June 15, 2018, 1:29 pm
The Cavs rocked the NBA with a huge trade in the offseason and then shook things up again at the deadline as their assembled talent just wasn’t fitting in. A brief honeymoon period gave way to more mediocrity but Cleveland made their way to the Finals again anyway. LeBron, man.
The Cavs were bested by the new-look Warriors. It happens. It was expected, even.
What was unexpected, however, was the growing discontent of Kyrie Irving, who was sick of living in LeBron’s shadow. He grew distant from his teammates during the postseason and decided it was time to make it on his own, requesting a trade and dismantling what was supposed to be the conference’s titan for years to come.
Cleveland relented when Irving said he wouldn’t show up to training camp, sending Uncle Drew to Boston in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the coveted Nets pick. At the time it was considered a decent haul for a team with no leverage, though concerns about Thomas’ hip overshadowed things a bit. In addition to this overhaul, the Cavs also decided to add Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Jeff Green in free agency – because if you want to contend with the Warriors, you need lots of guys who can’t shoot.
Wade’s presence seem to shake J.R. Smith in a bad way, and he ended up turning in a poor season that will forever be remembered for a brutal mistake in the Finals. Rose was injured and then took some time away from the team to contemplate his future in basketball. Crowder flopped, Tristan Thompson got hurt and Thomas’ hip problems were worse than originally thought. IT missed the first 36 games of the year and was dropped right into a tumultuous season where Cleveland’s defensive woes left them outside of the East’s top tier. Simply put, nothing was working outside of LeBron and Kevin Love.
Even then there were issues, as players questioned Love’s toughness in a meeting after he left a game with a reported illness and didn’t return. If the reports are true and Wade or Thomas led the charge, that would’ve been pretty rich coming from a player who gets tons of maintenance days or a guy who missed most of the year.
The Cavs decided to shake things up further at the deadline, sending Wade back to Miami, Crowder and Rose to Utah and Iman Shumpert to Sacramento for Rodney Hood and George Hill in a three-team deal and Thomas and Channing Frye (plus a first-round pick) to the Lakers for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. The Cavs had completely overhauled their roster twice within a matter of months.
After a brief honeymoon phase the Cavs crashed back down to Earth. Love broke his hand, Thompson wasn’t the same upon returning, Hood struggled mightily and Hill couldn’t round into form like the team had hoped. Their defense was still atrocious and outside of James, the Cavs were looking to Kyle Korver, Green and Jose Calderon to provide some steadying play. There was a stretch where it looked like Cleveland would be in a dance for the seventh or eighth seed but they were able to rip off a tidy win streak when Love returned and wound up finishing fourth.
That gave them a first-round date with the Pacers, who gave them all they could handle in a seven-game nailbiter. Things got a bit easier in the second round as LeBron’s mastery plus some timely hot streaks from Korver and Green led to a sweep of the Raptors. Boston and Brad Stevens provided a much tougher challenge in the Conference Finals, pushing the Cavs to seven games. LeBron remained his transcendent self and led the Cavs to a road win in the final game, a contest that Kevin Love missed because of a concussion. Still, with James needing to totally empty the tank to best a Boston team without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, there was an ominous sense of inevitability about Cleveland’s future.
They were no match for Golden State, as expected. Cleveland very nearly stole Game 1 behind 51-8-8 from LeBron but J.R. Smith forgot the score in the closing seconds and frittered away a glorious chance to win the game at the buzzer. James punched a whiteboard in the locker room after overtime ended and suffered a deep bone contusion in his right hand. While he played through it to great effect, the Cavs were mincemeat for Curry and co.
Despite all the turnover, we ended up right where we left off last season – Cleveland and Golden State for the title with more evidence that LeBron, for all of his greatness, can’t do it by himself.
It was a trying year for everyone in the organization, Ty Lue included. It’s not easy to get everyone to fit alongside LeBron James, but Lue was tasked with integrating two entirely new supporting casts in one season. It’s a tough ask for any combination of coach and player, let alone those who join a team that is notoriously light on practice days.
