“The Top 8” is an ongoing weekly column focused on the NBA… And more importantly my favorite NBA team, the Cleveland Cavaliers! There has only been one other installment (last week’s) so far, but if you want to check out the archives I made a tag for them and this is it.
When we left the Cavs last week they were 2-1 with a very tight loss to the Bulls on opening night (-2), followed by a couple of commanding victories over the Grizz (+30) and Heat (+10), respectively. Week Two was another three-game affair, but this week was more of a mixed bag. Though the Cavs won all three games, the margin for victory in each was weaker than we had seen previously. But perhaps more importantly they were against the Sixers, Knickerbockers, and Sixers again; or, arguably the worst team in the league, the worst run team in the league, and [again arguably] the worst team in the league again.
… And not one of those wins was all that convincing :/
Game Four: Cavaliers at Sixers 11/02/15
ESPN Headline: James scores 25,000th career point in Cavs’ win over 76ers
You don’t hit your 25,000th point very often in your career (once, if that); so giving LBJ a headline opportunity to take the bow was nice / fine / appropriate here. Luckily… He was also the best player of the game!
Outcome: Cavs by 7
The Top 8
You may notice that there are actually nine players in this “Top 8” … That is because Cavs big man Kevin Love and Philly big man Nerlens Noel did about as well as each other (identically, based on the Simple Models), so we couldn’t cut to just eight.
The biggest takeaways to this game (for me at least) were 1) a regression to sub-god (if still notable) performance from Kevin Love relative to Week One, and that the Cavs only won by seven.
But man… Can you imagine the world where we took Nerlens Noel first instead of Anthony Bennett? Noel started off slow last year but looks like he will develop into a star-level talent. I’d say the Cavs are allergic to taking great big men (we also drafted Dion Waiters over Andre Drummond) but you can only complain so much with Tristan Thompson performing at superstar level night-in and night-out. TT was tied for third-best this game, and it was by far his weakest outing of the week.
Game Five: Knicks at Cavaliers 11/04/15
ESPN Headline: LeBron scores 23, lifts Cavaliers to 96-86 win over Knicks
Despite its inherent LBJ-ness I can’t really get behind this headline. LeBron didn’t even crack the Top 8 producing players this game! He had twenty-three-on-twenty-three (blah) and missed half his free throws. His was not a bad game by any means, but in this outing he was definitely out-dueled by Carmelo, who despite only seventeen-on-eighteen (worse than LBJ’s offense), pulled down twelve rebounds and generally took care of the ball.
Some other headline ideas:
Knicks fail to hold monster first quarter lead
LeBron James actually starts killing it after killing sleeves
Outcome: Cavs by 10
The Top 8
The best player by far, though, was once again Tristan Thompson! Double-double in only twenty-six minutes; thirteen boards with crazy four-for-six shooting. Mikey likey.
Game Six: Sixers at Cavaliers 11/06/15
ESPN Headline: James scores 31 as Cavaliers beat Sixers 108-102
This James headline is fine. He in fact had the best game, which included three three-pointers and an absolutely filthy thirteen rebounds.
Outcome: Cavs by 6
The Top 8
James was resplendent in this game, but surprisingly, only a hair better than Noel. Noel went 9-18 for eighteen points (blah) but pulled down twelve rebounds and got five (!!!!!) steals. Steals in general have been called the hardest part of the box score to fill; steals out of your big man are great things indeed.
Kevin Love had a weak shooting night but cracked our Top 8 on the strength of fourteen rebounds.
It’s tough to argue with 3-0 on the week, and 5-1 overall.
We know, because it has already happened, that the Cavs opened up Week Three with yet another win (this time against the Indiana Pacers); which is great. The only thing I’m concerned about right now is that the Cavs’ opposition has been quite soft. The Knicks are bad; the Sixers are bad and we played them twice; the Pacers missed the playoffs last year, as did the Heat. A 6-1 start with the second-best differential in the league is an outstanding way to begin the season… I just wish it had been against stronger opposition so I could buy in more.
I am quite positively inclined to the Cavs’ guard situation; Mo Williams looks more consistent, and Delly is showing flashes of superstar, especially in the passing department. Nothing would make me happier in a basketball sense than if the Cavs developed a Spurs-like approach to minutes allocation, with the bench players — in particular Delly and TT — essentially acting as backup All-Stars. The question mark is how Kyrie will fit in when he returns; both Mo and Delly are PGs.
The Top 8 is produced via Simple Models of Player Performance + Box Score data from ESPN.com