The NBA regular season is drawing closer. And this means that we’ll finally get to see if the Cleveland Cavaliers’ re-tooled lineup is an improvement on last year’s team.
The Cavs have more all-around talent than they did last season after adding Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder through trades, and signing Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade in the offseason. Cleveland had to give up All-Start point guard Kyrie Irving in the trade, but they still have a larger quantity of good players.
Will the Cavs truly be better than last year, when they finished runner-up to the Golden State Warriors? Or will their rotation be worse? I’m betting on the latter, and I’ll explain why below by looking at the Cavaliers’ starting lineup.
Cleveland Cavs 2017 Projected Starting Lineup
Point Guard: Derrick Rose (Isaiah Thomas injured)
Derrick Rose was the NBA MVP in 2011. Back in these days, he had the athleticism of Russell Westbrook and played with a relentless style that nobody could match. Rose was also a solid defender who could hang with most point guards.
Several knee injuries later, Rose isn’t this same player. I’m not saying that Rose is bad because he averaged 18 PPG for the dysfunctional New York Knicks last season. But a large part of his dominant offensive game relied on athleticism. He’s still athletic, but Rose doesn’t possess the same world-class quickness he once had.
New York was slightly better with Rose on the floor vs. when he was on the bench. However, they still got outscored by 3.9 points per 100 possessions with him in the lineup.
Another problem is that Rose is a bad 3-point shooter. In fact, he was absolutely terrible last season, hitting 21.7% from beyond the arc. Thomas will be an upgrade shooting-wise when he can overcome his hip injury.
Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade
Dwyane Wade is one of the top five shooting guards in NBA history. He’s won three titles and is a 12-time All-Star. But like Rose, Wade isn’t the same player that he once was either,
Chicago was 2.5 points worse per 100 possessions when Wade was on the floor. He also used 29.3% of the Bulls’ possessions when he was in the lineup. This doesn’t bode well for a team that sees LeBron James handle the ball heavily.
Small Forward: LeBron James
Despite having the league’s worst shooting backcourt, the Cavs are still favored to win the East in our GTBets futures. But how is this the case?
Lebron James. He’s arguably the best basketball player ever, depending upon if you favor him or Michael Jordan. LeBron averaged a triple-double against the Warriors’ elite defense in the Finals last year, showing that he’s still at the top of his game.
The good news about King James is that he’s able to adapt to players around him. He’s made worse players look good, and he’s also excelled with high-usage players like Wade and Irving. However, the difficult thing this season will be that both Rose and Wade will be in the lineup next to James
Power Forward: Jae Crowder
With Thomas sidelined for the next few months, Crowder is the most important part of the Celtics trade right now. He’s a very solid all-around player who averaged 14.6 PPG and shot 37.3% from three-point range last season. Additionally, Crowder is also one of the best defenders at the forward position too.
Yet another good thing about Crowder is that he’s versatile enough to play either forward spot. This is why the Cavs feel confident enough in starting the 6’6″ player at power forward so that James can play his natural point forward spot
Center: Kevin Love
The strangest thing to see in the Cavs starting lineup is Kevin Love at center. Love has played center in the past, but never as the full-time starter. Meanwhile, Tristan Thompson, who started at center for the past five years, will come off the bench.
Love is a decent interior defender, but he’s certainly no shot blocker. Thompson is better suited to play center from a defensive standpoint because he can block shots. However, this move was primarily made because Love is the best three-point shooter on the team, and they need more space with Rose and Wade as starters.
How will this Starting Lineup Come Together?
I was actually quite surprised when the Cavs announced that Wade will start at shooting guard, while J.R. Smith comes off the bench. Both players can supply offense, but Smith is the better 3-point shooter, which seems important with Rose starting at the point.
Love might be the best 3-point shooting center in the league. Crowder Is also a good outside shooter for his position. However, James only seems on when his 3-point shooting is needed. And Rose and Wade are going to comprise the worst 3-point-shooting guard combo in the league.
Besides outside shooting, another problem will be Cleveland’s defense. This is something else that both Wade and Rose do poorly.
LeBron doesn’t turn up his defensive intensity until the playoffs. Love might struggle to play center on a nightly basis. Crowder will certainly help on the defensive end, but he’s only one of the five starters.
As for their overall offense, Cleveland plans to feature Love in a bigger role. And I’m assuming that the bigger role will be more three-pointers than he’s ever shot in his life. After all, he’ll be a difficult cover on the perimeter for other centers.
It’s hard to see how the other parts of this lineup fit, though, with three high-usage players. Are Crowder and Love just going to become spot-up players?
My guess is that Smith will be relied upon heavily to provide shooting and a spark off the bench. After all, he should be starting anyways at shooting guard. This brings me to another point in that both Smith and Thompson are unhappy with their demotions. Will this cause any drama?
Another question is the matter of when Thomas will be healthy. And when that happens, how long will it take the Cavs to integrate him into the starting lineup? Also, will he be the same player he was for the Celtics last year, when he averaged 29.3 points per game?
Cleveland Cavaliers 2017 Futures
Cleveland certainly has more questions than answers right now, and it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how they’ll do this season. We at GTBets have them sitting at -140 odds of winning the Eastern Conference. This is a healthy lead over the next-closest team, the Boston Celtics, who have +220 odds.
As for the championship odds, Cleveland is sitting at +350. The Golden State Warriors have the best odds at -220, And deservedly so because they bring every key player back from last year’s championship squad.
Going back to the Cavs, I see them being good enough to eke out a conference championship. However, they’re not even going to be anywhere close to the Warriors – or any other team that could upset Golden State in the Western Conference Finals (i.e. Rockets or Spurs).