Lue also battled his own personal health issues and needed to take some time away from the team to get right. It just added another layer of complexity to a hectic season for the Cavs, though Lue was able to return for the postseason and did a nice job getting them through the first two rounds. He was outclassed by Brad Stevens in round three but he can join a full club in that regard. There were some more issues that popped up in the Finals, especially with Lue’s rotation, but it’s pretty tough to argue that unleashing Rodney Hood earlier would’ve made a serious difference in the end result.
There were some other questionable calls throughout the year, but again, nothing you could point to as the cause of Cleveland’s troubles. Lue was a little slow to yank J.R. Smith from the starting five towards the end of the year. He decided that a starting backcourt of Wade and Rose was a good idea, at least for a few games to begin the year. The Cavs said that opening up minutes for Cedi Osman was one of the reasons for trading Wade but Osman saw less time as the year dwindled down. Lue wasn’t handed many good options but it’s doubtful that the Cavs won anything at the margins.
Stylistically, the Cavs looked pretty similar to the 2016-17 version. Great 3-point output and a low-ish assist percentage. The big difference is that their defense plummeted from being mediocre to outright terrible. 29th in Defensive Rating, only-better-than-Phoenix terrible. A lot of that has more to do with personnel than Lue himself, but it’ll be interesting to see if he can make a team more than the sum of its parts if LeBron James departs in free agency. To this point he’s come off as more of an ego-manager and a guy that the players respect than a tactician. Lue has already said he intends to return next season, so we might soon find out where his other coaching talents lie.
ADP: 6/8 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 2/3 (8/9 cat) | Per-Game Value: 5/6 (8/9 cat) | Games Played: 82
2017-18 averages: 82 G | 82 GS | 36.9 MP | 27.5 PTS | 1.8 3PM | 8.6 REB | 9.1 AST | 1.4 STL | 0.9 BLK | 4.2 TOV | .542 FG% | .731 FT% |
After months of hearty statistical analysis, we can confirm that LeBron is pretty good. We’ll keep it on the shorter side.
James, in his 15th season, played all 82 games for the first time in his career while leading the league in total minutes as well as minutes per game. He established a new career-high in 3-pointers per game while hitting 54.2 percent of his shots on 19.3 attempts a night. Of the 36 players who attempted 15.0 or more shots per game, nobody shot better than Bron. The only other players above .500 were Anthony Davis (.534), Giannis Antetokounmpo (.529), Kevin Durant (.516) and LaMarcus Aldridge (.510). He ranked third in assists per game and 20th in rebounds per game. James ranked sixth in the league in usage. All of this was at age 33 in a season where his supporting cast was weakened, flipped at the deadline and then completely exposed to end the season.
The King now controls the entire offseason as every team would be willing to move heaven and earth to sign him if he indicated even minimal interest. He’ll remain an elite fantasy option no matter where he lands but the key to his top-3 finish this season was playing in all 82 – something that’s not likely to persist regardless of his landing spot. James was only pressed into every game because the Cavs simply couldn’t have held up without him, and there were precious few games they could spare with their seeding totally up in the air. Even if James gets some rest days, however, he’s a surefire first-round stud.
ADP: 39/35 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 63/51 (8/9 cat) | Per-Game Value: 38/29 (8/9 cat) | Games Played: 59
2017-18 averages: 59 G | 59 GS | 28.0 MP | 17.6 PTS | 2.3 3PM | 9.3 REB | 1.7 AST | 0.7 STL | 0.4 BLK | 1.5 TOV | .458 FG% | .880 FT% |
Love had a good thing going this season, operating as the clear-cut No. 2 with Kyrie Irving out of the picture and Isaiah Thomas on the shelf. He also came into the year as the starting center as the Cavs tried to spread the floor and space things out a little more than they have in the past. Working closer to the hoop didn’t affect his 3-point output much at all and his efficiency jumped from .427 in 2016-17 to .458 this year, the highest since Love went .470 from the floor back in 2010-11 with the Wolves. He did lose some rebounds, steals and points but that has more to do with a decline in playing time (about 3.5 minutes per game) more than anything else.
