What Could Cavs Have Done Differently?

Now that the Cleveland Cavaliers’ season has ended with a sweep at the hands of the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, it is time for a look back at some of the reasons the season was filled with ups and downs.

One of the things that failed Cleveland in the Finals was their defense.  The Warriors shot 51.3% for the four games, and shot 60.5% from inside the arc, a whopping percentage.

Many of these shots were uncontested layups and dunks by the Warriors’ “non-stars”. JaVale McGee shot 16 of 20 from the floor, Shaun Livingston was 13 of 15, Jordan Bell was 10 for 14.  That’s 39 of 49 from that trio alone.

McGee in particular got a whole bunch of easy shots because the Cavs couldn’t defend the high pick and roll, something they struggled with all season.

We have railed all season long about a solid defensive plan for the team, something it could hang it’s hat on.  As we have written previously, this lack of a basic defensive scheme came back to bite the wine and gold in the end.

The failure to manage LeBron James’ minutes also played a factor.  While James wanted to play in all 82 games for the first time in his career, he didn’t have to lead the league in minutes.

That also falls back on the coaching staff’s reluctance to build some kind of offense when The King was sitting on the bench.  We understand the plan was to put the ball in LeBron’s hands and let him orchestrate things, but when he wasn’t playing, there wasn’t a different attack.

That meant the Cavs struggled with James sitting, meaning coach Tyronn Lue had to rush him back in there to win games.

Early in the season, Cleveland was a veteran laden team, with Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, and Jae Crowder playing key roles.  Rose got injured and left the team for awhile, and Crowder never fit in to the way to play off of James.

Wade initially was a starter, but after a few games, found his niche as the leader of the second unit, and the Cavaliers took off.  We may never know what happened, but when the deals at the deadline were made, they involved Wade going home to Miami, which we feel everyone signed off on.

After those deals, it never seemed like the coaching staff involved or did anything to maximize the talents of Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson, particularly the former. Larry Nance Jr. fit in because he’s instinctual and athletic.

And Cedi Osman, another good athlete already on the roster, and a contributor after the deals, never got back in the mix after he suffered a hip injury.

From game 42 through 52, Osman played at least 15 minutes every game, of which the Cavs won eight, and he averaged almost nine points, and 3. 5 rebounds per game.

After the injury, he played more than 15 minutes three times, a win over Washington, the loss to Philadelphia where the Cavaliers almost won after being down by 30, and the last game of the season.

Could Osman’s athleticism and basketball IQ have helped in the playoffs?  We won’t know because he played only in garbage time.

The failure of getting athletic young players like Hood, Clarkson, and Osman, and even Ante Zizic, a former first round pick, hurt the Cavs in The Finals.

These were things everyone was concerned about as the season went on, so much of this is not a second guess.

But if James returns to the Cavs next season, these things need to be addressed for the betterment of the franchise and more success going forward.

Being younger and having a smarter team will help going forward.



Can Cavs Finally Have Continuity in Playoffs?

We believe if you look up the term “a season in flux”, the picture that will accompany the definition will be that of the 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers.

It started in training camp when LeBron James was nursing a sprained ankle and missed virtually the entire exhibition season.

That cost the team valuable on-court chemistry time with all the new faces brought in during the off-season.

When the season opened, Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, Jose Calderon, and to a lesser extent, Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic never shared the court with The King.

After a slow start (5-7), Rose and Tristan Thompson got hurt, so Calderon went into the starting lineup, and the wine and gold had their best stretch of the season, winning 18 of 19 games, with the second unit led by Dwyane Wade and Kyle Korver making a huge impact.

Thompson came back first and then Isaiah Thomas returned to the floor, and things got out of whack, with the Cavs struggling in January (6-8) and particularly on defensive end of the floor.

Kevin Love then broke his hand, and Tyronn Lue started giving Osman more playing time, so there was another period of adjustment.

Really, the only constants in terms of good quality play to this point in the season were James and Green.  The rest of the team either missed time with injuries or were up and down in terms of quality of play.

Next came the big move at the trade deadline when GM Koby Altman traded off half the roster, bringing in some youth with Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., and Rodney Hood, as well as veteran point guard George Hill.

To this point, Hood and Hill still don’t look comfortable playing with James, and while the former has missed time recently with a back problem, Hill played his 16th game with LeBron last night.

When the Cavaliers went on a west coast trip, the players starting dropping one by one, as they finished the trip without Thompson, Nance, Osman, Hood, Korver, as well as Love.

