On Monday, January 18, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost at home to the Golden State Warriors 132-98. This set off speculation that something drastic might happen. Would Kevin Love be traded? Would David Blatt be fired?
A few days then passed. The Cavaliers won back to back games against the Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Clippers in convincing fashion. The fans began to settle down. Then, on Friday afternoon, this #WojBomb was dropped:
Cleveland has fired coach David Blatt, sources tell Yahoo.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) January 22, 2016
There was tons of fallout. After all, no coach as successful as David Blatt had ever been fired before. The Cavaliers record was 62-20 in the last 82 regular season games he coached. Rick Carlisle, head coach of the Dallas Mavericks and widely considered one of the best coaches in the NBA, said this: "I'm embarrassed for our league that something like this can happen like this."
Who would take his place? None other than his top assistant, Tyronn Lue, who had no head coaching experience. It would be a tough task to take over a contending team mid-season and make the necessary adjustments to prepare them for a title run. Would he be up to the task? Let's examine the results:
Blatt (regular season): 30-11, 73.2 percent
Lue (regular season): 27-14, 65.9 percent
Lue (postseason): 16-5, 76.2 percent
Blatt (regular season): 108.3
Lue (regular season): 114.4
Lue (postseason): 115.5
Blatt (regular season): 102.6
Lue (regular season): 107.6
Lue (postseason): 106.9
Blatt (regular season): 92.1
Lue (regular season): 93.1
Lue (postseason): 90.1
Offensive Shot Distribution
Blatt (regular season): 30 percent at rim, 35.8 percent mid-range, 34.2 percent from three
Lue (regular season): 29.3 percent at rim, 34.3 percent mid-range, 36.4 percent from three
Lue (postseason): 31.1 percent at rim, 32.1 percent mid-range, 36.8 percent from three
Defensive Shot Distribution
Blatt (regular season): 29.6 percent at rim, 42.9 percent mid-range, 27.5 percent from three
Lue (regular season): 30.8 percent at rim, 41.2 percent mid-range, 28.0 percent from three
Lue (postseason): 29.1 percent at rim, 33.4 percent mid-range, 37.5 percent from three
Blatt (regular season): 25.4 percent on offense, 79.4 percent on defense
Lue (regular season): 24.9 percent on offense, 77.6 percent on defense
Lue (postseason): 27.2 percent on offense, 78.7 percent on defense
Blatt (regular season): 14.1 per 100 possessions, 12.8 per 100 possessions on defense
Lue (regular season): 13.2 per 100 possessions, 12.1 per 100 possessions on defense
Lue (postseason): 12.9 per 100 possessions on offense, 12.6 per 100 possessions on defense
A couple notes: Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert played far more under Lue than under Blatt, as both were recovering from injuries early in the season. Channing Frye only played for Lue.
A few things jump out looking at the numbers. The offense was much better under Lue. The defense was much worse. And for all the talk about increasing pace, it really didn't change much.
Why did the offense improve so much? No doubt Kyrie Irving getting healthy hurt helped, but there's more to the story. Lue progressively lowered the amount of mid-range shots the team was taking, re-distributing those shots mostly to three point range. This definitely helped the Cavaliers' offense, as did turning the ball over less often.
The defensive shot distribution was pretty much the same during the regular season. Opposing teams simply shot a little bit better against the Cavs in the second half of the year. But the main reason for the defensive drop off was rebounding, which went from elite early in the year to merely good later on.
In the playoffs, however, opposing teams were able to get the shots they wanted against the Cavaliers' defense for the most part. Part of this was no doubt the quality of the opposition, but part of it definitely falls on the coaching staff. It's a good thing that the offense was setting an historic pace, because the defense certainly had some leaks.
On the other hand, the playoffs brought with them a renewed focus on dominating the boards, as the Cavaliers proved to be an elite rebounding team for the duration of the postseason on both ends of the floor. And, really, a team featuring Love, LeBron James and Tristan Thompson in the front court should be dominating the glass. In each series this was a significant advantage, and quite simply Cleveland would not have won the Championship without it.
It took Lue a while to nail down his rotations. Mozgov was a clear negative on the floor this year, but he remained in the starting lineup until just before the postseason began. But in the playoffs the rotations got straightened out quickly, and with a few exceptions they were mostly very solid. Creating a bench lineup that dominated the opposition after that lineup wasn't used at all during the regular season was a particularly nice touch.
Likewise, his after timeout plays were quite good during the playoffs, and while it's not exactly advanced statistics, it seemed like I didn't have to yell at the television very often for him to call timeout, so that's always good.
All-in-all this year was a mixed bag for Lue. Some decisions were promising, while others I questioned. But there's no doubt that he got the team ready to play their best basketball when it mattered most. So while there are areas I'd like to see improvement in, it's hard to call this season anything but a glowing success for him.