2016-17 Cleveland Cavaliers Season Preview: Enjoy the Ride

The Dunkyard’s NBA season preview continues with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Last season by the numbers

  • Record: 57-25 (1st East)
  • Offensive rating: 108.1 (4th)
  • Defensive rating: 102.3 (10th)
  • Pace: 95.5 (28th)
  • True shooting: 55.8% (4th)
  • Turnover rate: 12.7% (13th)
  • Offensive rebounding: 25.1% (9th)
  • Defensive rebounding: 78.5% (5th)
  • Giveashitameter: 2nd
  • Highest PER*: 27.5 (James)

(*) – minimum 1,000 minutes.

At a glance

(Converts the above rankings into a rating out of 10).

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Recap

Amid all the hype surrounding Steph Curry’s insane shooting and the Warriors’ historically great offense (completely justified), people forgot one important thing: LeBron was and still is the best basketball player in the world.

The year before, LeBron managed to take two games off Golden State in the finals pretty much single-handed with both Irving and Love injured. With his whole supporting cast in tact this time around, LeBron was able to squeak over the line and secure his legacy. No more was he the evil cop-out who handpicked his own super team in Miami. Instead, he was now the prodigal son who had returned to give his underdog home town its first professional sports championship in over 50 years.

Although they won it all, the Cavs looked anything but a championship calibre team during the regular season. Shortly after the New Year, despite being on track to post 60 wins (30-11), the Cavs sacked head coach David Blatt – due primarily to the fact that the team’s morale and chemistry were poor under him, because LeBron said so and because they had just lost to the Warriors by 34 points on their home court two games beforehand. Not helping things was that the Warriors (39-4) and Spurs (37-6) had absolutely ridiculous records at the time.

While Lue gets the credit for leading the team to glory, the Cavs stuttered their way to a 27-15 record to close out the season under him.

As the playoffs arrived, the Cavs couldn’t be further from contention.

On offense, the Cavs were great from the field, ranking 7th in three point accuracy and 4th on two point accuracy. However, except for LeBron and Love, they struggled in getting to the line, ranking 23rd in FTA/FGA – which put a lid on things. The Cavs were also pretty average at taking care of the ball, ranking 13th overall. The main guilty parties were Dellavedova (45th out of 77 point guards), Mo Williams (48th) and Shumpert (64th out of 81 shooting guards) – who largely undid all the great work done by Smith (2nd among shooting guards), Thompson (9th among 58 centers) and Irving (14th out of 77 point guards).

As for LeBron, he was a special case when it came to ball handling. At face value, his 38th ranking on turnovers (among 58 small forwards) looks poor. However, the 10.4% turnover rate he posted would have ranked in the top half among point guards – better than Kyle Lowry and John Wall. Not bad for a 6’8”, 250 pound guy who ranked 6th among small forwards on true shooting percentage and used more than 31.0% of his team’s possessions AND who was saving himself for the big dance.

Despite the turnovers and inability to get to the line, the Cavs’ offense was elite (albeit, nowhere near ‘Warriors historically elite’), ranking 4th in both true shooting percentage and points per possession.

While the Cavs’ defense did enough to eventually take care of the Warriors in the end (no mean feat), it certainly wasn’t quite there during the regular season – ranking 10th overall.

Arguably the most depressing thing to watch with the Cavs’ defense was Kevin Love – who often had absolutely no idea where he was supposed to stand or move to, as he blew rotation after rotation. And when he finally was able to find the right position, he was easily bullied by literally anyone who felt like experimenting with their post moves on him. By the middle of the season, as Love kept blowing his rotations, LeBron’s glares started to have that ‘you’re getting fucking traded’ look to them.

While this may all seem like yet another anti-Love rant, the numbers speak for themselves as the Cavs ranked:

  • 15th in two point percentage allowed;
  • 14th in FTA/FGA allowed; and
  • 27th in the blocked shots.

