30 Players in 30 Days: Who Wins the Chip?

curry-lebron-finals

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

My Fave Video

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

My Fave Video

Notice I didn’t put numbers next to them yet. I want to exercise your reading muscles.

Let’s be clear: if this legitimately came down to who the better player is between these two, even one of the biggest Curry fanboys (myself) has to admit that James is better. At this point, if you don’t think that LeBron is the best player in the NBA, you’re just a hater. There’s no argument, no hypothetical… nothing. No other player in this current NBA could have averaged 30–11–9 in the Finals. If I’m wrong, please let me know. I’m fortunate to work in a field where I can refer you to a competent behavioral therapy program.

Despite James’ brilliance, it’s just weird knowing that Golden State won’t be hosting a ring ceremony tonight. Thanks in large part to Curry’s historic shooting season, the Dubs ran through the regular season en route to 73 wins. Despite limping through the playoffs, they had the Cavs in a 3–1 hole in the NBA Finals.

I look at it like this: the Warriors didn’t blow the NBA title. The Cavaliers, and LeBron James, willed their way to a title. Yes, Curry was easily less than 100%, but you can’t put it all on his injury. How about the fact that the Cavaliers did an excellent job harassing him and putting him in uncomfortable defensive match-ups?

On the flip side, yes, Curry struggled to create separation in part because of his injury, but maybe the best shooter in NBA history simply got cold at the wrong time. He had good looks. During that last possession where he was iso’d against Kevin Love—when everyone was yelling at him through the TV to rack him—he makes that step-back three probably seven out of 10 times. Not making excuses, but sometimes that’s the way the ball bounces.

So how does Steph “make that old?” Ironically, thanks to the Kevin Durant signing (which of course I said made the most sense for Durant’s career/sanity back in July), it takes a significant load off of him. During the regular season, the Dubs free-flowing, pass-happy offense was unstoppable. When the Thunder and the Cavs were able to get the Warriors in the half-court, the struggle was real. Why? Because Curry was the only player who could do significant damage off the bounce… and he wasn’t confident in his knee.

The Durant signing, however, is a gamble… a calculated gamble, but a gamble. While you now have three of the best 10 offensive players in the League (yes, I’m including Klay Thompson, even if I disagree with Charles Barkley’s assertion that he’s the third best player in basketball), you had to sacrifice defense.

Maybe Durant and Harrison Barnes defensively is more or less a push, but they had to let Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli—their two best defensive centers—walk. I loved Zaza Pachulia during his time with the Mavs, and there’s no questioning his toughness… but I think he brings more offensive value than defensive value. And can they trust Javale McGee?

They’re literally banking on the fact that their Death Ball Line-up 2.0 can outscore teams significantly during the 15 minutes per game or so they play together.

The Cavaliers, meanwhile, went into this off-season with the attitude, “If it ain’t broke, play chicken with J.R. Smith like it is broke, then finally concede that it isn’t broke, and don’t fix it.”

In fairness, they did add Mike Dunleavy, Jr., who is a talent upgrade but not a locker room upgrade over Richard Jefferson. They let Matthew Dellavedova walk, so there may be some initial questions at back-up point guard, but I think they’ll survive. Thing is, when you win a chip, you don’t have to re-invent the wheel.

Here’s why I think the Cavaliers have a slight leg-up: yes, I believe the Dubs have more offensive firepower and arguably more talent. They’ll be hungry: Curry wants redemption from a uncharacteristically poor postseason and Finals. Durant wants a title for his legacy. Draymond Green wants to kick and punch literal and metaphorical balls.

That said, you don’t think LeBron is motivated to stomp this latest “Super Team”? Do you know what that does to his legacy!? His last two NBA Finals may have vaulted him into the top five all-time. Back-to-back could lift him higher. Kyrie Irving showed during the Finals that he can handle the stage as long as he’s healthy. Kevin Love is much-maligned, but I think he’s growing more comfortable in his role. And Cleveland wouldn’t even have a title without Smith.

When it comes down to it, as much as I love Steph, I just have more questions about Golden State than Cleveland. I hope I’m wrong, but I’ll take the Cavaliers.

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