This was another tough week for the Cavs. Kevin Love and Matthew Dellavedova finally returned from injuries, but Larry Nance Jr. and Jarrett Allen missed all three games this week. This team really can’t get healthy.
Here’s what we learned from this three-loss week.
A lack of identity is hurting the Cavs.
All good teams have an identity. They have an area of the game or style that they can fall back on when things get difficult. For teams like the Heat and Lakers, it’s their aggressive defense. For the Jazz and Trail Blazers it’s their ability to take and make threes.
Bad teams can also have an identity as well. The Rockets are heavily reliant on three-point shooting. The Warriors have an egalitarian offense where everyone touches the ball despite having a generational offensive player who should be running everything (maybe this was a bad example). The Kings play with increased offensive tempo and urgency. The Cavs don’t have anything like that.
I don’t necessarily blame J.B. Bickerstaff for this. The Cavs came into this season with the idea of being a defensive first team that forces turnovers and they were successful at that thanks to an Andre Drummond and Larry Nance Jr. frontcourt. Unfortunately, that didn’t last and neither did that identity.
The Cavs have played 23 different starting lineups due to injuries which has made establishing an identity incredibly difficult. The front court has been a revolving door of differently skilled players. This has left the two young guards forced to carry the offensive load without consistent players or skill types around them.
The changes and lack of identity make it challenging to evaluate what you have with the young players while also making it difficult to figure out what type of skillsets you should be targeting to fit around those players. This is the problem they ran into with their last rebuild and are running into it again.
There isn’t a simple solution to this problem. The coaching staff can’t control the injuries or what the front office has done with trades. Hopefully the Cavs can use the final 20 games of the year to establish some cohesion as they head into a pivotal off-season.
Isaac Okoro is showing some good things.
Okoro is a very tough player to gauge for a variety of reasons. The things he does best don’t translate to the box score, but the areas he struggles in most do. It’s tough to get excited about a player who is averaging 8 points on 41.9% shooting with 1.7 assists per game. While he hasn’t shown that he’s a franchise cornerstone, there are plenty of reasons to believe that he can be a valuable piece moving forward.
It can be difficult to evaluate individual defense. The box score numbers don’t tell a full picture and advanced defensive stats are often more reliant on a team’s defense than they are on an individual. Based on the eye test and the imperfect data we have, Okoro is really picking it up on that end of the floor.
Okoro drew the primary assignment on Ben Simmons in Thursday’s game. According to the NBA’s matchup data, Okoro held Simmons to 3 points on 1 of 5 shooting while being Cleveland’s primary defender on Simmons. Simmons was held to just 5 points, 5 assists, and 13 boards on the night.
The results were similar in Saturday night’s game with Miami. Okoro was Cleveland’s primary defender on Jimmy Butler who was held to just 4 points and 1 assist while being guarded by the rookie. Butler finished with a total of 15 points and 11 assists.
Okoro is still a work in progress on the offensive end, but he’s flashed some positive signs the last few games. The rookie finished Thursday’s contest with 9 points on 4 of 4 shooting. He followed that up with his best offensive outing of the season in Miami as he finished with 17 points on 5 of 7 shooting which included going 2 for 2 from distance and 5 of 7 from the line.
Okoro’s defensive abilities have not been in question. He’s been asked to guard the opponent’s best perimeter player every night while more than holding his own. That is rare in this league. There is generally a steep learning curve for rookies on that end of the floor, but that hasn’t been the case with Okoro.
The offense is still shaky, but he’s shown some positive signs. Saturday’s game showed that he can be a good finisher and draw contact at the rim when playing in an off-ball role. His instincts away from the ball have been solid this season, but the lack of a cohesive offense has really hurt him. Hopefully adding Love back into the mix will open up the offense and allow Okoro to benefit from the on and off-ball attention Love still generates.
It’s nice to have Kevin Love back.
The offense has been abysmal this year and it is only getting worse. The Cavs have the worst offensive rating in the league (103.6) and the second worst team true shooting percentage (53.5%). The offense is trending in the wrong direction as well as they have posted a 101.2 offensive rating in their last 15 games. This is due to a number of factors, but mainly this team has dealt with an outrageous number of injuries and their best two offensive players are 21 and 22 year-old undersized guards.
We are beginning to see some of the impact Love is making despite his shot not being up to his standard so far. Love has combined for 23 points and 14 boards in the two games he’s been back but has shot a meager 7 of 19 from the field which includes going 5 of 14 from distance. Despite the poor shooting numbers, the Cavs have been outscored by only 9 points in the 43 minutes Love played and were outscored by 25 in the 53 minutes he was off.
Love isn’t going to make the offense great overnight or flip blowout losses into wins, but he should make things easier for the young players around him. He still has the ability to draw the attention of multiple defenders while having the vision and the skill to make passes that no one outside of Darius Garland can make on this team.
Kevin Love's gravity opens up so much for the Cavs offense.— Jordan Zirm (@JordanZirm) April 2, 2021
All five Sixers turn to watch Love after the initial pick for Garland. Okoro cuts, Wade draws two defenders as he sneaks around the perimeter, so Love whips a pass to Sexton in the corner for 3 pic.twitter.com/RByQS1YTuj
Love won’t be carrying them to victory with 30-point performances. That isn’t his game anymore. However, he can draw the attention and focus of the defense so that Garland and Collin Sexton will have more opportunities to have those kinds of nights.
The Cavs have not had an identity this season. Love coming back doesn’t solve that issue. He can however give the offense life while allowing the young guards to showcase their skills in ways that we haven’t seen before. Having a cohesive plan on the offensive end could go a long way in establishing some semblance of an identity.