The Tyronn Lue era has had early promising returns, including an end-to-end victory against the Spurs, but as of late, it seems as though the team has taken a step back.
They've frustrated with their play, reverting to the iso-ball that Lue wants to get away from. The problem extends beyond that, though. The Cavaliers offense was lights out last season, even using simplistic sets. Why has it looked so brutal as of late?
As always, there's a thousand factors that combine to create a team's overall performance, but there's one issue that's pretty glaring: they can't shoot.
Nobody imagined spacing would be something this team would struggle with, especially after the midseason trade that brought J.R. Smith last year. NBA fans salivated over the idea that the Cavaliers would be able to space the floor with four shooters around a rolling big man, but the shooting has been a problem this season.
LeBron James shooting woes are well chronicled. He's not really a naturally gifted shooter, and Joe Vardon's piece revealed some interesting stuff.
"I could care less about what I shoot from the 3," James said in Vardon's piece. "It's not my game."
Well, here's the problem: defenses are starting to care. The Pacers were straight up disrespectful when James ran the pick and roll, going way under on the screen.
Paul George makes no effort to get over the screen in this example, and Myles Turner hedges just hard enough to prevent him from easily turning the corner before comfortably switching back to Thompson later in the play. LeBron is forced to put up a contested shot at the rim that Turner sends away easily.
LeBron's woes as a shooter is affecting the way teams are playing him, and it's a detriment to the offense. Also, it's worth noting that if LeBron wants to insist on primarily playing the small forward spot, he's going to have to help space the floor in the meantime. His shooting completely murders spacing on lineups that don't feature Kevin Love at the floor, and renders traditional two-big lineups unworkable.
What makes things worse is that so far in 2015-16, Kyrie Irving can't shoot either. He's obviously not back to 100 percent after fracturing his kneecap in the ofseason, and his shooting has been a casualty so far this year. Prior to the Pelicans game where he had at least a decent showing, Kyrie had shot 3-24 from distance in the Tyronn Lue era. He's actually shooting worse than LeBron from deep this year at an abysmal 25.5% percent.
With neither player able to help space the floor, it's been tough to get open shots.
Nate Duncan has coined a term called the "record scratch." Basically, it's when an offense has gotten a defense off balance and then kicks the ball out to a non-shooter who can't do anything with the ball. This kills the advantage the offense had and allows the defense to reset. The offense has to start over, and has way less time on the shot clock to work with.
This has been happening to the Cavs quite a bit. It's masked to some extent because both Kyrie and LeBron are strong players at attacking already bent defenses, but if the defense has already sagged in the paint, and that's where both players are comfortable attacking, the advantage is severely mitgated. Meanwhile, the players guarding the one or two strong shooters on the floor can stay stuck to their man.
Right now, due to a lack of shooting from its primary ball handlers, the Cavaliers are just having a hard time bending the defense. Teams can play them hilariously conservatively, dropping everyone back into the paint, and even once an advantage is gained, its often squandered after the kickout.
J.R. Smith has been uber valuable as a spacer and gunner from three in the recent stretch, but if the Cavaliers want to reach their ceiling, their main rotational pieces are just going to have to shoot the ball better. Iman Shumpert is a decent shooter, but he can't really be the best shooter on the floor, a role he's been pressed into in the last few games due to injuries.
It's not all doom and gloom, though. Kevin Love's stroke from distance is looking much improved as of late, and once Matthew Dellavedova returns to the lineup, he'll juice spacing as well. Also, as Kyrie gets more comfortable, you'd expect his three-point jumper to return to form, though we don't know when that would be.
It sounds sort of reductive to say that the Cavaliers just need to make their shots, but it's sort of true. This is the modern NBA. Spacing and shooting are key parts to championship teams, and every contender has them in spades. If the Cavaliers want to continue to grow towards that goal, it's something that needs to turn around.