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Monday, November 22, 2010

Cavaliers Surprise "Experts"

Why would someone predict that the Cleveland Cavaliers will only win 12 games this season? The simple (and correct) answer is that the yahoo who said that is an idiot but there are some deeper issues worth exploring.

The Cavaliers posted the best record in the NBA in 2008-09 (66-16) and 2009-10 (61-21). LeBron James won the regular season MVP in both of those seasons and he clearly had a lot to do with Cleveland's success but an MVP level player is worth between 15 and 25 wins, not 50 wins. If the Cavs had lost James but made no other changes then it would have been reasonable to predict that the Cavs would win 45-50 games in 2010-11. Keep in mind that in both of the previous seasons the Cavs coasted to the finish line because they had already clinched the top playoff seed; otherwise, the Cavs could easily have added to their 2009 and 2010 win totals.

Saying that the Cavs will plummet from the league's elite to flirting with the all-time record for single-season losses is simply not rational--and yet it makes perfect sense from a certain perspective: namely, if you are biased enough to believe (based on "advanced statistics" and/or personal preference) that LeBron James is not just an MVP level player but that he is far superior to Kobe Bryant then it is only natural to suggest that James' departure from Cleveland to team up with Dwyane Wade (another player who the "stat gurus" consistently rate ahead of Bryant) will not only turn the Miami Heat into an unbeatable juggernaut but also instantly transform the Cavs into the equivalent of an expansion team. This is the same kind of "logic" that led some people to declare that if Bryant and James had switched teams the past two seasons James would have carried the Lakers to 70-plus wins while Bryant's Cavs would not have matched the records that they posted with James leading the way; that is just nonsense but I will focus on James and the Heat in an upcoming article.

Many people apparently anticipated using this season as some kind of referendum on James' greatness and on how much the Cavs depended on James but those people have chosen poorly for two reasons. One, anyone who really understands basketball knows that the Cavs' success was not linked solely to James: the Cavs had a deep and well balanced roster that Coach Mike Brown honed into one of the top defensive and rebounding units in the league. Two, in addition to losing James the Cavs also lost their top two centers (Shaquille O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas), the player who led the team in minutes played during the 2009 playoffs (Delonte West) and Coach Brown. The Cavs are a much different team this season, so whether they win 50 games or 15 does not really "prove" how much or how little the 2009 and 2010 Cavs depended on James to post the league's best regular season record; however, if the main holdovers from last year's team (Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, Anderson Varejao, Anthony Parker, J.J. Hickson and Daniel Gibson) lead the team to the playoffs sans James that will certainly lend credence to what I have consistently said regarding the quality of the Cavs' depth last season.

Despite the fact that former All-Stars Williams and Jamison have missed multiple games due to injuries, the Cavs currently rank eighth in the Eastern Conference, exactly where I predicted that they would finish. Obviously, the season is young and there is no guarantee that the Cavs will maintain that position but it is extremely unlikely that they will finish with anything close to 12 wins; I expect that they will be better in the second half of the season than they are now because their key players will presumably get healthier and the entire roster will become more familiar with Coach Byron Scott's system.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:57 AM



At Monday, November 22, 2010 4:39:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I agree with everything you've said here, David.

I'm consistently talking to people who insist that the Cavs are bound to finish in the cellar of the Eastern conference this year, in spite of the fact that they've remained in the top half of the Eastern teams and have been competitive in their outings thus far.

Lebron James is an incredible talent, but nobody is good enough to tack an extra 50 wins onto a team. Kobe Bryant certainly isn't, and Michael Jordan wasn't. Shaq in his lone MVP season is the closest I've seen in my lifetime to someone being that dominant, and he certainly wasn't worth 50 extra wins.

Either way, Jamison is getting long in the tooth, and Williams has been given too much credit as a player in the past few years. But while they're not what you'd want to build your team around, nobody who has ever made the all-star team has been a bad player. The Cavs good enough to compete out East, where the talent pool is pretty weak outside of the top 4 teams.

At Monday, November 22, 2010 5:27:00 AM, Anonymous Pat said...

I hope I am correct in assuming that you are talking about Kelly Dwyer's season preview on yahoo when you refer to the 12 win prediction. I think it's worth pointing out that his reasoning is that the Cavs will decide to rebuild and both Williams and Jamison will be traded, thus weakening the team. Under that assumption, I think it is valid to think that the Cavs will win a low number of games, although 12 is much too low for my tastes.

