Saturday, October 24, 2015

2015-16 Season Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
[] 53-29
[] Offensive Rating: 111.9 (4th)
[] Defensive Rating: 107.1 (18th)
[] Net Rating: +4.8 (5th)
[] Eliminated in NBA Finals
[] Coach: David Blatt

It's been 51 years since a professional sports team has been able to celebrate a title with the city of Cleveland.  Last year was arguably the closest the city has come in that timeframe, as LeBron James did everything he humanly could to carry an injury-riddled Cavs roster against a well-oiled Golden State Warriors machine.  James' 35.8 PPG/13.3 RPG/8.8 APG in the Finals just wasn't enough without the supporting cast of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love there to help carry the load.  They'll be back this year though, and with James' continued presence, that means the Cavaliers are the hands-down favorites in the Eastern Conference.  Will they win the most games of any EC team in the regular season?  Probably, but it doesn't matter if they don't.  Because until someone proves different, the Eastern Conference's spot in the NBA Finals will go to the team that has LeBron James, like it has for the last five years.



Projected Starting Five

PG: Kyrie Irving - 6'3, 195 - 5th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
75
21.7
21.5
26.2%
58.3%
41.5%
.306
86.3%
.296
25.0%
11.8%

Irving had a really good first season playing next to LeBron James, and you could tell how much the Cavs missed his offense in the NBA Finals.  Is he up there with Steph Curry, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook?  No, but he's right there in the next group of top PGs.  His 41.5 3P% is the best of his career, and there's no mystery about the timing of that mark.  Close to 62% of his made threes were assisted, a full eight points higher than his previous career high.  LeBron needs Irving's offense to take the pressure off, but that's obviously a two-way street.

SG: Iman Shumpert - 6'5, 210 - 5th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
62
8.0
11.4
17.4%
49.7%
34.2%
.416
67.2%
.136
14.2%
15.4%

Shumpert turned, uhh, whatever that is you see above, into a four year, $40M deal this summer.  Shumpert's got value on the defensive end of the floor, but he's had one season with a TS% above 50, one season where his AST% was greater than his TOV%, and he doesn't get to the FT line regularly.  He has more value to the Cavs than to other teams, but that seems like quite the overpay to me; Danny Green signed the exact same deal with San Antonio this year. Shumpert turned 25 in June, so maybe there's more to come?

SF: LeBron James - 6'8, 260 - 13th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TRB%
69
25.3
25.9
32.3%
57.7%
35.4%
.265
71.0%
.413
38.6%
9.6%

Statistically, James took a bit of a step back in his first year back in Cleveland.  His PER ranked only above his age 19, 20 and 22 seasons.  His TS% was the lowest its been since the 2007-08 season, and fell among the middle of the pack among individual seasons.  His FTr and TRB% were both below his career marks, and his TOV% was above.  The only mark that was a cut above his prior campaigns was an AST% that ranked as the 2nd-highest of his career.  Obviously James is still one of the world's best players, if not the best, but at 30 years old, could this be the sign of LeBron slowing down?  Even if he is slowing down, he's still good enough to make Cleveland the unquestionable favorite in the East.

PF: Tristan Thompson - 6'9, 235 - 5th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
FT%
FTr
BLK/36
82
8.5
15.6
14.0%
58.0%
17.2%
14.5%
19.7%
64.1%
.508
1.0

The LeBron effect worked for Kyrie, and it worked for Tristan Thompson, too.  Thompson's TS% and FTr both took significant bumps last year, and there's probably a good reason for that: 72% of Thompson's field goals were assisted in 2014-15, compared to 65% in 2013-14.  Aside from that, his numbers weren't much-changed from his first three years in the league.  His offensive rebounding makes him a good, low-usage fit for this team, but I think most will agree he got more than he should have in free agency.

