By the end of this week, the Cleveland Cavaliers will have played half of their NBA schedule, and no one thought they would be struggling this much.
They are currently sitting below the .500 mark at 19-20, far from the juggernaut many experts predicted before the season started with LeBron James returned to the team, and GM David Griffin traded for Kevin Love.
Yes, there are a lot of new players that started the season with the wine and gold, and the recent trades made by Griffin have added three more new players (one of whom, Iman Shumpert hasn’t played yet), and that makes continuity and knowing your teammates very difficult.
The biggest problems seem to be on the defensive end, where right now it appears there isn’t a consistent effort on a nightly basis.
Part of the problem is the lack of quickness on the players defending the perimeter. That problem means they play off of the opponent to stop penetration, and then cannot recover to contest the jump shot. This has led in part to allowing a 51.6% defensive field goal percentage thus far, second worst in the league behind only Minnesota.
It seems like teams hit an inordinate amount of three-point shots against the Cavs, but the wine and gold ranks 19th defensively against the long distance shot. That’s not great, but they are getting hurt inside the arc.
In terms of defensive efficiency, the Cavs rank as the sixth worst defense in the NBA. That needs to improve and quickly.
Yes, we understand that Love and Kyrie Irving aren’t good defensively, but you can cover that up by team concepts. Right now, the team scheme needs to be revamped because it’s not getting it done.
Cleveland allows the sixth most dunk attempts in the league, but don’t allow a lot of layup attempts. However, opponents convert a good percentage of those layup attempts, which Timofey Mozgov should help with.
Where the Cavs get killed is on jump shots of between 16 feet and the three-point line, as opponents are making 46.3% of their shots, two percent more than the next worst team Toronto. Besides the Raptors, no one else is giving up more than 42.6% of these shots.
That’s because the perimeter defenders are having a problem closing out on shooters.
Oddly, this ties into the other problem, the lack of three-point shooting. Cleveland ranks 18th in the NBA offensively, which is disappointing for a team with Irving, Love, Mike Miller, and James Jones on it. The thought before the season was with all the ability the Cavs have going to the basket, these guys would have plenty of good looks from beyond the arc.
Irving shot close to 40% in his first two years in the league, but shot just 36% last year and is sitting around that mark again this season.
Love came into the season hitting 36% of his shots from distance, but he’s dropped to 34% this season.
Miller has been over 40% each of the last three seasons, but he’s dropped to 35.3% in 2014-15.
Jones is a career 40% shooter that is making 36.8% of those shots this season.
The latter two are big problems because they don’t provide the perimeter defense the Cavs need, and they aren’t making as many shots as they have in the past. And quite frankly, if Miller and Jones aren’t hitting shots, there is no reason to put them on the floor.
David Blatt would be better served playing Joe Harris, who is a little better defensively, at this point in time.
At this point, the Cavs still seem to be using the roster turnover as an excuse, which it shouldn’t be half way through the season. They really need to just start playing hard, especially defensively.
One other thing. This team needs to get out and run, but if the other team keeps scoring, it’s difficult to get transition buckets.
The defense has to get fixed right now.