The Golden State Warriors are the unquestioned favorite heading into the 2017-18 NBA Season.
An already deep roster got enhanced further with the acquisitions of Omri Casspi, Jordan Bell, and Nick Young. Casspi is a well-rounded player with a high basketball I.Q. Young is a talented — albeit streaky — perimeter player. Bell is an uber-athlete with tremendous defensive instincts. All three give Golden State even more versatility than before (which is hard to believe).
Though many like Houston, Oklahoma City, and San Antonio are thorns in the Warriors’ proverbial side, there’s only one team that truly has a chance to beat them in June: The Cleveland Cavaliers.
Cleveland went through a bit of a retooling process during the offseason — as Kyrie Irving was shipped out in favor of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick. First-year GM Koby Altman also managed to sign Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, and Jeff Green on short deals.
Completing the offseason transition, it was recently announced that Kevin Love would start at center — with the defensive-minded Tristan Thompson coming off the bench. Wade and Rose will make up the backcourt on opening night, with Crowder and the ageless LeBron James filling out the frontcourt.
The list of transactions may not put Cleveland over-the-top when compared to Golden State, but the squad is unquestionably more improved when compared to last year’s roster.
Depth is certainly far greater across the board. Once Thomas returns from his hip ailment, Cleveland will legitimately field a 10-man rotation. He’ll slot into the starting lineup next to Wade, James, Crowder, and Love. On the bench, Thompson will be flanked by Green, Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith, and Rose. Even then, the Cavs will have the option of playing Zizic against bigger teams, Channing Frye when the floor needs to be spread, and intriguing rookie Cedi Osman.
The addition of Crowder cannot be overstated enough. His skills as a corner three-point shooter should work immensely well with James’ penchant for finding the open man on drives to the cup. Crowder also instantly becomes the best perimeter defender on the team. He has the versatility to guard multiple positions on the floor. This aspect not only frees James up to roam and not expel a ton of energy defensively, but it also enables Cleveland to use Crowder on the likes of Kevin Durant during a hypothetical Finals series.
Duly, Crowder’s presence should offer Cleveland the ability to field their version of the “death” lineup. James could match Draymond Green as the de facto center in this situation. (Jeff) Green and Crowder would be on the floor as athletic wing defenders. In the backcourt, a shooter such as Korver or Smith would be positioned next to either Thomas or Rose. Additionally, we could see Wade as the second guard alongside a perimeter shooter. This makes Cleveland much more dynamic offensively when compared to the isolation, ‘bully-ball’ they’ve employed in the past.
The health of Thomas will be a major storyline going forward. He drew much of the headlines in the deal for the disgruntled Irving. He’s tentatively slated to return in late December/early January — though his hip has been problematic for over a year. In his absence, Rose will command the point guard spot. Playing for a tumultuous mess of a franchise in New York, Rose had a very underrated 2016-17 year — as he averaged 18.0 PPG and 4.4 APG on 47.1-percent from the floor. He’s not the MVP-level Rose from his Chicago days. However, the 29-year-old is more than serviceable as a starter — and would potentially be a very good reserve point guard once Thomas returns.
If Thomas flashes the form from a year ago, Cleveland would be getting an incredibly dynamic player with the ability to score from anywhere on the floor. With Love at center, the floor would be spread for Thomas to create off the bounce. For that matter, Wade and Rose will also benefit from such a scenario.
James may be asked to shoulder more of the load with Thomas out. If this situation does come to fruition, is it really a bad thing? We could see one more season of ‘top-of-the-mountain’ James before his game slowly starts to erode.
This current Golden State squad is arguably the most versatile team in the history of the NBA. While Cleveland isn’t as innately talented across the board, there’s certainly reasons for optimism with the newfound sources of length and defensive prowess.