C: Kevin Love - 6'10, 250 - 8th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TRB%
75
16.4
18.8
21.7%
56.2%
36.7%
.412
80.4%
.337
10.7%
16.6%

Kelly Olynyk put a disappointing end to Love's season in the playoffs, in what was surely a fluke incident.  With a full season under his belt, and a new deal keeping him in town long-term, Love should feel better about his fit in the offense.  However, his Usage Rate was the lowest its been since his rookie season 

Bench

PG: Mo Williams - 6'1, 185 - 13th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
68
14.2
15.4
25.2%
51.2%
34.2%
.405
87.2%
.217
37.4%
15.4%

Williams was solid last season between Minnesota and Charlotte, and he has a lot to offer in the Cavs backcourt.  Last year's backup PG minutes went to Dellavedova, and it's hard to imagine a world where Williams isn't an upgrade on Dellavedova.

G: Matthew Dellavedova - 6'4, 200 - 3rd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
67
4.8
8.5
12.6%
49.3%
40.7%
.544
76.3%
.124
21.1%
15.9%

Dellavedova made headlines after having two nice games in the Finals, and a couple of other decent playoff showings, but the bigger body of work suggests he's not much of a positive contributor.  His biggest value lies in his good outside shot.

SG: Joe Harris - 6'6, 225 - 2nd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
51
2.7
5.6
14.1%
53.7%
36.9%
.700
60.0%
.125
7.7%
17.6%

Harris' outside shooting makes him a good fit for minutes in the Cavs' offense, but he has to do enough aside from that to truly earn those minutes.  He's probably in for another year of learning and managed minutes.

SG: J.R. Smith - 6'6, 220 - 12th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
70
12.1
13.6
19.3%
53.8%
38.3%
.564
75.0%
.095
15.6%
11.0%

Smith brought the Cavs some much-needed additional scoring punch after being picked up from the Knicks mid-season.  He went cold and had some patented mind-numbing moments in the NBA Finals, but he's got a skill that this team needs.  At 30 years old, he is what he's going to be, so Blatt needs to find a way to minimize those moments.

SF: Richard Jefferson - 6'7, 220 - 15th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
74
5.8
11.3
15.3%
57.7%
42.6%
.478
68.4%
.352
7.0%
12.2%

Jefferson mustered some solid efficiency numbers in a low-usage role for the Mavericks last season.  If he can hit his open threes and play respectable defense, he'll earn some minutes.  If he can't, he'll drift into the horizon like Shawn Marion did last year.  I think he'll do the former.

SF: James Jones - 6'8, 225 - 13th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
57
4.4
11.1
15.8%
56.5%
36.0%
.871
84.8%
.229
5.4%
5.5%

The NBA's version of a remora, Jones has played alongside LeBron James for each of the last six seasons.  Close to 98% of his career made threes have been assisted; he's a spot-up specialist if there's ever been one.

C: Anderson Varejao - 6'10, 235 - 12th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
FT%
FTr
BLK/36
26
9.8
17.7
18.1%
58.0%
15.3%
10.4%
20.1%
73.3%
.225
0.9

Varejao lost 68% of his 2014-15 season to a torn Achilles.  It was the fourth time in his career that he didn't top 40 games played.  With Mozgov in town, Varejao's services are less valuable, but the Cavs are better when he's healthy.

C: Timofey Mozgov - 7'1, 250 - 6th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
FT%
FTr
BLK/36
81
9.7
16.6
16.9%
59.4%
16.1%
11.0%
21.4%
71.8%
.382
1.7

Mozgov was a luxury for the Cavs until the Warriors' small-ball lineup minimized him during the 2015 Finals.  He gives them much needed rim protection, rebounding and sheer size.  He finishes well enough around the hoop, gets to the FT line regularly and is just a solid player.

Outlook

The Cavs have the right supporting cast around LeBron James, now they just need it to be fully intact when they make their likely Finals appearance.  It's hard to see a scenario where last year's Finals matchup doesn't tilt in the Cavs' favor if Irving and Love are fully healthy to complement James.  At absolute worst, it's enough to force a Game 7, and a close one.  That being said, I don't see anybody getting in the way of the Cavs getting another shot at a title come June 2016.  They have adequate depth, role players who fit the team's overall build, and, oh, the world's best player.  It's always good to have LeBron James on your side.  I'll peg the Cavs for 56 wins and an easy return trip to the NBA Finals.  What happens from there depends on the matchup.


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