It was another rough week for the Cleveland Cavaliers as they went 1-3 with three blowout losses. They’ve been on the wrong end of a tough schedule which doesn’t get better for a couple weeks.
Here’s what we learned this week.
The Cavs are who we thought they were.
Cleveland showed signs of being a competitive team the first few weeks of the season. The starting lineup briefly had one of the best net ratings in the league and the defense was average. Things have taken a turn for the worse over the last week as they’ve posted a -20.4 net rating the last five games.
The Cavs currently have the fourth worst net rating in the league which is consistent with expectations. This roster isn’t terrible, but they don’t fit together perfectly. For example, players like Larry Nance Jr. and Cedi Osman have shown they can be competent role players, but are playing out of position due to the roster construction.
Even though the roster doesn’t fit, there are still a few reasons to believe things won’t continue to be this bad. The Cavs have had one of the toughest schedules so far. The schedule eases up in the middle of December which should provide a more accurate view of how good or bad this Beilein led team is.
Having one healthy center is problematic.
The Cavs have played their best this season with Thompson on the floor and their worst when he’s not. Overall the Cavs have a -16.7 net rating when Tristan is off compared to a -2.1 when he’s on. The Love and Thompson duo continues to be good as they have a 5.5 net rating together. The Thompson-Nance duo hasn’t been a disaster as they have a -3.8 net rating compared to the Love and Nance combo who have a -23.3 net rating.
Thompson is the only healthy NBA level center on the roster. No matter how much the league evolves into an outside-in league, center is still one of the most important positions on the floor. You don’t need an elite center, but it’s impossible to be a contender without a competent one (see Boston Celtics). In this case, the Cavs can’t be respectable without a competent center.
Thompson has kept this team from being a complete disaster. Considering his expiring contract and questions about long-term fit, it’s not hard to envision him finishing the season elsewhere. If he does, this could very quickly become the worst or second worst team in the league even if Love stays.
Darius Garland is showing progress.
Garland has had a slow start to the season, but things are gradually starting to turn around. His shot hasn’t fallen as expected as he’s posted a 44% true shooting percentage thus far. However, the most discouraging part has been his lack of shots as he’s attempting just 10.8 a game which is fourth on the team.
Garland has started to get more aggressive on offense over the last week. He’s met or exceeded a usage rate of 23 in four of his last five games. To put that in comparison, he did that only twice in his previous 11. His slowly increasing usage rate led to a partial-breakout in Dallas where he finished with 23 points on 16 shots. Most of those points came in garbage time of a 42-point loss.
Garland has a long way to go, but he’s shown glimpses of the player he can become. Those glimpses will become more frequent as he becomes more assertive and offense. We’ll see if Garland will be able to carry over the success and confidence he had in Dallas into non-garbage time minutes.