Cleveland Cavaliers: The Good, Bad, and Mostly Ugly
Everyone knows that one guy going after his dream career head first. That's great, right? You applaud his ambition. The one problem: he's just not very good. And what's even worse is that he doesn't know he's not very good. Whether he thinks he's the next Kurt Cobain or Michael Jordan, his self realization is not one of his better traits.
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2014 Cleveland Cavaliers!
The Cavs currently sit at 23-36, four games out of the eighth spot in the miserable East. Despite catastrophic injury to several teams, like Derrick Rose for the Bulls and Al Horford for the Hawks, the Cavs have not been able to capitalize on the weak Eastern Conference and get up into the playoff race.
Most teams in their place would take a step back, understand that they don't have a roster built for the playoffs, and work on obtaining draft picks and continuing to build around young guys. Nope, not the Cavs. They have to win now, as dictated by their delusional owner, Dan Gilbert.
They traded away several picks this season for Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes, which hasn't really translated to wins yet, though the Hawes signing is still new. They now sit with less future assets than before, and could potentially lose both Deng and Hawes to free agency this summer.
Let's go over the specifics, broken down into categories by good, bad, and ugly. I'm going to invert those and finish with the good. Let's be honest - Cavs fans could use a little hope.
Put simply, the "ugly" is their shooting. Per NBA.com, the Cavs true shooting percentage (field goal percentage adjusted for value of three-pointers and free throws, pretty all encompassing) is the worst in the NBA at 50.7%. For reference, the Miami Heat lead the league with a 59.6% true shooting percentage, so the Cavs are effectively 20 percent worse than the Heat shooting the ball.
Their stud young point guard, Kyrie Irving, is on the court for 68% of the Cavs total minutes. That's the highest on the team, which isn't surprising. However, his season long plus/minus is at a eye-popping -218. That means that the Cavs have been 218 points worse this year when Kyrie has been on the court.
Basketball is perhaps the ultimate team sport, so the entire blame can't be on Kyrie. In fact, only two Cavs have a positive season-long plus/minus this year - CJ Miles (on the floor for 36% of available minutes) and Anderson Varejao (on the floor for 55% of minutes). All of the Cavs best five-man lineups this year, however, have one common denominator - Varejao.
This is most likely due to Varejao's defense and elite offensive rebounding, things that none of his teammates are very good at. The Kyrie, Dion Waiters, Luol Deng, Anthony Bennett, and Tristan Thompson lineup is their worst on the season, with a -23 plus/minus. This particularly hurts, as this is probably the core guys that Gilbert wants to build around in the future.
When the Cavs traded Andrew Bynum and a couple of picks to the Pacers for Luol Deng, there was certainly mixed thoughts by the media. Deng becomes a free agent after this season, so while he could re-sign with the Cavs this summer, he could also walk away, leaving the Cavs without a starting small forward and two draft picks.
The Cavs were willing to swallow this risk because of what Deng brought to the table: leadership and defense. Let's see what the data says approximately two months past the trade.
Well, if the Cavs brought in Deng specifically for defense, then that experiment has been a clear-cut failure. They've actually been better on offense, but have been much worse defensively since the Deng trade, posting a 107.7 DRtg in that time frame. That's worse than the NBA's worst defensive team in the Utah Jazz, who post a team DRtg of 107.3 on the season.
In the East, you potentially have to face up against either the NBA's best offense in the Heat, or the NBA's best defense in the Pacers. Being in the bottom half of the league in both just won't cut it. None of the young Cavs are great defenders, and while Kyrie can shake you out of your boots with his crossover, he hasn't quite mastered the intricacies of how to attack a good defense efficiently. He'll learn. The question is whether the rest of them can with him, especially if Deng bolts this summer.
Now I will attempt to bring Cleveland a glimmer of hope.
The Cavs are in the bottom 10 of the league in a lot of statistical categories, but the one that they are at the top of is rebounding, specifically offensive rebounding. Much of this can be attributed to Anderson Varejao, as mentioned above, but it's a good place to start.
Also, much of the problem with the Cavs offense revolves around their poor shooting. While getting offensive rebounds is a good thing, it also conversely means that there a lot of missed shots to rebound. As shown above, they're one of the worst shooting teams in the league. Kyrie is great with the ball, but hasn't perfected his jump shot, and he doesn't work well on the court with shooting guard Dion Waiters.
They don't really have an offensive post presence, either. Varejao is a hustle and defense guy, but doesn't have a huge repertoire of moves down low. Likewise, Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller haven't really developed into much of offensive weapons either. They've had some limited success at times with going small, even with rookie Anthony Bennett as the power forward.
Their newest acquisition, Spencer Hawes, will help with this. Just the threat of big man that can shoot threes will draw the defense out and let Kyrie have a bit more room to penetrate and get into the lane. Luol Deng and Dion Waiters will be able to get off some midrange jumpers that have been previously contested at pretty much all times. Hawes, like Deng, could potentially walk this summer, but at least in the interim he can provide a scoring punch and outside shooting that the Cavs have desperately needed.
The future for these Cavs depends on development. Although we don't see it consistently, there is definitely young NBA talent on this roster. Bennett was all-time bad at the beginning of the season, but could turn into a decent rotation player if he works on his game. Kyrie has the potential to be a stud, especially if he works on the defensive end. If they can re-sign Deng this offseason and continue to develop their guys, then the Cavs could be much improved a year from now. We'll see.