The Cleveland Cavaliers Are Unstoppable Right Now
Karma is a funny thing, especially in basketball.
Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers fell apart on their way to the NBA Finals thanks to injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, and even though LeBron James carried this team on his back to within two wins of still winning an NBA Championship, the Cavaliers could not overcome the hot-shooting Golden State Warriors.
However, this season, the basketball gods seem to have given the Cavaliers a gift. Not only are they still undefeated in the playoffs thanks to their own hot shooting, but also the two teams on the other side of the Eastern Conference bracket are both dealing with significant injuries, and of course, Stephen Curry is also banged up with knee and ankle sprains.
Plus you have two other title contenders beating each other up in the Thunder and Spurs, so if you think about it, this postseason is going almost perfectly for Cleveland so far.
While there is still a lot of basketball to be played, the Cavs look like they are getting all the breaks they missed out on last season, and not only that, but they also are playing as good or better than any team left in the playoffs right now.
Cavaliers Offensive Explosion
Throughout the year, the Cavs made their way through the regular season with defense, but all of a sudden, their offense has taken off and is on fire at just the right time.
Last season, their Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) in the playoffs was only 47.9 percent in 20 postseason games, but so far through their first eight games of the 2016 postseason, they own the best eFG% of any team at 56 percent, and their True Shooting Percentage is 58 percent.
They are easily leading the rest of the playoff teams with a three-point percentage of 46.2 percent, and their Offensive Rating is a scorching 120.7 points per 100 possessions. Compare that to their regular season numbers and it’s a substantial increase.
Their marks in the Four Factors are nearly up across the board, save for getting to the free throw line, which makes sense given their affinity to the three-point shot.
|Cavaliers||eFG%||Turnover%||Offensive Rebound%||Free Throws/FG Attempt|
Despite their poor free throw to field goal attempt mark (which ranks 15th in the playoffs), the Cavs have improved on their already impressive regular season numbers.
Also, while Cleveland was third this season behind only the Warriors and Rockets in Three-Point Attempt Rate 35.2 percent, here in the playoffs the Cavs have taken their three-point attempts up a notch. Through the first eight games of the playoffs, Cleveland is taking 43 percent of their shots from behind the arc.
If they continue to make them at the rate they are, Cleveland is going to be almost unstoppable on offense. They have taken the layups-or-three-pointers strategy to a new level this postseason, as they are taking 68.8 percent of their shots from either the three-point line or inside three feet.
LeBron James is taking more than 70 percent of his shots either at the rim or behind the arc.
Plus, at a pace of only 89.3 possessions per 48 minutes through the playoffs, the Cavs are averaging close to 108 points per game, and even though they have made their run through the playoffs look easy so far, the two teams they beat were both ranked inside the top 12 in Defensive Rating this season with the Hawks ranked second at 101.4.
Small Ball and Bench Production
Last season, thanks to playoff injuries, the Cavs had to play a six- or seven-man rotation in the NBA Finals. This season, Cleveland has the option to go 9 or 10 guys deep on their bench, and it has given them tons of options on the offensive end.
It has also given the Cavs the ability to play smaller, and with Kevin Love at center and James at power forward, the Cavs have been deadly this postseason. In lineups where James and Love are playing the four and five, the Cavs are +133.6 points per 100 possessions.
What’s been even more impressive is their bench. While they are still -3.3 in bench scoring differential this postseason, in lineups where the Cavs have only two starters on the floor, the Cavs are still +104.4 points per 100 possessions.
A big reason for this has been Channing Frye, who has all of a sudden become a secret weapon for Cleveland. He has been invaluable when Love comes off the floor, and even when they play together, it gives the Cavaliers more shooting then they could have ever dreamed of last season.
The lineup of Irving, J.R. Smith, James, Frye and Love is +13.1 points per 100 possessions this postseason, and they are +28.4 percent in Rebounding Rate.
However, with all of their offensive successes, what should be scary for the rest of the league is that Cleveland isn’t even clicking on all cylinders yet.
With how well the Cavs have played on offense throughout the playoffs, they haven’t even had to be good on defense, which was their calling card in the regular season and in last year’s playoffs.
Cleveland held their opponents to 41.9 percent from the floor in the 2015 playoffs and an eFG% of 46.7 percent. Their Defensive Rating of 103.1 was second in the postseason in 2015 only to the Warriors, but this postseason, they are well below those numbers.
|Cavaliers||eFG%||Turnover%||Defensive Rebound%||Free Throws/FG Attempt
|Postseason||52.6% (12th)||12.2% (9th)||79.3% (4th)||.192 (6th)|
The Love Factor
Another factor in these playoffs that was absent for basically the entire postseason in 2015 is Kevin Love. Even after putting up a huge Game 4 for the Cavs against the Hawks, Love owns an eFG% of only 47 percent for the postseason thanks to his poor shooting from everywhere except beyond the arc.
Love is shooting 44.4 percent from three in the playoffs but only 29 percent from everywhere inside it, and he has been awful from inside three feet at only 22.7 percent.
A locked-in Kevin Love in addition to an already-elite offense could be a scary proposition for opponents in the playoffs.
Putting It All Together
If the Cavs can lock in on defense and get Love to start hitting some shots inside the restricted area, they might be the next NBA champions.
After winning their second round series with ease, our algorithms have their chances of winning the NBA Finals at 18.42 percent, and even though the Warriors and Spurs still have much better odds, the Cavs look like they will have the benefit of health and rest on their side if the Eastern Conference playoffs continue to fall their way.