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NBA Preview Tier Five: The Favorites

It is officially fall. The advent of fall brings many things: the changing of leaves, Halloween, school starting, pumpkin spice lattes, and most importantly, the NBA. The new season will start on October 17., so Double G Sports is here to provide the comprehensive preview you need to prepare you to watch and follow your favorite teams and prepare you for any upcoming fantasy drafts. This is it! We already covered rebuilding teams, the playoff contendersthe upstarts, and the contenders. We finish our preview with a look at the Favorites.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving, but still find themselves seated atop the Eastern Conference while the King continues to reign supreme over every other team. LeBron James has been to seven straight NBA finals. It is a safe bet that he makes it eight this season.

The Cavs’ regular season numbers do not reflect the team’s ability. Last year, they won 51 games and had an average point differential of 3.2. While still impressive, it puts them in the same company as the Toronto Raptors, Los Angeles Clippers, and Utah Jazz. The team that marauded through the Eastern Conference playoffs was not the same team.

In the regular season, the Cavaliers averaged 110 points a game but ratcheted that up to 116 in the playoffs. They went from allowing just over 107 points a game to allowing 108 in the playoffs. Cleveland was an offensive juggernaut in the playoffs and shot 42 percent from downtown. The team that appeared in April was different from the one the rest of the year.

The Cavs are also a different team now with Kyrie Irving in Boston. They added Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to their rotation. Ante Zizic should soak up some bench minutes as well. In addition, the Cavs also added Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade in free agency. Last but not least, Cedi Osman is coming over to the NBA this season and will be a fringe rotation player.

Thomas is going to miss a chunk of the season, so Crowder will be the biggest contributor in the beginning. He will be relied upon to space the floor as a small ball power forward and be a lockdown defender. Crowder is probably overrated in both facets. He is a solid player but was 14th in defensive Real Plus Minus among small forwards last year. He was 60th in defensive win shares. There is noise in these numbers but Crowder has slipped on that end.

As a shooter, it will be interesting to see Crowder play outside of Coach Brad Stevens system in Boston. His shooting numbers in Boston were career highs. He shot nearly 40 percent on 5.5 shots from deep last season. That is well above his career 34.6 percent shooting. He will have open looks in Cleveland with LeBron passing him the ball but he will need to knock them down to keep himself on the floor.

Once Thomas returns, the Cavaliers will have a crowded backcourt with Rose, Wade, Iman Shumpert, and JR Smith. Thomas will be a key contributor for the Cavaliers if they hope to return to the NBA Finals. Smith and Thomas are the two elite shooters of that group. Wade and Rose have not been able to space the floor throughout their career and will need to in order to play alongside LeBron.

Kevin Love is also moving to center for this team, which should alleviate some of the spacing concerns that could arise from the backcourt. It will also present a new set of challenges defensively for a team that did not play well on that end in either the regular season or the postseason. Playing Love at the five ahead of Tristan Thompson is a clear offense/defense swap loosens the Cavs’ spacing with Rose and Wade starting alongside LeBron and Crowder.

Ultimately, LeBron is the catalyst for Cleveland and remains king of the NBA. The Cavaliers have tremendous depth and players regularly play better with James given the attention defenses pay him. That will not change this season. Coach Tyronn Lue will need to juggle his rotations to keep shooting around James. James cannot lead the league in minutes again. On a team this deep, Lue needs to manage his minutes. The bottom line is that Cavaliers are playing for June basketball and they look ready to be there again.

1. Golden State Warriors

The  other team ready June is the Warriors who have locked this spot up by virtue of their dominance. Their two titles in three years actually understate the chokehold the Warriors have had on the league. They have the most wins over a three year span in history. The one year they failed to win it all, they set the single season wins record and were one Steph Curry three and a Draymond Green suspension away from another title. The scary part for the rest of the league is that the Warriors are just starting their dynasty.

The most terrifying number for 29 NBA teams is 28. 28 is the average age of the four Golden State all-stars. Yes, Andre Iguodala is 33 years old and probably in the twilight of his career. Yes, they rely on aging veterans like David West, Zaza Pachulia, and Shaun Livingston. It does not matter. The Warriors have at least four hall of famers in the prime of their careers. That never happens. The 1962-1963 Boston Celtics had nine hall of famers. However, there were only nine teams and a number of those players were not even all-stars. Boston’s 1986 team had five but Bill Walton was 33, Robert Parish was 32, and the back issues had already begun for Larry Bird.

These Warriors have a chance to seize the mantle of the best NBA team of all time. They are in the midst of the most dominant run in NBA history and have their key players just hitting their primes. Kevin Durant and Steph Curry are 29 and have the profile of players who could play well into their 30’s effectively. Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are both 27 and could still be improving. Many folks around the Warriors felt like it took the team more than half the season to gel. Looking at the schedule, the team’s best stretch was from March-June. They effortlessly won 67 games and then did not lose a game against a Western Conference opponent. How much better can they be?

The greatness of Golden State is easier to understand through the prism of the Cavaliers. The Cavs have three potential hall of fame players in their primes on their own team, including a cinch top three player. That team managed one game against the Durant led Warriors last year in the finals. Those Cavaliers are likely better than the Heat teams that James led to four consecutive finals and two titles. Although Cleveland lacks a star at the level of Dwyane Wade, they have significantly better depth and shooting. Then again, it is easy to forget how good they are when the Warriors are swatting them like a bothersome fly.

Despite a brutal Western Conference overflowing with talent, the Warriors are one of the safest bets in recent memory. Last year they led the league in offensive and defensive efficiency. In the offseason, they likely improved their team by adding Omri Casspi and Nick Young in free agency and retaining every major free agent except Ian Clark. In the draft, they poached the Bulls pick without giving up any players and got a player some compare to Draymond Green.

Expect the Warriors to be better this year and end up closer to 70 wins in the toughest Western Conference in recent memory. Likewise, do not expect the Larry O’Brien to be anywhere but back in the bay come next year.

 

 

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