The Cleveland Cavaliers went 2-3 over their last two weeks with the All-Star break in the middle. Here’s what we learned from the up and down performances.
The Cavs’ aren’t getting consistent scoring outside the core four.
Teams will generally go only as far as their stars take them offensively. While true, having a supporting cast that can supplement scoring when needed can make the difference in wins and losses against other top teams.
The Cavs weren’t able to get that over their last five games. The core four of Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen combined to score 446 of the team’s 575 points (77.6%) during that stretch. This is partially due to J.B. Bickerstaff shortening his bench like he did against the Toronto Raptors, but still underscores a larger issue. The Cavs don’t have many supplemental scoring options to provide a much needed spark as seen in the table below.
The lack of complimentary scoring came back to bite the Cavs in close games against the Philadelphia 76ers and Denver Nuggets. Against the Sixers, players outside the core four combined for 17 points on 6-19 shooting (31.6%) in 82 minutes. Against the Nuggets, they totaled 20 points on 9-19 shooting (47.3%) in 99 minutes.
It’s reductive to judge the role players just in terms of how much scoring they provide. At the same time, the Cavs do need more sources of offense outside of their core to push them over the edge in games against other top teams in the league.
Despite the recent struggles, the Cavs have the second-best point differential in the league, the third-ranked defense and the ninth-ranked offense. A top five point-differential combined with both a top-ten offense and defense are the hallmark of championship-caliber teams. The Cavs have that. They just don’t appear to have the supplemental pieces needed to grease the wheels when the core four don’t have it going.
Evan Mobley continues to flash high-level offensive traits.
Mobley’s performance against the Nuggets was one of his best of the season. The second-year big has improved throughout the campaign at finishing at the rim. He’s also made strides in the short mid-range, but struggles at times when he doesn’t have the height or strength advantage.
He’s is finding more ways to get to and finish at the basket which is what he’s best at. Below is an example of how he was able to take advantage of a smaller defender in the post. He slips a pin-down screen for Garland which resulted in a mismatch against Jama Murray.
Mobley is also beginning to use his athleticism and burst more in halfcourt settings by attacking off-the-dribble. Here, we see him momentarily lose his handle before pulling it back out and starting his attack again. He’s able to use his speed to blow by Vlatko Čančar and finish through contact.
Lastly, we see Mobley attack in transition after gathering a loose ball on the defensive end. He’s able to attack the paint in transition while using a hesitation dribble to get Nikola Jokić off-balance before drawing a shooting foul.
Mobley has shown offensive flashes and even consecutive impressive games throughout his young career. Now, we’re seeing him string impressive months together. Since the beginning of January, Mobley is averaging 18 points per game with an effective field goal percentage of 56%. He’s doing this while completing 80.8% of his attempts at the rim which puts him in the 92nd percentile among bigs. If you look at just February, Mobley is averaging 19.2 points per game while finishing 83.6% of his looks in the restricted area.
Mobley is already one of the best defensive players in the league. His offense is starting to catch up as seen by his play the last few months as he’s continuing to find new ways to attack opposing defenses.
The defense let them down in measuring-stick games.
With losses to the Sixers and Nuggets, the Cavs are now 6-8 against the top three teams in each conference. This includes going 1-5 against the current top of the West.
The defense struggled in both games this week. The Cavs were not able to make the MVP caliber big men work for their baskets, but this extra focus caused the defense to look out of sorts at times which allowed role players to get clean looks. Sixers outside of Joel Embiid combined to go 30-57 (52.6%) from the field while Jokić’s teammates went 15-34 (44.1%) from beyond the arc.
As a result, the Cavs posted a 129.7 defensive rating, which is within the 10th percentile, against the Sixers and a 121.7 defensive rating, which is in the 27th percentile, against the Nuggets.
Defense has been the Cavs’ calling card all year. That, as shown this week. simply needs to be better against the best teams in the league for the Cavs to have a chance to compete.