The Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat are in a struggle for LeBron James. While reports are everywhere with what James is going to do, only he knows for sure (if he has even made a choice yet). We took a look at the Heat/Cavs rosters and judged them based on youth, shooting and size/athleticism recently. Now we want to look at the Top 4 players on each team, assuming Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh return the Heat would only have 4 players under contract, and which of each of the players a GM would choose. We will match up the best players with the best players and work our way down to the 4th best players on each team against each other.
#1 – Kyrie Irving Versus Chris Bosh
Irving is a 22 year old All Star MVP point guard who just signed a 5 year extension, tying him to the Cavs for 6 more years total. In his young career he has struggled with injuries, defense and winning. Yet he is likely in the Top 10 to 15 players in the league a GM would choose to build their team around. The 6’3″ guard out of Duke played 71 games last year averaging over 20 points, 6 assists and 3 rebounds. His PER was an outstanding 20.14. He is being surrounded by better teammates which will help him defensively and with winning.
Bosh is a multiple time All Star and is either the second or third best free agent this off-season behind James and close with Carmelo Anthony. He has extended his range to the 3 point line, plays good defense even though he is skinny for post play and has learned how to win in Miami. He makes smart plays, can rebound the ball and is a versatile big in a league that greatly values those more and more every year. Bosh is 30 years old and will be 34 by the end of his next contract, which includes likely more money then Irving makes. Bosh is one of the Top 25 to 30 players in the league.
GM Selects - Irving. Age and upside are two of the biggest reasons for Irving over Bosh. Irving has great range, ball skills and is only hitting his stride. Bosh is a stellar player but would struggle to carry a team based on demeanor, position and skill set.
#2 – Andrew Wiggins Versus Dwayne Wade
Every #1 needs a solid #2 to come through for them regularly. For Irving he has not yet had that. They tried Luol Deng, Andrew Bynum and Jarrett Jack all to varying degrees of failure. Wiggins hasn’t even played a game in the NBA and is most likely untradeable by the Cavaliers. He is a dynamic athlete with long arms and the willingness to defend all over the floor. His shot is smooth, though not consistent yet, and his offensive game is electric in the open floor with Irving. Wiggins is likely a Top 25 to 30 player an NBA GM would choose to build his team around if they started today, with the likelihood of Top 15 to 20 being more accurate.
Wade has been an exceptional player for years in the league. With his combination of explosiveness, competitiveness and game understanding Wade dominated the league a variety of times. Like most players he struggled when he was the lone star on his team and now is fading due to age. Wade has likely passed his peak given that the Heat rested him last year and he still struggled in the playoffs. He has been a stellar rebounding, slashing and defensive guard but never developed a outside shot he could depend on and can’t transition to a spot up shooter at this point in time. For 1 season he might be a Top 30 player chosen but building a Franchise Wade is more likely a Top 50 pick.
GM Selects - Wiggins but it is close. While Wade has broken down he still is uber talented and has made a great impact on this teams. Wade has leadership, veteran knowledge and grit to make things happen on the floor. Wiggins upside and ability to be a defensive and open floor stud right away give him the edge.
Waiters is a young ball dominate shooting guard who is very streaky and has attitude issues. His shooting improved last season and he has always played with an aggressive attitude. Last season, at 22 years old, Waiters played in 70 games averaging almost 16 points, 3 assists and almost 3 rebounds. His PER was a respectable 14.10. Waiters fit with Irving and Wiggins is unique. Wiggins was often considered a small forward but Cavs GM David Griffin calls him a shooting guard, leaving little room for Waiters. Irving and Waiters are both ball dominate which could cause issues but Wiggins ability to play without the ball helps. Waiters 3 point shooting, 37% last year, also provides spacing when Irving drives.
Cole, a Cleveland area product, is an interesting player. Often compared to Boobie Gibson after his explosive plays in recent playoff runs, he hasn’t developed into a long term starter the Heat had hoped for. At 25 years old he is older then many 3rd year players and may have hit his ceiling. Last year he played in all 82 games averaging almost 6.5 points to go along with 3 assists and 2 rebounds a game. His total PER was 8.80. He is known in the league as a speedy player with good 3 point shooting, yet last year he only shot 35% from 3 point land. Cole’s lack of development, including less then 1 free throw attempt per game, does not predict long term success as a 3rd or 4th option for a contender.
GM Selects - Waiters. While his fit with Irving is unique as a talented player, a GM’s job is to collect talent, Waiters is by far the better selection. Cole gives glimpses of possible breakouts only to sputter. More time with the ball, without some of the big 3, could help his production.
Thompson is a unique young player who has a high motor that helps overcome some lack of skill. His inability to improve his jump shot led him to switch hands last year. He still presented uncomfortable taking the shot, leading to many drives to the hole and passive passes out to teammates. His passing often lacks creativity or setting teammates up for easy attempts. His defensive is good and his rebounding is excellent as he fights for every ball he can. Last year in all 82 games Thompson averaged almost 12 points and 9 rebounds with a PER of almost 15, 14.96. He made 48% from the field while increasing his free throw percentage greatly to 69%. He needs a lot of work on offense and doesn’t provide rim protection on defense. He does have talent and would be better served if he had more talent, like Wiggins and James, around him moving forward.
Napier replaces Mario Chalmers on the Heat. Napier and Chalmers were both college heroes whose game may not translate to the NBA as a superstar. Instead Chalmers was always a solid 4th or 5th option for the Heat but could not be relied upon consistently. Napier is the same age as Irving and was selected 24th overall by the Heat. Last year at UCONN Napier averaged 18 points a game, with almost 6 rebounds and 5 assists. He shot 43% from the field and 41% from the shorter 3 point range. His limited size will make him a liability on defense. He doesn’t project as a stellar guard in the league but can come off the bench to spark an offense. He doesn’t have the same burst Kemba Walker has to make up for his size issues. James loves Napier but that doesn’t mean he will be a star in the league.
GM Selects - Thompson but it is close. The GM takes the known of Thompson over the unknown of Napier. Thompson will always be able to impact the game with his hustle, defense and rebounding while Napier can be taken out of games in the NBA.
A clean sweep for Cleveland. Argument can be made for Wade over Wiggins and Napier over Thompson, not great ones but arguments none the less. Switching those two results still give a tie 2 to 2. With the remaining roster the Cavs have, and the lack of ability for the Heat to add much beyond the Big 3 to their roster it is clear that James’ chase for championships would be helped more by returning to Cleveland.
Yet we could be a homer. Tell us where we are wrong. Tell us what we missed.