That meant John Holland and London Perrantes, whose names James may or may not know (we are kidding, we think) were getting time.

Now, Love returns to the lineup, but the squad is missing their head coach, as Lue is taking time away from the team to take care of a medical issue that has plagued him over the past few months.

Thompson and Nance are said to be close to returning, possibly this week, and Osman and Hood should be back in another week, causing more combinations of players that probably haven’t spent much time on the floor together.

All this with three weeks remaining in the regular season.

Is it possible that the Cavaliers will finally get some continuity just as the playoffs are set to begin?  It very well may be.

And the experience the younger players have gained with all of the injuries in the second half of the season will give Lue many options to go to depending on what the opposition is doing?

Getting Lue healthy is a key too.  There is no question in our mind that when we aren’t feeling well, you aren’t thinking clearly.

This is not a guarantee of another appearance in The Finals.  There are a lot of teams in the East that can cause a problem, and no question, Toronto is an excellent basketball team with plenty of playoff experience.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the injured guys came back next week, and the Cavs had three weeks of being able to play with the same players?  We are sure everyone in the organization has that thought.





Best Thing For Cavs’ Defense? Make Shots.

There is no question that the Cleveland Cavaliers’ defense has been hugely disappointing so far in this young NBA season.

And the biggest thing needed to help the defense might be for the Cavs to start making shots.

That seems ridiculous, right?

Let’s start with the fact that the Cavs’ transition defense is terrible.  Besides giving up easy layups on fast break opportunities, the new NBA has three point shooters spotting up in transition, and they are getting wide open opportunities.

In the wine and gold’s four victories this season, the lowest shooting percentage for the team was an Opening Night 45.8% vs. Boston.  In the other three games, the Cavs shot over 50%.

In their five losses, they shot 50% or better in just one game, the loss last Wednesday night to Indiana.

Overall, Cleveland ranks 5th in the NBA in field goal percentage, but that is misleading because LeBron James has started the season on fire.

James has been taking roughly a quarter of the team’s shots (23.1%), and he is making a crazy 61% of those attempts.

However Kevin Love, who has taken the next most shots, is hitting just 41.4% of his attempts.  Derrick Rose is third in attempts per game, and is making 50%, but he has missed four games, and the Cavs lost three of those contests.

It gets worse from there, though.

Dwyane Wade is making just 40.3%, Jae Crowder is hitting on 39.7% of his shots, and JR Smith is at a horrific 27.4% total, and only 21% from behind the arc.

And those players rank 4th through 6th on the team in field goals attempted.

Combined, that sextet combines for 88% of the Cavaliers’ field goal attempts on the season.  And four of those players are in major shooting slumps.

When those guys start making more shots, and yes, we understand James won’t be able to maintain that torrid pace (we think), there will be less transition opportunities, which will help the defense.

That’s not the only thing that needs to improve.

For some reason, the Cavs’ organization seems to ignore the impact of having big men on the floor.

Even Golden State, for all of their small ball tendencies, still have made it a priority to have some size on the roster.  Besides Kevin Durant, they have Zaza Pachulia, JeVale McGee, and David West, and brought in rookie Jordan Bell, who Steve Kerr is giving some playing time.

Without Tristan Thompson available, coach Tyronn Lue needs to start giving rookie Ante Zizic some time because outside of Love and Jeff Green, he doesn’t have a lot of height on the roster.

Sometimes, we think the Cavs forget that height is a big factor in the sport of basketball.

We also believe the Cavaliers play too fast for their own good.

In 2015-16, Cleveland was 28th in pace and 10th in defensive efficiency.  That number dropped to 21st last season, with the Cavs ranking 15th in pace.

This season, albeit very early, Lue’s team ranks 14th in pace, and last in defense.  Perhaps some sort of compromise is in order.

We believe the shooting issues will take care of themselves.  Players like Love, Crowder, and Smith have proven track records of making shots.

The other issues are incumbent on the coaching staff.  There is a time to play bigger and slower, particularly with a roster that is one of the league’s oldest.

We will see if Lue can adjust.



Cavs Having October Basketball Issues

The first week of the NBA season is a time for weird things to happen.

That’s why we aren’t too concerned with the performance of the Cleveland Cavaliers thus far.

Tyronn Lue’s team has struggled out of the gate, losing two of their last three, against a trio of teams expected to be also-rans this season, the Magic, Bulls, and Nets.

