LeBron James and Kevin Love won’t be enough to give Cleveland a 65-win season


(AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

The Cleveland Cavaliers made the right move if the reports are indeed true and they are about to acquire Kevin Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves. It gives them a three-point shooter (Love has made 36.2 percent from beyond the arc over his career) who can routinely pull a tall defender from the paint and clear more space for LeBron James to drive into the lane. However, the Cavs remain a 5-to-2 favorite to win the 2015 NBA championship, as this deal has been rumored for some time.

“We’ve had it at 5-to-2 for a while because we pretty much knew it was going to happen,” South Point sports director Bert Osborne said. “So I was ahead of the curve on this one.”

The smart minds at Fivethirtyeight even raised their initial projection of 63 wins to 65 based on Cleveland not including big man Anderson Varejao in the package for Love.

But the reality is this: 65 wins is a lot and likely a long shot, as Nate Silver notes in his article. In the three-point era, just 12 teams — five coached by Phil Jackson — have won at least 65 games. Of those teams, 10 won the NBA title. The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, led by Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, hold the NBA record with 72 victories:

65win teams

The Big Three (Kyrie Irving is the other) in Cleveland is talented, but to get to 65 wins (or more) a team has to do to do everything well, starting with outscoring the competition, which we can measure using the Simple Ranking System (SRS):

[E]very team’s rating is their average point margin, adjusted up or down depending on the strength of their opponents. Thus an average team would have a rating of zero. Suppose a team plays a schedule that is, overall, exactly average. Then the sum of the terms in parentheses would be zero and the team’s rating would be its average point margin. If a team played a tougher-than-average schedule, the sum of the terms in parentheses would be positive and so a team’s rating would be bigger than its average point margin.

For example, The 2013-14 Miami Heat defeated its opponents by an average margin of 4.76 points. However, their opponents were, on average, 0.61 points worse than average. After adjusting for their schedule, we estimate that Miami was 4.76 - 0.61 = 4.15 points better than average. Historically, teams that win 65 games are at least seven points better than average after adjusting for strength of schedule.

During Miami’s Big Three era, the Heat topped the 7.0 SRS mark only once, during its championship run of 2012-13 (66 wins, 7.03 SRS), and remains the only team this decade to hit both a 7.0 SRS or higher and register 65 or more wins.

In the season immediately before the Big Three joined Miami (2009-10), the franchise won 47 games and had an SRS of 2.00. One year later, the Heat won 58 games and had a 6.76 SRS (plus an appearance in the NBA Finals). Cleveland won 33 games last season with a minus-3.86 SRS. Improvement is on the horizon, and the Cavs’ SRS will certainly improve into positive territory, but it will likely fall short of the 7.0 we have seen other historically successful teams enjoy on their way to 65 wins or more.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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