2015-2016 Cavs ranked 20th in SLAM’s Top 75 teams of all-time

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by BECK DIEFENBACH/Getty Images
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by BECK DIEFENBACH/Getty Images /

Slam Magazine has been steadily putting out its ranking of the top 75 teams of all-time, and recently, the 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers slotted in at #20. That was in the #21-11 list, which was revealed last weekend. It’s not the NBA’s official list, but it coincides with the NBA during this season’s All-Star break announcing the top 75 players of all-time; the list was ran SLAM’s special collector’s issue, for reference.

The Cavs ranking here feels about right. In 2015-16 the Cavs breezed through the regular season with a 57-25 record which ultimately was good enough for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference.

This was a team with a top 2 player of all-time at the peak of his powers in LeBron James, a top 5 point guard and top 10 player in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love was a top 20-25 player still in the prime of his career. The only in-season drama the Cavs had was the inevitable coaching change when the Cavs went from David Blatt to Tyronn Lue, because they felt Lue was better suited to lead this group.

The Cavaliers in the playoffs made quick work in the East and breezed through its playoffs. They swept the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks in the first two rounds and beat the Toronto Raptors in 6 games to get to the NBA Finals. The series between the Cavs and Raptors on the surface may look close, but the series was never close considering Cleveland’s average margin of victory in that series was over 28 points.

In the NBA Finals the Cavaliers, as everyone knows, were known as the only team in NBA history to get down 3-1 and come back to win the NBA Finals. A big reason the Cavaliers got down 3-1 in the first place, was Kyrie and LeBron just didn’t play that well in the first two games in Golden State. After Cleveland got down 3-1 James and Irving went superhero in the last 3 games of the Finals. They had the highest output by a pair of teammates in Game 5 when they combined for 82 points.

Irving averaged 30 points per contest in the last 3 games, hit one of the iconic shots in NBA history in the final minute in Game 7 and outplayed the back-to-back MVP in Stephen Curry in that series. James had back-to-back 40-point games in Games 5 and 6, while he topped it off with a 27-point triple-double, and his block on Andre Iguodala is one of the best plays in NBA history.

The Cavaliers role players were also critical, as Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith both had big games in the last 3 games of that series. Love didn’t have his best series, but he showed up when it mattered most in the last game of the season.

The Cavs will always be well known in historical reference, because they’re the only team to comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals. Not only that, but they had to win twice on the road against a historically great team in the Warriors, who finished 21st all-time on this SLAM list.  Much like the 2007 New England Patriots in the NFL, had the Warriors finished off their season with a championship, they likely would’ve been viewed as one of the top 5-10 teams all-time, but not winning it all in the end puts them out of that picture.

This ranking feels about right, although I probably would’ve put the Cavaliers over the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls. The Bulls are one of the greatest dynasties ever in sports , but that last Bulls team was running on fumes at that point. Michael Jordan was clearly the best player in the world at that point still, but in a lot of ways age caught up with plenty of guys.

It wasn’t the same dominant Bulls team from the previous 2 years that seemed invincible. Scottie Pippen at that point had surgery in the offseason that caused him to miss a good portion of the season and was never an All-Star again. Dennis Rodman wasn’t nearly as good as he was the previous 2 years, either.

In previous years the Bulls didn’t have much of an issue in the Eastern Conference, but the Indiana Pacers were able to push Chicago to 7 games before they ultimately won a close Game 7 and the NBA Finals nearly went 7 games. Pippen’s bad back limited his effectiveness in Game 6 and age in a number of ways again caught up with the rest of the team.

This is probably the most impressive thing about Jordan’s career. He was able to will a Bulls team that was at the end and was running on fumes to one last championship then.

Next. Cleveland Cavaliers: Top 30 all-time greatest players. dark

That wasn’t the same dominant Bulls team from previous seasons and I’d probably rank the Cavaliers we’ve been alluding to ahead of the ’97-98 Bulls, but this has been a really good list by SLAM and I feel the ’15-16 Cavs coming in at #20 is the right place for them.