The fact that Love rated fairly well on ‘advanced’ defensive metrics – in the face of the above team outcomes and what everyone’s eyes (including mine) saw – makes me even more suspicious of these metrics than I already am. To be fair to Love, his defensive rebounding (2nd among power forwards) was superb and definitely helped the overall defense – it’s just that it came a great cost which the advanced metrics appear to have missed.

If there ever was a guy who had his whole career riding on Steph Curry missing a three, it was Kevin Love in Game 7 of the finals. As frustrating as it was watching Love not quite trying to play defense the whole season, you couldn’t help but find yourself:

  • feeling terrified when the Warriors switched Curry on to him;
  • rooting for Love on seeing him confidently attack the switch and trying valiantly to keep Curry at bay; and
  • cheering wildly when Curry missed.

Of course, the big question is: where the hell was THAT Kevin Love the rest of the season?

Reasons to be optimistic

LeBron is still well under 35 years of age. For reasons that make no sense whatsoever, people seemed to think that a transcendent legend such as James was finished at 30 – even though Michael Jordan was able to take 18 months off when he was 30 and then easily able to come back and piss all over the league until he was 35.

Regardless of whether you think LeBron has peaked, the fact is that his 95% is miles better than anything anyone else in the league can serve up – and he’ll be able to keep playing at that level for at least another three years. As long as he chooses to stay in Cleveland, then Cavs fans can sit back and enjoy the ride.

There’s only one ball and the Warriors’ offense was already historically good without Durant. Will he really make things that much better – or will it be a case of diminishing returns? Meanwhile, the Warriors gave up significant chunks of their defense in Bogut, Ezeli and Barnes. Was improving the offense from 99.8% to 99.9% really worth the likely defensive regression?

Lastly, Kyrie Irving has arrived. As long as he can stay on the court like he did last season, then the Cavs will have two frightening superstars for opponents to deal with.

Reasons not to be

At best, The Cavs will be the same as last year – while the Warriors have added Kevin Durant. If the Cavs thought it was already hard enough stopping the Warriors’offense, they haven’t seen anything yet.

The Cavs relented and gave JR Smith a $57 million contract over four years. While his attitude towards defense has definitely improved, he’s still a 31 year old, one-dimensional gunning wingnut. There’s nothing good about paying him $15 million when he’s 35.

Major Ins 

Mike Dunleavy.

Major Outs 

None.

The Dunkyard’s recommended ‘death’ lineup

  • Irving
  • Smith
  • James
  • Love
  • Thompson

Dave’s Lowdown

Championships take care of everything. Remember all the questions and scrutiny of the previous two seasons? Well, those questions have been answered. Will LeBron ever deliver a championship to a success-starved Cleveland fan base? Yes. Will the Cavs give up on the Kevin Love experiment and orchestrate a trade? No. Can Love accept his role as third option and produce in the playoffs? Yes. Will Kyrie Irving ever put it all together and become the team’s second superstar? Yes.

If you asked me last month (before I Googled it) how old Irving was, I would have said 26-27. The guy is still only 24. Let that sink in for a minute. I still haven’t decided if this team coasts through the regular season peaking for the playoffs, or if they activate ‘Defending Champion Beast Mode’ plundering and pillaging as a 65 win juggernaut. Either way, this team will be playing pressure free, which is bad news for the opposition.

The only thing that threatens to derail this team is Tristan Thompson – his decision to date Khloe Kardashian is indefensible.  The ‘Kardashian Curse’ is real…. just ask Rashad McCants, James Harden, Kris Humphries and, if he remembers, Lamar Odom.

Forecast record: 57-25

The Cavs will sleepwalk their way through the regular season and to the Eastern Conference finals – where they may or may not get a challenging match up. Barring major injuries, LeBron and the Cavs will find themselves in the finals yet again, either against a revamped super power in Golden State… or another team that was somehow able to beat them.