If we get to game 15, and the team is 8-7 and still struggling to show any consistency, then we may have some serious questions.

Remember that the Cavaliers have eight new faces on the roster, and three of those players, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, and Isaiah Thomas, have been battling injuries.

Rose might be more important to the team than originally thought.  The Cavs opened with two straight wins, but he left the latter of the two victories late with a sprained ankle and hasn’t played since.

In his absence, Lue tried Jose Calderon against Orlando, and as expected, the veteran struggled, particularly on defense.

So, the coach turned to LeBron James at the point, moving Tristan Thompson into the starting lineup.  That unit struggled on the defensive end as well, mainly because they struggle to defend the quickness of a traditional point guards.

Rose is supposed to return to the lineup Saturday night against New Orleans, and it will be interesting to see how his presence on the court affects the other players.

Lue has been highly critical of his defense, but last night, Jae Crowder played just 20 minutes, and Tristan Thompson was on the floor for just 22 minutes.

Those two are the wine and gold’s most accomplished defenders, so if Lue wants a defensive presence for his team, it should start by giving these two players more time.

Particularly Crowder, who can shoot the three and stretch the floor on offense.

On the other hand, we said a week ago that with all the new players on the roster, we knew it would take some time for Lue to develop a rotation that works, and that process was set back a week by the absences of Rose and Wade.

Having James miss most of the pre-season with a sprained ankle didn’t help the situation either.

And yes, we know the Cavs are the oldest team in the league, but that number is skewed by the presence of Channing Frye (34), Calderon (36), and Kyle Korver (36).  Out of that trio, only Korver figures to get a lot of playing time this season.

If you take Frye and Calderon out of the mix, Cleveland is very similar in age to San Antonio, Golden State, and Houston, the next three teams in this category.

Oh, by the way, those teams are all title contenders, just like the Cavs.

Our point is we don’t want to hear how the defensive problems are due to age.  The players getting the bulk of the playing time aren’t or shouldn’t be on their last legs.

We trust Lue to figure this out.

Let’s see what happens when Rose is back and Crowder gets more time on the floor.  If the Cavs win the next three games, and look good doing it, these last three games will be forgotten.






Cavs’ Opener Just One Game, They Will Only Get Better.

The Cleveland Cavaliers started the defense of their Eastern Conference title by beating Boston 102-99 Tuesday night.

There is no question this is a very different team than last year, as Kyrie Irving is gone, and partially because of the deal which sent him to Boston, the roster is much deeper than a year ago.

They are also not a team that is as reliant on the three point shot as a year ago, but they still have the perimeter threats that are needed on a team where LeBron James is the best player on the roster.

Coach Tyronn Lue has Jae Crowder, JR Smith, Kevin Love, Kyle Korver, and Channing Frye on the roster, and all of them are very good from beyond the arc.

However, whereas last year, just James and Irving could create their own shots, the wine and gold have Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade too, and the other night saw Smith showing something beside standing outside waiting for the ball to find him.

Any concerns about a three point win over a team that lost their second best player five minutes into the game should be excused right now as a team still learning how to play together and a coach still searching for the right combinations.

Many of already questioned Lue’s choice as a starting lineup, but does it really matter?  The bigger question is who will play at crunch time, and while Tuesday night it was the starters, something tells us that will change as the season continues.

We would expect Smith will be out there at the end of the game because of his defense and ability to stretch the floor.

And depending on the opponent, you could see a different combination upfront, but likely two of these three (Love, Crowder, and Tristan Thompson) will be out there with James and Rose.

In the first half, the defense looked much improved with everyone keeping their men in front of them.  And we thought Rose did a solid job denying Irving the ball in the last few minutes in the opener.

If Rose’s knee is sound, he will provide better defense at the point guard position than Cleveland received a year ago.

We are anxious to see how Lue divides the minutes going forward.

We would like to see James getting about 34-35 minutes per night, with Wade getting around 24 to keep them strong and fresh heading into the playoffs.

No doubt Thompson will get more than the 19 minutes he played in the lidlifter.

And we are sure the staff will put some things in to get Kyle Korver some shots when he is on the floor.

While much was made Tuesday night about the Celtics roster turnover, the Cavaliers are facing the same issue, but apparently since they have James, it is overlooked.

Lue started only two players (James and Love) that started a year ago.  And outside of LeBron, every member of the first two units has a different role than they had a year ago.

So, there is a lot for this team get used to.

