After a crazy offseason, the Cavaliers remain the favorites to win the East, which is good. That puts them on a path toward a fourth straight Finals meeting with the Warriors, which is bad.
When it comes to that matchup, Cleveland is still lacking in one extremely important area: defense. The Cavs' defensive rating after the All-Star break was 111.1, the second-worst mark in the NBA during that stretch. And the D has only gotten worse. Kyrie Irving was a weak link, but he's still better than his replacement, Isaiah Thomas, who ranked dead last among point guards in defensive plus-minus last season. Meanwhile, veteran pickups Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade, each of whom will likely see considerable playing time, have been spotty at best and awful at worst over the last few years.
The bench offers some help, thanks to wings Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith. But besides LeBron James, only 6'6" newcomer Jae Crowder—a long power forward who is one of the game's most versatile defenders—qualifies as a stopper. Even when Tyronn Lue puts out his best defensive lineup, expect some gaping holes.
COACH TYRONN LUE
(3rd season with Cavaliers)
2016--17 RECORD 51--31
(1st in Central)
40 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
PG ISAIAH THOMAS [NEW ACQUISITION] [INJURED TO START SEASON]
28.9 PPG; 5.9 APG; 46.3 FG%; 37.9 3FG%
74 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
SG DWYANE WADE [NEW ACQUISITION]
18.3 PPG; 4.5 RPG; 43.4 FG%; 31.0 3FG%
1 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
SF LEBRON JAMES
26.4 PPG; 8.6 RPG; 8.7 APG; 54.8 FG%
44 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
PF JAE CROWDER [NEW ACQUISITION]
13.9 PPG; 5.8 RPG; 46.3 FG%; 39.8 FG%
26 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
C KEVIN LOVE
19.0 PPG; 11.1 RPG; 42.7 FG%; 37.3 3FG%
SG J.R. SMITH
8.6 PPG; 1.5 APG; 34.6 FG%; 35.1 3FG%
52 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
PF TRISTAN THOMPSON
8.1 PPG; 9.2 RPG; 1.1 BPG; 60.0 FG%
PG DERRICK ROSE [NEW ACQUISITION]
18.0 PPG; 4.4 APG; 0.7 SPG; 47.1 FG%
• THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING
(I) INJURED TO START SEASON
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP CLEVELAND
LEBRON JAMES is such a physical marvel. I think as he ages, he's going to be more capable of playing different positions, whether it's as a ballhandling four or a point guard, so he can operate between the free throw lines. There are so many ways you can use him even when he starts to lose a step.... ISAIAH THOMAS can really help them [when he recovers from his hip injury]. He's infinitely tough, willing to take big shots, but he gets a little exposed in the playoffs because of game-planning and his size.... KEVIN LOVE's year was one of the more underappreciated things last season. The guy was superefficient and as good as he can possibly be defensively. It's huge having a weapon who can shoot, doesn't need post ups and is comfortable playing off LeBron.... Even if TRISTAN THOMPSON wasn't playing with LeBron, he'd be successful. He had a terrible Finals—there's no avoiding it—but his spirit is so strong, he's a warrior and has completely accepted his role coming out of college: as a tough pick-and-roll guy who gets everything he can off the offensive glass.... I've heard a narrative that JAE CROWDER wasn't good defensively last year, but the guy's what every team is looking for and on an unbelievable contract [$6.8 milion this year]. Now LeBron won't have to guard, say, Kevin Durant in the Finals. If LeBron stays, Crowder's still valuable, and if he leaves, he's a real trade chip.... Because he's accepted that he's a defensive player and three-point shooter, J.R. SMITH is a very valuable guy too. They really have a lot of toughness and shooting on the roster.
TELLING 111.1 STATISTIC
LeBron alone makes Cleveland's fourth straight trip to the Finals likely, but he still doesn't have the help to unseat the champs.