No Ring for the Cavs
The new look Cleveland Cavaliers will not with a championship
Structured the way they are, I just don’t see it happening.
The why is simple:
How do you win a title when two out of your best three players don’t play defense?
It seems the media has anointed the Cavaliers as champs of the East, and many are saying they are the best team in the NBA. Has everyone forgotten what the Spurs just did to a supposedly elite defensive team in the Heat?
Incidentally, is there a top-tier professional team that gets less attention than the Spurs? They trounced the Heat in five games, enjoyed a week in the limelight, and then the spotlight shifted to LeBron's and Carmelo's free agency. However, I’ll bet that’s just the way Greg Popovich and GM RC Buford want it. What external pressure do they really have if no one is talking about them?
As to Cleveland, when Kyrie Irving isn't being coached by Mike Krzyzewski, he plays the worst defense in the league this side of James Harden when he isn't being coached by Mike Krzyzewski. Kevin Love certainly plays better than Irving, but he’s far from a world-beater. LeBron is LeBron. Obviously, he’s one of the league’s best defenders and certainly the league’s most versatile. And it’s worth noting that Love’s significant addition to Irving on offense will give LeBron more freedom to ratchet up the defensive pressure where he sees fit.
Are the Cavaliers really the Eastern Division favorite? Maybe. That'll depend on Derek Rose and his ability to gel with the Bulls, who have played nearly all of the last two seasons without him. Until the Paul George injury, it would have been entirely possible -- if not probable -- that the Cavs would ultimately end up the East’s third-best team.
Due to the weakness of the East -- which seems to be improving, albeit slowly -- Cleveland could certainly make the NBA Finals. But lets take a look at the West for a second.
Put the Cavs in the West, and I honestly believe they're no better than the No 4 team behind the Spurs, Thunder, and Clippers. This is a trio that plays both ways exceedingly well. In my book, that makes the Cavs the fifth-best team in the NBA.
So, why has an overwhelming majority of the media picked Cleveland as the unquestioned team to beat in the East? Kevin Love. For whatever reason, he's being over-rated by a significant margin.
Love is an extremely gifted offensive player and rebounder. He consistently has the ability to be among the league’s leaders in offensive boards and offensive rebounding rate when he isn’t taking too many threes. I'll get back to that in a second.
It’s easy to pick apart a player's game when you really put them under the microscope, but there are parts of Love's game that are being glossed over at the moment.
The first is obviously defense, which is hard to rate except by the eye test. During the last few years, Love has been paired with 285-pound Russian center Nikola Pekovic, who by the way, likes meat. Pek’s strength and nature as a player -- he's never attempted a trey -- allowed Love to float as a shooter on offense and stay out of the paint on defense, wherethose pesky fouls seem to lie in wait.
Now, I’m not ready to entirely denounce Love as a defender, but to say he could do a lot more is an understatement. Maybe when paired with LeBron -- put on a high-caliber team -- Love ratchets up the intensity and makes himself an above average defender. But maybe not. Maybe the Cavs allow 100 points per game, which would've put them 13th in the NBA last year.
The second-biggest issue I see is Love's three-point shooting. There's a myth out there that he's solid behind the arc. Let me debunk that immediately. Love's capable. He can hit it. But the trey is more like a shot he has in his bag as opposed to something he should be known for. At 37.6% last year, Love was 61st in the NBA from out there. 61st. Take a look at that list in the link for a moment. He’s tied with Steve Blake, Evan Fournier and Darren Collison.
Are Steve Blake, Evan Fournier and Darren Collison great long-range bombers? How about LeBron James? Is he great? Because LeBron sits five spots higher at 56th in the league last year at 37.9%.
These players can launch from time to time, and on a given game, they can be very good. That’s still not the problem I have with Kevin Love shooting threes. My issue is how many he took last year. Love shot 6.6 treys per game. Know who else shot 6.6 per game? Klay Thompson. He happened to hit on 41.7% of them.
Still, if you’re a guard shooting around 37% on threes, it’s not crazy to think of shooting 5 or 6 per game. But what about when you might be the best rebounder in that game? Love still managed to average 12.6 boards per, which makes all of this feel a lot like nitpicking, but really, how many more would he bring down if he only shot 4 or 5 threes a game?
Follow his 3PA per game and his offensive rebounds per game, and it’s no surprise his lowest total brought in was this past season, when he attempted the most treys per game of his entire career.
It’s possible Love will be less of a three-point shooter in the Cavs' offense. In Minnesota, he was the main man. That wont be the case in Cleveland. However, at 35% last year, Irving wasn’t a world beater from behind the arc, either. Much like the Heat were with LeBron, Cleveland should try and rely on ancillary veterans for their long-range production.
Again, all of this is nitpicking, but when you join LeBron and the media anoints your team as kings of the East -- and possibly the NBA -- that comes with the territory.
I don’t see the Cavaliers winning a championship with Love, Irving, and LeBron as the core unless they surround themselves with stud defenders. Maybe they’ll make a fool of me, but I won’t be shocked when the Wizards upset the Cavs in the second round of the playoffs. Or if Chicago beats them down in the Eastern Conference Finals, assuming Derrick Rose doesn’t have his legs amputated for whatever injury is coming next.
James, of course, is used to the pressure of being a favorite. It'll be new to Irving and Love. I'm thinking too new.