The most recognized weakness experts thought the Cleveland Cavaliers would have going into the season was on the defensive end, and to this point in the campaign, that has been the case.
The wine and gold currently rank 24th in the NBA in points allowed at 104.3, 7th from the bottom, and are third last in the association in defensive field goal percentage, allowing opponents to make 48.4% of their shots.
In regard to the points, the Cavs are scoring 106.7 points per night, meaning they are outscoring their opponents by 2.4 points a game.
In defending three-point shooting, Cleveland is in the middle of the pack, allowing a 35.8 % rate, meaning the bigger problem is inside the three-point arc.
Now, this is no question that the defense is definitely affected by the number of new people on the roster. Playing well on that end of the floor requires knowing where your teammates are and having the trust that if you leave your man to help, someone else will cover for you.
That comes from playing together, and there isn’t a question here that the Cavaliers will be a better defensive team after the All Star Game than they are right now.
However, any improvement to be made on the defensive end has to come with a better effort from the backcourt, particularly Kyrie Irving.
First, let’s remember that a good portion of defense is “want to”. Working hard on that end of the floor is half the battle.
Let’s also remember that Irving has plenty of quickness. He is a superb penetrator on offense with the ability to seemingly get to the rim any time he wants to. So, there shouldn’t be any reason why the likes of Ty Lawson and Rajon Rondo blow past him time and time again during a game.
When this happens, we all know what comes next. Either Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varajao, or Kevin Love have to stop the man going to the basket, allowing a player like Rondo to dish to the vacated teammate. Rondo wound up with 16 assists against the Cavs last Friday night, and Lawson had 12 last night.
What is puzzling is that Rondo is not renown as a good shooter from outside and Lawson was 0 for 6 from behind the arc last night. This begs the question, why not give either player a step defensively and force them to beat you from outside first?
It still comes back to Irving making a commitment to be a solid player on the defensive end. Yes, it’s still early in the season and to be sure, LeBron James has to be in his ear about getting better in that area, but the two-time all-star has to get better on that end of the floor.
David Blatt cannot continue to have to put James or Shawn Marion on the opposition’s point guard when Irving can’t handle the job. They will get worn out sooner than later.
When Matthew Dellavedova gets back, you may see him take that responsibility at the end of games.
The point is this, Kyrie Irving has too much ability to be this poor of the defensive player and any improvement in this area for the Cavaliers rests on him being able to stop the parade on opposing guard going toward Cleveland’s basket.
As Cavs’ announcer Austin Carr likes to tell the story of what Jim Chones would say to him when he didn’t keep his man in front of him. Chones would tell him he was going to let him score, rather than pick up a foul.
This edition of the Cavaliers can score the basketball, but they won’t be an elite team, a championship team until they can stop the other team. Irving is the key to making that happen.