Unfortunately for Love, injuries kept him from a full season yet again. He played in 47 of the first 48, missing just one contest with a sore hip before things went off the rails. Love fractured his hand at the end of January and sat out 20 straight games, returning in mid-March to help the Cavs lock down a playoff spot after they were flirting with the edges of the playoff picture. He would miss two more games: one with a concussion and another with a “sore hip” on the last night of the year, but the problems persisted in the postseason as he sustained another concussion. It was serious enough to keep him out of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals and the fact that he’s sustained three concussions in the last two seasons is cause for concern. Love has played in only 119 games over the last two seasons.
Like the rest of the Cavs, it’s tough to project Love’s future right now since everything hinges on LeBron’s decision. It’s already being reported that the team is willing to trade him if it can yield players that LeBron would like to play with and you can bet that they’ll move him for futures if James skips town in free agency. Still, Love has proven himself an early-round fantasy option even with two elite players at his side. He’ll be a nightly 20 & 10 threat with solid triples and modest turnovers in any uniform as long as he stays healthy – that’s the real key.
ADP: 86/80 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 158/158 (8/9 cat) | Per-Game Value: 156/150 (8/9 cat) | Games Played: 67
2017-18 averages: 67 G | 60 GS | 27.0 MP | 10.0 PTS | 1.3 3PM | 2.7 REB | 2.8 AST | 0.9 STL | 0.4 BLK | 1.1 TOV | .460 FG% | .786 FT% |
Hill faced a disappointing market in free agency despite coming off a strong year in Utah, settling on a three-year deal with the Kings to help steer their youngsters in the right direction. Unfortunately, that meant splitting time with De’Aaron Fox and others that resulted in some of the lowest output in his career in terms of playing time, scoring and assists. A mid-season trade to Cleveland was supposed to be the jolt his season needed, but things only got worse despite his shooting and defensive abilities making for nice theoretical fit as the new starting point guard for the Cavs.
His percentages fell in a big way after the trade, as Hill shot .444 overall and just .351 from deep as a Cavalier. He did miss four games with a sprained ankle and dealt with back issues in the postseason in addition to a smattering of absences in Sacramento, but there wasn’t any major health issue holding him back. Expect the Cavs to try and find more of a playmaker to hold things down in the backcourt, though Hill still has a place as a productive NBA player.
From a broad perspective, it seems unlikely that Hill will play this poorly next season but there are some valid arguments that he might. On the wrong side of 30, it is possible that he’s already begun his decline phase, and the fact that his contract features just $1 million guaranteed for 2019-20 means that he could go through another mid-year deal to disrupt his rhythm. There’s plenty of outcomes on the board for Hill but the best case looks a little like what he was doing in Sacramento, albeit in more minutes – take open shots, run the offense and take some tough defensive assignments on the perimeter. That’s unlikely to yield anything more than late-round value, but there’s a lot of balls in the air here. His acquisition cost will be low barring a surprise landing in a perfect situation.
ADP: 140/136 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 164/142 (8/9 cat) | Per-Game Value: 189/159 (8/9 cat) | Games Played: 73
2017-18 averages: 73 G | 4 GS | 21.6 MP | 9.2 PTS | 2.2 3PM | 2.3 REB | 1.2 AST | 0.4 STL | 0.4 BLK | 0.8 TOV | .459 FG% | .889 FT% |
In a season full of turmoil, Korver was one source of consistency for the Cavs. The sharpshooter flying around screens for perfect passes from LeBron James can seem unfair at times, at while Korver did struggle mightily in the Finals for the second consecutive year it’s safe to say that his performance is pretty far down Cleveland’s list of issues overall. He had a few stretches of legitimate standard league value but is, as you’d expect, a 3-point specialist at his core.
He did miss a little bit of time this season with foot soreness but most of his absences came after the tragic passing of his brother.
Korver doesn’t seem likely to climb any higher than this next year unless the Cavs can find a way to retain LeBron James without adding substantially on the wing. If the team needs to rebuild, Korver and his cheap deal make for a great trade chip. If he’s not moved, it’s unlikely that he’d play more than some younger options. If nothing else, you can bank on Korver for some triples on nice percentages.
