The Cavs losing streak was extended to ten straight games with losses to the Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets, and the Oklahoma City Thunder. There were flashes of good play from the young players, but those flashes weren’t enough to cover up glaring holes.
Here’s what we learned from another tough week.
Isaac Okoro is emphasizing his outside shot.
Okoro has looked non-existent at times on the offensive end. He isn’t always assertive and can become a stationary ball mover who isn’t a functional part of the offense.
We saw some improvements in that area the last couple games. Okoro went 3-6 from three in Friday’s loss to Denver and followed that up by going 4-11 from distance against OKC.
Okoro’s shot is very much a work in progress. However, it’s encouraging to see him trust it more in games with some level of success. It’s still difficult to project how Okoro fits into the future of this team given his play on the offensive end. That evaluation becomes much clearer if he can develop into a reliable three-point option.
Collin Sexton’s shot chart is trending in the right direction.
Sexton vowed to take more threes earlier this week and he is making good on his promise so far. The third-year guard attempted 7 threes in their loss to Denver and 6 in their loss to OKC. Unfortunately for Sexton, he wasn’t able to capitalize on his increased attempts as he went 4-13 (30.8%) during that stretch.
Sexton has been a good three-point shooter this season as he’s shooting 39.4% from distance. That number is most likely going to dip the more threes he takes, but that’s okay. Becoming a high volume outside shooter will open up other aspects of his game and will allow him to become the best version of himself.
Jarrett Allen continues to be a bright spot.
Allen had a solid week as he averaged 19.6 points on 75% shooting from field with 13.7 boards this week. He is now averaging 16.3 points and 11.2 boards in games that he’s started this season.
Allen is one of the few things to get excited about during this losing streak. He’s handled his transition into the starting lineup well. Allen is becoming a reliable pick-and-roll threat with the guards and has shown incredibly chemistry with Darius Garland.
While things have gone well on offense, the same can’t be said about his fit on the defensive end. Allen currently has the worst defensive rating on the team as he has a 119.5 defensive rating in his time with the Cavs. While that is bad, this is most likely due to him playing only 40 minutes with Larry Nance Jr. who has been Cleveland’s only NBA caliber power forward during this time frame.
Allen appears to be the Cavaliers’ long term answer at center. He’s shown excellent chemistry with the young guards and has fit seamlessly into the offense. I’m excited to see how he looks if this team ever gets healthy.
The injuries and current roster structure makes it difficult to blame the Cavs’ young players.
Losing 10 straight games sucks, especially when they’ve mostly been blowouts. It’s easy to get down on this young nucleus when you see the team is struggling this badly. That feeling, although justified, isn’t fair.
The team was able to stay in games at the beginning of the year because of their backline defense. Larry Nance Jr. and Andre Drummond, as he was bought in at the time, were causing havoc on that end of the floor. The Cavs were one of the best teams at forcing turnovers and taking away looks at the rim. We began to see that there was a path for the Sexton and Garland backcourt to be apart of a good defense. Unfortunately, that has gone by the wayside as that backline defense is now watching from the bench.
Conversely, the offense was never good. There aren’t many reliable three-point options on the team and they’ve been starting a rookie on the wing who is very raw offensively. That, combined with the lack of secondary playmaking, means that executing in the half court has been difficult no matter how good the young guards are playing.
The nucleus of the defense being sidelined combined with a bad offense is the cause for the Cavs current losing streak. As currently constructed, the Cavs trio of Garland, Sexton, and Allen will need to have super-human performances to cover up for the lack of a viable power forward, the poor shooting, and a non-existent bench. It isn’t fair to ask that from three players 22 years-old or younger.
Garland, Sexton, and Allen did have a solid game against a poor Thunder team on Sunday but it still wasn’t enough. Each member of the trio had over 20 points and combined for 74 points on 61.7% shooting. The trio also had a 4.3 net rating in the 30 minutes they played together. The problem is they were outscored by 22 in the 18 minutes at least one of those players was on the bench.
The young players aren’t blameless for the Cavs recent losing streak. There were numerous situations where Garland or Sexton could’ve done something different that would’ve put this team in a better position to succeed. However, the team’s failures are mostly due to the current injuries, roster construction, and lack of bench.
This is the third year of the Cavs rebuild. It’s fair to expect this team to be above ten game losing streaks. That doesn’t mean that them not meeting expectations is an indictment on the rebuild or any of the young players themselves. This losing streak is the result of injuries and massive holes in the roster which are probably still there by design.