• In many ways, the 2015-16 season felt like it belonged to the Warriors.  Their efforts to catch Jordan’s Bulls dominated news cycle after news cycle, as the organization planted its flag in the “best team ever” conversation.  This narrative, however, neglected to mention the reigning Eastern Conference Champions who were hoping to return to the Finals as well.  In the end, the Dubs were undone by LeBron James and his own quest for recognition.  After two years of hard fought growth in Cleveland, the King brought the Cavs back from a 3-1 Finals deficit to spoil Golden State’s chance at history.  Hoop Ball’s Post-Mortem series takes a look at what happened in Cleveland.

    OVERVIEW

    The Cavs kept the band together after losing to the Warriors in the 2014-15 Finals.  LeBron continued with the team on another 1+1 contract, they resigned Kevin Love to a max deal and retained Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Matthew Dellavedova.  The team brought in veterans Mo Williams and Richard Jefferson to round out their roster and set their eyes on again reigning over the East.

    The journey wasn’t altogether smooth, however.  Despite quickly assuming the top spot in the conference, unrest continued.  Stories chronicling frustrations between the players and head coach David Blatt became more and more prevalent, and eventually the organization opted to fire him on January 22.  In his place, the Cavs elevated assistant coach (and longtime LeBron confidant) Tyronn Lue.

    On the court not much changed under Lue.  The Cavs were fourth in offensive efficiency and tenth on the defensive end, finishing 57-25 and securing the number one seed in the conference entering the playoffs.  As had been the case the season before, the team was emphatically the best in the East, but looked overmatched compared to their rivals out West.

    Aside from a few mental lapses that prolonged the Eastern Conference Finals against Toronto, the Cavs coasted to the Finals.  Once there things seemingly began to fall apart for LeBron and his merry men, as they quickly fell behind 3-1 to the Warriors, getting blown out twice in Oakland and dropping a critical game four back in Cleveland.  No team had ever came back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals.

    We all know the rest: LeBron played the best three game stretch of his career and carried the Cavs to a title.  The Cavs’ defense came alive thanks to LeBron’s rim protection and willingness to switch onto Steph Curry.  Kyrie Irving found his shot just when the team needed him most, and Kevin Love – frequently maligned as a superstar turned contract albatross – provided critical rebounding, screening and passing in the Cavs’ Game 7 upset at Oracle Arena.

    The future for the Cavs is less clear.  They seem content to retain the majority of their current core, and no major threat formed in the East during free agency.  Their path to the Finals is as clear as ever.  The Warriors, on the other hand, reloaded and look poised to take back their crown.  The Cavs will enter the season as the rare defending champions who will not be the most scrutinized team in the league, but their ability to repeat is very much in doubt.

    COACHING

    It’s hard to decipher the specific impact of Blatt or Lue on this Cavs’ season.  Blatt’s basic principles – simplified during the 2014-15 playoffs – remained in place even after he was fired, and while Lue made some critical postseason adjustments his ability to coach an NBA franchise is still very much unclear.

    That said, players did seem to respond to Lue, and their defensive intensity during the Finals was nothing short of remarkable.  Next season, Lue will again be charged with finding a balance between his two ball dominant players and better utilizing Love.  From a fantasy perspective, it seems safe to assume that the dynamic established this season probably isn’t going anywhere.  James is the established King and Irving will get his shots, leaving only leftovers for Love.  Lue might try and shake things up, but at this point players’ roles are pretty much established.

    THE PLAYERS

    LeBron James

    ADP: 5/5 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 6/10 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 7/9 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 76

    Facing playoff elimination LeBron remains the best player in the league.  That statement isn’t controversial at this point, but for regular season fantasy owners it’s fair to note the ways in which LeBron has slipped.  He remains a first round fantasy asset, and his ability to contribute across the board remains impressive, but his days of being a top-three player are probably behind him.

    In returning to Cleveland last season LeBron’s value was drained by his decreased efficiency.  In his last two seasons in Miami he averaged 56.6% from the field, a number that would be excellent for a big man who doesn’t need to do anything on offense but dunk.  He was the single biggest contributor in that category from 2011 to 2014, but then suddenly shot just 48.8% in his first season after returning home.  That number might sound fine, but when we are talking about players at the absolute apex of fantasy hoops the slightest dip can have a sizeable impact.

