2016 Cleveland Cavaliers Preview

1. The Warriors, Over/Under 66.5?

If you haven’t heard, or have been living under a rock since June 19th, the Warriors signed Kevin Durant, one of the top-3 players in the league, to a team that won an NBA record 73 games. You’re probably wondering how/why is Vegas projecting the Warriors to finish 6-7 games worse than last season. First off, it’s extremely tough to win 73 games, as evident by the fact that no team had done it before. The Warriors can put that record behind them and just focus on building chemistry and preparing for the playoffs this season.

So, will the Warriors finish above or below that line. I’m not telling you to go out and bet whatever I say, but after a lot of deliberation, I would take the over. For the Warriors to finish “under”, that means they have to lose 16 times. Last year, including playoffs, the Warriors lost 14 times over 99 games. If you can explain to me how they lose 16 times in the upcoming regular season, please feel free to comment. But just remember this, Steph and Klay could have terrible shooting nights, but you still lose by 15 because Durant just dropped 40. I really don’t know how you defend them. Does LeBron guard Draymond or Durant, and whoever he guards, who gets the other assignment?

Of course, history tells us that “Superteams” tend to start slow, but always finish strong. Looking at the last three formations of “Superteams” (07-08 Celtics, 10-11 Heat, and 14-15 Cavs) and they finished with an average record of 59 wins. None of those teams had a “Big Four” though, take the over and be confident.

2. Are the Knicks really a “Superteam”?

“I mean, with these teams right now, they’re saying us and Golden State are the super teams” — A possibly delusional Derrick Rose.

Sports Illustrated said it best in their NBA preview, “This team could have been the best team in the NBA in 2010-11”. Derrick Rose was finally healthy (sort of) last season, as he played his most games since the 2010-11 season. That being said, he still only played in 66 games, but more importantly, was a below average player. He had a PER of 13.5, the average player has a 15.0 PER. The Bulls also got outscored when Rose was on the court, he had a plus/minus of -3.3 on the season. Then there’s Joakim Noah who hasn’t be healthy for the past couple of seasons, and whose field goal percentage has dropped every year since 2010-11. You also have Melo, another guy who’s played the past two years with health concerns. Those guys consist of 60% of their starting lineup, and all of them could be hurt by December.

Now for the good. Kristaps Porzingis is good, really good. Porzingis is just 21 years old, and is already one of the toughest match-ups on both sides of the ball. He’s 7-3, can shoot the three, grabs some boards, and blocks a ton of shots. He’s the future of the center position. They also have a real coach this season in Jeff Hornacek, who will be a 1000 times better than Derek Fisher/Kurt Rambis were last season. The Knicks can certainly make the playoffs, especially in Eastern Conference, and Melo can still step up and win you a couple of playoff games, but the second round is probably about as far as this team can go.

4. Will the Bulls be a disaster?

In an age where the NBA is moving towards a more pace-and-space style of offense, one where the three-pointer has become the way of life, the Bulls decided to build a back-court that combined to shoot 31.7% from three last season. The league average was 35.4%. The Bulls backcourt now consists of Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and Jimmy Butler. Want to know how you defend a team that can’t shoot? Pack the paint; Wade, Rondo, and Butler all rely on driving towards the basket to make plays, and all three need the ball in their hands to be successful. I just don’t see how that’s suppose to be a recipe for a playoff team.

Best case scenario for the Bulls is that Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott shoot lights-out from three, allowing the previously mentioned trio to operate properly. Problem is Mirotic and McDermott are bench/role players at best, if you’re relying on them to spread the defense, you’re in trouble. Not mention bringing in Michael Carter-Williams, owner of a lifetime three-point percentage of 25.5%, who projects to back up Rondo. Look, obviously, the Bulls have some good players on their team, but they won’t mesh well in the new age NBA.

5. Can any team in the East challenge the Cavs?

There are two teams that can push the Cavs, aka make the Eastern Conference Finals interesting. The Cavs can rest assured that a third straight Finals appearance is all but locked up. The two teams that make the Cavs sweat a little bit are Toronto and Boston.

Last year we saw how frisky the Raptors can be, especially in front of their home crowd, pushing the Cavs to six games in the ECF. That being said, the Cavs still won by an average of 15 points in the ECF, and that’s even factoring in the two losses. The Raptors said goodbye to Bismack Biyombo, the biggest thorn in the Cavs side that series, and welcomed Jared Sullinger. Other than that, the Raptors will be relying on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to carry the team. Unless they see improvement from their players, guys like Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross, they will most likely see that 56 win total drop this year.

Boston has the most potential to dethrone the Cavs. Arguably the best defensive team in the league, thanks to the addition of Al Horford, the Celtics can throw a lot of guys on the court who can defend. Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Al Horford, and Macrus Smart are all plus defenders, and you can bet they’ll play a lineup featuring those guys a lot this season. They still lack some of offense, and as much as Horford will help, this is still a team that has yet to make it past the first round of the playoffs. I’d also like to remind you that the Cavs swept Horford’s Hawks two years in a row, and swept the Celtics two years ago.

6. How does the Central Division shake out?

In today’s NBA, division titles are getting closer and closer to being pointless, if they aren’t already. Nevertheless, the NBA still employs the divisional system, so here’s how I think it shakes out.

