The great Zach Lowe gave the Cavs his full attention in a piece on on Tuesday, and it, as usual, was very, very good.
In the piece, Lowe took a look at lineups featuring Kevin Love at center, and rightly observed that while the team is unstoppable in those units, they hemorrhaged points.
Cavs assistant coach Jim Boylan conceded to Lowe that the "Love at the five" lineups aren't working for the Cavaliers.
Boylan does have a point. The Warriors and Spurs both took turns torching "Love at the five" lineups and when LeBron isn't actively helping to protect the rim, the team can certainly can give up points, especially when playing substandard defenders like Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith on the perimeter.
Here's the problem with Boylan's quote: the Cavaliers are kind of murdering teams when they go all-space, no defense.
So, yeah. Boylan and Lowe are right. This unit stands no chance on defense. For a frame of reference, the 30th ranked Los Angeles Lakers have a defensive rating of 109.6. To be notably worse than the Lakers defensively is not great.
What is great is the frankly hilarious offensive rating of 133.7. That's better than Golden State's Curry-Klay-Iggy-Draymond-Bogut lineup that scores at a rate of 125.1 points per 100 possessions, though not quite to the standard of the ridiculous Death Lineup®, which posts a 145.5 offensive rating.
The Cavaliers are setting the nets on fire when they have their five-out lineups, and LeBron James has a hilarious amount of room to work with.
His true shooting percentage rises from 57.7 percent to 64.9 percent in these units, but it's his teammates that really go nuts.
J.R. Smith's true shooting rises from 53 percent to 68 percent, Iman Shumpert's goes from 47 percent to 60.7 percent and Matthew Dellavedova's skyrockets from 53.8 percent to 68.8 percent. Everyone on the Cavaliers turns into a flamethrower in these lineup variations (except, actually, Kevin Love, whose numbers are weirdly pedestrian).
To be clear, I'm not here to argue that this lineup should be what the Cavaliers go to in crunch time of every game against every opponent. It's something that can and should be used situationally, thought it could be used a little more.
It's not hard to concede that the lineups just won't have the defense to account for certain teams, like the Warriors when they go small. That's fine. The Cavaliers have a versatile roster that can trot out several different combinations to play different styles.This lineup can and should be a part of the Cavaliers regular rotation, especially when an opponent is not playing two bruising big men.
My issue is with how the Cavaliers have used lineups in the Tyronn Lue era. As David Zavac pointed out a short while ago, the team simply isn't playing its best combinations, and this quote from Coach Boylan is an indicator that this problem isn't going away.
Sure, the team gives up a ton of points with Love at center, but the fact of the matter is, the team is outscoring opponents by just under 22 points per 100 possessions in these lineups. The fact that Jim Boylan, a prominent assistant on the team isn't aware that these lineups are working is a problem.
This Cavaliers team has a very thin margin of error if they want to win a title. Part of being a smart, winning organization is maximizing every advantage a team has. Lineup combinations featuring Love at the center are the Cavs best chance at maximizing their immense offensive potential in a way we haven't yet seen.
The coaching staff needs to realize that this lineup and other lineups they're neglecting are effective.
It may sound silly to say, but the Cavaliers won't be as good as we all think they should be until they actually play their best combinations of players. They're not doing that now, and this is another example of a combination that needs a bit more love. No pun intended.