    Last year, LeBron righted his shooting by bullying his way into the paint.  Despite the hundreds of stories written about James’ broken jumper he managed to shoot 52% from the floor by taking a staggering percentage of his shots at the rim.  His threes per game dropped to 1.1 as a result, but the rest of his counting stats were impressive.  LeBron averaged 25.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.6 blocks per game, making him one of a handful of players to meaningfully move the needle in nearly every fantasy category.

    Next season, we should see more of the same from LeBron.  Even as he enters his age 32 campaign he remains an absolute fantasy force, and while it may be time to consider selling LeBron in dynasty leagues he should still be considered a first round pick in any redraft format.

    Kevin Love

    ADP: 33/23 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 33/34 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 46/38 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 77

    When Love resigned with the Cavs last offseason every major sports outlet ran a story claiming that the he and the organization were finally on the same page.  Speculation abounded that Love would be seeing more touches in the post and operating with the ball at the elbow to work as a facilitator.  These plans sounded intriguing in August, but by November it was clear little had changed.  There remains only one basketball on the floor, and LeBron and Irving continued to get their touches before factoring Love into the equation.

    Love’s final numbers look almost identical to what he produced during his first season in Cleveland.  Averaging 16 points, 2.1 treys, 9.9 boards, 2.4 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.5 blocks, Love offered diverse stats for a big man.  His production in both threes and assists in particular, along with an 82.2% free throw percentage, allowed for fantasy owners to fill holes in their roster from an unexpected source.  That being said, he shot a putrid 41.8% from the floor, a number made doubly awful by the fact that it’s coming from your power forward.

    The skillset that made Love a top-5 player in Minnesota hasn’t disappeared, but situation and role are powerful fantasy factors.  As long as he remains in Cleveland, he is functionally a role player with a famous name.  If you can draft him next season as a solid stretch four, great, but let someone else talk himself or herself into the notion of a bounce back season.

    Kyrie Irving

    ADP: 38/26 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 114/123 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 52/60 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 53

    After Irving fractured his kneecap in the 2014-15 Finals he became a polarizing figure in fantasy circles.  Yes, he’d had significant injury concerns throughout his entire career, but from 2012 to 2015 Irving had finished as a top-12 player twice and a top-24 player once on a per game basis.  You knew you weren’t getting a full compliment of games from him, but it was safe to assume Irving would produce when he was on the court.

    This year things were different.  Irving didn’t return until the middle of December, and when he did he wasn’t quite himself.  He finished with averages of 19.6 points, 1.6 threes, 2.9 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.1 steals per game, noticeably slipping in threes, assists and steals.  As he recovered from his knee injury Irving was obviously lacking some of his signature quickness, struggling to finish at the rim and pull up in tight spaces.  Even setting aside the 29 games he missed, he still finished outside the top-50 on the player rater, the worst mark of his career.

    Irving is slipping to the middle of the third round in most early rankings, and, despite the concerns enumerated here, that seems about right.  He is still only 24, and injuries as severe as the one he experienced last season can take more than a full calendar year to recover.  As the third player on your team Irving offers a level of upside that’s hard to come by, and could be a steal on draft day if he returns to form.

    J.R. Smith

    ADP: 89/108 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 90/66 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 111/86 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 77

    Smith is primarily a single category contributor in Cleveland, but he does just enough across the board to warrant a starting spot in most fantasy leagues.  In 30.7 minutes he averaged 12.4 points, 2.6 threes, 2.8 boards, 1.7 assists and 1.1 steals per contest.  The threes are significant in fantasy leagues, and his ability to give you a solid source of steals helps as well.  That said, Smith’s woeful shooting takes a lot off the table.  He shot 41.6% on 11 attempts per game, which proved a significant drain on his fantasy value.

    While it isn’t official yet, Smith is expected to resign with the Cavs this offseasons and slot right back into his same role next year.  Owners shouldn’t expect more than what he’s offered since arriving in Cleveland, but Smith is a surprisingly stable fantasy asset at this point in his career.

    Tristan Thompson

    ADP: 110/127 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 111/89 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 158/126 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 82

    While Thompson’s numbers are far from spectacular, he provided enough as a rebounding specialist to remain ownable in all leagues.  Thompson averaged 7.8 points, nine rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.5 steals and 0.6 blocks.  He shot an impressive 58.8% from the field, but only took 5.1 shots per game, muting the impact of his stellar shooting percentage.  Thompson also struggled from the line, averaging just 61.6% from the stripe on three attempts per game.

