The Cleveland Cavaliers were one of the most well-rounded teams in the NBA last season with both a top-ten ranked offense (8th) and defense (1st). But there is always room for improvement, and the Cavs have some specific things they can work on offensively to be less reliant on the backcourt of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff knows this and, in an interview with NBA.com, says he wants to make the Cavs offense more “dynamic” this upcoming season.
“During the regular season, we were an elite pick-and-roll team,” Bickerstaff told NBA.com. “So how do we add to that and make it more dynamic? I think by adding a guy like Max (Strus), adding Georges (Niang), they can move and create movement and make shots off movement. Now people are chasing them, and you still have your opportunity to play your pick-and-roll with Darius and Donovan and Evan (Mobley) and Jarrett (Allen).”
Movement shooting is certainly an important component of a more dynamic offense, and the Cavs were largely deficient in that category. Enter Strus, who was fifth in the NBA last season in catch-and-shoot threes per game with six, and Niang, who averaged 4.5 per game himself, to help keep the offense flowing in the halfcourt. Mitchell was the highest Cavalier in that catch-and-shoot category last season with 3.6, while the departed Cedi Osman was the closest after that. Based on what Bickerstaff is saying, expect Strus and Niang to be on the move constantly as opposed to being planted in the beyond the arc waiting for a pass - they are going to be part of the movement itself.
“Two years ago, we were predicated on a ton of ball movement and body movement,” Bickerstaff continued. “We’re going to try to get back to that, where everybody is moving more, the ball is moving more. It’s going to be asking everybody to be a little more dynamic, to be a little harder to find.”
In theory, all of that movement will be instrumental in opening up Donovan Mitchell to do one of the things he does best getting downhill and into the paint. Creating movement opens up the offense and forces the defense to chase guys around, resulting in more windows of opportunity to get a shot up, find an entry pass, or get to the basket. “When you’re chasing an elite player like Donovan, he’s got the advantage automatically,” said Bickerstaff. “Now he’s just got to make the play.”
One avenue to being more dynamic is to have more shooting, something the Cavaliers have clearly prioritized. The Cavs’ offense last season oftentimes felt too dependent on the backcourt to score, resulting in defenses packing the paint and having their best point-of-attack defender body up whichever guard had the ball. Garland and Mitchell faced a sea of bodies and arms whenever they attempted to get to the paint, something that led to more bumps and bruises along the way. With more shooting on the roster, and another shooter in Strus likely starting at small forward, the burden on the backcourt is reduced.
Movement shooting also does not have to only come in the half court either. The days of Kyle Korver trailing in transition and getting an open look caused opposing defenses to panic. With more shooters, those types of plays become more potent. The Cavs were dead last in pace the previous season, just a hair worse than the famously plodding Miami Heat offense.
The difference is the Heat do not have the personnel to be more than that, in fact, they thrive on it. Cleveland has the personnel to be a much more dynamic offense that wreaks havoc in both the half-court and in transition off rebounds and steals. Only 14.3% of the Cavs’ possessions came in transition last season (19th in the league) despite having good efficiency there (8th in the league). During the Cavs’ heyday from 2014-2018, they were no worse than 13th in the league in percent of transition possessions - with top-five levels of scoring efficiency from there every time. More movement in the half-court and getting out in transition are key ways to make the offense more difficult to defend and less methodical.
There is no question that the Cavs needed to tweak their approach on offense, and that was clearly evident in the first-round series against the New York Knicks. Being more dynamic is easier said than done, but the front office has added some players who can really change the flow of an offense. Strus and Niang provide elements that were not present on the roster last season in the form of movement shooting and wing depth. Now it is up to Bickerstaff and the coaching staff to implement the changes and figure out the perfect formula ahead of hopefully another trip to the postseason.