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Another Cavs/OKC Rebuild Comparison



The Cavs rebuild is on schedule.  And not just any schedule, but the rebuild schedule of the 21st
century— the Durant/OKC schedule.  We might be ahead of schedule.  Yes, I said it.  I’m not the first person on the internet to say it, either.  You should say it.  Say it out loud to yourself right now.  Your boss should be able to hear the words dance out of your cubicle; your professor should give a disapproving look while she rambles about the women of the French Revolution.  Your grandma, if you live in her basement, should hear you.  Hell, run upstairs and tell her about it.

I made this chart to prove it.  Sure, it has one of the more self-righteous subtitles ever typed on a stupid chart about sports stats, but the concept is simple.  I took Kevin Durant’s first three seasons in the NBA and the entire Kyrie Irving era of Cavs basketball, and I plotted them together.  I did this to answer the questions, “when did the Thunder rise to playoff contention?  What did the trajectory look like?  Where do the Cavs stand relative to this trajectory?”

The two lines begin several weeks into the Irving/Durant eras of basketball for their respective franchises, when the teams had played about 1000 offensive possessions.  It’s a large enough sample size to give you meaningful stats while leaving room for the ups and downs of an NBA season. 1000 offensive possessions equal about 550 minutes of basketball, or 11-12 games.  In 246 regular season games, Seattle/OKC played 22,000 offensive possessions.  Since the line begins at #1,000, the blue line is a graph of 21,000 points; each point represents the most recent 1,000 offensive possessions.  The stat charted is Efficiency Differential; if you don’t know what that is, it’s pretty much like point differential, but more reliable for measuring team success.

We’ve only seen 11,000 offensive possessions during the Kyrie Irving era.  You can see that the first few weeks went well because rookie Kyrie didn’t have a learning curve, Varejao was healthy, and Antawn Jamison scored enough points to win games.  The red line fell into the depths of crappy, winless basketball because Varejao got injured, Irving got injured, and Antawn surprisingly couldn’t win basketball games by himself.

The rookie Durant era saw lineups like Kevin Durant/Chris Wilcox/Wally Szczerbiak/Kurt Thomas/Earl Watson, or Kevin Durant/Johan Petro/Jeff Green/Mickael Gelabale/Luke Ridnour.  That team played lots of crappy, winless basketball.

Fast forward to year #2 of the Irving era and the red line is making a steady march to mediocrity, much like the Thunder in Durant’s sophomore season with Westbrook.  If you’ve noticed that the red line typically rides a notch or two above the blue, your eyes do not deceive you.  The average of all points in the red line is -7.7; the average of all parallel blue points is -9.6; both stats tell the story of losing basketball, but the Cavs have been less bad! This is despite significant stretches played without Irving during his two injuries.  Durant played 80/82 games in his first season, and 70/82 in his second season (his time missed in the spring of ’09 account for the cataclysmic drop-off before start of the 09-10 season).  Add the fact that the Western Conference is more challenging than the east and we can call it a wash.  Rejoice, the Cavs are on schedule.       

What is much more important is the future of that red line.  During the past month we’ve enjoyed the rise of Tristan Thompson, and a young team flirt with mediocrity behind a potentially transcendent Point Guard.  The parallel stretch of the Durant era witnessed the same rise to mediocrity of a young team on the shoulders of a soon-to-be transcendent Forward.  Aside from Durant’s injury, the Thunder floated around .500 basketball for 50 games before leaping to the next level-- a 50-32 season and 8th seed.

The red line on this graph is obviously not going to mirror the blue from this point onward.  The Cavs are not the Thunder, and they will follow a unique path of ups and downs for the next year. But if the rebuild stays on schedule and Kyrie Irving is healthy, we’ve seen the end of horrible basketball in Cleveland.  The Cavs will bounce around mediocrity and add a piece or two before ascending to playoff contention.  In any case, there’s a long road ahead.  At this point in the Durant era, he was still getting used to wearing a Thunder jersey.

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