    Between his free throw woes and lack of rim protection Thompson’s upside is limited in fantasy even as a starting center.  Next season should be more of the same, meaning he’ll be a late round pick for those looking to sure up their rebounding numbers.

    Matthew Dellavedova

    ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 170/188 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 198/223 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 76

    Dellavedova was critical for the Cavs but only had flashes of fantasy relevance this year, most of which occurred during Irving’s early season absence.  Averaging 24.6 minutes, 7.5 points, 2.1 boards, 4.4 assists, 0.6 steals and 1.3 threes, he didn’t offer much beyond assists and threes.  Dellavedova is penciled in to start in Milwaukee next season, and while he’ll see more minutes he will likely remain the fourth or fifth option on offense, limiting his fantasy upside.

    Channing Frye

    ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 213/196 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 243/202 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 70

    Despite playing a key role in the playoffs, Frye was little more than bench depth after being traded to the Cavs this season.  Averaging 17.1 minutes, six points, 3.3 rebounds, one assist and 1.3 threes, his only real fantasy contribution came from his ability to knock down the three ball.  Frye’s defensive limitations will keep him locked into a bench role going forward, and he isn’t worth drafting next fall.

    Iman Shumpert

    ADP: 140/127 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 243/234 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 216/206 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 54

    Between injuries and middling play Shumpert offered little to fantasy owners in 2015-16.  Averaging 24.4 minutes, 5.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.8 threes, one steal and 0.4 blocks he failed to make an impact in standard leagues.  If he can stay healthy it’s possible Shumpert is able to provide the well rounded contributions that made him a worthwhile player in 2014-15, but owners can safely monitor his early season progress while leaving him on the waiver wire.

    Timofey Mozgov

    ADP: 110/119 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 195/189 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 244/230 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 76

    Finishing inside the top-200 in total value downplays how putrid Mozgov was for fantasy purposes this season.  It’s obviously positive when a player stays consistently healthy, but on a per game basis Mozgov was unownable in almost every league.  He averaged just 17.4 minutes, 6.4 points, 4.4 boards and 0.8 blocks.  Mozgov was reportedly battling injuries all season, and should see his minutes increase in Los Angeles next year, so a bounce back season isn’t out of the question.

    Mo Williams

    ADP: 112/138 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 308/319 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 255/296 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 41

    Williams was a solid bench contributor in his 41 games for the Cavs last season, but made little impact on the fantasy landscape.  He tallied 18.2 minutes, 8.2 points, 0.9 threes, 2.4 assists and 0.3 steals per contest, while shooting 43.7% from the floor.  Williams simply doesn’t contribute enough to justify a spot on most standard league rosters.

    Richard Jefferson

    ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 262/254 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 319/302 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 74

    Despite being a legitimate Finals hero for the Cavs, Jefferson was largely off the fantasy radar this season.  He averaged 17.9 minutes, 5.5 points, 0.9 threes and 1.7 boards, making him little better than a streaming option for owners in need of threes.  Jefferson signed a two-year deal to remain in Cleveland, but won’t see enough minutes to warrant drafting.

    DOCTOR’S ORDERS

    Right now Cleveland gets to bask in post-title bliss, but the looming threat of the Warriors casts a long shadow.  The Cavs’ path through the East remains as clear as ever, and as long as they have LeBron you can’t completely ride them off.  That being said, the Cavs might face one of the tougher title defenses in history.  How they respond to yet another super team will be fascinating, as Cleveland represents perhaps the only real threat to a Warriors’ dynasty.

Fantasy News

  • Gary Clark
    PF, Orlando Magic

    Free agent swingman Gary Clark has agreed to a second 10-day contract with the Magic.

    The Magic are in need of healthy bodies right now with Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu likely out for the season. Clark has given the Magic some good minutes but he is not in the fantasy radar except from very deep leagues.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Derrick Walton Jr.
    PG, Los Angeles Clippers

    The Clippers have recalled Derrick Walton Jr. from the G League's Agua Caliente Clippers on Wednesday.

    The team is scheduled to practice today so this is another opportunity for the rookie to get some reps. It’s also unclear whether Patrick Beverley, the team’s starting point guard, will be back tomorrow, so Walton offers some insurance depth.

