Without perimeter superstars heading into the 2018-19 NBA season, the Cleveland Cavaliers are pivoting to a ball movement offense in an attempt to minimize their offensive drop-off.
One of the consistent criticisms throughout the LeBron James era was how reliant they were on isolation offense. Despite having some of the best offenses in NBA history, the Cavs rigid isolation and mismatch seeking offense came with some downside for supporting players.
Mike Dunleavy Jr, Jae Crowder, Rodney Hood, among others all struggled to find a rythym standing around waiting for James or Kyrie Irving to create looks for them. Not all shooters are created equal and while pure shooters like Kyle Korver thrived, rhythm shooters or players that were used to getting touches often struggled to fit in.
But without Irving and James, an isolation heavy strategy simply is unlikely to produce an effective offense or maximize the remaining players. Which is why the team is pivoting to a quicker offense predicated on ball movement.
According to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com, it’s a change that has been welcomed by the returning Cavaliers:
“Not that I hated it before,” Korver said. “I like basketball. But I definitely like to move. That’s a big part of my game and it always has been. Running around and trying to create offense with energy.”
“We’re going to have to rely on each other a lot more this year, we don’t have that guy we can just throw the ball to and he makes a lot of things happen like we had last year,” George Hill said, “Knowing this year is going to be totally different, everyone has to have their hand in that jar and giving us help. It’s going to take a collective effort.”
“A lot of moving the ball. I think we’re trying to take a little from how Boston plays, get everyone touching the ball, not so much isolations,” Thompson said. “Just because of the dynamic of our team, I think we’ll be better if everyone’s sharing the ball, being all in attack mode.”
It’s fitting that the first preseason opponent for the Cavs is the Boston Celtics. Their offense has been something the team is trying to emulate. If Kevin Love is going to return to the high-post creator he was in Minnesota, copying off the notes of Brad Stevens and Al Horford isn’t a bad place to start.
Nobody expects the Cavs to be as good as they have been the past four years, and it would be foolish to suggest that LeBron had held the team back in any way. He is the best player of his generation and when he is on your team, you cater to the style of play that suits him best.
But without him, the team has the ability to play a more attractive style of basketball. Tyronn Lue has always wanted to play with more pace, and the shortcomings of the roster can be minimized by getting out and running. While the effectiveness likely won’t be the same, it could be a more enjoyable style for both the fans and the players.