NBA Finals Fall Out

With the end of the NBA Finals, we are left with a bunch of questions, some of which are legitimately interesting and others that are a bit prosaic.  Let’s plow ahead and answer all these questions as best we can:

Did the Cavs disappoint in the Finals?

Objectively, each of the last three Finals had the same basic themes: the Warriors are vastly superior on paper but the Cavs had LeBron James, who was/is still as good as any player in the NBA.  The only real difference in the series was injuries and some fluke plays.  Just for some context, here are LBJ’s stats from the last three Finals:

-2014-15:  45.7 mpg, .398 FG%, 13.3 rpg, 8.8 apg 35.8 ppg

-2015-16: 41.7 mpg, .494 FG%, 11.3 rpg, 8.9 apg, 29.7 ppg

-2016-17: 42.4 mpg, .564 FG%, 12.0 rpg, 10.0 apg, 33.6 ppg

LeBron will be 33 but he was better in 2016-17 against the Warriors than he was even last year.  The fact that the Cavs were able to squeeze out one Finals of three should be considered an incredible accomplishment.  Speaking of LBJ, the next natural question is…

Will LeBron leave Cleveland?

James has a very flexible contract that allows him to move on if he feels that the Cavs has stagnated.  There are a lot of considerations to such a decision.  The argument for leaving Cleveland: the Cavs have gotten worse every season since LeBron returned (per SRS rating) and they have little in the way of salary cap room to improve unless they can move some supporting pieces or they convince a star player to take a nominal salary to compete for title.

The argument for staying:  the Cavs aren’t great but the Eastern Conference still looks like cakewalk for LeBron.  Out west, the Cavs would have to run a gauntlet of really good teams before even getting to the Warriors again.  On top of that, James would catch some flak for leaving Cleveland again.  Objectively, LeBron doesn’t really owe the Cavs fans anything more.  He got them that long awaited title and took the Cavs as far as he possibly could.  Human nature is human nature, however, and it is inevitable that many Clevelanders would not be happy.   While short term complaints probably won’t deter LBJ from leaving town, there is no natural better fit unless LeBron took a pay cut and went somewhere like San Antonio to form a ridiculously good team, which leads to another natural question….

Are super teams bad?

There is much written about the threat of super teams to the NBA.  It’s not clear that there is a universal definition of what a super team is.  Is a super team a dynasty that wins tons of titles?  Is a super team a coalition of star players which dominates the NBA?  The answer seems to be a bit of both.  The Warriors qualify as a super team by those definitions.  But the history of the NBA shows that dynasties are good for the game.  Interest in the NBA, television ratings, and revenue growth for the NBA all seem to coalesce around the formation of super teams, whether they be the Jordan Bulls, the Lakers and Celtics of the 1980s, or the current Warriors.  By contrast, the absolute nadir of the NBA popularity was the parity stricken late 1970s.

Turning to the super warriors, they weren’t really assembled in any unfair way.  Yes, they signed Kevin Durant but the core of this great team was obtained by drafting really well with late lottery picks (Stephen Curry was 7th and Klay Thompson was 11th) and nailing that one great second rounder (Draymond Green at 35th).  This team was not assembled through collusion but through a confluence of excellent drafting and a little luck.  It is nearly impossible to replicate that model. The Warriors haven’t gamed the system, they have just been really well run.

How good were the 2016-17 Warriors?

Numerous times we have railed against dumb statements from older pros who state that the Warriors were somehow not up to the class of other old great teams.  Steve Kerr rightly pointed out some of the silliness of that argument.   Still, let’s chew on the greatness of these Warriors.  The 2016-17 Warriors SRS is the second best since the 1973-74 season (behind the 1995-96 Bulls).  In fact, this Warriors team was better on paper and via SRS than even last year’s 73-win team.

The 1995-96 Bulls were the consensus best team of all-time before the Warriors popped up.  We reviewed how the Bulls and these Warriors matched up and concluded: (a) that the rules in effect for such a game would very much be relevant to the outcome, (b) the Warriors three-point shooting would be hard to match, but (c) Michael Jordan would be the best player on the floor and that might really matter.

So, I am somewhat agnostic as to which team would win a seven-game series.  Certainly, they are close enough that either team could win.  If forced to choose the “better team,” I would take the Bulls by a hair based on the MJ factor.  As for the rest of the quasi-recent dynasties (the Bird Celtics, the Magic Lakers, the Dr. J/Moses 76ers, the Shaq-Kobe Lakers, and even the Bad Boy Pistons), they are a notch below the Warriors.  Certainly the lack of zone defenses and the ability to hand check the Warriors might make things tough in a hypothetical series for these older teams and the Warriors but GS has been so much better than its peers.  Even those old great teams were not nearly so dominant as the Warriors were.  All available evidence shows that the list of all-time teams is MJ Bulls and Curry/Durant Warriors as 1 and 1a for now and everyone else a bit below them.

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