This isn’t meant to be a negative article, per se. The Cavs are rebuilding, and it will take them time to become a good team again. That’s okay. You lost LeBron James. But even taking into account that a lot of these players either won’t play like this when the team is good, or simply won’t be around when the team is good, it’s worth looking at how they’ll need to improve. With that in mind, let’s look at three areas the Cavs must improve upon.
The Cavs are 28th in the NBA in three point attempts per game
The Cleveland Cavaliers are shooting 35.5% from three point range as a team, which actually puts them at 11th in the NBA. That’s not bad! They should take more of them! Only the Spurs and Pacers are attempting less threes than the Cavs, and the difference between the Cavs and Pacers is negligible. Part of this is explained by the absence of Kevin Love, who was averaging six three point attempts per game before his injury. And Cedi Osman gets a pass here: he’s not shooting a good percentage, but at over four attempts per game, he’s showing that he knows it needs to be a part of his game. On a rebuilding team, that’s what you want.
The flip side of this is Collin Sexton. On one hand, you want him taking shots he’s comfortable with. On the other hand, he shouldn’t be 10th on the team in three point attempts (Kyle Korver and George Hill are above him, and are no longer on the team) at just two per game. He’s shooting 42.1% on them, which is obviously a great number. I’d be willing to sacrifice a lower percentage for a higher volume of attempts.
The team has acknowledged that they know they have to take more threes - it’s as much of a roster construction issue as anything. When your guards don’t like to take them, well, you aren’t going to take very many of them.
The Cavs have the worst defense in the NBA
The Cavs have done a nice job of loading up their roster with players like Tristan Thompson, Larry Nance Jr., Matthew Dellavedova, Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman, David Nwaba, etc. that work hard and squeeze the most out of their talent. Theoretically, that kind of energy would help the Cavs to serviceable defense. I remember one time Jarrett Jack told me that NBA defense is 100% effort. I ... don’t really agree with that. Aside from the injuries the Cavs have dealt with, they’re playing guys like Sexton, Osman, and Nance without a ton of NBA experience, and certainly without a lot of starting experience. They’ve also given serious minutes to guys like J.R. Smith that just didn’t have much left.
So what can the Cavs do here? Love and Thompson getting healthy will help. Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood just aren’t really defenders, even if they have the physical profiles for it (it’s not as if effort doesn’t matter!). But really, this will just require some guys growing up. Sexton is probably three years away from consistently being helpful defensively - it’s just hard to find players under 22 in the league that are good defenders. Osman still figures to be a plus defender, though it’ll require health. They’ll probably also need a wing that really excels here. Maybe David Nwaba grows into it, but I’m thinking a higher quality three and D wing.
David Nwaba can’t be one the team’s best players
The only Cavalier with a positive net rating that’s played over 100 minutes for the Cavs this is David Nwaba. In his 266 minutes, the Cavs are outscoring opponents by 7.9 points per 100 possessions. The Cavs as a whole are getting outscored by 8.4 points per 100 possessions. But the fact that he’s the only Cavs “regular” that’s been a part of productive lineups means that the Cavs ... are not finding productive lineups. Even in a tough season you’d want to start to isolate some things that genuinely work. I’m just not sure they are.
Nwaba’s been something of a revelation, and exactly what a rebuilding team should be looking for: young building blocks. He’s a perfect NBA role player. Athletic, energetic, doesn’t need the ball, and doesn’t do too much all while finding ways to put his imprint on the game. But the Cavs should be trying to find lineups that work for Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman, and Larry Nance Jr. The fact that they have not been able to do so is a bit worrisome. Given that neither of those three are particularly good (or willing, as we saw with Sexton) shooters, you’d need that around him. Tristan Thompson’s been wonderful, but he’s not doing that.
As the team gets healthier, I wonder how a Collin Sexton, Matthew Dellavedova, Cedi Osman, David Nwaba, and Kevin Love lineup would look like. It gives you some shooting, and it gives you a lot of energy. We don’t want the Cavs winning too many games, but you do want to see more players that are part of successful lineups.