The Cleveland Cavaliers have had their share of off-season drama. Cleveland has won the Eastern Conference the last three seasons under the leadership of LeBron James, and this year should be no different. Even with Kyrie Irving traded away, this team’s expectations are championship-or-bust yet again. It will take time for new faces to gel on the current roster, though. Here is the 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers season preview.
Countdown to NBA Tip-Off: Cleveland Cavaliers Season Preview
What Worked Last Season
Last season, this Cavs team was all about offense. They ranked fourth in points per game and third in offensive rating, per nba.com. Cleveland heavily relied on making the three ball, as they were second in both three pointers made and attempted. That was in large part due to penetration by James, and his crisp passing was on point in most instances. The “King” had the highest assist average of his career (per Basketball Reference), with 8.7 helpers per game.
This allowed his supporting cast to get the ball in their sweet spots on the floor. Irving and Deron Williams were solid playmakers that contributed to those open looks from three as well. Paced by midseason acquisition Kyle Korver‘s 48.5 percent from three, the Cavs had nine players who shot at least 36 percent from deep. That was the main reason they got to the NBA Finals for a third straight season.
Mixed in with that perimeter shooting was the isolation success of Irving and James. Cleveland was the most effective team in isolation offense last season, according to Synergy.
In addition to their offensive production, the Cavaliers got some key hustle plays from big man Tristan Thompson and great rebounding from stretch big Kevin Love. Those two were the key cogs on the glass, along with James, who had his highest rebounding average per game. Defensively, however, it was a different story last season.
What Needs Improvement
Unfortunately, the “D” in Cleveland was not exactly fitting. The Cavs had the worst defensive rating in the regular season of teams who made the playoffs, per nba.com. They ended the regular season with too many losses after the All-Star break, and that was because they couldn’t get stops consistently.
Opponents were able to penetrate into the teeth of the defense too easily, and rotations were often too late both in the paint and closing out to the perimeter. The Cavaliers squandered too many leads throughout the season.
A small part of the reason for defensive problems was injuries, such as perimeter defender J.R. Smith, who missed half of the regular season. Smith’s injury caused Iman Shumpert to play more as a result, and he had a down year on both ends of the floor.
In addition, with the Cavs being an older team, they had issues with younger teams running them and putting constant pressure on the defense. Players like Channing Frye, Williams, and Korver often got worked on the defensive end consistently. Both Irving and James seemed to take breaks at times on D, too, understandably.
Offensively, James and Irving got burnt out at times in both the regular season and in the NBA Finals from having such a high usage. With the Cavs acquiring point guard Isaiah Thomas and wing Jae Crowder in the trade for Irving to go with veteran Derrick Rose, there should be a bit more balance and a fresher James. Love should be more of a threat in the post this next season, too, to counter his outside shooting ability.
Thomas will eventually fill the starting point guard role when he’s healthy, which will be a while from now, according to The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd. He was incredible last season, leading the Celtics to the first-seed in the Eastern Conference. He was third in the NBA in scoring and second in offensive win shares, per Basketball Reference.
In the meantime, it will be likely Rose running the point alongside James. He had a resurgent season for the New York Knicks in 2016-17 with 18.0 points and 4.4 assists per game.
He also had his highest field goal percentage since the 2009-10 season, when he made his first All-Star appearance. If he can stay healthy, he could be a valuable piece for Cleveland in replacing Williams.
Veteran Jose Calderon will play the point at times with Thomas sidelined, too. His contributions will likely be minimal.
Unlike an aging Calderon, Crowder will provide great value on both ends of the floor. He is a player who can guard multiple positions in the playoffs, bring toughness, and knock down threes at a high clip. Crowder shot 39.8 percent from deep last year.
Veteran combo forward Jeff Green should add some frontcourt depth for the Cavs, too. His career has not lived up to expectations, but Green could be effective in a no-pressure role on the best team in the Eastern Conference.
Cleveland could definitely use his athleticism defensively (like Crowder) to take the pressure off of James. Lineups with Green and 2015 draft-day trade acquisition Cedi Osman will be predicated on defensive pressure and getting fast break buckets.
The 22-year old prospect could bring youthful energy and some three-point shooting to the Cavs bench at times during the season. Just like his new teammate Ante Zizic (who was the third Boston player included in the Irving trade), Osman will take time to develop in the coming years. Both of these players could eventually be a more valuable end of rotation project pieces than James Jones, who retired this off-season, however.
This season, the Cavs will have some issues early on. With Thomas sidelined, and a roster full of players with many miles on them, it will be tough. Since James’ return to Cleveland, the regular season has not been a priority, though.
I don’t see the Cavaliers chasing playoff home-court advantage. Guys will sit at times, and in particular James and Korver. The Cavs are never competent in games LeBron James misses, either. Things will be a work in progress for a few months.
Will Rose stay healthy? Will the defense improve with new pieces? Are more trades on the horizon? These are all relative unknowns.
That being said, the Cavs still have the best player in the world in James. That alone will get them to around 48 wins in the regular season. I’ll say the Celtics beat them out for the one-seed. However, Cleveland gets to the championship again.
The Golden State Warriors will then defeat them in six games. What happens in the following off-season is unfortunately very uncertain. Next year will be a fun one, nonetheless.