The Cleveland Cavaliers have dropped their last four games and now sit at 8-5 after three and a half weeks.
Here’s what we learned from those four losses.
The Cavs struggle to close games.
Four of their five losses have come after blowing fourth quarter leads of six or more. This week the Cavs lost to the Los Angeles Clippers after being up 13 with five minutes left, the Sacramento Kings after being up six with just over eight minutes left and the Golden State Warriors after being up eight with four and a half minutes left.
The Cavs have not done a good job of protecting leads late even in wins. They won in overtime against both the Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics after blowing home leads of five or more with less than a minute to play in regulation.
Cleveland’s clutch time stats show how this is an issue. Clutch time is defined as a five point or less game with under five minutes left regulation or overtime. The Cavs have the 24th ranked point differential in clutch time as they have are being outscored by 15.4 points per 100 possessions through nine games with a 108.2 offensive rating and a 123.5 defensive rating.
The Cavs are a good team. They are better than their record suggests as they have the third best point differential in the league, the fourth best offense and the fourth best defense. But they need to do a better job of executing down the stretch of games if they are to be taken seriously as contenders.
Jarrett Allen hasn’t had the offensive efficiency we’ve come to expect.
Allen has played at an all-defensive team level to start the season. Opponents are shooting just 67.6% at the rim when he’s on the floor while attempting 30.2% of their shots from the midrange. Making life difficult at the rim while forcing midrange shots is exactly what you want your center to do.
The offensive side hasn’t gone as smoothly for him. He’s predictably scoring less with Mitchell in town as he’s averaging 14 points per game this season compared to the 16.1 he scored last year in his All-Star campaign. The efficiency and lack of free-throw attempts is the more concerning part. Allen is finishing 65.8% of his shots at the rim while taking 64% of his shots in the restricted area. He is also drawing shooting fouls on 10.4% of his field goal attempts. All three of these are career lows. Overall Allen is shooting 55.6% from the field with 3.3 free throw attempts per game.
Allen has been forced to adapt. Mitchell isn’t the pick-and-roll maestro Garland is. This has meant that Allen hasn’t been able to get looks rolling to the rim the same way without Garland in the lineup. Garland’s struggles once he’s returned has led to that pick-and-roll not being as lethal as it could be.
This isn’t something to be too concerned about. Adding a dynamic scorer like Mitchell is an adjustment period for everyone. Also, Mobley taking more shots in the paint could have something to do with this as well. We’ll see if the efficiency improves as the starting five gets more reps together.
Evan Mobley is doing a good job of finishing at the rim.
Mobley’s outside shot was one of the talking points throughout the off-season. This was only fueled by every open gym video featuring him working on his three-point shot. That hype hasn’t paid off. At least not in the ways we were expecting to see it.
The sophomore forward has only attempted 11 threes through 13 games. Despite that, he’s upped his efficiency as his effective field goal percentage has jumped from 52.2% to 56% this season thanks to the work he’s doing in the paint.
Mobley is finishing a ridiculous 83.3% of his shots at the rim. This has led to him drawing shooting fouls on 14.3% of his shot attempts.
Mobley did an excellent job of taking advantage of smaller Western Conference front lines on the road trip. Teams like the Kings and Warriors tried to go small with Mobley on the floor which simply didn’t work. Here, we see Mobley take advantage of being guarded by Harrison Barnes. He takes the feed from Garland in the middle of the key and elevates for a mostly uncontested jumper.
Next, we see him get a mismatch against Donte DiVincenzo. A beautiful pass from Kevin Love allows Mobley to keep the one-on-one advantage which leads to the bucket.
This style of play has allowed Mobley to be a more efficient scorer while making him a difficult matchup for teams who like to play small. The increased touch around the rim and willingness to attack the paint has resulted in a shot chart that heavily skews towards attempts near the rim.
Mobley doesn’t need an outside shot to be an effective offensive player. However, having two paint bound scoring bigs in the starting lineup does make things more difficult in the half court. This has resulted in the Cavs having a poor halfcourt offensive rating of 107.6 when both Allen and Mobley on the floor together.
The halfcourt offense with Mobley and Allen remains more challenging than anticipated given the lack of growth from Mobley’s outside shot.
The backcourt is a work in progress.
Despite good results last week, the pairing has struggled to find any sustainable rhythm. Part of that is due to Garland’s recent struggles. The all-star guard has had a difficult start to the season with injuries and illness on top of figuring out how to fit alongside Mitchell. This has resulted in Garland starting the season with less than stellar numbers as he’s averaging 16.2 points on .352/.308/.840 shooting splits in games he and Mitchell have both played in.
Garland hasn’t been able to get into the natural flow of the offense as he oscillates between being too hesitant to look for his own shot and forcing things unnecessary.
Unsurprisingly, this has led to some disappointing results. The Cavs are being outscored by 5.8 points per 100 possessions when the duo shares the floor with a 108.2 offensive rating and a 113.9 defensive rating. The results are worse for the opening night starting five of Garland, Mitchell, Caris LeVert, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. That lineup has a -9.3 net rating with a 104.7 offensive rating and a 114 defensive rating.
There’s no need to make too big of a deal out of a week and a half of lineup data. Especially considering how poorly Garland has played with that grouping. This team has aspirations of playing basketball six months from now. What happens in November has little to do with how that unfolds. That said, what we’ve seen this week hasn’t built on the promise showed in the overtime win against Boston. That will need to change for them to contend like they have the talent to do.
Darius Garland could be breaking out of his slump.
Garland’s struggles and seeming lack of confidence is one of the reasons the backcourt pairing didn’t work well this week. Having a 51 point game without Mitchell may help Garland regain some of his confidence.
The fourth-year guard was sensational down the stretch in the loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Cavs looked dead in the water. They were down 17 with five minutes left in the fourth when J.B. Bickerstaff sent Raul Neto to check in for Garland. Before Neto had a chance to sub in, Garland hit a step back three to cut the deficit to 14. Bickerstaff decided to keep Garland in which paid off immediately as he assisted on back-to-back baskets from Cedi Osman and Lamar Stevens before connecting on another three pointer to cut the lead the six.
The Cavs ultimately lost by five, but might have found their all-star point guard again in the process. Garland scored 27 of his 51 points in the final frame while connecting on 10 of his 15 attempts from beyond the arc on the evening.
Sunday’s performance doesn’t show that the backcourt can work. Garland will need to have a strong outing with Mitchell before that determination can be made. That said, seeing him play with that level of confidence isn’t something we’ve seen often this season. Maybe this was just what he needed to get him going in the right direction.