Coach: Mike Brown
2008-09 Record: 66-16
Pythagorean Record for 08-09: 65-17
Offensive Rating: 112.4 (4th in the league)
Defensive Rating: 102.4 (3rd)
Possessions per 48: 88.7 (25th)
|Offensive||51.9 (4th)||.125 (6th)||.277 (14th)||.236 (15th)|
|Defensive||46.8 (2nd)||.135 (10th)||.746 (9th)||.226 (11th)|
Roster (Red indicates new acquisition, Blue indicates rookie) Click to enlarge
Lets just get this out of the way. LeBron is the best player in the game. There is nothing I can say about him that hasn’t already been said. He’s a point guard’s floor vision with a shooting guard’s quickness and a small forward’s versatility all wrapped up in a power forward’s body. He’s Magic Johnson crossed with Karl Malone, Chuck Norris crossed with Jesus…ok, maybe that last one was a bit much.
I really liked this team’s offseason moves. Everyone knows about Shaq, but they really improved on the wings by acquiring Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon. Moon, in particular, is a great pickup. He’s kind of like a poor man’s Shawn Marion, with his ability to finish and defend. Because of his size and athleticism, he should be especially valuable against Orlando and Rashard Lewis, who killed the Cavs last year. Since Cleveland relied on Sasha Pavlovic and Wally Szczerbiak as backup wings last year, this is a pretty huge improvement.
The other significant pickup (we’ll get to Shaq later) was widely overlooked, and that was signing Leon Powe for the minimum. Now, Powe probably won’t play for the first half of the season, and we don’t know if he’ll fully recover this season. However, if he does recover to play like he has the last two years, he’s one of the best frontcourt reserves in the league. He’s undersized, but he’s strong and seeks out contact with abandon. He drew fouls on 27.8% of his shot attempts which, if he’d played enough to qualify, would’ve put him 2nd in the league, behind only Dwight Howard. That ability to draw fouls and get easy points separates him from your average energy guy off the bench.
Anderson Varejao doesn’t get enough credit for what a good defender he is. Sure, his offense is laughable when he does anything other than catch and finish, but that’s not why he’s on the floor. He’s very mobile for a 6′11 guy, and that helps make him one of the league’s best pick-and-roll defenders. He’s also an excellent post defender, partly due to the charge-drawing/flopping, and partly because he’s got very quick hands which he uses to poke the ball ahead from behind. He’s not a dominant shot blocker, but there aren’t many big men who are as good defensively.
You think Mo Williams likes playing with LeBron? Without constantly having to create his own shot, Williams’ turnover rate dropped, and his three-point percentage jumped 5%. In case you were wondering, no, he’s not an All-Star caliber player, but he is a very strong supporting player. He’s a great fit for this team because he can operate as a spot-up shooter and second option when LeBron is in, but he can also create for himself if necessary, which means the Cavs don’t completely fall apart when LeBron leaves the floor.
X-Factor: Shaquille O’Neal – Could it be anyone else? Now, Shaq is going to be an improvement regardless. He’s replacing Ben Wallace, who was sort of terrible last year, so if Shaq is even remotely close to as good as he was last year, he’ll be a massive improvement. He was, surprisingly, outstanding last year, playing his best ball since 05-06. What we don’t know is if he’ll stay healthy without the magical Phoenix training staff. If he does stay healthy, he gives the Cavs a dominant low post option, and a more effective counter to Dwight Howard. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not an upgrade against the pick-and-roll, but a lot of the problems Cleveland had with the Magic last year were because Big Z just wasn’t strong enough to keep Howard from establishing deep position. There’s always some risk involved in dealing with Shaq, but he’s looking for another title, and I don’t see him being a problem off the court. On the court, he gives them the physical post presence they lacked last year, and splitting time with Ilgauskas should help keep both of them fresh.
It’s do or die time in Cleveland. With LeBron only one short season away from free agency, the agenda is clear. Title or bust, anything less than an NBA Championship is a failure for these guys. Dan Gilbert and Danny Ferry have spared no expense to prove to King James that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to win titles in Cleveland. I, for one, think it’s going to work. This was the best team in the league during the regular season, and they actually were able to significantly improve their roster this offseason. Most improtantly, there’s LeBron. After last year, all bets are off as to what he might do. He’s a mind-boggling physical force, and he continues to improve his game in meaningful ways every offseason. There’s simply no one like him, and despite the improvement of the East, I think he breaks through this time.
1st in the East – The Big Three
BallerBlogger contributing writer ‘xphoenix87′ is a college student who dreams of one day writing about sports for a living. Since that’s not gonna happen, he’ll do this instead.