    Source: Mirjam Swanson on Twitter

  • Thaddeus Young
    PF, Chicago Bulls

    With the NBA trade deadline coming up, there has been speculation that Thaddeus Young could be headed to a title-contending team, but his minutes have gradually increased due to a plethora of injuries in the Bulls’ frontcourt.

    The 31-year-old forward is averaging the fewest minutes and points per game since his rookie year with the Sixers in the 2007-08 season. There were reports last month that Young was unhappy with his role and might even seek out a trade if the situation didn’t change. With
    Lauri Markkanen sidelined though, and the Bulls currently only two games out of the final playoff spot in the East, it seems unlikely he will be traded before next Thursday’s deadline. Young deserves consideration even in standard leagues as long as Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Daniel Gafford remain sidelined.

    Source: NBC Sports

  • J.J. Barea
    PG, Dallas Mavericks

    J.J. Barea got some extra run in garbage time on Tuesday and he finished with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting, two rebounds, seven assists and one 3-pointer in 23 minutes vs. the Suns.

    Barea has been in and out of the lineup lately and he can be left alone in fantasy leagues. Jalen Brunson closed out the game and totaled 15 points (5-of-7 FGs, 5-of-6 FTs), two rebounds, one assist and one steal in 25 minutes.

  • Kristaps Porzingis
    PF-C, Dallas Mavericks

    Kristaps Porzingis (left knee) had a rough go of it on Tuesday, producing just nine points on 2-of-8 shooting, three boards, one dime and one trey in 20 minutes in a big loss to the Suns.

    Porzingis' minutes have been low since he returned from his injury, even aside from this lopsided game. That's a bit of a concern considering his past and present injury issues. Otherwise, Kristaps is doing well outside of his terrible field goal percentage.

  • Dorian Finney-Smith
    SF, Dallas Mavericks

    Dorian Finney-Smith hardly showed up in the box score again on Tuesday, going for just three points, three rebounds, one assist, one steal, one block and one 3-pointer in 23 minutes in a blowout loss to the Suns.

    DFS had become a popular pickup after he posted back-to-back 10-rebound games last week. However, tonight's game and Monday's two-point, 8-rebound and nothing else game show that he's still no more than a real-life defensive specialist that doesn't produce defensive or offensive stats.

  • Luka Doncic
    PG-SF, Dallas Mavericks

    Luka Doncic was able to salvage a decent fantasy line in Tuesday’s blowout 104-133 home loss to the Suns, providing 21 points (7-of-15 FGs), six rebounds, two assists, one steal and one 3-pointer in 25 minutes.

    One positive for Luka was that he went 6-of-7 from the free throw line, where he’s been struggling recently. He’s not near the top of the rankings for the past month, but with a small adjustment to his percentages, Doncic could be right back in the mix.

  • Willie Cauley-Stein
    C, Dallas Mavericks

    Willie Cauley-Stein made his Mavs debut on Tuesday, playing 12 minutes and putting up four points (2-for-4 FGs), three rebounds, one assist and two steals.

    It's hard to tell how much WCS will play normally as this game was a blowout that was decided in the third quarter. Even with Dwight Powell (right Achilles surgery) out, the Mavs have too many bigs to be playing WCS more than backup minutes.

  • Deandre Ayton
    C, Phoenix Suns

    Deandre Ayton was incredible on Tuesday, scoring 31 points on an ultra-efficient 13-for-15 from the field and 5-for-5 from the stripe, while also adding nine rebounds, one assist, two steals and one block in 29 minutes as the Suns blew out the Mavs 133-104.

    Ayton's sample size (17 games) is getting big enough to begin to trust for the season. He's now in the top-30/15 (8-cat/9-cat) with no reason to think he can't keep it up. It looks like we're not going to get any 3-point attempts added to Ayton's game this season, but it's certainly not unrealistic for future seasons.

  • Devin Booker
    SG, Phoenix Suns

    Devin Booker was great on Tuesday in a blowout win over the Mavs, putting up 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting, six rebounds, nine assists, two steals and two 3-pointers in 31 minutes.

    Booker continues to shoot the lights out and is a top-5 player for the past month. He's fantasy's best free throw shooter over that period after factoring in his 9.8 attempts per game. It'll be tough for him to keep up the efficiency, but Booker could easily bring back some more threes and/or finally increase his steals to stay in the top-20 even with a drop in percentages.