The Cleveland Cavaliers finished the week 2-1 with fun, but expected, wins over the Washington Wizards and New York Knicks. The Cavs have steadily improved over the first few weeks of the season and are looking like a competent NBA team. Here’s what we learned this week.
Editor’s note: Stats accurate as of Nov. 10
Tristan Thompson continues his career year
Thompson has looked like a fringe All-Star to start the season. He came into Sunday’s game with career highs in points, rebounds, offensive rebounds, blocks, assists and has only five turnovers on the season. He’s also playing some of his best defense while surrounded by significantly below average defenders.
It’s easy to say that the Cavs should sell high on Thompson considering his contract is expiring at the end of the season and the Cavs aren’t contending. There are plenty of playoff teams that could use his defense, rebounding, and playoff experience. The Cavs however should do everything in their power to keep Thompson. The biggest problem with the last rebuild was the lack of stability and structure. Thompson provides both.
Thompson makes everything on both ends of the floor easier for the three young players which allows them to pick up winning habits. We’ve seen in the past young players without that structure pick up bad habits that can be difficult to break. Kevin Porter Jr. said it best after Friday’s game in Washington when he said the veterans pave the way for them to be successful:
Larry Nance Jr. is an awkward fit
Nance has a unique skillset for a backup big. He can stretch the floor, hold his own defensively on the perimeter, create for others and has gravity when he’s attacking the basket as a roll man. What he can’t do well are things you’d typically expect from a backup big, most notably protecting the rim and guarding opposing centers.
This creates a unique problem. Nance is ideally a center offensively and a large wing or four defensively. This means he’s an awkward fit alongside most bigs, especially those on this team. As a result, Nance came into Sunday’s game with a negative net rating in every two man lineup he was apart of that played more than five minutes. That includes a -25.3 net rating with Kevin Love ind a -10.3 net rating with Thompson.
While Nance is playing with awful bench units, this trend is at the least concerning. Nance is a good back up big, but he needs to be surrounded with the right teammates to reach his peak utility. He isn’t getting that right now.
Collin Sexton’s defensive improvement raises his ceiling
Sexton has built on his second half offensive improvements from last season. He’s shown his improved jumper wasn’t a fluke and he is finishing better at the rim. Sexton has benefited from playing off ball and appears to be a nice fit offensively alongside Darius Garland.
Sexton’s overall ceiling will be determined by a combination of his ability to get to the line, improvement as a passer, and defensive capability. While his passing and ability to get to the line haven’t improved much, he has shown visible improvement as a defender. The young guard is more physical at the point of attack which allows him to stop dribble penetration and fight through screens better. Neither of which he showed signs of being able to do last season. As a result, he limited Bradley Beal to just two points while being his primary defender on Friday night.
Becoming an above average defender will go a long way in determining how good Sexton can be individually and collectively with Garland. A starting combo guard needs to be able to do more than just score. Sexton still isn’t a good defender yet, but he’s showing glimpses of being one. Building upon that and becoming an above average defender could determine whether he is a long-term starter in Cleveland.