With the 2017-18 NBA season almost upon us, this year’s Cleveland Cavaliers squad has been touted as one of the best teams in franchise history due to the fact that the team looks like an All-Star team, with players like Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Isaiah Thomas joining over the summer. While the team is loaded with talent and on paper seems like a lock to win the NBA Championship, it draws a lot of comparisons to the Cavs team that won the 2016 NBA Championship a few seasons ago. The popular question right now is would this current Cavaliers team be able to defeat the championship-winning squad while totally healthy?
First things first, let us break down the depth chart for the 2016 Cavaliers squad:
- PG – Kyrie Irving/Matthew Dellavedova/Jordan McRae/Mo Williams
- SG – JR Smith/Iman Shumpert/Dahntay Jones
- SF – LeBron James/Richard Jefferson/James Jones
- PF – Kevin Love/Channing Frye
- C – Tristan Thompson/Timofey Mozgov/Sasha Kaun
Now let us take a look at the current Cavs team when 100% healthy:
- PG – Isaiah Thomas/Derrick Rose/Jose Calderon
- SG – Dwyane Wade/JR Smith/Iman Shumpert
- SF – LeBron James/Kyle Korver/Cedi Osman
- PF – Jae Crowder/Jeff Green/Channing Frye
- C – Kevin Love/Tristan Thompson/Ante Zizic
For this comparison, we will be breaking down both Cavs’ teams starting units, the bench, and finally who would win in a best of seven series.
When looking at both starting lineups of the current Cavaliers and the NBA Championship winning Cavs there are a few major differences. Obviously, the current Cavs shipped off their star point guard to Boston to land former rival players Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder with Thomas replacing Irving in the starting lineup. The other addition, Crowder, also joins Cleveland’s new starting lineup forcing Kevin Love to slide over to the center position and Tristan Thompson to the team’s sixth-man position. The current Cavaliers also added LeBron James’ best friend Dwyane Wade in free agency after he reached a buyout agreement with the Chicago Bulls.
The first spot we will look at is the point guard spot between Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving. During the 2016 NBA Playoffs Irving finished with averages of 25.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 4.7 assists. He also hit the biggest shot in franchise history, winning Cleveland its first title in over five decades:
When looking at Thomas, last season he finished with averages of 28.9 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 5.9 assists in the regular season and 23.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 6.7 assists during the 2017 NBA Playoffs before succumbing to a lingering hip injury. Thomas was sensational during last year’s regular season and finished in the tops of NBA MVP voting. He also had some spectacular performances during the playoffs, including coming out and playing the game of his career after the passing of his sister.
When dueling Irving and the 2016 championship Cavaliers Thomas has an advantage over the Cleveland squad. While both players are huge negatives on the defensive side of the ball and huge scoring threats, Thomas gets the slight edge over Irving due to the fact that Thomas is able to play off the ball much better compared to Irving. This would allow LeBron James to facilitate the offense and the fact that the current Cavaliers have so much depth allows Thomas to take advantage of Irving’s porous defense.
Up next is the shooting guard position and it is not much of a competition as JR Smith beats out Dwyane Wade. While Wade was arguably the best shooting guard in the league the first time he played with James, heading into the 2017-18 season is nowhere near the case. Smith’s three-point shooting is the X-factor, something Wade sorely lacks in, for the 2016 Championship Cavaliers as he is able to get hot at any given moment.
Up next is the small forward position, where LeBron James is pitted against none other than…LeBron James. While it may look a lot like the famous Nike LeBron commercials of the past, both James and James neutralize one another and make it a deadlock at the small forward spot.
After that, it is a battle between Kevin Love and newly acquired Jae Crowder at the power forward position. This battle seems like almost a toss-up as both players are able to space the floor with great three-point shooting ability but Crowder is the overall better defender. The only problem is that Love is a natural power forward while Crowder is able to defend both forward positions and that gives the current Cavaliers more defensive firepower to play alongside James. In the end, the other forward spot is a draw due to the differences both teams carry between Love and Crowder.
Finally to round out the starting unit is the battle at big man between Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love. This matchup is a landslide victory for the current Cavaliers as Love is able to pulverize Thompson on the offensive side of the ball and able to keep toe-to-toe with Thompson in terms of rebounding ability.
In the end, the current Cleveland Cavaliers get the slight edge 2-1 compared to the 2016 Championship Cavaliers in terms of starting units between both squads.
When it comes to the benches of both teams the key players of 2016 NBA Champions were Matthew Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, and Richard Jefferson while for the current Cavaliers the bench’s key member are Derrick Rose, JR Smith, Kyle Korver, and Tristan Thompson.
While the 2016 NBA Champions were able to be helped by mostly Dellavedova and Jefferson, the current Cavaliers bench completely mops the floor with them. The fact that the current Cavs are able to bring Smith and Thompson, both starters for the 2016 NBA Champions, off the bench and have even more three-point shooting with Korver as well makes a huge difference for the current Cavs’ bench too.
The added depth is a huge plus for a much older Cavaliers team which also helps the team in the long run so they do not have to lean on James as much as the 2016 NBA Champions did. This makes it a lot easier for the current Cavaliers to beat out the only championship winning team in Cavaliers history.
And so, the current Cavaliers squad would be able to go toe-to-toe with the 2016 NBA Championship winning team. In the end, the additions of Thomas, Crowder, and Rose and with Smtih and Thompson now coming off the bench for the current Cavaliers will be huge for the current team in competing with the best team in Cavaliers history. While the team now, when 100% healthy, is certainly a lot older compared to the championship winning team, they would win in a best of seven series against the team that won Cleveland’s first tile in over fifty years. Ultimately all that matters is that the team heading into the 2017-18 season is able to go all the way and join the 2016 team as NBA Champions too.