By: Scott Brock-Wilson and Justin Lynch
What you have been waiting for is here! Scott and Lynch reveal the top two teams in the NBA.
If you missed the rest of the rankings, click on the previous sets of rankings to view them:
#30-#21: 30 and 29, 28 and 27, 26 and 25, 24 and 23, 22 and 21.
#20-#11: 20 and 19, 18 and 17, 16 and 15, 14 and 13, 12 and 11.
#10-#1: 10 and 9, 8 and 7, 6 and 5, 4 and 3.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Season: 53-29, Lost Finals
Key Offseason Acquisitions: Mo Williams, Richard Jefferson
Key Offseason Losses: Mike Miller, Kendrick Perkins
Projected Starting 5:
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Iman Shumpert
SF: LeBron James
PF: Kevin Love
C: Timofey Mozgov
Key Role Players:
1. J. R. Smith
2. Mo Williams
3. Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao
SBW Season Outlook:
If the Cavs were healthy, meaning both Kyrie and Love were playing, many believe they could’ve beaten the Warriors in the finals last year. Lebron single handedly won two games. With the help of two players the caliber of Irving and Love, the series could’ve easily gone seven games. The Cavs main goal was to bring everyone back this season, and not only did they do so, but they also added some potentially impactful players.
The biggest addition was that of Mo Williams. Williams is now back with the Cavs for the first time since he was playing second fiddle to LeBron during the first reign of King James. After being traded to Charlotte, Williams averaged 17 points and six assists per game in 27 games. Williams, who will turn 33 in December, still has the scoring pop that he has always had. If you need more evidence, check out his 52 point game last year. The Cavs lacked scoring off of the bench, and Williams now provides that from the point guard position.
Shumpert resigned this offseason for 4yr/$40 million and was expected to be the starting two guard for Cleveland after start the majority (16 of 20) of the games in the playoffs. However, Shumpert suffered a wrist injury during a workout before the season started. This will sideline him until at least mid-late December. The three players expect to get the boost in minutes from this are Williams, Matthew Dellavedova, and Smith.
Smith, who started 45 of 46 regular season games last year after being traded to the Cavs from New York, averaged over 12 points on 39% from downtown on 7.3 three point attempts per game. When in with the starters, Smith is used as a three point specialist. But, when he is in with the backups, he is needed more as a creator and a scorer.
The best backup on the Cavs roster is the 82 million dollar man, Tristan Thompson. Many believe that Thompson should be in the starting lineup because he may be a better fit than Love. But, when Thompson got more playing time in the playoffs with the Love injury, he failed to improve his numbers by much. Thompson averaged eight points and eight boards in the regular season during 26 minutes of play while boasting a 15.6 PER. In the playoffs, in just over 36 minutes per game, he averaged nine points and 10 rebounds with a PER of 15.4. There wasn’t much improvement. His performance was well under his per 36 minutes stats from the regular season. Thompson is an energy boost and a great offensive rounder, an expensive one for sure.
Love saw his worst year statistically since his rookie year. He averaged under 10 rebounds a game, but that wasn’t entirely his fault. For a large portion of the season, the Cavs used Love as a three point specialist, which is an incredible waste of his talent. They had him hovering around the three point line on offense, which is why he had his worst offensive rebounding season in his career. This year expect the Cavs to try to incorporate Love into the offense much more efficiently, as they will need to keep him satisfied.
Mozgov was the turning point for the Cavs last season. The Cavs paid a hefty price (two future first-round picks) for Mozgov, but it looks as though it may have been worth it. After Varejao went down with yet another injury, the Cavs were in desperate need of rim protection and that is exactly what Mozgov provides. Mozgov was a top-10 rim protector in the regular season and was the best in the playoffs, holding opponents to 34% shooting.
Kyrie and Lebron are obviously the biggest stars on this team with Lebron being the best player in the League, and Kyrie being a top-5 point guard. Kyrie, who many thought would have to take a dip in production due to Lebron’s arrival actually improved. He averaged 21.7 points, almost a full one point improvement from the season prior, and 5 assists. This year he will need to improve his defense.
What can be said about King James? Everything. He is the best in the league. A 25/7/6 stat line in the regular season. 30/11/9.5 in the playoffs. And 35/13/8 in the playoffs! He will, as always, be in the MVP race.
It is championship or nothing for the Cavs. If they do not win, it is a disappointment. It seems as though everyone has handed them the East, which means that they just need to win one seven game series against whoever may come out of the West.
