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What we learned about the Cavs this week: Feb. 1 - 7

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We’ve entered the wins and lessons portion of the season.

Milwaukee Bucks v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

The Cavs lost three of their four games which is to be expected when you play the Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks twice. Unfortunately for the Cavs, things are likely going to get worse before they get better as they head out on a brutal west coast trip without Larry Nance Jr.

Here’s what we learned from this difficult week.

Outside shooting is still an issue.

It’s nearly impossible to beat better, more talented team when you aren’t taking or making threes. The three-point shot can be the great equalizer. We see this every year in the NCAA tournament. A good team can get upset if they run into a hot-shooting underdog who can’t miss. That path to victory has been closed off to the Cavs.

The Cavs made 7, four, 11, and six three-pointers in their games this week while their opponents made 11, 20, 7, and 16. The Cavs were outscored from beyond the arc by an average of 19.5 points per game this week.

You can win in the league without being a phenomenal three-point shooting team. The Lakers showed us that last season. However, your margin for error is much narrower. Generally teams that consistently win while not shooting a high volume/percentage from deep are significantly more talented than the competition. The Cavs right now aren’t significantly more talented than any of the teams they play this month. It’s hard to picture them pulling off any upsets if they continue to get outscored like this from deep.

Andre Drummond isn’t the problem, and his post-ups aren’t the solution.

It’s easy to blame Drummond when things go wrong. Especially in games like Wednesday’s against the Clippers where Drummond went to failed post-up after failed post-up as the game slowly started falling out of reach. He finished that game with 13 points on 4 of 13 shooting with 5 rebounds, 3 turnovers, and a plus/minus of -33 in 22 minutes of play. Conversely, Jarrett Allen finished the game with 9 points, 9 boards, 5 assists, 2 blocks, and was a +11 in just over 25 minutes of play.

Games like that seem to show that Allen is a better fit for the young backcourt and Drummond is just a sleeper tank agent waiting to sabotage the Cavs chances. However, those games have been the exception not the norm.

The Cavs have been a better team with Drummond on the floor than they are with him off. The Cavs have a -5.4 net rating with Drummond on the floor and a -8.2 with him off this season. In the two games against the Bucks this week, the Cavs had a -7.5 net rating with Drummond on and a -46.3 net rating in the 36 minutes he was off.

Drummond is an easy source of frustration given the bad habits he falls into on both ends of the floor. When things aren’t working offensively, and that’s been more often than not recently for the Cavs, he tries to take things into his own hands by posting up. These failed post-ups then lead to lazy transition defense and an easy opportunity for the opposition. Drummond has been the second worst high-volume post-up player on the season. He is averaging 0.84 points per possession and is shooting 45.6% on 5.9 post-ups per game. The only player who has a worse points per possession and field goal percentage while averaging more than three post-ups per game is Russell Westbrook who is shooting 30% and averaging 0.58 points per possession (yikes).

The truth is, Drummond is a good player when he isn’t hijacking the offense like that. We saw an example of what that looks like in Saturday’s loss as he finished with 28 points on 12 of 17 shooting with 11 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. He was able to do this by doing a good job of attacking the basket as a roller, being available for lobs in the dunker spot, and by getting out in transition.

Drummond’s offensive touch time is a way to measure how Drummond is being used in the offense. If he has the ball for two seconds or less, he is shooting 54.3% from the field. This short of a touch time is generally a post-up on a mismatch that leads to a quick shot, a put-back, or a lob/drive to the rim. His field goal percentage drops to 41.4% when he has it from 2 to 6 seconds. These numbers capture most of his post-ups or his face up, dribble drives from 10 to 15 feet. Unsurprisingly, his field goal percentage drops to just 30.4% when he has it for more than six seconds.

All of these stats are a long way of explaining that Drummond is good when he plays the right way. This season, he’s played the right way more often than not and the Cavs have been a better team because of him. I firmly believe Drummond’s best basketball is in front of him. It can take centers a long time to mature and find their place in the league. When Drummond does find it, he’ll be a valuable contributor to winning basketball.

Darius Garland is finding his way.

No Cavalier has taken as big of a jump this season as Darius Garland. He is leaps and bounds ahead of the player he was last year despite having multiple areas that need improvement.

Garland is averaging 17.7 points, 5.7 assists, 1.2 steals, and 2.8 turnovers with a 57.4 true shooting percentage in the 13 games he’s started this season. To put that in perspective, Garland only scored more than 17 points eight times in the 59 games he played in last season.

The most encouraging thing about Garland is how he’s getting his points and assists. He’s shown the ability to get to his spots on the floor with the shiftiness and finesse of someone who’s been in the league for a decade. His teardrop and ability to make difficult passes in the lane show glimpses of a player who could become the floor general and focal point of an offensive attack.

While these signs are encouraging, he’s far from a finished product. Garland is shooting 40.9% from deep, but is attempting just 4.1 threes per game. This is down from the 5 he attempted last season. Furthermore, he hasn’t found a way to generate contact when he drives to the basket as he’s attempting just 1.5 free-throws a game. These factors explain how one can have an around league average true shooting percentage despite having .464/.409/.875 shooting splits.

The second-year guard is showing vast improvements on both ends of the floor while providing the consistency we didn’t see from him last season. It’s tough to gauge what his ceiling is, but if he can figure out a way to shoot from deep and get to the line more consistently there’s reason to believe he can become an all-star. What we do know is that he belongs in this league and can have a long career as a starting and eventually backup point guard. That wasn’t clear last season.