer, and Ricky Davis aren’t eligible. Regrettably, neither is Delonte West.

2. I pulled the names for these rankings from the 15-man playoff rosters for each Finals team. As a reminder, the LeBron teams that have made the Finals are as follows: the 2007 Cavs, 2011 Heat, 2012 Heat, 2013 Heat, 2014 Heat, 2015 Cavs, 2016 Cavs, 2017 Cavs, and 2018 Cavs.

3. These power rankings do not reflect how good the below players were exclusively when they were LeBron’s teammates; instead, the rankings take each guy’s entire career into account. Going season by season and trying to discern whether 36-year-old David Wesley was better in 2007 than 24-year-old Matthew Dellavedova was in 2015, for instance, would have broken my brain and taken so long to sort through that the Finals would have been over for three months by the time I figured it all out. So please don’t misconstrue what these power rankings actually are. If I see anyone on Twitter try to weaponize my power rankings to make some point about how LeBron really had a ton of talented teammates in 2007, so help me God I will create a fake account and demand that you find a new slant. This is your only warning.

4. Remember how Andrew Bogut played literally one minute for the 2016-17 Cavs, recording two fouls and zero points before breaking his leg? That has absolutely no relevance to these power rankings. I just thought this was a good place to offer a reminder.

OK, let’s rock.




The Are You Sure Those Are Real People? Tier

71. Edy Tavares
70. Sasha Kaun
68. Terrel Harris
67. Dwayne Jones
66. Okaro White
65. Ante Zizic
64. Cedi Osman

If you added LeBron to this group to create an eight-man playoff rotation, do you think it would be good enough to sweep the Toronto Raptors? Or would the Raptors find a way to steal a win at home? You could convince me either way.

The I Know I’ve Heard That Name, but I Can’t Remember Why Tier

63. Jordan McRae
62. Dexter Pittman
61. Jarvis Varnado
60. Kay Felder
59. Justin Hamilton
58. Ira Newble
57. Sasha Pavlovic

I know what you’re thinking: You remember Sasha Pavlovic because he played on the late-2000s Lakers and was once forced by John Brenkus, in the name of science, to shoot blindfolded free throws while standing on stilts and wearing oversized gloves. Classic mix-up. That was actually Sasha Vujacic. Sasha Pavlovic was the guy who played for seven different teams from 2003 through 2013 before retiring to a farm, where he currently trains dogs to slobber all over themselves whenever he walks into a room.

Matthew Dellavedova

The Guys You Only Know Because They Were LeBron’s Teammates Tier

56. Joel Anthony
55. Dahntay Jones
54. Matthew Dellavedova
53. Timofey Mozgov

Putting Dellavedova at no. 54 on this list is either way too high or way too low, and I honestly have no idea which is correct. Even if you know nothing about advanced statistics, I could tell you that Delly has a career VORP of negative-2.2 and you’d intuitively understand that’s just a fancy way of saying that he really sucks. And yet, he definitely did not suck (or at least not that badly) when filling in for an injured Kyrie Irving during the 2015 Finals, and that has to count for something.

Shoot, the Delly Dilemma applies to all of the players in this tier. Mozgov was a crucial piece for the Cavs in the 2015 Finals … and then was basically useless for Cleveland a season later. Jones was a disappointing journeyman for more than a decade in the league … yet I can’t tell whether I’m serious when I say the Cavs wouldn’t have won the 2016 title without him. And Joel Anthony … uhh … he did some stuff, too.

The Guys You Know for Reasons That Have Nothing to Do With Basketball Talent Tier

69. Scot Pollard
52. Chris Andersen

Here’s an incredible fact that requires no extra context because that would just ruin all of the fun: In the final seven seasons of his career, Scot Pollard averaged 54.6 wins per season, made the conference finals four times, and reached the Finals twice, including in 2008 when he won a championship with the Celtics in his last year in the NBA. By comparison, Kobe Bryant won an average of 37.9 games over his final seven seasons, made the conference finals only once during that span, and won 17 games in his last year in the NBA. Really makes you think.

The Draft Busts Tier

51. Eddy Curry
50. Derrick Williams
49. Greg Oden

It at least makes sense why Curry (fat) and Oden (made of glass) flopped in the NBA, but I’ll never understand how Derrick Williams could do what he did to Duke in the 2011 Sweet 16 and then fall out of the league altogether seven years later without being involved in a major off-court scandal. For God’s sake, he was giving the Cavs decent bench minutes as recently as last season. What the hell happened? You know what—don’t answer that. It’s too depressing to even think about. Let’s just move on.

 

LeBron James and Norris Cole

The Completely Replaceable Role Guys Tier

48. Norris Cole
47. Joe Harris
46. Toney Douglas
45. Damon Jones
44. Larry Nance Jr.
43. Iman Shumpert

These might be the six most boring players in the entire power rankings, just from the standpoint that they aren’t good enough to get excited about and aren’t bad enough to warrant roasting. We like to pretend that LeBron’s teams are full of sacks of potatoes and upside-down mops, but I think this tier represents who the typical LeBron teammate truly is—a role guy who is capable of holding his own on an NBA court but could be replaced at the snap of a finger if necessary.

