The Cleveland Cavaliers are in the weeds. They’ve lost six in a row and 12 of 13. After a respectable start, they now rank 29th and 27th in offensive and defensive ratings. The sniping has started, according to the Athletic, and questions about the makeup of the roster are growing louder. Who is talking? Do any of the guys other than Kevin Love have value on the trade market? How do you form cohesion between 19-year-olds and vets with rings?
It’s best to ignore the comments made last week by anonymous players to the press. Beat downs create frustration, and the Cavs have endured plenty of them. Twenty games in, the players quoted are grasping at something to blame for their poor play. A college coach dipping his toes into the NBA waters makes for a perfect scapegoat. Long film sessions and practices, lack of communication, and a better rapport with the head assistant are standard complaints made by excuse makers unwilling to take responsibility for their current situation. Who on this roster will be around when the Cavs are good again?
The struggles reveal who doesn’t belong as much as who does. Any player or coach or front office member unwilling to shoulder their share of the problems can go. Subtract LeBron James. What success has anyone involved with the Cavaliers’ organization experienced?
John Beilein has proved over a 40 year career that he can rebuild basketball teams. His experience at molding players is all that matters at this stage. Anyone unwilling to accept him as the voice of the franchise doesn’t belong. If good players get traded or cut, so be it. No player on a 5-17 roster is indispensable.
This would never be a quick rebuild. Owners and execs preach patience, but is it practiced? The young guys show flashes, but overall have been bad. There’s no guarantee Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, or Kevin Porter Jr. will be here when the team is competing for a playoff spot. Establishing a culture of responsibility is imperative. Look at Miami. And Dallas. Those organizations have won titles and lost icons. They’ve struggled through disappointing seasons, yet the voices at the top are the same. Rick Carlisle and Erik Spoelstra remain because they provide stability regardless of the players on the floor. They’re running the two most surprising teams in the league because they’ve built a sustainable system. Look at the NBA landscape. Player movement is rampant. Counting on players to steady the franchise is fruitless.
Beilein is this guy for the Cavs, and the front office and fans must put their trust in him. For however long his age and drive allows, he needs to be the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Nothing on the floor works right now. A few quick hits of things in need of improvement.
Matthew Dellavedova is shooting 11.4% from three. He averages 1.5 fouls and a turnover in 13 minutes a game.
No one stops the ball on defense, whether in transition or in the half court. The lack of athleticism and length is a factor, but the scheme isn’t helping. Defenders are sagging too far off their man when providing help. When the ball swings, defenders are out of position, can’t recover, and are giving up layups. Another factor is the Cavs’ on ball defense. They’re shading guys to their weak hand, giving them driving lanes. NBA ball handlers are unfazed by defenders forcing them left and take advantage of the free space. Guard guys chest to chest.
The offense is stagnant. Too often, one action gets run early in the shot clock, then the team stands and watches as the ball handler prods at the defense for 8-10 seconds, searching for a nonexistent opening to attack. Beilein preaches ball and player movement, but neither is happening. While simplistic, the Cavs would be better served running pick and roll over and over. And over. They have quick ball handlers and three capable screeners in Love, Tristan Thompson, and Larry Nance Jr. Love and Nance can shoot, while Thompson and Nance are capable rim runners. The action will move defenses, opening cutting lanes on the weak side and providing open shots. It isn’t sexy, but there’s a reason pick and roll is the bread and butter play for NBA teams.
What’s What Around the League
1. The jokes centering on Nikola Jokic’s fitness level are abundant and on point. The Joker neglected to hire a personal trainer last off-season and his game is suffering. Shooting percentages -from 2 and 3-, points, rebounds, assists; they’re all down. The fourth place finisher in last season’s MVP vote, Jokic expected to lead the Nuggets deep in the playoffs. Denver is third in the West without his best, however, getting strong contributions from the rest of the roster and sporting the second best scoring defense in the league. Denver’s task is tall; the Lakers are a juggernaut; the Clippers haven’t hit their stride yet, and Luka Dončić has the Mavericks ahead of schedule. Jokic needs to return to form, and soon.
2. The Lakers’ length causes huge problems for their opponents. JaVale McGee, Dwight Howard, and Anthony Davis are three of the most athletic big men in the league. With LeBron James orchestrating L.A.’s offense, oops and savage dunks are plentiful. They lead the league in blocked shots, while opponents record the fewest swats per contest. Though the game is being played further from the hoop, paint protection remains vital. Slash and kicks are the most efficient way to get open looks from 3, yet penetrators shy away from the forest of Laker big men inside the paint, making it difficult to generate open looks. With a strong defense to fall back on, the Lakers have catapulted into the favorites spot for the title.
