It was another great week for the Cavs as they won two of their three games which included an incredible 19-point comeback against the Boston Celtics. The Cavs have now won six of their last seven games and are playing their best basketball in years despite missing two starters.
Here’s what we learned from another exciting week.
The starting lineup is struggling offensively.
The Cavs have had a tough time getting started offensively this week without Collin Sexton. The offense is averaging 18.3 points in the first quarter while shooting 33.3% from the field and having a 38.1 effective field goal percentage as a team. The lack of offensive production from the starting lineup is the biggest reason the Cavs have gotten out to these slow starts.
The current starting lineup of Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, Dean Wade, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen are scoring just 86.2 points per 100 possessions. Okoro and Wade have combined for 24 points on 9 of 33 shooting (27.3%) in 147 combined minutes the last week. It’s nearly impossible to survive offensively while getting that little offensive production from two starters.
I don’t believe Okoro and Wade are unplayable offensively by any stretch, but their skill sets do not work well together with Garland, Mobley, and Allen. Neither Okoro nor Wade are comfortable creating with the ball in their hands at this point. This leaves Garland as the only ball handler on the perimeter trying to create for everyone. Two seven footers and a non-shooting two-guard clogging the lane is the best possible defense against Garland. The lineup construction shuts off any lane for Garland to try and get to the basket to score or create for one of the bigs. That’s how you end up with a nine-point first quarter like they had on Saturday.
The Cavs have an Isaac Okoro issue.
Okoro is in the midst of a dreadful offensive stretch due to the limitations of his game and the personnel around him. He hasn’t shown to be comfortable creating for himself or others offensively and he isn’t a knockdown shooter. Dribble drives and cutting off-ball are what he’s best at now. Those ways of scoring aren’t present if you’re playing with two seven footers who can clog the lane. This has left Okoro as at best a bystander to the offense and at worst a detriment considering his cold shooting.
It is important to remain patient with Okoro. He’s shown exceptional potential on the defensive end and has had flashes of decent play offensively. At this point in his career Okoro is a guy who needs to be put in situations where he can succeed offensively for him to have a positive impact. That ideal spot isn’t in this starting lineup.
Moving Okoro to the bench in the short term could really help his game and the offense overall. Kevin Love should be coming back to the lineup soon. Tying a portion of his minutes to Rubio and Love is something I would try. Playing with Love should open up driving lanes in the halfcourt that aren’t currently there with the starting lineup. Having a defensive minded player like Okoro mixed into a bench unit with Love should also help mask some of the issues that a possible Mobley and Love frontcourt could have on the defensive end.
Either way, the Cavs can’t keep running out a starting lineup with Okoro and Wade and expect things to get better offensively.
Garland isn’t afraid of big moments.
Garland took the final shot against the Wizards and Celtics with varying degrees of success. His floater with 30 seconds left against Washington should’ve iced the game but missed free throws and two blown defensive assignments put the Cavs down one in the final seconds. Garland missed a pull-up three (still leading the league in pull up three-point percentage for guys who takes three or more a game at 44.9%) that would’ve won the game. He made up for that missed shot on Saturday night by blowing past Marcus Smart and getting to the free throw line where he put the game away.
The Cavs need Garland to be the guy down the stretch with Sexton out of the lineup. It’s good to see Garland have success at the end of games and show a willingness to drive inside and force contact when the game is on the line like he did against Boston and Toronto a few weeks ago.
A team with a mediocre offense and a good defense will inevitable find themselves in many close games. The Cavs will need good play from Garland if they want to pull close games out in the end.
Evan Mobley at the five is an offensive cheat code.
The Cavs’ offense had a tough time getting anything going Saturday night against Boston. The Celtics did a great job of packing the paint and taking away lanes to the hoop. The offense was able to get going in the third quarter with unit of Ricky Rubio, Cedi Osman, Denzel Valentine and Dylan Windler with Mobley at the center.
Mobley playing the five allowed the Cavs to spread the floor against the Celtics’ second unit. This created driving lines that weren’t previously there given how the Celtics were packing the paint with Jarrett Allen on the floor.
Mobley at center lineups will always be high risk, high reward defensively, at least for now while he’s still skinny and learning to defend at the NBA level. The Cavs are a bad rebounding team, but they become a worse one when Allen leaves the floor. Those lineups need to rely on forcing turnovers and getting out in transition after blocks and/or steals. The Mobley at the five lineups were able to do that as they combined for five steals and four blocks which led to the Cavs outscoring the Celtics by 16 when Mobley was at the center.
On the season, the Cavs are scoring 112.2 points per 100 possessions with Mobley at the five and Allen on the bench. To put that in perspective, the Cavs are scoring only 97.7 points per 100 possessions when both bigs are on the floor.
This is not an argument that the Cavs should play Mobley without Allen. The Cavs are winning because of their defense. The Cavs are a significantly better defensive team when Allen and Mobley share the floor. Also, Mobley is mostly playing the five against second units which generally cannot take advantage of his lack of strength in the same way your average starting unit can. A starting lineup with Mobley at the five would not have this level of success.
However, Mobley at the five with a bench unit has the potential to jumpstart a team that can’t get anything going. Him playing the five with a smaller lineup allows for a more aggressive defense and more spacing on offense which are two things you need when trying to make a 19-point comeback.
The Mobley with bench unit has the potential to be this team’s diet version of those old LeBron James plus four bench shooter lineups that used to destroy teams and jumpstart comebacks. It’ll be interesting to track how these Mobley plus bench units develop throughout this season and the years to come.