ADP: 99/134 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 170/167 (8/9 cat) | Per-Game Value: 233/224 (8/9 cat) | Games Played: 80
2017-18 averages: 80 G | 61 GS | 28.1 MP | 8.3 PTS | 1.8 3PM | 2.9 REB | 1.8 AST | 0.9 STL | 0.1 BLK | 1.0 TOV | .403 FG% | .696 FT% |
Smith’s season will be defined by his inconceivable gaffe in Game 1 of the Finals but it was a poor year all around. In his defense, he did have to bounce between roles as the Cavs tried to jam square pegs into round holes to begin the year. Smith was moved to the bench in favor of Dwyane Wade early in the year and had to contend with new backcourt players like Derrick Rose and Isaiah Thomas (when they were healthy). Even when he did get a long string of starts in the middle of the year he didn’t do much with them and was mercifully relegated to the bench for the season’s final month.
Smith dipped below 2.0 threes per game for the first time since 2012-13, and while his field goal percentage improved by six percentage points it was still brutal at just a shade over 40 percent. He posted the second-lowest scoring output of his career and saw his steals slip below 1.0 per contest. Smith’s only shot at value is threes and swipes, and he’s trending the wrong way in both categories. All of the roster turnover around him didn’t help, but ultimately Smith’s poor campaign rests with him. He’s not someone to monitor outside of deeper leagues.
ADP: 104/118 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 291/286 (8/9 cat) | Per-Game Value: 313/307 (8/9 cat) | Games Played: 53
2017-18 averages: 53 G | 22 GS | 20.2 MP | 5.8 PTS | 0.0 3PM | 6.6 REB | 0.6 AST | 0.3 STL | 0.3 BLK | 0.7 TOV | .562 FG% | .544 FT% |
Thompson got absolutely shredded this year from all possible angles. He put together a career-worst season with career-lows in all the counting stats besides rebounds, played less than ever and was dogged by both injury problems and off-court transgressions. He’s being played out of many matchups as more teams have grown to embrace the pace-and-space ideology, and the Cavs will probably look to get out from under his ugly contract this offseason.
A left calf strain cost Thompson 20 games this year, with 19 of those coming consecutively. He’d go on to miss nine more in March with a sprained right ankle. It didn’t really derail his season, however, as Thompson was already moved to the bench in favor of a Kevin Love/Jae Crowder combination and only re-entered the starting five when Ty Lue was grasping at straws or Love was injured.
It used to be the case that TT could make hay as a rebounding specialist who’d give you a strong field goal percentage and an occasional block. It’s the ultimate in boring long-term fantasy value but at least it was something. Unless he gets locked in as the starting center and can move back towards 28 minutes per game, there’s nothing to see here.
Larry Nance Jr.
ADP: N/A / 146 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 131/96 (8/9 cat) | Per-Game Value: 112/86 (8/9 cat) | Games Played: 66
2017-18 averages: 66 G | 27 GS | 21.5 MP | 8.7 PTS | 0.2 3PM | 6.8 REB | 1.2 AST | 1.3 STL | 0.6 BLK | 0.8 TOV | .581 FG% | .664 FT% |
Nance is a nice fit for the modern game thanks to boundless energy and excellent athleticism at the power forward spot. His inclusion in the Thomas deal was a nice piece of business for the Cavs and a necessary sacrifice for the Lakers, who couldn’t yank Nance’s minutes away on merit but needed to open up time for their higher-profile prospects.
While he appeared on the injury report with a number of ailments, only two were significant enough to actually put him on the sidelines: a broken thumb (11 games) and a strained hamstring (four games). It speaks to his toughness, and the way Nance plays will always make him a coach’s favorite.
He’s been a solid late-round selection for the last two seasons now because that hustle translates to defensive stats and rebounds on an excellent mark from the field. Nance’s offensive game isn’t anything special, but when all you do is throw down dunks or clean up trash around the rim you won’t need a ton of tools in the box. It’s being reported that the Cavs want to work out an extension here, and if that comes to pass and the team deals either Thompson or Love then Nance will be one of the better sleeper options available. If he approached 30 mpg then 2.5 defensive stats per game would be very much on the table.
