Are the 2018-19 Cleveland Cavaliers Good?

And now, the only team with a Tuesday time slot in this year’s previews (let’s see…Toronto, Miami, Portland, Houston, Golden State…yep, only team) that unequivocally sucks.

That’s right, forget the score, grab your Henny, and buckle up, because we’re sifting through the burning river of the NBA to find a team that gave up the title of best sports team in Cleveland to the Indians in as much time as it took LeBron James to sign with the Lakers.

Hell, now that Baker Mayfield is trying to render a little joy into the Factory of Sadness, the Cavs might not even be as good as the Browns.

At issue here is whether you think Kevin Love, George Hill, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, and the rest of Cleveland’s castoffs and leftovers are better than the 2010-11 team that saw their win total drop from 61 to 19 in a single season after LeBron took off for Miami.

The bar’s a little lower for win dropoff in Cleveland this year; Vegas has ’em down for 30.5 wins. That’d be a 20-win dropoff to clear the under after the squad went 50-32 in 2018.

So are they going to blow this up and Process up the place? Or is Love better than he’s ever been given credit for either in Minnesota or Cleveland and good enough to lead the team to a playoff spot sans Bron in the lousy Eastern Conference?

Yeah, I know, I’m laughing too, but we make no presumptions around here without the stats. Which I have in abundance thanks to Basketball Reference, so lock up your daughter, lock up your wife, lock up your back door and run for your life because the math is back in town and it don’t mess around:

2017-18 record: 50-32
2018-19 over/under: 30.5

Garfield Minus Garfield

VORP, defined as it is by points added on a Net Rating basis, and baseball-esque WAR tend to translate at a 2.7:1 ratio (repeat after me: “30 points equals a win”; if nobody’s yet dubbed this Oliver’s Law, allow me to give Dean Oliver his tribute.)

There are exceptions (most of them pace-adjusted; everything falls apart when Mike Fratello’s coaching), but 2.7:1 is close enough for government work, especially since the 2018 Cavs played at a 98 pace.

My point is that LeBron was, by that metric, singlehandedly responsible for 24 wins (8.9 VORP.)

Which…sounds about right. That marks Cleveland for 26 wins with all other things equal.

All Other Things Are Not Equal

Is coach Tyronn Lue going to give Collin Sexton some run? Because if he does, we’re going to find out real quick if Sexton is an NBA-star-level potential talent.

Rookie point guards, even great ones, tend to have horrible debut campaigns as they adjust to the pace of the game.

Most of the time, though, if they have some underlying talent, it comes out, but look no further than Lonzo Ball; even if you love Ball’s game (I don’t), and even if you think his ceiling is Magic Johnson, the simple fact remains that the dude couldn’t make a shot if you held a gun to his head in Year 1.

Sexton shot 33.6 percent from three in college. I have two words for that:

Oh crap.

Sexton is a project. And he’s got the Curse of Danny Ainge hanging over him, because the draft pick that was used to select him originally belonged to Brooklyn and came over in the Kyrie Irving trade.

Ask the 76ers what happens when you mess with the chessmaster (with apologies to Markelle Fultz.)

We will find out in November if George Hill or Jordan Clarkson are going to be in a role where Cleveland’s trying to make the playoff or whether the Cavs are going to live and die by Sexton’s trial by fire.

But without LeBron, Sexton’s use seems likely.

The Curse of the Dunk Contest

There are two types of dunk contest winners.

There are Hall of Fame talents putting something up for the early days on their highlight reels—see Jordan comma Michael—and there are guys like Harold Miner and Dee Brown.

Which one is Larry Nance Jr.?

Well, let’s look at the Big 4 advanced stats: 20.2 PER, .196 WS/48, 3.3 BPM, 1.9 VORP (with a sweet .605 True Shooting besides.)

Just for fun, Larry Nance Sr., in his third year in the league, with Phoenix in 1984 the year he won the dunk contest with the same dunk his son paid tribnte to last year:

Nance The Elder posted a 19.4 PER, .163 WS/48, 4.3 BPM, 4.7 VORP, and…a .605 True Shooting. Uncanny.

We could be looking at a like-father-like-son situation here.

But Really, We’re All Here For One Dude.

No, not Smith, you idiot. He sucks.

OK, The Other One.

Right. Kevin Shut Up Wesley Love.

Let’s get the Big 4 out of the way first: 22.4 PER (his best in Cleveland), .185 WS/48, 1.3 BPM, 1.4 VORP, in 59 games (again missing 20-plus due to injury; never forget this guy’s a glass cannon.)

There’s just something about those last two numbers that suggests the stats are pointing at LeBron and saying “Love ain’t that good, guys.”

But at the same time, Love remains one of the game’s elite rebounders (29.8 DRB%, best in a full season since 2011, his first All-Star season), but what’s more alarming is that he can’t guard anyone; he’s a negative-BPM guy on defense for his career.

When you can just straight-up outscore everyone the way the Cavs did last year (5th in Offensive Rating, second-to-last in Defensive Rating), that’s great.

When you can’t…when your potential point guard of the future couldn’t shoot in college…yikes.

THE VERDICT!

Cleveland won 50 games in 2018. One equation on the back of an envelope says LeBron took 24 wins with him when he left.

50-24=26. Over/under is 30.5.

That’s Busted and the Under. Because LeBron dragged some G-League teams to more wins in the aughts, and his numbers have been all but immune to dropoff (at least so far; more on that when we get to the Lakers in this series.)

But hey, the Browns look like an NFL team again!