The Role Guys Who Are at Least Capable of Having a Moment Tier

42. Shannon Brown
41. Daniel Gibson
40. Eddie House
39. Tristan Thompson
38. Brendan Haywood
37. Channing Frye
36. Mario Chalmers

I’ll happily admit that my tier system is far from scientific and that I have no empirical evidence to back up my next statement, but it feels like each of the guys in this group could pull a huge game/quarter/five minutes/couple of plays out of their ass without it being completely surprising. That’s what separates them from the players in the tier above.

Put it this way: If Larry Nance Jr. is on the court for your team with two minutes remaining in a tied Game 7, you’re probably shitting your pants as a fan. If Eddie House is in that same position, a small part of your brain may be saying: Hey, this could theoretically still work out.




The Glue Guys Who Are Ranked Way Too High and Weren’t Nearly As Good As We Remember Them Being Tier

35. Ronny Turiaf
34. James Jones
33. Kendrick Perkins
32. Anderson Varejão
31. Erick Dampier
30. Udonis Haslem

I suspect that if LeBron personally power ranked every teammate with whom he’s made the Finals, all of the guys in this tier would land in his top 10. He’d then explain his reasoning by using terrible clichés, like “they do things that don’t show up in the box score” or “they’re great locker-room guys.” And even though I’d know he was full of shit—James Jones’s career is statistically similar to Kwame Brown’s—I’d buy everything LeBron was saying because he’s a basketball savant while I’m just a doofus with a couch, television, and Twitter account.

 

The I Have No Idea How Good He Really Is Tier

29. Rodney Hood
28. Jordan Clarkson
27. Michael Beasley
26. Drew Gooden
25. Jeff Green
24. J.R. Smith

This group has to be a stat nerd’s nightmare. Seriously, just imagine trying to build a predictive model that could accurately forecast how many games a team featuring all of these guys would win. Here’s my model: Take nine dice, throw them on the ground simultaneously, count up the black dots, write that number down, and then reverse-engineer a bogus equation that spits out the number that the dice already determined. Let’s try it now and see what happens!

[Rolls a handful of nine dice five different times]

I got 53, 31, 33, 41, and 22, all of which seem like completely plausible win totals. The model works!

The Guys You Could Talk Me Into Believing They’re Good Tier

23. George Hill
22. Jose Calderon
21. Donyell Marshall

George Hill has averaged 11.6 points per game for his career and started for playoff teams in five of the past six seasons. Donyell Marshall once averaged 14 points, 8.5 boards, and 1.8 assists per game during a seven-year stretch from 1997 through 2004. Jose Calderon is one of the best free throw shooters to ever live, has averaged 5.9 assists per game over a 13-year NBA career, and was the star point guard of the Spanish national team during the country’s basketball resurgence. That all seems good?

The Legitimately Good Non-All-Stars Tier

20. Eric Snow
19. Larry Hughes
18. David Wesley
17. Shane Battier
16. Mike Miller
15. Mike Bibby
14. Richard Jefferson

We made it. At long last, we made it. After sifting through dozens of leaky faucets and Super Soakers full of urine, we finally got to the guys who I can confidently say were—at some point in their lives—good NBA players. The “at some point in their lives” qualifier is massively important there, given that the 2007 Cavs had three of the above names (Eric Snow, Larry Hughes, and David Wesley) on their roster. The problem, of course, was that by then Snow was well past his prime at 33 years old, whereas Wesley was basically collecting social security checks.

By the way, how absurd is it that Richard Jefferson, Mike Bibby, and Mike Miller never made any All-Star Games? In looking back at the guys who made All-Star teams over them during the best seasons of their respective careers, the logic all checks out. But forget that: It’s much more fun to be like Dick Vitale on Selection Sunday, when he carries the banner for every snubbed program as though the NCAA tournament doesn’t have a hard cap on how many teams can be allowed into the field. Jefferson, Bibby, and Miller each deserved to make at least one All-Star Game, BABY!!!

 

The Guys Who Made All-Star Teams Tier

13. Juwan Howard
12. Jamaal Magloire
11. Mo Williams
10. Kyle Korver
9. Zydrunas Ilgauskas
8. Rashard Lewis
7. Deron Williams

Wait … WHAT? I mean no disrespect to Juwan Howard, Jamaal Magloire, or Mo Williams when I ask the following questions that just so happen to be extremely disrespectful: Are you shitting me? These guys made All-Star teams and Jefferson didn’t? How is that possible???

There should be a committee that considers strange facts like this and figures out a way to retroactively fix them. I see no reason such a committee couldn’t solve everything by issuing the following statement: “We understand that, at the time, Jamaal Magloire making the 2004 All-Star team made a lot of sense, and that there was never a single season in which Richard Jefferson was egregiously snubbed. However, this discrepancy makes no damn sense when you see it spelled out today, so we are retroactively choosing to award Jefferson with two All-Star Game appearances. This case is now closed. Thank you.”




The Future Hall of Famers Tier

6. Shawn Marion
5. Kyrie Irving
4. Kevin Love
3. Chris Bosh
2. Ray Allen
1. Dwyane Wade