Well, the Indians season ended way to early, and the Browns season never really started in the first place, so that can only mean one thing: eight months worth of ESPN telling us that LeBron is going to the Lakers. In all reality, the Cavs will continue their quest for another Championship. They’re are some new faces in new places all around the league, the West is so loaded they had to change the All-star format, and tanking is so rampant they had to change the draft lottery.
Welcome to my 2017 Cleveland Cavaliers/mini-NBA preview. I’ll be looking at 7 questions for the 7 consecutive NBA Finals LeBron has been in. Let’s tip it off.
1. Will the Warriors have any competition out West?
Last season the Warriors finished six games ahead of the second-place Spurs, then swept the defensively challenged Trail Blazers, the offensively challenged Jazz, and the Kwahi-less Spurs in the Western Conference playoffs en route to their third straight Finals. This year looks to be a little different.
The West is absolutely loaded this season. The Spurs will continue to win 60 games till the end, and we are all left to wonder what would have happened if Kwahi hadn’t severely sprained his ankle in the WCF. The Rockets added The Point God, in Chris Paul, which means that either Paul or James Harden will have the ball in their hands every possession. Meanwhile, OKC might have improved the most, adding both Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. You could re-arrange those teams in any order 2-4, and it wouldn’t surprise me.
If you have the Warriors in Tier 1: All-time Dynasty, and then the above three team in Tier 2: Title Contenders If Not For the Warriors, then the majority of the West lies in Tier 3: Solid Playoff Contenders. Teams like the Clippers, Jazz, T-Wolves, Grizzles, Trail Blazers, Nuggets, and Pelicans make the West so deep. Any of those teams could probably be a top four seed in the West. None of these teams really have any chance to usurp the Warriors, but it does mean that there will be no easy nights in the West.
The Warriors are gunning for history though. They will be in their second season of Durant, and continuity means a lot in the NBA. They were able to retain Iguodala, and shored up their bench with additions like Jordan Bell (draft), Nic Young (Free agency), and Omri Casspi (Former Cav, free agency). The Warriors will be the top seed going into the playoffs, but odds are they won’t go 12-0 on their way to the Finals.
2. Should the Cavs worry about the Celtics?
Both teams are completely different than the one’s that squared off in the ECF. The Celtics lost the following players: Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, and Kelly Olynyk, plus a handful of bench/rotation players. Those four players mentioned combined to score 68.1 points per game (that’s 63% of Boston’s scoring last season).
In the replace those players of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, plus Jayson Tatum in the draft. Hayward and Irving combined to score 47.1 points per game last season. Which means guys like Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier will need to make the leap. Boston went all-in for star power, and greatly scarified depth. Their starting five will be (according to Brad Stevens) will be: Irving, Brown, Hayward, Tatum, and Horford. That’s a pretty good lineup, but putting so much pressure on young guys like Browns and Tatum is pretty risky. It should also be noted that first round picks never make a true impact their first season, even LeBron couldn’t make the playoffs.
The Celtics bench goes about three deep with Marcus Smart/Morris, and Terry Rozier, after those three they’ll be counting on a bunch of rookies. As I said earlier, continuity reigns king in the NBA. The Warriors added Kevin Durant to a 73-win team and finished six-games worse. The Cavs added LeBron and Kevin Love and started 19-20. It is going to take some time to work things out.
It should also be noted, what exactly have Hayward, Horford, and Irving accomplished? Hayward wasn’t a 20-points a game scorer until last season (his seventh season), and has played in three playoff series in his career. Horford averaged 14 points last season and 6.8 rebounds (he plays center by the way); he also a career playoff record of 1-12 against LeBron led teams. As for former beloved Cleveland Icon, Kyrie Irving, take away all his success as second fiddle to LeBron and what do you have; he once led the Cavs to a 33-wins season. I guess what all this is leading to is this, the Cavs aren’t worried about the Celtics.
3. Is the East really that bad?
Cleveland, Boston, Toronto, and Washington are the only teams guaranteed to make the playoffs in the East. After those four it gets pretty murky, there are a lot of tankers in the East. Atlanta, Indiana, and Chicago made the playoffs last season, and now are those teams are gunning for not the eight seed, but the number one pick in the draft. Throw in teams like Orlando, New York, and Brooklyn, and all the sudden you’re looking at six teams that have a better chance at the number one pick instead of the eight seed. Here’s how I think the Eastern Conference Playoff Seeding works out.
