by Fox Doucette
This year, the Cleveland Cavaliers, not content with the answer they got in 2007 the last time they asked this question, have posed the inquiry “How bad a Letter League outfit can we put around LeBron James and still make the Finals?”
Dwyane Wade is ready to collect a pension, Kevin Love’s transformation into completely ordinary stretch 4 is complete, Kyrie Irving is on the Celtics now and Isaiah Thomas won’t be able to stay healthy, J.R. Smith is still on the team, and Derrick Rose and Kendrick Perkins? Really?
Yet Vegas has them as the favorite in terms of over/under. Short of sending a frost giant to provide rim protection, Odin Himself couldn’t fix this mess.
Is 2018 going to be the year not only where Cleveland hands over the reins of the Eastern Conference back to Boston but where they pass the Central Division torch over to Milwaukee as well? And if so, are the 2018-19 Lakers going to be LeBron, Paul George, and Lonzo Goddamn Ball in “My Laker Pony: Friendship Is Magic Johnson”?
Good luck, Cleveland, you’ll need it.
2016-17 record: 51-31
2018 over/under: 54
Wait, They’re Supposed To Win More?
I do not see how a team that added nothing of true value is supposed to be three wins better than the team that was mainly composed of guys who’d just won the title.
Love put up a .427/.373/.871 slash line and is now taking almost half his shots from beyond the arc, having completely given up on the rebounding that was his bread and butter as a young man. He’s all the way down to 1.3 VORP as a result.
LeBron just led the league in minutes (37.8 a game), has played over 50,000 NBA minutes between regular season and playoffs, and that’s not even counting all the minutes in international games. He’s 32, but really, how much longer can he keep at this? He’s not the same LeBron who led the league in Win Shares five straight years. The last of those was 2013.
Speaking of LeBron, 67.4 percent from the line? Wait, what?
JR Smith is a liability at this point, having hit on only 35.1 percent of his threes while taking 76.1 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and being assisted on 95.8 percent of the ones he did make. That is how .034 WS/48 happens. He’s 31. It’s only going to get worse for him.
On the other hand, did you know that Tristan Thompson led the league in Offensive Rating in 2016 and came fourth in that stat in 2017? Then again, when an offensive stat’s top three are DeAndre Jordan, Otto Porter, and Rudy Gobert, one must seriously question the validity of it, at least the way Basketball Reference calculates it.
But hey, they’ve got Kyle Korver (45.1 percent on threes), they’ve got Jae Crowder (.463/.398/.811 and a lockdown mentality on defense), and if his hip ever heals, Thomas might just be worth something after posting .234 WS/48 last year in a genuine “I had him fifth on my MVP ballot” season.
And yes, D-Wade is still a competent NBA player even if his superstar days are long behind him. He’s a plus defender, but he just posted his lowest PER since his rookie year, his worst-ever True Shooting percentage, career-lows in assist percentage, offensive Win Shares, and VORP, and a WS/48 number (.090) that was barely half his career mark (.179) in Miami. And he’s not getting any younger.
It’s a jumble. But really, it could be a lot worse.
Here’s your bottom line. Cleveland has All-Star and borderline All-Star players surrounding a guy who was third on my same MVP list last year and stands second behind only MJ on the list of the greatest players of all time.
This is not the horror show that Bron had around him in 2007. It is a better team, at least on paper and if everyone stays healthy, than any Bron’s had yet in Cleveland since coming home (yes, I’m that down on the New Kevin Love’s role.)
Boston has Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Al Horford, and they’re coached by Brad Stevens. They’re the heir apparent to the East.
But even though I see them as finishing second or even third if Milwaukee makes the leap, the Cavs aren’t dead yet.
This one’s still Confirmed. These guys have the tools to make their fourth straight Finals.