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Why playmaking is a need for the Cleveland Cavaliers

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This is one area where the Cavs are still trying to grow.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Playmaking, for the sake of this article, involves creating for others and creating for yourself. The Cavs have players with potential in both capacities, but none good enough to keep it from being a weakness.

Let’s start with the former: creating for others. Collin Sexton and Darius Garland have some potential as passers, but neither is excellent at it. Both, at least for now, are more capable of making the simple read when a teammate is open vs. passing players open. Neither has the full repertoire of a Trae Young or a Ja Morant, allowing them to put pressure on a defense with passing.

Here’s how they compare out of the pick and roll, for instance. For reference. Damian Lillard is the league’s elite at 1.15 points per possession:

  • Collin Sexton: 37% frequency, 0.9 PPP
  • Darius Garland: 41.6% frequency, 0.76 PPP
  • Trae Young: 53.3% frequency, 0.98 PPP
  • Ja Morant: 50.3% frequency. 0.87 PPP

Sexton’s per possession numbers are encouraging — and marks a decent leap from his rookie year — but primarily comes from his scoring attack. Where Sexton shines is knowing what to do in the in-between. Instead of just barreling into the lane, he’s become better at knowing when to keep driving at full speed or hesitate for just a moment. That’s a skill in itself.

The Cavs’ young guards also fall behind their contemporaries in assists and assist to usage ratio, per Cleaning The Glass:

  • Collin Sexton: 14.4 AST%, 0.53 assist to usage ratio
  • Darius Garland: 18 AST%, 0.83 assist to usage ratio
  • Trae Young: 42.4 AST%, 1.10 assist to usage ratio
  • Ja Morant: 35.7 AST%, 1.19 assist to usage ratio

The hope is that both improve — and quickly. Some of the issues stem from scheme and personnel — the Hawks and Grizzlies are inarguably better set up for success with their respective players and systems — but Cleveland also just needs its guys to improve. Until the Cavs have players running the offense that are setting up teammates at a high level, it’s there’s going to be a ceiling on the offense.

As for turnovers, Sexton comes out looking good. Garland, not as much.

  • Collin Sexton: 11.7 TOV%
  • Darius Garland: 16.5 TOV%
  • Trae Young: 14.5 TOV%
  • Ja Morant: 15 TOV%

Of the two, Garland has a better feel for where players are going to be and getting them the ball to the right spot. He showed much better feel towards the end of the season especially:

Sexton’s specialty right now reads he wasn’t making as a rookie when he recognizes the pressure he puts on opposing defenses has created an opening:

He might get better — Sexton’s work ethic makes it hard to limit his ceiling — but this is arguably the most significant leap for him to make.

For the latter definition — scoring one-on-one — Sexton is just better than Garland right now. Per nba.com/stats, Sexton averaged 1 point per isolation last year on 9.1% of his possessions. Aside from his floater — which doesn’t look fluid when he takes it — he has every kind of shot in his bag. That makes him an exciting piece going forward. The next step for him will be getting to the line more, something he has already improved at, and in finishing at the rim.

As for Garland, he did nothing as an isolation scorer. But he at least flashed some intriguing shots in his repertoire:

There’s also Kevin Porter Jr. to consider. The Cavs believe in him to do both forms of playmaking, so expect him to get chances to do it next season. In taking him, Sexton and Garland over two years, Cleveland was betting on playmaking talent. In terms of veteran talent, empowering Kevin Love, Andre Drummond, Larry Nance Jr. and maybe Dante Exum to create is one way to help things along while the younger players develop.

So why does this all matter? The Cavs’ haven’t been good for the last two seasons. Last season, on the whole, they were 26th in offense, per nba.com, although they jumped to 19th after the All-Star break. To take a step forward, they have to improve offense. That’s going to involve creating in both ways.