The upcoming NBA season will be one for the record books. The league is brimming with talent and is in a great place with all the new TV money coming in. Despite the bevy of talent in the league, one team stands out as a front-runner for title favorite – the Cleveland Cavaliers. Not only do the Cavaliers have gobs of talent, but all the moves they’ve made over the last year have turned them into a complete team rather than just a collection of a few really talented individuals.
The Cavaliers have three All-Star-caliber players and seem to have found perfect role players to complement them. To steady the defense last season, the Cavaliers added Timofey Mozgov, who excels at patrolling the paint and protecting the rim. On offense he sets hard screens and darts into the paint, drawing an additional help-side defender – opening up a shooter who’s spotting up – or positioning himself to catch a pass and finish over the top.
While LeBron James is a great one-on-one defender capable of shutting down the best player on the opposing team, it’s becoming increasingly important for him to find ways to conserve his energy. This is why the addition and retention of Iman Shumpert was so crucial. A noted defensive stalwart, Shumpert relishes the challenge of defending the opposing team’s star. Not only is he a stellar one-on-one defender, he’s also a good help-side and team defender, always on time with his rotations and able to use his athleticism and length to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.
In acquiring Shumpert last year, the Cavaliers also got J.R. Smith, who many thought was added as an afterthought. Smith fit into his role nicely as a Cavalier, and he benefited from playing alongside LeBron and Kyrie Irving, two great playmakers. Being able to spot up and get open looks, Smith took more three pointers than ever before, attempting 336 three pointers (7.3 a game) while converting them at a 39 percent clip in Cleveland. Smith has a mutually beneficial on-court relationship with James and Irving, as they collapse the defense and allow him to fire open jumpers, while Smith spaces out the floor for dribble penetration as a reliable deep threat who demands defensive attention.
With Kevin Love often out on the perimeter, Tristan Thompson has proven himself indispensable to the inner workings of the Cavaliers. An athletic 6’9 power forward, Thompson established himself as one of the best offensive rebounders in the league. Possessing an unrelenting motor, Thompson crashes the glass on both ends of the court and punishes lazy box-outs. Scoring mostly on lobs and offensive put-backs, Thompson not only knows his role, but embraces it. With solid depth in the frontcourt thanks to the return of players from injury (Love and Anderson Varejao) and addition of Sasha Kaun, Thompson will be able to go 100 percent knowing that he has reliable players who can give him some breathers when needed (now the Cavaliers just need to get a new contract done with Thompson).
The Cavaliers also have Matthew Dellavedova and Mo Williams to give Irving a rest when he needs it. Dellavedova will hound opposing point guards and dive for every loose ball, while Williams will do what he does best, shoot the ball and create offense.
Role players certainly don’t win championships, but adding these players to the likes of LeBron, Irving and Love makes Cleveland a legitimate title favorite.
After a full season of development and finding a defined playing style, the Cavaliers look like a complete team. Cleveland also plays in a historically weak Eastern Conference, and just making it to the NBA Finals is half the battle. There are multiple legitimate title contenders in the Western Conference, yet only one will make it through the battlefield for the chance to compete for the championship. The Cavaliers seem to have all the chips in their favor for them to come out of the 2015-16 season as champions of the NBA.