ADP: 114/115 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 177/169 (8/9 cat) | Per-Game Value: 149/131 (8/9 cat) | Games Played: 60
2017-18 averages: 60 G | 23 GS | 26.9 MP | 14.7 PTS | 2.1 3PM | 2.8 REB | 1.6 AST | 0.8 STL | 0.2 BLK | 1.2 TOV | 44.6 FG% | 877 FT% |
It certainly didn’t feel like it, but 2017-18 might have been the best of Hood’s young career. He established new career-highs in scoring, threes and field goal percentage and would’ve really done some damage had he not been traded from Utah at the deadline. His numbers with the Jazz were even better at 16.8 points and 2.6 triples per game but Hood fell to 10.8 and 1.2 respectively upon joining the Cavs despite only losing two minutes per night.
It wasn’t a season without its challenges, however – challenges that extended well beyond Hood struggling with a mid-season relocation. He was listed as a starter on opening night but ended up coming off the bench as gastrointestinal problems got the best of him just before tip. He’d miss two games in October with a strained left calf and then seven more from late November to early December with a sore left ankle. A lower left leg contusion cost him six more in February before being traded to Cleveland, where he’d go on to miss five games in a six-game stretch because of back soreness as well as the final two games of the year with a sore left Achilles. On top of all that, Hood was in the doghouse in the postseason after refusing to come in for garbage time in Game 4 against the Raptors.
While the statistical production was there for half the year, he seemed a bit lost in the woods after the trade. Some of that surely stems from the two post-trade injuries as well as the massive adjustment period that all the Cavs faced with so many new faces in the building. A lot of it stems from a massive dip in usage from a career-high 27.3 this year with the Jazz to a career-low 18.3 in Cleveland. The playoff incident surely won’t help his stock heading into restricted free agency, but teams should still be willing to look his way as a 3-point shooter and decent two-way player. Where he ends up will determine his fantasy value, but Hood has been a capable top-125 option in the past. Hopefully he gets himself sorted out.
ADP: 118/129 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 123/137 (8/9 cat) | Per-Game Value: 175/186 (8/9 cat) | Games Played: 81
2017-18 averages: 81 G | 2 GS | 23.3 MP | 13.9 PTS | 1.4 3PM | 2.7 REB | 2.7 AST | 0.7 STL | 0.1 BLK | 1.6 TOV | .451 FG% | .810 FT% |
Clarkson continued to be a low-end fantasy option this season, splitting his time between the Lakers and Cavs. It was actually quite a feat considering his counting stats stayed mostly stable despite his playing time dropping from 29.2 mpg in 2016-17 to just 23.3 mpg this year. He lost less than a point per game and just three tenths of a rebound while holding steady in threes and getting a minor bump in assists. He still got roughly the same number of shots up as well, which should surprise no one.
The Finals (and playoffs in general) were very unkind to Clarkson, as the rest of the league got to see his flawed game exposed on a grand stage. He’s got $26 million headed his way over the next two years so he’s going to be in the mix for better or worse. If the Cavs rebuild, Clarkson could easily emerge from the wreckage with a starting spot in the backcourt. He was a top-120 player as a full-time starter back in 2015-16, so while his efficiency will continue to hurt it’s entirely possible that Clarkson becomes a nice pick in the late rounds.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 153/132 (8/9 cat) | Per-Game Value: 191/173 (8/9 cat) | Games Played: 78
2017-18 averages: 78 G | 13 GS | 23.4 MP | 10.8 PTS | 0.7 3PM | 3.2 REB | 1.3 AST | 0.5 STL | 0.4 BLK | 1.0 TOV | .477 FG% | .868 FT% |
Green was brought in to give the Cavs a wing defender with some length, and he did a decent job at filling his role when he wasn’t asked to overextend on offense. Of course, the Cavs asked him to start at center for a few games in a lineup that had the usual rebounding issues of small-ball group without the benefit of added shooting. Who could’ve guessed? It wasn’t all bad, as Green had a few explosive scoring nights and some sneaky all-around lines when he got minutes in the thirties, but most of his value came from staying healthy and consistent. He missed three games with back soreness and another with an illness.
