Cavaliers rate well when adjusting for playoff rotations. Warriors rate better

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This is the NBA Finals matchup we wanted all along.

Or close, at least.

It would have been a little better with a healthy Kevin Love and no injury questions about Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson.

But the teams are right.

The Warriors have ranked No. 1 when adjusting to playoff rotation at every step. The Cavaliers started second in the league (and way atop the Eastern Conference), dipped after Love’s injury and recovered to show their chops without him.

A reminder how these adjusted rankings are calculated:

In an attempt to get better data, I’ve used nba wowy! to rank playoff teams by regular-season net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating), counting only the lineups that include five players projected to be in the team’s post-season rotation.

This measure is far from perfect. It doesn’t account for opponent or weigh lineups based on how often they’ll be used in the postseason, and it’s impossible to precisely predict a team’s playoff rotation.

Here are the NBA Finalists’ ratings – actual regular-season to projected based on expected rotations:

1. Golden State Warriors

Projected rotation: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Festus Ezeli

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 114.0
  • Defensive rating: 101.3 to 97.1
  • Net rating: +10.4 to +16.9

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

Projected rotation: Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, LeBron James, Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert, Matthew Dellavedova, James Jones

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 114.8
  • Defensive rating: 106.9 to 102.5
  • Net rating: +4.8 to +12.3

Observations:

  • The big question is injuries. I included Klay Thompson (who reportedly expects to play Game 1) and Kyrie Irving (whom David Blatt said hasn’t looked like himself in practice) in their teams’ rotations.
  • The Warriors rate a little worse without Thompson with an offensive rating/defensive rating/net rating of 109.9/96.0/+13.9 in 429 minutes. The drop is entirely on offense, as the defense rates slightly better.
  • The Cavaliers actually rate better overall – the gains coming entirely on defense – without Irving (114.1/93.7/+20.4 in 405 minutes). It’s easy to see how Cleveland fares better defensively without Irving, and in that limited sample, the offense holds up behind heavy usage from LeBron. That’s probably unsustainable over the long run against Golden State. Irving is key to the Cavaliers not over-taxing LeBron.
  • The Cavaliers appear to have a small offensive advantage, the Warriors a significant defensive advantage.
  • Golden State has used a nine-man rotation for most of the playoffs, Cleveland eight. If the Warriors are challenged, they can probably shorten their rotation and improve.