3. The Russell Westbrook experiment in Houston has gone as expected, though Russ’s broken shot is worse than ever. Look at these percentages:
3 point%- 21.6
3 to 10ft.- 46.6
Hell, he’s only 11-16 on dunks. Westbrook is a bulldog. He plays at light speed with the ball in his hands and competes with a fire possessed by no one else in the league. He’s an alpha, however, on a team already with one. For Houston to be successful, the ball must be in James Harden’s hands. This leaves Westbrook as a catch and shoot player. Not ideal. Westbrook is best leading the fast break and still causes havoc for Houston in these situations. When the playoffs roll around and these opportunities wither, however, the Rockets may as well.
4. Montrezl Harrell is the best bench player in the league. He does everything, including textbook high-low passing.
5. Cory Joseph and the Kings put on a clinic Friday in San Antonio on how to botch the last two minutes of an NBA game. And they did it twice. Up 9 with two minutes left in regulation, Joesph turned it over twice, Harrison Barnes got whistled for a charge and missed a free throw, and the team lost Marco Belinelli with 4 seconds left, allowing him to can the game tying 3. In overtime the Kings missed FOUR attempts in the last seventeen seconds to win the game. Whew. The Kings have rebounded, however, winning back to back tough road games in Dallas and Houston. Sacramento seems to have used Friday’s implosion as a team building moment. When De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley return, the Kings should begin to resemble the playoff team some predicted them to be.
6. The Pistons have won 4 of 5, trying to rebound from a poor start and re-enter the playoff hunt. Derrick Rose has been superb in their last ten (plus/minus of 6.7), forcing the action off the bench while also leading the team in crunch time. He beat the Pacers in the last minute on Friday, sinking 2 clutch baskets while assisting on Blake Griffin’s dagger 3, drawing the defense with penetration before kicking the ball to a wide open Griffin. A game winner Monday night against the Pelicans added to his fantastic week. Rose will never return to his MVP form and will become the first winner of the award not to make the Hall of Fame. He’s proving those who thought he was washed wrong (raises hand), however. He provides scoring and playmaking off the bench; the Pistons are 10 points better offensively when he’s on the court. If the Pistons have any shot of making the playoffs, Rose’s stellar play must continue.
7. The fourth best offense in the NBA? None other than the Washington Wizards. While Bradley Beal is a top 25 player in the league, the rest of the roster is lacking. Scott Brooks, often derided, deserves praise for designing an offense around Beal while extracting every ounce of talent out of his squad. While 30th in the league in defense, the Wizards are “run of the mill” bad instead of “worst team in the league” awful. Washington leads the league in assists and has four players shooting over 38% on threes. Beal has improved his game again, scoring 28 per game while dishing 7 assists. His playmaking skills were unknown with John Wall controlling possessions, yet Beal has showed he’s capable of running an offense. If they add a high pick in this year’s draft and John Wall can return at somewhat the same level, the Wizards become interesting again.
8. Giannis’ dunks are breathtaking to watch.
9. Ben Simmons has canned two three pointers this year, an improvement over his career total of zero. While it’s a step in the right direction that he’s taken a few from deep, his game is still a problem for Philly. He’s taking two fewer shots per game and averaging almost 3 points less than last year. The 76ers offense has no easy button. Their best player is a center. Tobias Harris, who they signed to a 180 million dollar deal in the off-season to be their crunch time scorer, is shooting 30% from 3, lowest since his third year in the league. Philadelphia may have the best roster in the East, and they can lock down teams defensively. Their offense is a slog, however. How will they score in the playoffs, when the transition points disappear? Unless they can keep games in the 80s, it’s hard to imagine a path to the title for Philly.
10. Many picked the Bulls to make a playoff push this year, but nah. Zach LaVine is an inefficient, score only guard best suited for the slam dunk contest. The real problem, however, has been the erosion of Lauri Markkanen’s game. He’s down almost 6 points per game on four fewer shots than last year, shooting worse from in front of and behind the arc, and is even rebounding less. Chicago lacks star power, and while Markkanen may be ill-fitted for the role, he’s the best shot on a roster full of role players. The Bulls should shift shots from LaVine to Markkanen. Jim Boylen should establish a hierarchy in Chicago with the correct player at the top.
All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com