It was a win, and that is better than losing.  However, it will be interesting to see where the Cavs are after 10 or 15 games.  That will be a more accurate barometer for the progress of a pretty much new group of players.



Will Added Depth Be Enough For Cavs

Basketball season is just around the corner and the most interesting team in the NBA is probably the Cleveland Cavaliers.

A team that has gone to the NBA Finals three consecutive years has made some drastic changes to the roster.

In fact, the Cavs might have the deepest roster in the league, with 14 players currently on the roster who have had success in the NBA.

That number includes the newest Cavalier, 12 time all star Dwyane Wade, who signed with the wine and gold after getting a buyout from the Chicago Bulls.

Tyronn Lue will need all the depth because there is a lot medical issues on the roster, so the 12 players who are active will probably change on the night by night basis.

Isaiah Thomas will likely miss the first two and a half months with his hip injury, so he will not be part of the mix early in the season, and we would expect Wade, who will turn 36 this season, to get plenty of games off as well.

Veterans like Kyle Korver, Channing Frye, and Richard Jefferson are others who may not be active every night when the schedule gets heavy.

Lue will have to find a balance between rest and rust for these players, making sure they can stay sharp in the regular season while making sure they are sharp for the post-season.

What will this mean if the Cavs and Golden State Warriors match up in The Finals for a 4th straight season?

For one, Cleveland played even with the Warriors when LeBron James was on the floor, but when James was on the bench, Golden State rolled.

Hopefully, there is way more firepower off the bench, and it’s not just the extreme isolation ball (Kyrie Irving) or one dimensional three point shooters.

With players like Wade and Derrick Rose, Lue has more players who can create their own shots at his disposal, and that will keep more pressure on opponents.

Face it, last year, the only Cavs who could create offense were James and Irving.  This year, Lue has James, Wade, Rose, and Thomas when he returns.

And they still have JR Smith, Korver, Frye, and of course Kevin Love, who can knock down threes.  Don’t sleep on Jae Crowder in that regard either.

Cleveland also added a premier defender in Crowder, which will take some of the responsibility for guarding Kevin Durant away from James, and veteran Jeff Green, who can cover both small and power forwards.

There is no question is our mind that the difference in the Finals was Durant.

If he can be slowed down, it would definitely help the Cavs’ cause.

While giving the veterans some rest, he could use that time to develop young players Cedi Osman, Ante Zizic, and Edy Tavares.  The latter two could be key because the roster still seems to be one quality big man short.

It will also be interesting to see how quickly the newcomers gel with the players who were here last season.

Lue and James have made the transition much quicker than it has taken other teams in the past.

Will the Cavs miss the player they traded to Boston?  They certainly will miss his incredible shot making ability.

On the other hand, they won’t have to play a completely different style with James off the floor, which could lead to a reduced workload.  They should also have ball movement no matter who is on the floor.

It should be fun and it should be interesting to watch the Cleveland Cavaliers this year.  Watching a highly motivated James won’t be bad either.




In Midst Of Rocky Times, Cavs Find A Rose

With all of the controversy whirling around the status of Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the wine and gold added another point guard in former NBA MVP Derrick Rose, inking him to a one year deal.

Rose is trying to rebuild his career after being traded a year ago by the Chicago Bulls to the Knicks (ironically, Jose Calderon was in the deal), and suffering through a multitude of knee injuries.

However, it was just two years ago, in the 2015 playoffs, that Rose hit a game winning three point shot to give the Bulls a two game to one lead over the Cavs.

Rose did average 18 points per game last season, his highest total since 2011-12, when he scored 21.2 for Chicago.  He also shot 47.1% from the floor, the best since his second year of his career, the 2009-10 season.

He ranked second in the league in points in the paint for guards last season, and his shooting percentage improved because he basically stopped taking three point shots.

Our concern with Rose has never his ability, it is his ego.

We feel the problems he had in Chicago came after his injury, when Rose still thought he was the Bulls’ best player, when it clearly had become Jimmy Butler.

And last season, he referred to the Knicks as a “super team”, greatly over estimating that team, which failed to make the playoffs.

That won’t be an issue in Cleveland, where everyone knows who the alpha dog is.

The other concern is his injury history.  Although he has played more than 60 games over the last two seasons, you cannot forget he played in just 100 games over a four year period (2011-12 through 2014-15, missing the entire 2012-13 season)

As for Rose’s role, we expect him to be used as a combo guard, perhaps starting beside however the Cavaliers acquire for Kyrie Irving, if they indeed trade him (and we believe they will), and run the offense when James is resting.

