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2017 NBA Season Preview Series: Cleveland Cavaliers


I am upset online.

2016-17 Season Highlights

Look I knew this day would come. With how the Celtics offseason has gone there are like half a dozen teams that are a little tough to talk about. But nothing even comes close to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not, the Cavs are the favorites in the East until proven otherwise, I don’t really care what any other team did during the summer. I don’t want that to be true, and maybe you don’t either, but those are the facts. Now there are several potential challengers for that top spot in the East, but you know the rules, to be the King you have to beat the King.

However, Cavs fans, you are in denial if you tell me you don’t have even the slightest bit of concern. Sure you’ve made three straight Finals, but making the Finals isn’t really the goal for this team is it? The goal is to win the whole damn thing, and can we say that today, September 25th, that the Cavs are closer to beating the Warriors than they were last summer? Let’s examine

Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 9.15.49 AM

That right there boys and girl(s), is the most expensive roster in the NBA. More than GS, more than OKC, more than WSH. If you remember, their roster last year had all sorts of problems with GS, mainly their bench. Trading valuable assets for Korver, Williams etc proved to not work out. Instead of cutting their losses and moving on, they reinvested in Kyle Korver, they brought back Richard Jefferson and the NBA corpses of Jeff Green, Jose Caleron and Derrick Rose. Is this supposed to scare the Warriors? Sure they all took veteran minimum deals, but isn’t the idea to get closer to GS so that Lebron doesn’t leave? Now there are rumblings that they want to sign Wade too? Well to do that they are going to have to cut one of these guaranteed contracts, but even then does that make any sort of difference?

This is what’s interesting about the Cavs situation. They are clearly in the drivers seat to the Finals every year once Lebron decides it’s time to go full basketball alien on everybody, but still couldn’t beat GS without a nice Draymond dick kick. If Lebron is focused on winning titles, how many more runs is he going to give this group before he decides to go elsewhere? Could this be it?

I suppose now would be a good time to mention you know, the biggest part of the Cavs offseason. The trade. Isaiah, Jae, Ante and the BKN pick are now part of the Celtics former arch rival (can’t be a current rival if you can’t beat em, sorry but it’s true). Obviously losing Kyrie hurts if you’re a Cavs fan, but take it from someone who knows, you will love all the pieces of this trade. All those Finals minutes the Cavs had to give Richard Jefferson? Those can now go to a much younger and better Jae Crowder. That BKN pick? You’re either set for if Lebron leaves with an absolute stud, or if Lebron decides he wants to flip that pick for someone really good at the trade deadline, you have that option as well. Knowing the Celtics luck, Ante Zizic is going to actually become a player. Or at least someone who can play back up center for stretches.

And then, there’s Isaiah.

Look it’s simple. This entire trade from the CLE perspective comes down to what type of Isaiah they are going to get. As we get closer to the season I don’t think any of us have a concrete timeline as to when he’ll be ready to suit up and what percent he’ll be. At the end of the day though, if you’re a Cavs fan, you only really care about the second half of the year/playoffs right? As a result, let’s look at both sides.

Let’s say Isaiah is back by the AS break and is 100% healthy. From a health standpoint, he is the same Isaiah we saw dominate the NBA last year. If that’s the case, watch the fuck out. I get that in trading Kyrie, you may think you are losing a lot, but if you haven’t watch a lot of Isaiah play, let me tell you, that based on how the Cavs play, Isaiah can more than fill that role, as well as bring a different dynamic to it. I keep going back to a blog I wrote when this trade first happened

I get it, Kyrie is younger than Isaiah, but that’s about the only advantage he has. Let me ask you something, if you were tasked with trying to tell someone what Kyrie does better than Isaiah, what would you say? You’d probably lead off with that he’s a better scorer. Well

– Kyrie Irving: 25.2 ppg 19.7 FGA 47/43% splits 58% True shooting% 7.4 offensive win shares

– Isaiah Thomas: 28.9 ppg 19.4 FGA 46/38% splits 62% True shooting% 10.9 offensive win shares

You see, this claim that Kyrie Irving is an upgrade offensively from Isaiah Thomas simply isn’t true. Yes, he shoots at a higher clip, he also has MUCH better teammates creating more open looks. Isaiah has better production on fewer shots. Not debatable.

But then you might say, well, Kyrie is a much better isolation player than Isaiah. Again..

– Kyrie Irving in ISO: 1.12 points per possession 47% FG% 11.7 FT frequency 49.6% Score frequency

– Isaiah Thomas in ISO: 1.12 points per possession 45% FG% 20.8% FT frequency 51.7% Score frequency

So you see, not even here is Kyrie an upgrade over Isaiah. They score the same amount per iso possession, only Isaiah gets to the line nearly twice as often in these situations. Looking at this, even Kyrie’s biggest offensive advantage over people is basically exactly what Isaiah is giving you, only a little worse.