JL Best-case scenario:
Thompson’s contract situation gets figured out and the Cavs stay healthy once Kyrie and Shumpert return. Kevin Love finally fits into the offense, similar to what we saw at the end of last year. Mo Williams presence allows for J. R. Smith to have a lesser role, where he focuses on catching-and-shooting. LeBron elevates to another dimension and averages 10 assists/game. The offense is the most efficient in the league when April rolls around. LeBron goes full LeBron and carries the Cavs to the title. Cleveland sees their first title in half a century.
JL Worst-case scenario:
Thompson never signs and his looming free agency is a distraction the whole year. Love tries to come back to soon from the shoulder injury and is nagged by it throughout the year. As a result, he struggles, and more tension arises between him and the rest of the locker room. Irving can’t seem to stay healthy and LeBron takes the onus in the regular season. LeBron has little left in the tank for a postseason run. He carries the team to the conference finals where they are upset by his old team, the Miami Heat.
Projected Record: 55-27
1. Golden State Warriors
Last Season: 67-15, Won Finals
Key Offseason Acquisitions: Kevon Looney, Jason Thompson
Key Offseason Losses: David Lee
Projected Starting 5:
PG: Stephen Curry
SG: Klay Thompson
SF: Harrison Barnes
PF: Draymond Green
C: Andrew Bogut
Key Role Players:
1. Andre Iguodala
2. Shaun Livingston
3. Brandon Rush, Festus Ezeli, Marreese Speights
JL Season Outlook:
Let’s not overthink this: the Warriors are the title favorites. After having one of the best regular seasons off all-time, winning 67 games and having the best offense and the best defense, the Dubs bring nearly everyone back and look to make another historic run.
There really is not much to be said about this team that has not already been said, but I’m going to try anyway (your welcome?). Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are still the best backcourt in the NBA. Iguodala and Green will be menacing defensively, and the team hopes Barnes can make a leap on that end. Shaun Livingston is also back and ready to keep making an impact.
We know all about this team’s starters, though. So, let’s focus on their bench (fun, I know).
Player One: Career-high in points (10.4/game), career-high in assists (0.9/game), 4.3 rebounds/game, 20 PER, now 28 years old.
Answer: Marreese Speights
The most shocking stat for me was that he’s only 28. The 20 PER is good too, I guess.
Player Two (Stats from last semi-full season): 50% shooting, 45% from three, 10 points, four rebounds, one block/game, has been injured so everyone forgot about him.
Answer: Brandon Rush
Don’t forget about him.
Player Three: Entering his third year, one block/game in just 11 minutes/game. 44% opponents field goal shooting at the rim.
Answer: Festus Ezeli
Ezeli, especially, is better than you think. He is a quick leaper and is explosive off the ground. He is a work-in-progress offensively, but Andrew Bogut has become such a liability on that end of the floor that putting in Ezeli barely causes any drop-off in production.
This Warriors team will again be super fun to watch. With all the different lineup combinations and ways this team can attack, you might get a different version of the Warriors every night. But no matter when you tune in, you will see something that glues you to the TV. Whether it’s Steph Curry or Klay Thompson on a hot streak, or Draymond Green is playing center, this team always has something going on.
They will, however, face tougher competition in the form of a better Spurs, Clippers, Rockets, and Thunder. Despite all of those teams improvement, the Warriors are the kings until proven otherwise. Let’s all wait and see if anyone will be able to take them down.
And, lastly, if you stayed with us throughout these rankings, thank you for coming along for this preseason ride with us. You stuck with us even when Scott broke out the all-caps in the very first sentence. You battled through the early 20’s when I attempted to shed any level of positivity on the Hornets this year. You even kept going when Scott did an in-depth look at Courtney Lee and I rambled for way too long about the Bucks. But now we finally made it. The NBA is finally here. And we leave you with one final best/worst case scenario...
SBW Best-case scenario:
Kerr returns soon to lead the team at the helm. Thompson improves defensively and is a for sure top 15 player in the league. Green develops more offensively, as he stays in the conversation for DPOY. Barnes finally lives up to his potential, securing his spot in the starting lineup as an influential part of the Warriors. Curry repeats as MVP improving defensively. Iguodala is able to follow up his finals performance by making it a normal thing. Bogut and Ezeli both stay healthy and lock down the paint, anchoring the defense. The Warriors squeak through the tough West on their way to back-to-back championships.
SBW Worst-case scenario:
Bogut is hurt again, barely playing half of the games. Curry cannot keep up his MVP performance, but remains as one of the best players in the league. Thompson fails to improve defensively but is still regarded as a top three SG in the league. Iguodala doesn't even return to his regular season form from last year as father time catches up with him. The Warriors are still a top three seed in the West but get upset in the first round.
Projected Record: 63-19