Welcome back friends to the third annual installment of my NBA League Pass Rankings. For those new to the process, forget power rankings. Forget Vegas Over-Unders and salary cap gymnastics. Here at Knicks at Night we dive into the teams one by one to answer one simple question. If you’re shelling out the money for a League Pass subscription, which of these teams are worth that top 5 night-in, night-out slot and which of these guys are absolute, unwatchable garbage people?
Half-disclosure, this was written before J.R. Smith re-upped with the Cleveland Cavaliers for a 4 year/$57 million deal. However, I’ve written the article assuming he would be back with the team.
Why so low for the NBA champs you may ask? Do I not still believe that Lebron James is the best player in the world, back-to-back MVPs for Curry be damned? Am I not dying of curiosity over the eventual middle ground that Cleveland and JR Smith reach over the hype man’s next contract? Did I not watch this shot 8 million times this summer?
Well yeah, all of that is true. And discounting the crazy, bizarro world situation where all of the pieces click for my ‘Bockers and they make it to the 2nd round of the playoffs, I will once again be rooting for Lebron and Co. to win the Finals come April. The only thing is, I don’t know how crazy these guys will be to watch until then.
Since Lebron went back to The Land two years ago, the Cavs have lost a combined four games in the Eastern Conference playoffs and have never really looked all that challenged doing it (well, maybe a little). It would make more than total sense for this team to put the 2016 season on cruise control. They don’t really need the #1 seed in the playoffs; homecourt and Lebron’s health should be enough to lock up another East championship. And yet, they were in pretty much this same exact position last year and still won 57 games to take the #1 seed. You never know with the hyper-competitiveness of King Bron driving this ship, but I think this is finally the season they wind down in a BIG way and let the team take a full month off sometime before the All-Star break.
There’s a part of me, though, that thinks this team could be even more exciting, if not necessarily better, if they do bring down the intensity during the regular season. For one thing, I think winning that ring finally allowed the Cavs to fully embrace forever outsider Kevin Love. Love may not have the speed or ball-handling the modern NBA necessitates, but he’s still an excellent scorer/facilitator and someone Cleveland could run the offense through if Lebron or Kyrie need a blow. Love is only a couple of years removed from a dominant All-Star season in Minnesota where he averaged 26 and 13, dishing out 4 assists and knocking down 37% of his treys. The Cavs could also want to conserve some minutes for the team’s iron man Tristan Thompson, by playing more of their super-charged lineups with Channing Frye at center. And, though it may just be a sweet preseason mirage, rookie Kay Felder looks like a dynamic, jump out of the gym option at backup 3point guard.
Other than that, there aren’t many unknowns on this team. The Cavs acquired Mike Dunleavy from the Bulls, who should provide another somewhat limited three and D option on the wing in the vein of Snapchat King Richard Jefferson. But mostly, these guys are what they are. You could watch because you think Kyrie Irving will continue to build on his stupid-bananas performance in the last three games of the NBA finals to cement himself as a no-question top 3 point guard in the league, or because you think Lebron will snub the haters and put together another MVP caliber season to chase that Chicago ghost. Or you could watch because these guys have a locker-room full of fun, likeable guys and will have a full season under head coach Ty Lue to try to establish an offensive identity that stands a prayer of going toe to toe with Golden State in the Finals. Billy Donovan used the regular season like a laboratory to learn about the Thunder last year, and I think that the Cavs have a lot of wild, inventive lineups they can experiment with.
Last year’s ranking: 3 (-5)