This week was a microcosm of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ season as a whole. The team appeared lost and played awful against the Pistons without Kevin Love, but looked like a fun and competent team when he did play against the Trailblazers, Knicks, and Magic. Overall, the Cavs finished the week 2-2 and there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Here’s what we learned from this week.
Kevin Love transforms this entire team.
Love’s importance to this team can’t be overstated at this point. The Cavs are now 5-2 in games that he’s played since returning from injury as Love is averaging 18 points per game with a 64.5 percent true shooting percentage in 22.2 minutes a game during that stretch.
Since Love’s return on Feb. 8 the Cavs are outscoring opponents by 14.7 points per 100 possessions with Love on the floor. Conversely the Cavs are being outscored by 12.8 points per 100 possessions during that same stretch when he’s off the floor. That’s a 27.5 point swing.
It should be noted that only two of those seven games came against teams with winning records. It’ll be interesting to see how much impact Love as the Cavs’ schedule will be getting tougher. The early returns have shown that this can be a competitive team with him on the floor.
Collin Sexton continues to learn how to play.
At the beginning of the year, I heard someone say that Sexton can play, but he doesn’t know how to play. That phrase has stuck with me throughout the season and has shown to be true many times. We saw flashes of the exciting player he could be many times but there wasn’t enough there to truly get excited about.
Sexton still has work to do, but he’s come a long since the start of the season. These two plays below are just two small examples that illustrate how his understanding of the game has grown.
In this clip, Sexton comes over the screen and correctly tries to get to the basket instead of settling for a long midrange jumper that was probably available. The defense collapses in the paint and Sexton makes the correct decision to not force a contested layup. Instead he kicks it out to Brandon Knight then has the presence of mind to quickly re-position at the top of the arc for an open three pointer instead of hanging around in the middle of the key. The defense falls asleep and Sexton takes an open three without hesitation. This isn’t the most impressive play, but it shows that Sexton made the right decision at every point in the play.
Sexton isn’t near the passer we would like him to be, but this clip shows that he at least has the ability to make the right play. Here, Sexton gets a screen and blows by his defender. The defense over rotates and meets him in the restricted area. Instead of trying to make a contested layup, Sexton dishes it to the far corner to a wide open Jordan Clarkson for what became a game clinching three.
These two plays are indicative of the incremental improvement we’ve seen from Sexton since the start of the season. He has shown that his willing to work on his game in the huge improvements that his jump shooting has taken, but it’s even more encouraging to see that he’s taking that same work ethic into learning how to play the game.
Cedi Osman continues to shoot the ball well from the outside.
Osman continued his strong of solid play, as he averaged 18 points per game on .542/.526/100 shooting splits in the four games this week. Since the beginning of February Osman is shooting 52.6 percent from three and has an effective field goal percentage of 64.8 percent.
Projecting Osman’s future is often difficult. There are encouraging aspects such as his improved shooting, but there are still obvious limitations to his game. Osman’s game tends to come and go depending on whether his outside shot is falling.
It’s been good to see that Osman is at his best when he’s playing off the ball and not trying to do too much. Ideally the Cavs would like to add a high usage wing with their pick in the upcoming draft. Having ancillary pieces like Osman who can play their best in a secondary role could go far in how this team develops moving forward.
Collin Sexton is getting to the free throw line with more regularity.
A lot has been said about Sexton’s outside shot this season. His shooting has always been looked at as a negative, but this season has gone a long way in quieting that concern. While his outside shot is important, an undersized guard must also be able to get to the free throw line and be an excellent passer to make it in the league. Sexton hasn’t consistently shown that he’s a good passer, but he is getting to the line with more regularity.
Sexton finished the week by averaging seven free throw attempts a game. That number was boosted by getting to the line nine times against New York and 13 times against Detroit.
The rookie has made a better effort at getting to the rim and drawing contact. Sexton’s best play has often come when he’s aggressively attacking the rim, but staying in control of his body. We saw glimpses of that this week.