A veteran who came in on the cheap to help the win-now Cavs lengthen their bench, odds seem long that Green will return next year. His defensive versatility will get him some offers but he can’t stretch the floor enough to be a viable big-minute option over long stretches.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 339/340 (8/9 cat) | Per-Game Value: 415/417 (8/9 cat) | Games Played: 61
2017-18 averages: 61 G | 12 GS | 11.0 MP | 3.9 PTS | 0.5 3PM | 2.0 REB | 0.7 AST | 0.4 STL | 0.3 BLK | 0.5 TOV | .484 FG% | .565 FT% |
Osman made for a nice addition to the Cavs, providing them some modest two-way play on the wings in his rookie campaign. He was plugged into the starting lineup for the month of February and produced averages of 8.6 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.7 steals and 1.2 triples in 21.5 minutes per game while shooting .536 from the floor. A sore hip cost Osman two weeks in mid-March but he was already losing playing time after being removed from the starting five anyway. He doesn’t look to have much in the way of a big stat set but if the Cavs can’t retain LeBron and enter a rebuild, Osman seems like one of the players who could benefit the most.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 286/281 (8/9 cat) | Per-Game Value: 333/327 (8/9 cat) | Games Played: 57
2017-18 averages: 57 G | 32 GS | 16.0 MP | 4.5 PTS | 0.8 3PM | 1.5 REB | 2.1 AST | 0.5 STL | 0.0 BLK | 0.7 TOV | .503 FG% | .800 FT% |
The late stages of Calderon’s career have been built upon his smarts and shooting touch. As such, it’s no surprise that he wound up playing a larger role than expected for a Cavs team that simply needed sharpshooters to rotate properly and end up in the right spots around the arc – since most of the other guys couldn’t, you know, do that. Calderon can’t defend a lick but neither could the rest of the Cavs (he at least tried, which is better than most can say), and they also had a 23-9 record with him as a starter. He was clearly doing something to get the team performing at a higher level than usual. On a team full of players who seemed to have no idea of what their limitations are, the heady Jose stuck out like a sore thumb. Unfortunately, Calderon never played enough to be more than a streaming option for players in need of assists and triples. That doesn’t figure to change going forward as he’s firmly in the ‘veteran presence’ portion of his NBA journey.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 383/377 (8/9 cat) | Per-Game Value: 402/383 (8/9 cat) | Games Played: 32
2017-18 averages: 32 G | 2 GS | 6.7 MP | 3.7 PTS | 0.0 3PM | 1.9 REB | 0.2 AST | 0.1 STL | 0.4 BLK | 0.3 TOV | .731 FG% | .724 FT% |
Zizic came over from the Celtics in the Irving deal but didn’t get much playing time as a rookie. He handled some excess work when Tristan Thompson was sidelined but wasn’t much to write home about outside of garbage time specials. If the Cavs can convince someone to take TT’s contract off their hands then Zizic might have some deep league boards and blocks appeal, as his per-minute stats would indicate, but otherwise he’s only a dynasty stash.
As is typical for Cleveland, everything depends on LeBron. If they think they can get him to stay then no personnel moves are off the board. Kevin Love and the No. 8 pick would be moved if they can get the high-IQ pieces that The King would like. It’ll be a tough sell to management, however, who have gotten no inkling one way or the other about LeBron’s desire to stay. How can they risk moving their top assets to appease a player who might not stick around anyway? If he does head for greener pastures, Love will remain on the block as the Cavs look to start their rebuild.
There may not be another team with such a wide variety of outcomes this offseason, but that’s what happens when the best player on the planet wants to entertain the league’s free agent offers. No matter what, the Cavs need to begin stocking the cupboard with smarter, more athletic options. LeBron or otherwise, it looks like this current group is outside of the league’s truly elite tier and may soon be facing serious competition in their own conference for the first time in years.