These past few days ESPN Insider Bradford Doolittle has been ranking the top 10 players at all five starting positions because what else is there to do in the off-season? With the Cleveland Cavaliers now boasting one of the top starting lineups in the NBA — especially with power forward Kevin Love in the mix — there is reason to be excited about these lists. So far four Cavalier players have been ranked in the top 5 or above at four different positions. Even though we probably won’t see Anderson Varejao popping up on the center list, it’s pretty amazing that ESPN believes that Cleveland now boasts the best overall starting lineup in the league.
ESPN and Doolittle put together these lists according to forecast WARP, but didn’t include players such as Tony Parker and Derrick Rose who suffered injuries last season. What does WARP stand for? Wins Above Replacement Player, which looks at evaluating players by looking at a roster with them around it surrounded by four average players. But this season it looks more at the real plus-minus of that player as well, measuring a player’s efficiency on both ends of the floor. Last season Kyrie Irving was only listed behind two other point guards in these rankings, with Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook finishing in front of him. Although Kyrie Irving is still in the top 5, Stephen Curry and John Wall are know projected ahead of him in terms of WARP.
As noted in the rankings, Kyrie Irving will have a lot of extra help this season with LeBron James and Love on the court next to him. This bodes well for Irving’s efficiency numbers, but his usage rate will most likely go down. Doolittle predicts a WARP of 12.1 with a win percentage of 63 for the Cavaliers when Kyrie Irving is in the game. Here is what ESPN had to say about Cleveland’s All-Star point guard:
Irving was third in last year’s rankings and figured to be on the verge of a breakout campaign. It didn’t happen. Irving’s winning percentage was a career low. This season, Irving’s game will change one way or another with new teammates LeBron James and (probably) Kevin Love around. He’ll have to be a more efficient scorer. Irving’s true shooting percentage was just 53 percent a season ago, and he shot just 46 percent on 2-pointers. More importantly, Irving will need to quit putting up defensive metrics that seriously undercut his bottom-line value.
Coming in after Kyrie Irving were Kyle Lowry, Damian Lillard, Mike Conley, Ricky Rubio and Ty Lawson in that same order. The whole entire list can be viewed here. With two other superstars on the roster, Irving’s WARP isn’t projected as high as it was just a year ago. Part of that may be due to the drop in numbers that Kyrie Irving experienced from year two to year three. Regardless, Irving will be a more effective player thanks to having the company of LeBron James.