One statistic that should worry fans

One statistic should give Cleveland Cavaliers fans cause for concern heading into the 2018-19 season. Here’s why fans should be worried about the starting lineup.

There are reasons to be optimistic about the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ upcoming season. The team returns an All-Star in a weak Eastern Conference. The core is young and early returns are positive on top pick Collin Sexton.

It’d be bold to say the team will make a playoff push, but that is in play with this squad. “Potential” is the key word, and it’s something the Cavaliers have plenty of.

Counterpoint: Everything goes horribly wrong for the Cavs and they end up with the league’s worst record. It is Cleveland, so that would fail to surprise ardent fans.

Last time the Cavaliers navigated post-LeBron James life, the team went 19-63. The Cavs have also picked first in the NBA Draft three times since 2010. So if recent history is any indication, Cleveland is at risk to finish near the bottom of the NBA again in 2018-19.

And then there’s a number — a dark, horrible statistic that reflects poorly on the Cavaliers’ fate.

According to FiveThirtyEight’s projected wins above replacement for the upcoming year, the Cavs are at risk for a disappointing season. FiveThirtyEight typically provides a solid barometer for predicting individual player success.  There are a plethora of record projections from a variety of sites and publications guessing win/loss totals. Most negatively, ESPN gives the Cavs just a 7.3 percent chance of making the postseason. Others are much more optimistic.

FiveThirtyEight offers a seemingly solid equation to subjectively project individual win shares, a method superior to objective suppositions.

In other words, it’s math from really smart people, so let’s go with it.

Anyways, the Cavs’ starting five of Collin Sexton, J.R. Smith, Rodney Hood, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson has a projected combined wins above replacement of 1.9. In other words, the Cavaliers’ starting five will combine to earn the team 1.9 wins more than a starting lineup full of replacement-level NBA players.

The Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies, Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks and Orlando Magic finished with the league’s five worst records last season.  Here’s how those teams’ collective starting fives break down as it pertains to projected WAR, with the individual leader listed.

The only starting five from the league’s bottom teams expected to be worse than Cleveland’s lineup is the Suns (barely), and there is likely little difference between the reserves of each squad.

Going strictly by these numbers, the Cavaliers put out one of the most lackluster rosters in the league. Even with Love, Cleveland’s starting five lacks firepower.

Certainly, it’s a statistic to be concerned about. The Cavs’ starting lineup doesn’t appear good enough to spar with the league’s best.

Still, these numbers don’t account for two important factors: age and chemistry. The roster is peppered with players entering their theoretical primes. Hood is just 25, Thompson 27 and Sexton is a baby at 19. Those three could very well start, and the bench is loaded with impressive youth as well.

The returning crew also exhibited good chemistry last year. The lineup of George Hill, J.R. Smith, Hood and Larry Nance Jr. (along with James) played a total of 57 minutes last year. It may not seem like a lot, but out of all the Cavs combinations that’s top 10 on the team. That group posted an impressive 111.6 offensive rating. Add Love to the mix and maybe replace Hill with Sexton and that could be a formidable group.

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Looking at win shares, the Cavaliers’ starting five lacks punch. In reality, maybe it lacks seasoning. Hopefully the youth develops quickly and exceeds expectations.

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