The Cavs were significantly short handed this week with various injuries, but that didn’t stop them from winning two of their four games. Here’s what we learned from a fun week of Cavs basketball.
Tristan Thompson could possibly be a Nikola Jokic stopper.
Thompson played a critical role in Friday’s win over Denver. He made his typical hustle plays on both ends while containing the best offensive center in the league on defense. Nikola Jokic finished the game with just eight points and four turnovers on the night. Thompson’s combination of strength and lateral quickness was a large reason why Jokic had a tough time taking control of the offense like he usually does.
Friday’s solid performance against Jokic made me wonder how he did against the all-star in the past. The results are somewhat Al Horford like. According to stats.nba.com’s imperfect matchup tool, Thompson has held Jokic to 22 points on 42.9% shooting, eight assists, and five turnovers in their last four matchups. Thompson was the Cavs’ primary defender on Jokic in all of those games.
Thompson has the perfect skillset to bother modern centers. His play against Jokic is a small sample size, but it reaffirms some things we already knew. There aren’t many players who can disrupt quick, skilled centers at the point of attack while beating them on the boards as well. Those abilities allow Thompson to disrupt the offense for team’s that use their centers as an offensive hub (see Al Horford). I’m still surprised a contender didn’t jump at the chance to grab him at the trade deadline for this reason alone.
Matthew Dellavedova might have a little left in the tank.
Delly has been unwatchable for large stretches this season, however he showed that he can still run an offense when needed. He finished the weekend with a combined 25 assists in both wins this weekend. Delly hasn't been a reliable bench player this season, but it was a ton of fun to see him recapture some of the magic that made him a fan favorite during the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
We’ve seen our first good Andre Drummond game in Cleveland.
Drummond dominated the paint on both ends of the floor in Sunday’s overtime win over the Spurs. He finished the night with 28 points on 11-16 shooting with 17 boards. Drummond showed that he can be unstoppable when he’s rolling and attacking the basket consistently.
This game is a perfect example of what you want to see from Drummond. He had success running the high pick-and-roll with Sexton which is something he hasn’t always shown a willingness to do. Being willing to run those type of high pick-and-rolls with the young guards while consistently attacking the paint should open up the floor for everyone else. This style of play is exactly what Koby Altman envisioned when he brought him over from Detroit. We’ll see if Drummond continues to play this style or if he reverts back to some of his bad habits.
Kevin Love has been fun to watch recently.
Love’s effort level has picked up over the last handful of games. His increased effort level has led to better play as he’s finished with 20 or more points in four of his last five games. This has been a nice change from his effort level earlier in the season.
This deadline has proven that Love’s contract is hard to move. There is a good chance he will be on the team for at least part of next season. Seeing him appear to buy-in the last handful of games has been refreshing. Having the young players play alongside a proven veteran who knows how to win should be really beneficial. However, that only works if Love is bought in like he has been during this recent stretch.
Collin Sexton is making simple reads on drives.
Sexton put together arguably his best week as a pro which was highlighted by a 41 point performance against the Boston Celtics. On the week Sexton averaged 31.0 points with a 64.6 true shooting percentage and 4.5 assists. That is, at least, player of the week nomination worthy.
Sexton’s feel and control for the game have shown real growth. He has shown multiple times these last few weeks that he can consistently make the drop pass to the dunker position when he’s driving to the rim. This is a pass that he wasn’t seeing before the all-star break.
Consistently hitting the shooter in the baseline in corners on drives will be his next evolution as a passer. Sexton showed some growth in this department as well as he was able to hit Delly for an open three off a drive in the last minute of regulation against the Spurs. He can make that pass on occasion, but he doesn’t look for that read consistently yet.
Sexton still has a long way to go as a passer, but being willing and able to make the simple reads will go a long way in determining his long-term role in the league. He’s never going to be a traditional point guard, but being able to move the ball and make simple reads will allow him to be the nominal point guard provided you can get playmaking from another position.