The Cleveland Cavaliers have hit a wall since Dion Waiters went down with a sprained wrist, losing four of their last five, following a skein where they won five of six.
That stretch made it appear that the team was turning a corner and at 9-13 following the winning streak, they looked poised to challenge the .500 mark, which in the Eastern Conference would certainly get you in the playoffs.
Casual fans throughout northern Ohio were also talking about how the offense had picked up with the wine and gold scoring over 100 points five games in a row. They were quick to point out that Mike Brown’s offense was working.
But Waiters injury has sent the Cavaliers into a tailspin. Why? Is he that important to this basketball team?
How can that be since he is supposedly a malcontent?
The reason can be explained by examining Brown’s offense.
In today’s Plain Dealer, Terry Pluto discusses how the Cavs’ shooting percentage and scoring are down from last year. This drop in offensive efficiency has offset the improvement made on the defensive end.
As we have discussed before, Cleveland’s attack is predicated on dribble penetration, and right now, the Cavs only have two players who can take defenders off the dribble consistently: Kyrie Irving and Waiters. This means the latter’s absence cuts the number of players who can perform the primary tenet of the offense down to one.
Watch tonight’s game. There is very little movement away from the basketball. And in close games, where defenses tighten up, it becomes increasingly more difficult for players to get to the basket. That’s why the wine and gold struggle in late game situations. They spend 3/4 of the shot clock trying to get to the basket, and have precious little time to set up a good shot.
Instead, why not pick away from the ball to free up an open and very makeable mid-range jump shot or even open up a driving lane for someone else to get to the basket?
The Cavaliers’ shooting percentage is down because they are forced to take bad shots with the shot clock winding down because there is no offensive plan.
C. J. Miles was hitting shots early in the year, scoring 86 points in his first six games (14.3 ppg), but since, he has scored in double figures just three times, scoring just 6.2 per night. The closest anyone has come to picking up the perimeter shooting has been Earl Clark.
They can be effective when the defense is playing well, and they are forcing missed shots and getting out to run the floor, because they aren’t in half court situations. We also see Irving trying to force tempo off of made shots to get the Cavs into situations where they can get a good look before the opposing defenses are set up.
So, what is the solution?
Well, there are two. First, they could get one or two more players who can get to the basket on a regular basis. Then, the Cavs can spread the floor and open up the court to create driving lanes.
Or, they could develop an offense that has some movement away from the ball to free players up for open mid-range jump shots. At this point in the season, that would certainly be more difficult.
Brown has tried to develop a low post presence with Andrew Bynum in the game, and that has helped. Bynum most definitely draws a double team down low, which leaves someone open. Starting Clark at small forward would provide two outside shooting threats (along with Miles) to go with the inside out game.
The points total is starting to climb, but the Cavalier offense isn’t really more effective. Getting Dion Waiters back in the lineup would be a start in making the attack a lot better.