One of the biggest early storylines of this NBA season has been how the Cavaliers have struggled to win games and play like the super team they are supposed to be. Now obviously any LeBron-led team is going to face tons of media attention and every story will be blown out of proportion. However, as the Cavs currently sit 5-7 and are on a three game losing streak, it is about the time to start asking the questions of just what is going wrong, and what needs to be done for the Cavs to get back on track, especially considering their championship expectations.
First off, we all need to be reminded that there are still 70 games to play, and that nothing should be taken too seriously at this point. After all, more than half of the team was playing elsewhere last season, so the team chemistry just isn’t there yet, and probably won’t be for at least another few weeks. It’s a work in progress. Additionally, let’s remember that the 2010 Miami Heat, fresh off all the hype of that big three, only started 8-9, which is comparable to where the Cavaliers are now. Still, this team probably isn’t as talented as the Heat were, and if they don’t fix their many problems quickly, the pressure on them will only build, making it even harder for them to get on track.
The first main issue for the Cavs is communication. Now as I have already stated this will improve over time, or at least it should, but in their current state the Cavs just aren’t working well together. Far too often on offense either Kyrie Irving or LeBron will hold the ball for the majority of the shot clock before settling for a low percentage shot. A large reason for why this happens is that the stars on the team probably are not confident in the abilities of the role players on the team, and feel like they have to everything themselves. This leads to games where the Cavaliers have single digit assists.
Similarly, they have a large number of turnovers that aren’t necessary, and could easily be eliminated by just having teammates on the same page. The ball shouldn’t be thrown into the stands multiple times a game.
Next, and this is essential, Kevin Love needs to be way more involved in the offense. From an offensive standpoint this season, it looks like there’s only a big two of LeBron and Kyrie. For a guy who was a top five scorer in the league last season, Love doesn’t get the ball nearly enough. Love only shoots 13 times per game, while LeBron averages 19 and Kyrie shoots 16 times per contest. And because he isn’t a primary ball handler,
Love’s time with the ball is minimal.
Additionally, Love has taken roughly 40% of his shots from behind the three point line. Love is a strong shooter, and his long range ability plays a big part into how strong he can be offensively, but he needs to work in the post more. The Cavs need more points in the paint to keep defenses guessing, and Love is a big part of that. This is the first time in his career Love hasn’t been the primary focus of his team’s offense, and the Cavs must adjust to get him more involved.
Speaking of the post and points in the paint, the interior defense for the Cavaliers may very well be the weakest part of their team. As I stated back in August in my blog debating if the Cavs are title favorites, they don’t have a real defensive presence inside the paint. Center Anderson Varejao has a career blocks average of only .7, and Kevin Love ranks in the bottom five in the league in opponent field goal percentage when in the paint. The help defense is also lacking down low. No one on the team is really known for being a lockdown defender.
Logically, it makes sense that the closer you are to the basket, the easier it is to score. The Cavs are making it real easy for other teams to score against them. The Cavaliers allow 102.7 points per game, sixth most in the league, and allow teams to shoot 47.7% from the field, or third worst in the NBA. The Cavs allow 43 points per game in the paint, a full four more than they did last year. The Cavaliers won’t be an elite team until they can get the defense sorted out.
Also, the lack of size on the team and interior defense has really hurt the Cavs in terms of rebounding. For a team that LeBron said in the preseason could outbound their opponents in all 82 games, ranking 23rd in the NBA in rebounds per game must be a huge disappointment.
Another important reason for the surprise 5-7 record is the fact that coach David Blatt isn’t coaching. Now this isn’t entirely his fault- LeBron is the coach of the Cavaliers. During timeouts, LeBron is in the middle of the huddle, talking to the team about changes they need to make and getting the team fired up. Blatt is usually either trying to squeeze his way into the huddle or is busy drawing Xs and Os on the bench. While James is a great leader and probably a future coach, Blatt needs to take control. He’s the one who’s been coaching for 20 years now, and has won numerous titles and awards over his career, most recently the 2014 Euroleague and Euroleague Coach of the Year with Maccabi Tel Aviv, where he had a 225-55 record over five seasons.
Word on the street is that Blatt is finding it hard adjusting to living and coaching in the states, and that’s very understandable. The lifestyle and the basketball are both very different. Additionally, the expectations set for him were overwhelming and ridiculous. However, it is mandatory he adapts quickly and takes charge of the team and gets the players to trust him.
Lastly is probably the most important reason of all for the Cavs’ struggles. It’s quite simple really: the bench needs to score. Here’s a few numbers to think about. LeBron James: 24.7 points per game. Kyrie Irving: 21.8 points per game. The entire Cavs bench: 21.7 points per game. Those numbers are crazy. LeBron and Kyrie alone each have more points than the entire bench and along with Kevin Love, the big three are responsible for over 60% of the team’s scoring. The Cavs’ bench is last in the league in scoring, a full two points behind the Rockets, who sit in 29th.
The bench is supposed to provide relief for the starters and be able to keep games close while the stars rest. However, there’s basically no relief here, because the bench is so weak, and so thin. After the starting five, Dion Waiters is the sixth man. He’s a developing talent, and has played decent in his role. The same goes for Tristan Thompson, the first forward off the bench. Neither one is a real electric scorer, but they’re both solid. However, there’s no one after that. Joe Harris is a rookie guard who just isn’t good right now. Matthew Dellavedova, a shaky backup point guard already, is hurt, and besides the aforementioned Thompson, there’s no other forwards off the bench. Brendan Haywood would be the backup center, but he’s only played in three games. That leaves them with no real scorers off the bench, and basically an eight man rotation.
This is the real problem with the concept of a big three. Most of a teams salary is spent on only a quarter of the team, and then there isn’t anyone that good to provide relief for when the stars are tired, injured, or in foul trouble. The rest of the starters are Shawn Marion (okay but old), and Anderson Varejao, who has played well so far, but judging by recent years it’s only a matter of time before he’s injured. That would really kill the team.
The good news for the Cavaliers is that despite all the issues they have, the season is really long. Longer than any other regular season of basketball in the world. Sometime between now and April, these problems should be fixed, and most likely closer to now than April. Just because of all the talent in the big three, no matter how bad they perform this season, they shouldn’t get any less than 50 wins. Maybe it isn’t the 65 they were shooting for before the seasons tatted, but it’s still good enough for at worst the 4 or 5 seed in the east, and again probably higher.
However, for their fans to stop panicking and for the team to gain some
confidence, these problems should be fixed as quickly as possible.
Thanks for reading,