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2015-16 NBA Preview: LeBron And The Cavs Could Win 60 Games

We’re inaugurating our NBA player projection system, CARMELO, with 2015-16 season previews for every team in the league. Check out the teams we’ve already previewed here. Learn more about CARMELO here.


From mid-January until about halfway through the NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers had the best record in basketball, going on a 48-12 run of dominance. Then it all came crashing down with a three-game losing streak that ended their championship chase and started a summer of discontent. The only question that matters for this Cavs team is whether that bad taste can fuel them to a title this season, or if we’ll look back and realize that injuries ruined the Cavs’ best chance in Year One of their Big Three era. During the 2015-16 regular season at least, FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO model expects the Cavs to go 59-23.

carmelo_depth_chart_CAVALIERS

And here’s what CARMELO expects from Cleveland’s main players:

lebron-james

CARMELO tags LeBron James as an “MVP candidate,” an apt label for the consensus pick for most valuable in this year’s NBA.com GM survey. But a far more interesting part of James’s chart is his comps. CARMELO’s algorithm thinks LeBron is most like former teammate Dwyane Wade in 2012-13, Wade’s third season alongside James. The rest of his top 10 comp list is just as fascinating, both for who is included — a contemporary rival (Kobe Bryant), one of his idols (Scottie Pippen) and arguably two of the five best players ever (Magic Johnson and Larry Bird) — as it is for who is not (the G.O.A.T. himself, Michael Jordan).1


kyrie-irving

While CARMELO lists Kyrie Irving’s No. 1 comp as David “Skywalker” Thompson, a notoriously high-flying player, Irving makes his bones below the rim. (Perhaps the link speaks to explosive scoring ability: Thompson once scored 73 points in a game and Irving had those 55- and 57-point outbursts a year ago.) Another area in which the Cavs hope CARMELO is confused is his defensive plus-minus, which is projected to decline this season despite the defensive strides he made with last season’s Cavs team.


kevin-love

Everyone knows Kevin Love for his rebounding aptitude, but the blue dots on his CARMELO card speak to the other areas of the game in which Love excels: scoring, shooting efficiently, drawing fouls and — in an underrated facet of his game — rarely turning the ball over. Even Love’s defense, long maligned by observers, draws a slightly above-average grade according to CARMELO’s plus-minus metric. The Cavs mounted a Finals run without him, but it would be a mistake to think he isn’t crucial to their hopes of a return trip.


jr-smith

There’s a perhaps-not-so-coincidental thread running through five of J.R. Smith’s top 10 comparables: Byron Scott, Kerry Kittles, Rick Fox, Dennis Scott and Stephen Jackson all played in the Finals during their careers. Smith is looking to make it two trips in a row — though another commonality among most of his comps was a tendency to decline quickly once hitting the wrong side of 30. The Cavs have a decent amount of depth on the wing, but they still need Smith to buck historical trends for another year or two (and a playoff run like Smith’s last year would be a stroke of great fortune).


timofey-mozgov

The man they call “Mozzy” most likely peaked last season, according to CARMELO. If true, that will make things interesting when he becomes a free agent in the summer of 2016 and starts looking for big money. In the meantime, Mozgov will likely grade well once again in the duties you want performed by a role-playing big man: rebounding, blocking shots, playing tough D, finishing with efficiency and drawing fouls.


tristan-thompson

Cavs general manager David Griffin might want to use CARMELO’s comps for Tristan Thompson in his next round of negotiations with Rich Paul — there aren’t many max-money-type players in that group. (That will have to be in five years, as Thompson signed a long-term contract worth $82 million last week.) For now, though, Thompson offers a lot of the same statistical strengths — and weaknesses — as Mozgov: good rebounding, foul-drawing and shooting efficiency, but a low usage rate and next to no assists or steals.


iman-shumpert

Iman Shumpert is lauded for his defensive intensity and athleticism, but CARMELO highlights a handful of categories clearly holding the shooting guard back on offense. Namely, his shooting efficiency is weak, he doesn’t draw fouls, he turns the ball over a bit too much and he isn’t much of a scorer. Shumpert’s defensive metrics live up to his reputation, but that just fuels the algorithm’s comparisons to other hard-nosed, defense-first guards such as T.R. Dunn and Thabo Sefolosha. Those players have their charms, but Shumpert has quite a few offensive hurdles to clear to take the next step as an all-around player.


Read more:
All our NBA player projections
All our 2015-16 NBA Previews

Footnotes

  1. Jordan would rank high on LeBron’s comp list if not for that stint as a minor league baseball player.

Dave McMenamin covers the Cleveland Cavaliers for ESPN.

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