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers: In a class all by themselves, no one challenges them for this spot.
  2. Detroit Pistons: Reggie Jackson will be out a couple months, but this team is so well coached and has much more depth this season.
  3. Indiana Pacers: They scrapped their defense first approach, and plan on gunning all year on offense, Paul George is still a top-10 player. They’ll push Detroit for 4/5 seed.
  4. Chicago Bulls: This team still has good players, but you need to shoot the three ball to succeed.
  5. Milwaukee Bucks: Kris Middleton, their best shooter could be gone for the season. They needed him to spread the floor. The Greak Freak at point guard should scare every team in the league.

7. Who takes home the MVP?

I see four guys who have a realistic shot to take home the hardware. James Harden gets to run Mike D’Antoni offense, he could put up 35 points per game. If they make the playoffs, he’s a good bet to win this award. Kwahi Leonard finished second in the voting last year, and the Spurs are going to run everything through him, he could win both MVP and defensive player of the year. Russell Westbrook is on the war path, would you be surprised if he averaged a triple-double this year. When was the last time a guy had a realistic shot at having a 40-15-15 line every night. Then there’s are good friend LeBron. The voters might give him the award just based on what he did in the NBA Finals last year. There are two scenarios for LeBron this season: he can either coast the entire season, letting Kyrie and Kevin Love run the offense, LeBron still averages something like 20-7-6, or LeBron can realize this is his last chance to catch Jordon’s 5 MVP’s. He guns for it all year, leads the Cavs to the best record in the East and puts up a line of 25-8-8.

You’re probably wondering where the unanimous MVP is aren’t you? With Durant on board, the Golden State trio of Durant, Curry, and Green cannibalize each other, and no one has a real shot to shine and grab the MVP. With that all out of the way, the MVP goes to Russell Westbrook. I’m not sure what route LeBron is taking this year, but we all know Westbrook might break the space-time continuum with his play this year.

8. How do the Cavs look outside of the “Big Three”?

Here’s a quick rundown of the players not in the “Big Three”: Tristan Thompson, JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Richard Jefferson, Kay Felder, Chris Anderson, and James Jones.

One thing’s for sure, the Cavs have much better depth than they did a year ago. Tristan Thompson is still one of the best rebounder’s in the game, and, fun fact, had the best offensive rating out of any player last year. JR Smith is still an assassin from deep, he’ll win games with his shooting alone. Shumpert disappointed last year, and has been floated in trade rumors, but he still provides above average defense. Channing Frye provides match up nightmares against certain teams, and when he’s on, he doesn’t miss. Mike Dunleavy will provide the Cavs with more shooting, and should space the floor more for LeBron and Kyrie to work.

Richard Jefferson is more valuable for his SnapChat more than his actual play. He still provides great leadership and is a great glue guy. Key Felder will start the year as the back-up point guard, which isn’t the most ideal situation, but he has shown some promise in the preseason. Bird Man will be this year’s Kendrick Perkins. While James Jones is gunning for his seventh straight Finals appearance.

8. Which player surprises/disappoints?

I’m going to cheat here and name two players who surprise. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Whoa, big stretch there. Just hear me out. Odds are LeBron doesn’t match or exceed the 76 games he played last season, which means in games he rests, Kyrie and Kev are going to need to step up. Even when LeBron does play this season, he’ll probably try and get those two involved in games as much as possible. He knows he needs to conserve himself until the playoffs, and letting those two have bigger roles will help the Cavs down the road.

Kyrie is coming off a summer that saw him hit the shot of a lifetime, and he brought home a Gold Medal from Rio. You might not notice it much this season, but this is slowly becoming Kyrie’s team. The Olympic run kept Kyrie in game shape, he doesn’t have to worry about rushing back from injury, and he is entering the prime of his career. Don’t be surprised if he drops 25 points per game. As for Kevin Love, this is the first time he has been able to mold his body correctly in Cleveland. Love admits that the first year, he lost way too much weight, anticipating a fast paced offense that never came to fruition. Last year he was rehabbing a shoulder injury which limited him from adding weight. This offseason, Love has added 10-15 pounds of muscle, which should allow him to return to the dominate post-player he was in Minnesota. As with both guys, they don’t have the championship drought hanging over them any more, the pressure is off for the first time.

Which player disappoints, that’s a tough one. You could certainly see JR Smith under-performing after missing most of training camp, and Tristan Thompson has the dreaded Kardashian curse over him. My pick however is Richard Jefferson. What we got out of RJ last year and throughout the playoffs, was nothing short of devils’ magic. I realize he won’t be asked to play many minutes per game, but I think age catches up with him, similar to what we saw with Shawn Marion.

9. Cavs-Warriors Part III, how likely is it?

Take it to the bank, 100%. The West is certainly the toughest conference, with the Spurs and Clippers, and most importantly, a pissed off Russell Westbrook. But the Warriors are unguardable. Then there the Cavs with LeBron. Fun fact, no team without LeBron has made the NBA Finals in the East since 2009-10. Yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s happening again.

10. Cavs Season Prediction

I see the Cavs winning 60 games on the mark. LeBron, Kyrie, and Love all make the All-Star game. A 60-22 record should be good enough to take the number one seed in the East, where the Cavs breeze through on their way to a third straight Finals appearance.  The Warriors once again get home-court advantage, and get their revenge (sorry Cleveland) when they win in seven games, setting the stage for a thrilling quadrilogy the next season.

— Chris Sladoje (@The_Doje)

Photo courtesy Flickr – Erik Drost