Once LeBron James announced he was going home, the Cleveland Cavaliers were immediately considered the best team in the NBA. Once it leaked that Kevin Love was headed to the Cavs for this year’s No. 1 overall pick, Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett (last year’s No. 1 pick) and a future first-round draft pick, they were immediately considered the best best team in the NBA.
“I had an opportunity to spend 32 days with him on the 2012 Olympic team,” James said. “I always told Kevin Love that, ‘You’re, like, very good, man.’ He always thought I was like, blowing smoke… I always told him he was going to be the reason we won the gold medal. He played a huge role for us… I’m looking forward to it.”
On paper, this roster is a monster. Defense will be an issue, but offensively, the roster will have enough talent to cause plenty of problems for the opposition.
But is it too much talent?
Last season, James averaged 27.1 points per game, Love chipped in 26.1 and Kyrie Irving averaged 20.8 for their respective teams. The only team to have three or more scorers average more than 20 points per game was the 2007-08 Golden State Warriors, who went 48-34 and finished third in the Pacific Division. Granted, Stephen Jackson, Baron Davis and Monta Ellis have nowhere near the talent Cleveland’s Big Three, however, there is only one ball to go around. And that means more than one player is going to have to make some sacrifices.
If we look at championship squads, we see a tendency to allocate more possessions during the regular season to the top two players and have it cascade down from there. For example, the San Antonio Spurs had the following Usage Percentage, which is an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor, during the 2013-14 regular season:
And this is typical of most NBA champions: The two best players get most of the touches, and then there is a quasi-star plus two role players filling in the rest. Here are the 2013-14 USG% for the projected starting five for Cleveland after the Love trade:
As you can see, that adds up to 29 percent too high. In fact, since James took his talents to South Beach for the 2010-11 season, no team has had more than two players qualify for the points-per-game leader board with a USG% of 25 or greater. In Miami, James and Dwyane Wade were each over 25 percent, and Bosh, who had a 28.7% USG% in his last season for Toronto, was never higher than 24.5 USG% with the Heat. Here is the USG% for the most frequent five-man roster on the 2012-13 championship winning Heat:
Since Usage Percentage isn’t available prior to the 1973-74 season, Basketball Reference used a player’s modified shot attempts (Usage Percentage without turnovers) as a proxy and found 24-22-19-18-17 is the optimal championship mix for a five-man lineup, with a sixth man who can create and a pure role player in the No. 7 slot. That optimal mix would give a team an 8.6 percent chance at an NBA title. If we scale the Cavs Super Team to 100 percent USG%, they would have a mix of 24-22-22-21-11, which, after converting to modified shot attempts, gives them approximately a 5 percent chance.
So who loses possessions?
It is unlikely that James or Irving take a back seat in the offense: James is the best player in the league and Irving is the first “real” point guard James will have the pleasure of working with. That leaves Love and Dion Waiters seeing a reduced role in terms of possessions used.
Love has seen success with a reduced amount of possessions before. During the 2010-11 season, his USG% of 22.9 was combined with 11.4 win shares and a 59.3 percent true shooting percentage, earning him Most Improved Player honors. It remains to be seen how Waiters, who had USG% of 26.9 and 26.1 the past two years, will respond.
“It’s still going to be a process,” James explained. “Even my first year in Miami, we went through a process. There were tough times. We were 9-8 at one time. Things didn’t look like they were going to get right, and we still ended up losing in the Finals, but I feel like that catapulted us to winning back-to-back championships.”