Cleveland’s Underrated Big Three
*Photo via Bleacher Report
From January 15th of 2015 and on, the Cleveland Cavaliers became an elite team. They finished the rest of the season 34-9 – which over a full season would equate to 65 wins, just two shy of the Golden State Warriors incredible 2014-15 season. The Cavs took off because of the play of their big three, as LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love are as dynamic of a group that exists in the NBA today.
James, already one of the best players to play in league history, has basically invented a new position with his ability to bring the ball up the court, post up, and still remain an absolute terror on the fast break. His numbers were “down” last season, as he averaged just 25.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game and finishing a “lowly” 3rd in MVP voting – let’s be honest, he is probably the MVP every time he steps on the court. On his own, LeBron gives the Cavs a great chance to make it to the NBA Finals every year.
Irving is one of those players where his stats don’t do him justice. Sure, his 57 points versus San Antonio in March were incredible, but he is still so different than traditional point guards. His 5.2 assists may seem low but you have to factor in how much James dominates the ball on offense.
Irving is also a tremendous finisher at the rim. His running, twirling, and spinning shots with either hand, are a thing of beauty. On top of that, his spot-up shooting meshes with James passing ability perfectly – Irving shot 25.8 percent from downtown in December and then 48.5 percent in January. Irving is 23 years old, can finish at the rim, shoot the long ball, and should only get even better. Uncle Drew is Cleveland’s clear number two.
*Photo via USA Today
Kevin Love had his issues during his first year in Cleveland; his numbers were down across the board, going from 26.1 points and 12.5 rebounds in Minnesota, to 16.4 points and 9.7 rebounds in the Land. While his overall numbers were not as good as they were previously, other parts of his game were just as good as advertised. Love’s post up numbers were still strong averaging 0.98 points per post up, which was second best in the entire league.
The thing is, Love’s numbers should be down, he’s on a better team and does not have to carry the entire load anymore. He has never come close to playing with players as talented as LeBron and Kyrie, it’s going to be an adjustment and take time. With Love locked in long-term (five years and 110 million), expect to see a big improvement in his game next season.
These three players are not the normal “big three” of a guard, wing, and center. They are all multi-positional and capable of creating mismatches all over the floor, which gives Cleveland’s offense the capability to be historically good.
For the 2015-16 season, Cleveland is the prohibitive favorite in the East and certainly has the ability to get to 60+ wins. I would expect everyone on the team to be more comfortable playing with each other after adjusting to nearly their entire roster being shuffled last season. The supporting cast has improved significantly, with full seasons of Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and the growth of Tristan Thompson – double-double monster in the playoffs, 4.4 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes is incredible. Cleveland also added Richard Jefferson who shot a quiet 43% from three last year, and brought back Mo Williams. This is certainly an elite team capable of winning a championship – try not to faint Cleveland – thanks to their “big three”.
*Stats and contract information courtesy of Basketball Reference, ESPN, and NBA.com