With the opening of the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers’ training camp now just one month away, projections about how they and other teams will do during the upcoming season are being discussed. Even as defending champions, the Cavaliers still seem to be underrated by some in the media.
One of those media members that’s not expressing a great deal of enthusiasm for the Cavs over the course of the regular season is ESPN’s Kevin Pelton, whose projection for the team in 2016-17 is just 52.1 wins. Behind them in the Eastern Conference are the Boston Celtics (49.8), Toronto Raptors (48.8) and Detroit Pistons (47.5), with a steep drop-off after those teams.
“While the Cavaliers are still solidly tops in the East, their projection is down from last year’s 57 wins because RPM takes a dim view of Kyrie Irving’s defense and considers Matthew Dellavedova (plus-1.2 projection) a considerable loss as Irving’s backup. Note that this projection assumes J.R. Smith ultimately re-signs in Cleveland,” Pelton goes on to say.
All of those numbers pale in comparison to Pelton’s projections in the Western Conference for the team the Cavaliers defeated in the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors. His projection for them is 66.8 wins, followed by San Antonio at 54.5. After that, five teams are projected to win anywhere from 44 to 47 games.
Pelton’s support for his projection about Golden State notes:
“Within the context of the conservative nature of win projections, which tend to be regressed heavily to the mean, a 67-win projection is remarkable. The Warriors’ projection is two wins higher than the next best in the seven years I’ve gone back to do projections using this method: 64.9 for the 2010-11 Miami Heat, who actually won just 58 games because of the time it took their version of the Big Three to build chemistry on the court.”
Since the return of LeBron James two years ago, the Cavaliers have won 53 and 57 games, respectively. During that first season, chemistry and injury issues helped produce the lower number. Last season, the midseason coaching change from David Blatt to Tyronn Lue resulted in changing the team’s pace of play on the fly. During the postseason, the Cavaliers looked to be more comfortable with that style, going 16-5 and becoming the first team ever to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the finals.
Cleveland gets a chance to challenge those numbers when they open up the 2016-17 campaign with a home game against the New York Knicks. The first meeting between the Cavaliers and Warriors will be at Quicken Loans Arena on Christmas Day.