The only other team that could compete for a playoff spot is Detroit, and there have been rumors that they are trying to move off of Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. Miami had to go 30-11 in the second half to make the playoffs last year, while everyone was playing in their contract years, is the same drive still there? The 76ers are relying on two rookies and a generational talent who has played a total of 31 games in three years. Charlotte doesn’t have much talent, but they’re well coached and play hard, but will be without Nic Batum for about a month. Yes, the East is bad.
4. Are the Cavs really better than last year?
You might think this is a crazy question given that the Cavs added Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, and Jae Crowder, among others. But is this really a better team? Last season the Cavs had a 113.6 offensive rating (meaning they scored 113.6 points per 100 possessions), that was the 14th best all-time (tied with the 1996-97 Stockton/Malone Jazz team). Their effective field goal percentage (which takes into account that 3-point shot attempts are worth more than 2-point shot attempts) was .547, good enough for 6th all-time. By almost every measure, last year’s Cavs were one of the greatest offensive teams ever.
But, they’re replacing Kyrie Irving (40% from 3, 54% efg) with Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade, whose career three-point percentage are 29.8% and 28.7%, respectively. Both those guys will be in the starting lineup to start the season. The floor spacing the Cavs enjoyed last season when Kyrie and JR Smith were in the lineup is now gone. Both of the guys are rim drivers, they need the ball to be effective. That’s all well and good, except you have LeBron James. LeBron will be facing a much tougher task when trying to facilitate the offense. And with Isaiah Thomas out till at least January, he will most likely taking primary ball-handling duties.
Of course, their are still lineups that can surround LeBron with three-point shooters. A lineup with LeBron at the power forward, surrounded by Kevin Love, Kyle Korver, JR Smith, and Isaiah Thomas is deadly. But the Cavs will lose all defensive capabilities whenever they run out a lineup like that.
I like the additions the Cavs made, this is easily the deepest team in Cavalier history, I just don’t know if all the peices fit together properly. Either way, the Cavs have all season to figure it out, and in the Leastern Conference, they’ll be able to test out a lot of different stuff.
5. What will the Cavs do with the Nets Pick?
The NBA trade deadline is on February 8th. I think this all depends on two things, how well the Nets are doing and who’s available at the deadline.
The Nets are a bad team, but they also play in the East and have no reason to tank. Not mention, but they are a better team than last season with the additions of D’Angelo Russell, DeMarre Carroll, and Allen Crabbe. They will actually be fielding a NBA team this season. If they Nets are the worst team in the league again, that pick becomes extremely valuable. But, if the Nets are able to string together some wins and move closer to the middle of the lottery, the pick loses a lot of its value. This upcoming draft is not as deep as last year’s, there is a big drop off after the top five.
The only big name likely on the move would be DeMarcus Cousins, and he is the only player I would considered using that pick to acquire. I’m not looking for a pupu platter of average players, we have enough of those. If the Cavs are going to trade the Nets pick, they need to get back an impact player. There’s no guarantee that Cousins will be on the block though. If the Pelicans are making a run for the playoffs, there’s no way they will trade him.
I keep the Nets pick, see where it falls in the draft, then make my decision.
6. Bold Predictions
LeBron wins the MVP: Okay, maybe that’s not that bold of a prediction.
Kevin Love averages 24-12: With Irving gone, Love will be counted on more in the offense, and with Tristan Thompson an the bench he’ll be able to grab as many rebounds as possible.
Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade shoot 35% from 3: The Cavs the spacing and LeBron to make it happen.
Cedi Osman contends for Rookie of the Year: Some one’s has to take LeBron minutes when he sits out games.
Isaiah Thomas puts up better stats than Kyrie Irving: He’s in a contract year plus he has the revenge factor.
7. Season Prediction
With the East being the dumpster fire it is the Cavs go 60-22 (the second straight year I’ve picked them to win 60 games). Even with the amount of rest Ty Lue gives his players the Cavs coast to another Central Divison title. They sweep the 76ers in Round 1, dispatch the Greek Freak and Milwaukee in five games in Round 2, before Washington gives them a scare in the Eastern Conference Finals, taking it to six games. Finally we have the fourth edition of Warriors-Cavs, where once again the Warriors prove that the NBA isn’t fair and the Warriors win the Finals in six games, leaving everyone to wonder where LeBron will play next.
— Chris Sladoje (@The_Doje)