Experience a must in building contenders


By Imaz Athar / Staff Writer

When LeBron James and Kevin Love signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers in July, the team immediately became the favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the 2015 NBA Finals. It seemed like a guarantee that the Cavaliers would bring a championship to, perhaps, the most unlucky sports city in the United States.  

The consensus between sports media and fans was that the Cavaliers would dominate the regular season — Vegas had the over/under for Cavaliers wins set at 58.5. The Cavaliers have played six games so far, and they haven’t lived up to the public’s expectations. Miscommunication and lack of ball movement have been the major themes in their games, and they fell to teams they should have beaten easily.

It seems shortsighted that we all thought the Cavaliers would be so good so quickly. However, at the time of our predictions, it seemed to make perfect sense. But why? Because the NBA is, without a doubt, the most predictable league of the four major professional sports.

Take a look at the MLB. The Kansas City Royals were a wild card team without a major superstar player, but they ended up only a win away from the World Series title. The NFL is just as unpredictable as baseball. The eventual Super Bowl champion isn’t always the team that’s projected to win at the beginning of the season — the 2007 and 2011 Giants, 2010 Packers and even the 2012 Ravens are all recent examples of this. Unpredictability is the definition of the NHL playoffs. At this point, it’s actually surprising if the eighth seed doesn’t eliminate the first seed in the playoffs.

While the unpredictability and randomness of the NFL, MLB and NHL drives sports gamblers and die-hard fans crazy, the NBA causes very little uproar. In the NBA, the team with the most talent almost always wins. In past years, the team with the most stars won the most games during the regular season, and the team that won the most games in the regular season almost always won the NBA championship. So, it all made sense when everyone predicted that the Cavaliers would win immediately. They have the most talented and star-studded team in the NBA and, as history suggests, they should win the most games.

One thing that fans always seem to forget when making predictions about teams is that talent — although very important — isn’t the only factor that determines a team’s success. Perhaps the most important factor when considering how successful a team will be is continuity. Battle-tested teams that have played together for long periods of time and know each other’s tendencies seem to always succeed.

Again, recent history supports this phenomenon. The San Antonio Spurs epitomized continuity. After years of playing together, the team developed an offensive and defensive system in which all the players moved on a string. Every action, pass and defensive rotation was made seamlessly. Even star-studded teams, like the Miami Heat, need time to develop continuity in order to win. In their first year together, the Heat’s stagnant offense was overmatched in the 2011 NBA Finals by the team-oriented style of the Dallas Mavericks. It took a whole year before the Heat realized how to play together.

Continuity isn’t unique to the NBA. Although the NFL, MLB and NHL are all more unpredictable than the NBA, a team’s success depends on continuity. Underdog teams like the 2012 Baltimore Ravens and the 2014 Los Angeles Kings were able to win championships, despite not being the best team during the regular season, because they played through adversity in the past and had been in situations where they needed to play as a single unit. Things seem to click after all of these experiences — over time, teams establish the continuity necessary to defeat any opponent.

The Cavaliers have a mix of young and veteran players who have never played together before. While it’s certainly true that the team has tremendous talent, history suggests that talent alone doesn’t translate to wins. The public’s preseason prediction of the Cavaliers winning the 2015 NBA title doesn’t depend on how talented the team is. Instead, it depends on whether or not they’re able to develop chemistry. The question of whether or not they’ll develop continuity cannot be answered right now, but if the first few games of the season are any indication, it may take longer than expected. 

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