Even then, you bring up a good point. A 12 win prediction shows that there probably is still some truth in thinking that too much credit has been given to lebron for the Cavs success.

Love your work, thanks!

At Monday, November 22, 2010 1:54:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Any objective, intelligent observer should be able to see that the Cavs have enough talent and depth to contend for a playoff spot in the East; that is why I can state with confidence that a person who suggests that the Cavs will turn out to be one of the worst teams in league history is an idiot and/or is harboring extreme biases that cloud his judgment.

I agree that one would not choose to build a team around Jamison and Williams (for a variety of reasons) but well coached teams with two former All-Stars plus a host of solid role players do not generally go 12-70 (barring injuries, which can bring down any team).

At Monday, November 22, 2010 2:03:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Jamison and Williams will be productive players this season (barring injuries) but their contracts (and Jamison's age) will probably make it difficult to trade them (assuming that the Cavaliers even want to do so).

Whatever the publicly explained "logic" is behind saying that the Cavs will only win 12 games the reality is that such a prediction is idiotic; there is no rational reason to believe that the Cavs will go from being the best (regular season) team in the league to being one of the worst teams in the history of the NBA. The only way that would happen is if several of the team's players miss significant time due to injuries--but that kind of catastrophe could befall any team and it is not valid to assume that a team will be devastated by such injuries before the season begins (unless we are talking about a hypothetical team comprised of 12 Greg Odens).

At Monday, November 22, 2010 7:23:00 PM, Anonymous JackF said...

the cavs(from last year) are a better team than this current miami team. Again they aren't more talented than this miami team but that Cavs team was a more complete team. It had less weaknesses than this Miami Team meaning it had a higher chance of winning an NBA title. Think about it, If lebron played a little harder in that series, there is no doubt that they would have made it to the finals and considering that they matched up well against the lakers, who knows what would happen.
Its amazing to me how Lebron is already trying to blame coach Spoelstra for him playing too minutes. What did he think? All those three players 4/5 of the salary cap, there isn't any money left to sign quality players that can fill the roster and give them rest during a game at the same time.

On People saying Pau Gasol is best player on the Lakers: While Pau Gasol is playing really well right now, its a stretch for people to say he's the best player on the Lakers or better yet the league(yes I'm looking at You kelly dwyer). don't know how these people are allowed to write about Basketball. I've seen Pau allowing players he matched up against to look like wilt chamberlain(even Darko). Pau is still a soft player, its just that Andrew being able to play center has kinda shield him from that criticism.

At Monday, November 22, 2010 8:33:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How would you compare the Cavs this season to the Heat a few seasons ago when they plummeted to the league's cellar after winning the championship?

I think Haslem's injury almost guarantees that the Heat will not finish with a better record than the Cavs last year. While Wade is a better player than Haslem, LeBron basically duplicates his skill set, while they do not have anyone to replace Haslem. What do you think?

At Tuesday, November 23, 2010 5:40:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack F:

I have repeatedly said that it would not surprise me if in 10 years we look back and see that LeBron's best chance to win an NBA title was in 2010 with the Cavs. You are right that the Cavs matched up very well with the Lakers; they embarrassed the Lakers in L.A. on national television last season.

A few years ago, Dave Berri said that Bynum was more valuable than Kobe. Even Berri can't say that right now with Bynum on the shelf, so naturally the "stat gurus" latch on to Gasol. Gasol is an excellent player but many people do not seem to understand just how much he has benefited from no longer having to carry the burden of being the man. Just like Lamar Odom is best suited to being a third or fourth option, Gasol is best suited to being a (very good) second option. Gasol has increased his mental and physical strength since becoming a Laker but he is not even close to being the best player on the Lakers.

At Tuesday, November 23, 2010 5:50:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I was not convinced that the Heat were going to win more games than last year's Cavs even before Haslem got hurt.

The Heat went from winning a title in 2006 to going out in the first round in 2007 to winning just 15 games in 2008. In 2008, Dwyane Wade played in 51 games, Udonis Haslem played in 49 games and Shaquille O'Neal played in just 33 games--but even considering the injuries that those two players suffered the Heat still should not have been that bad: during one stretch they went 2-26 even with Wade in the lineup and they were just 10-41 overall with him. Something just was not right with the Heat after they won the title and then they completely collapsed in 2008. I don't expect the 2011 Cavs to suffer a similar fate.


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