Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs had a very interesting offseason. They surprised many when they used their first overall pick on Canadian forward Anthony Bennett. After that, they made a couple of interesting signings. First, they made a priority of snagging veteran combo guard, and sixth man of the year candidate last year, Jarrett Jack. Later, they grabbed swingman Earl Clark from the Lakers, for reasons that remain unclear, save for the possibility that Mike Brown just liked Earl Clark a whole lot in the five games he got to coach him in Los Angeles, though you certainly wouldn’t guess that judging by the number of minutes Brown played Clark. Whatever the reason for the deal, Earl Clark is just not very good at NBA level basketball, so the Cavs signing him for 2 years, $9 million doesn’t make much sense. It’s not a killer deal, in that it has very little effect on the Cavs cap sheet going forward, but there had to be better options to give $4.5 million per annum than Earl Clark. After that strange signing, Cleveland made a very calculated bet on Andrew Bynum’s balky knees, due to his game-tilting impact when he’s able to remain on the floor. I’ve argued before that it was a smart bet. Let’s see how the Cavs project for next year after their offseason moves.

At 41 projected wins, the Cavs look to be firmly within the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. One thing to consider, though, is that these projections are schedule independent, thus far, and therefore, don’t account for the fact that the Cavs will be playing in the very strong Eastern Conference Central Division. The Central features legitimate contenders in the Pacers and Bulls, along with three other teams, including Cleveland, who should all be in the mix for a spot at the bottom of the Eastern conference playoffs. As a result, things might prove a bit more difficult for Cleveland than, say, the Wizards, who really only have the Heat and Hawks to worry about within their division, with what should be easier games against the lowly Bobcats and the rebuilding Magic. In a tight playoff race, those few easy games could be difference makers.

The Cavs signing of Bynum, based on this projection, looks very solid, as in 1500 minutes, he projects to produce 6.08 wins above replacement by xRAPM (xWARP). Nathan Walker’s projection for Bynum’s xRAPM performance is +3.4, which represents a relatively gentle drop off from his +3.9 in his last season (2011–12). That number may prove too optimistic, but I don’t think it’s totally unrealistic either.

One more thing of note with respect to this Cavs team. Their “best” player by conventional wisdom and the eye test is decidedly not their best player when viewing things through the xRAPM lens. Kyrie Irving is a good player by xRAPM, but he is not the superstar he is labeled by other metrics. This is basically entirely because of his defensive performance, which is, to put it nicely, very poor. Last year, Kyrie was a +2.96 on offense, while giving most of it back by putting up a very bad -2.04 on defense, for an overall xRAPM of +.92. On the bright side, many point guards struggle with defense and then improve as they gain experience and learn their responsibilities. Kyrie projects to improve in overall xRAPM to +1.7 and even that may be underestimating things if Mike Brown can impart all of the defensive expertise inside that head of his.

Dan Gilbert stated at the draft lottery that he wanted to avoid another trip to that most hopeful and depressing night on the NBA calendar, and it appears his front office has done enough to get the job done — provided Andrew Bynum, Andy Varejao, and Kyrie Irving stay reasonably healthy, admittedly a dodgy proposition.

Image from edrost88 via Flickr