He can create his own shot which is something Cleveland lacks, as only James and Irving can do that presently, and no one on the bench is capable of doing it either.

As for the naysayers on this move, remember that the Cavs are only paying Rose the veteran minimum, a little over $2 million per year, a small amount in today’s NBA.

It’s a chance for Rose to get back to playing on a winning team, a squad that has a chance to go deep into the playoffs, and perhaps another trip to The Finals, which would be the veteran’s first trip.

Also, it again was reported that James did reach out to Rose about signing here, again ruining the national narrative that he is not recruiting for the wine and gold this summer.

Even with everything going on with the franchise and that Irving has asked out here, this is a good signing for the Cavs.  We aren’t saying this makes Cleveland the favorite to beat Golden State, but it does make the team better.

That’s all you can ask for at this point.

If James and Irving reconcile, then Rose adds another player who can put pressure on the defense by driving to the basket.  If Irving leaves, he would be more of a factor as a facilitator when James is not in the game.

All in all, this is a positive more for the Cavaliers.




Analyzing Kyrie

For most of the last two seasons, basketball fans in Cleveland have focused on two players when things have gone bad for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

However, David Blatt is no longer the team’s head coach, and although Kevin Love’s value is still misunderstood by many who claim to know the game, the spotlight has been deflected from him recently.

More and more people are taking a look at Kyrie Irving.

There is no question that Irving, the first player taken in the draft in 2011, is uber talented, and also a highly decorated player.

He was the Rookie of the Year in 2012, the All Star MVP in 2014, USA Basketball’s player of the year, and last year was named to the third team All-NBA squad.

He may have the best ball handling skills in the league, and can seemingly get to the basket anytime he wants to.

But for many of the basketball cognoscenti, there is something missing.

First of all, it’s Irving’s effort and ability on the defensive end of the floor.  As Coach John Wooden once said there is no excuse for a good offensive man not to be a good defensive man.

The same quickness that Irving uses to get to the rim on a nightly basis can certainly be used to stop his defensive assignment.

The second problem is his tendency to show off his handle.  He loves to dribble.

After Irving scored 33 points in a win over Dallas on Wednesday, he was being praised by some because “someone has to score”, but meanwhile his teammates were said to be upset by his monopolization of the ball.

The guard’s big hoop in the last two minutes came from giving up the ball, and getting it back on a pass from JR Smith as he cut to the basket.

Meanwhile, Dallas came back from a 20 point deficit because Irving dribbled the shot clock down to expiration and then had to take poor percentage shots.

There is no doubt the Cavs need him to score, but it can be done by giving it up and moving without the ball to open spots where his team can find him.

Players are human.  They don’t like to go up and down the floor without ever touching the basketball.  It is understandable that professional players are frustrated playing with a ball dominant player, especially when the coach and the best player on the team stress that style of play.

The other issue with Irving is that he doesn’t seem to be improving as a player.

His shooting percentage hasn’t gotten appreciably better since entering the NBA ( career high 46.9% as a rookie, now 46.2%), nor has he become a better passer (5.4 assists as a rookie, career best 6.1 in last year without James, now 4.5).

His player efficiency rating (analytics!) was 21.4 as a rookie, peaked at 21.5 last season, and is now at 21.0).  Here is how that stacks up against other in their first five seasons–

Stephen Curry:  16.3, 19.4, 21.2, 21. 3, 24.1
Damian Lillard:  16.4, 18.6, 20.7, 23.3  He is now in his fourth year.
Derrick Rose:  16.0, 18.6, 23. 5, 23.0, hobbled by injuries since.

We picked these players for the following reasons.  Curry and Lillard are players compared most to the former Duke standout, and Rose was also a one and done player, while the others played more college basketball than did Irving.

While Irving started out better than the other three, he hasn’t taken the step up in his game that the other three have.  The Cavs need him to take that next step because he is that talented, and LeBron James is getting older.

Irving is the one who needs to “fit in”, and stop listening to a player like Kobe Bryant, who tells him to be more aggressive.

He needs to remember that in Bryant’s first three championships, he was NOT the best player on those teams, Shaquille O’Neal was.

The Cavs need him to win, but he needs to share the ball, and get it back to score.  Oh, and to pick it up on the defensive end too.

He can do all of that.  It’s just a matter of actually doing it.