His clutch scoring though! Kyrie hit that big shot in the Finals, so he must be a better clutch time performer than Isaiah!

– Kyrie Irving clutch stats: 110 pts 39.8% FG% 22% 3P% 44% eFG% 83 FGA

– Isaiah Thomas clutch stats: 223 pts (2nd in NBA) 47.8% FG% 40% 3p% 55% eFG% 134 FGA

Outside of Russell Westbrook, there was not a better clutch time performer than Isaiah last season. A player who found himself in these situations much more frequently, never saw a dip in his clutch time production. So no, Kyrie Irving is not an update over Isaiah in clutch spots

Well….what about defense! Kyrie isn’t 5’9!!

– Kyrie Irving defense: 1.5 defensive win shares 112 defensive rating 49.9% opponent FG%

– Isaiah Thomas defense: 1.6 defensive win shares 112 defensive rating 45.5% opponent FG%

For Celtics fans, this trade is more about what Kyrie can blossom into over the next 3-5 years, for the Cavs, they need that Kyrie level production NOW. They don’t have that same sort of timeline to wait and see what happens. The good news is, that level is exactly what an healthy Isaiah Thomas gives them. This doesn’t mean there aren’t questions with Isaiah and CLE after this season, will they pay him? If he helps win them a ring, does this entice Lebron to stay? Just know CLE fans, you are getting a player that fits exactly what you loved about Kyrie. Crazy finishing at the rim, big time shot making ability in big time spots, fourth quarter scoring, isolation scoring, it’s all there.

Now, the other side of the coin is what if Isaiah isn’t the same? What if he only turns out to be 75% of what he was before injury? In that case, I smell trouble. Trouble from the sense that not only will they not beat GS, but Lebron is probably on his way out as well. The Cavs had to move Kyrie, they in return got valuable pieces and a top 5 MVP player last year. If I’m them I tell Isaiah don’t even think about rushing back, the Cavs haven’t cared about the regular season in like 4 years. It doesn’t matter if they are a 1 seed, or a 2 or 3. Just make the dance and then let Lebron be Lebron.

Which is why it’s silly to talk about how this team can improve during the regular season, so instead let’s focus on some adjustments they should make once the playoffs start. First and foremost, the Cavs need to ban Iman Shumpert from shooting. Institute a $1,000 fine for every shot that isn’t a layup or dunk or something, because the facts are, he killed them. In last year’s Finals he was a stellar 4-17 (2-9 from deep), and overall for the playoffs had 41/38% splits. When you think about it, the Cavs have a lot of the same problems the Wizards do when it comes to their roster. They are top heavy as shit, and once it’s time to go to the bench they got nothing. Korver turned back into a pumpkin (41/39%), and of their second unit players 6-9, not one of them shot over 44%. With the starters it was almost the exact opposite. Aside from Love and his 43/45% splits, not one starter shot under 46% (Kyrie). In fact, Lebron (56%), Thompson (58%), and JR SMITH (50/50%) were all at least 50% from the field! I think it’s fair to say their bench held them back, and was a major reason they could not beat GS.

The good news is, this year CLE’s bench is going to have more reps heading into the playoffs, and have the benefit of being there the entire year as opposed to a trade deadline deal giving them only a few months to figure out how to play together, how to play with Lebron, and TLue’s system. Like I said, if you can inject a healthy Isaiah come February or something, that is quite the addition.

As I’m sure any person who watches this team will tell you, as long as they have Lebron the Cavs have a chance, but that doesn’t mean they are perfect. For example, any time the Cavs want to get back to playing defense would probably help. Take last year’s playoffs, only Lebron (108), and Love (107) had a Drtg under 112. Kyrie (115), Thompson (113), Smith (115), Shumpert (112) etc all had pretty horrific defensive efforts. The Cavs finished 20th in opponents points and 28th in opponents turnovers during the year, and gave up the 4th most points per game in the playoffs once those started (108.3). The year the won the title? They had the second stingiest defense giving up only 95.0 points per game. That year, not one starter had a Drtg over 108. If the Cavs want to get past GS, they HAVE to get back to playing respectable defense. At some point, when does Lue start to feel the heat for this? The Cavs defense has gotten worse each year he’s been there, and if not for an insane Lebron block and insane Kyrie shot, they’d be losers of three straight Finals.

The 2017 Cavs season, much like their previous few, is going to be filled with intrigue. The storyline of Lebron’s potential FA, Isaiah’s health and then FA, are going to follow this team all year. Every little road block they encounter, every little bench fight, it’s all going to be blown out of proportion. It’s what we as fans do. At the end of the day though, chances are this team is still representing the East in the Finals. What happens next is anyone’s guess (jk GS is going to smash them and Lebron is going to leave and all will be right with the world).

Official Greenie Prediction: 50 wins