It’s a chalky, chalky world out there. The Cleveland Cavaliers have big expectations for 2014-15 now that LeBron James is back, but is it possible they’ll be even better than the NBA odds would have us believe?
It runs against everything we’ve been taught as handicappers. When a superstar player goes to a new team, fans tend to go nuts and overvalue the impact that player will have on the win column. You can imagine the frenzy when LeBron James decided he was returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Not only did the Cavs rocket to the top of the NBA odds list at 5-2 to win the title, they also ended up with the league’s highest regular season win total at 58.5.
We’re saying the Cavaliers will blow that total out of the water. So do Kevin Pelton’s SCHOENE projections, which have Cleveland finishing the regular season at 68-14. It isn’t just the addition of James (plus-9.08 RPM), the best player in the NBA. And it’s not just the addition of Kevin Love (plus-5.06 RPM), one of the best big men in the league. It’s also the strengthening of the bench and the continuing development of Cleveland’s young players, especially Kyrie Irving (minus-1.40 RPM), who will presumably learn to play some defense this year. This is why we’re adding the Cavs to our Top 5 list of OVER teams for 2014-15. Here are the remaining four:
Los Angeles Clippers (56.5)
Here’s another team that doesn’t scare us from a chalkeating perspective. The Clippers won 57 games last year even though Chris Paul (plus-7.98 RPM) missed 20 games to injury. Paul isn’t the paragon of health, but he’s likely to play at least as much if not more often this year. Blake Griffin (plus-4.65 RPM) and DeAndre Jordan (plus-3.56 RPM) are both still developing, and the frontcourt will have more depth with Spencer Hawes (minus-1.85 RPM), who shot 41.6 percent from downtown for the Cavs and the Philadelphia 76ers. The Clippers project to win 60 games this year under both SCHOENE and RPM.
Chicago Bulls (54.5)
We snack on danger and dine on chalk. Aside from the Cavaliers, no team added as many pieces to its roster as the Bulls – if you include Derrick Rose, who posted a plus-1.76 RPM in the 10 games he played for Chicago last year. Rose appears much healthier than he did when he made his first comeback attempt. And this year, he’ll be joined by Pau Gasol (plus-1.04 RPM), who even at this advanced stage of his career should be a big improvement over Carlos Boozer (minus-4.13 RPM). Let’s see what Euro import Nikola Mirotic brings to the table, as well.
Indiana Pacers (33)
Now we’re in more familiar UNDER territory, scraping the bottom of the bargain bin for value. The Pacers were the top team in the East last year, but they faded down the stretch, and then Paul George (plus-2.74 RPM) broke his leg while practicing with Team USA for the World Cup. But George is already back to shooting jumpers and could play at some point this year. Lance Stephenson (plus-1.04 RPM) is gone, too, but he was overvalued last year because of his triple-doubles. Indiana is projected to win 35 games according to SCHOENE and 36 games according to RPM.
Minnesota Timberwolves (27)
Of all the teams we’re recommending for the UNDER, we like the Timberwolves as our best choice for NBA picks. They’re being severely undervalued in the marketplace after sending Love to the Cavaliers in a three-way trade that brought Thaddeus Young (plus-1.70 RPM) over from Philadelphia, plus this year’s No. 1 overall pick, potential superstar Andrew Wiggins. Oh, and last year’s No. 1 pick, Anthony Bennett (minus-5.25 RPM). He might still be salvageable, though, after coming into camp injured and overweight last year. Ricky Rubio (plus-3.90 RPM) is one of the Top 10 point guards in the league, and Nikola Pekovic (plus-3.50 RPM) is one of the Top 10 centers. Kneel before Zod.