Thursday, June 2, 2016

2016 NBA Finals Preview

After a wild few series in the Western Conference and an absolute snoozer in the East, we get the rematch that most people wanted before the season began. I was among those that thought OKC would win the series after going up 3-1: it's hard to win three straight games against that good a team. They were longer and more athletic at every position and played stifling defense. Guess what? The Warriors play pretty stifling defense themselves, predicated on intelligence and strong rotations rather than length contesting shots and passing lanes.

Cleveland on the other hand played mediocre team after mediocre team in the east: Detroit was never good with Andre Drummond on the floor, Atlanta's office went in the toilet with its shooting, and Toronto subsisted on tough shots all year. They combined spurts of strong defense and hot shooting with stretches of disinterested play on both ends.

So who wins the series? I'm calling Warriors in 5, and here are 5 reasons why:

  1. Who does Kevin Love guard? This is of course assuming that Kevin deserves to be on the floor at all. I don't know how many times you need to see him fail to establish strong post position with his weak lower body before you conclude that Love post-ups are not viable offense. The Cavs continue to give him the ball in traditional big man spots, but at this point, he's a 3 point shooter and little else. Problem for the Cavs is Channing Frye gives them better shooting and presence at the rim, at a lower $ figure. After shooting 47% in December, he's gone 37%, 42%, 39%, and 44%, before shooting 41%, 32% (!), and 45% in the 3 playoff series. And that's on offense! I think the best hiding spot is Harrison Barnes with LeBron on Draymond, but that is going to tire LeBron out quickly. I don't know that Lue can play his third star more than 25 minutes a game.
  2. The starters are whole, but what about the bench? Iman Shumpert has taken basically the whole year to recover from injury while Timofey Mozgov never recovered at all. Dellavedova combines decent shooting with no ability to pass whatsoever and while Channing Frye is a revelation, he more makes up for weaknesses in the starting lineup than reliable bench scoring to supplement the men in front. Meanwhile, although Barbosa and Speights were proved athletic liabilities against OKC, Cleveland doesn't have the tools to take advantage of them in that way. Ezeli is clueless sometimes on the scheme but gives you more than Mozgov and Livingston has provided steady presence all year. I know in the Finals the rotations tighten, but I still don't see a path to a Cleveland victory other than a Hurculean effort from LBJ. 
  3. Lue has been an adequate coach given the cast of personalities he's been handed, but the way they won the East was basically paying attention on defense. Can he make the game-to-game adjustments required to win a playoff series?
  4. Kyrie played inspired defense in last year's Finals before breaking his knee in OT. But in this series, I'm more worried about his impact on Cleveland's offense. Having him back will obviously be big for his shot making. But the Warriors are so good at knowing which players to help off of, and Kyrie has thus far not shown advanced passing for his position. Don't get me wrong - he gets the obvious passes out of PNR and other situations, but can he see the rotation a step ahead when a much more accomplished passer in Russel Westbrook failed to do so against a fully dialed-in Warriors D? A lot of his offense relies on pounding the rock in isolation situations, and while he's one of the best one-on-one scorers in the NBA, that doesn't equate to him being a valuable offensive player.
  5. The Warriors won 73 games and beat a juggernaut in the Thunder to get here. Cleveland just hasn't played teams of their caliber and I don't know if they're better than they were last year (with the aforementioned injuries playing a hand). I can definitively say the Warriors are.

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