This past summer, when LeBron James returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers, everyone immediately placed them in the upper-echelon of the NBA rankings, and many of those people predicted them as the champions when they acquired Kevin Love six weeks later. This was all in spite of many of these Cavaliers never playing a single game together, and two of their top three players (Love and Kyrie Irving) not having played a single playoff game in their career.
As predicted, the Cavaliers are off to a slow start, but no one could have predicted losses to the likes of New York, Utah, and Denver. So, what’s wrong with the Cavs?
Obviously, chemistry is the biggest issue at the moment, and that will come with time. They simply have not played enough basketball games together for them to play great team basketball. However, they are simply too talented to play this bad of basketball in the long term. Their blowout win against the Hawks last week (when they shot 9/9 on threes in the first quarter, an NBA record for most threes in a quarter without a miss) proves that there is so much potential for this team. How can they actualize this potential?
1. GETTING KEVIN LOVE INVOLVED
Kevin love is an immensely talent basketball player, without question. Many analysts – most notably Charles Barkley – have called him the best power forward in the NBA (at this point, he is probably behind Anthony Davis). Last season, Love averaged an incredibly 26 points and 12.5 rebounds per game.
While nobody really expected Love to match those raw statistics, many believed his efficiency would go up. Last season, Love shot 45% from the field and 37.6% on threes, but this year, those numbers are down to just 40% and 36%, respectively. Those aren’t terrible numbers, but it is clearly not what the Cavaliers were expecting when they traded Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett to acquire Love.
So what seems to be the problem? Well, the Cavaliers aren’t really getting Love involved. Nobody on this roster (save for LeBron James) has ever played with a big man in Love’s stratosphere talent-wise. No one else on the roster really understands Love’s tendencies yet, and as a result, they are not getting him the ball as much as he should have it. Love is adjusting to this new role, and it clearly takes time.
With that said, his Cavalier teammates need to do a better job of getting him involved in the offense. It is clearly affecting his ability to score the ball, and it also is changing his mindset on the boards, where he is not attacking the glass in his usual manner.
Once the Cavaliers figure out how to get Love more involved in the offense, that will be a major turning point in Cleveland.
2. DEFENSIVE STRUGGLES
When the Cavaliers roster was formed, there was one major issue that was identified as something that could hold these Cavaliers back – defense, and specifically, the lack of a rim protecting big. This problem has clearly affected the Cavs, as they are just 25th in the league in defensive efficiency with a baffling 107.0 rating. That is nearly two points worse than the 76ers, who haven’t won a single game yet.
How can this be fixed? Well, short of trading for a defensive stopper on the wing or a rim-protector, the Cavaliers will not have a top-tier defense. That’s okay – they can still be successful even without a top ten defense. However, a defense in the bottom 6 in the league is not acceptable and will prohibit the Cavaliers from competing for a title.
To get out of the cellar with the roster they have now, there are a few important factors. First of all, the Cavaliers need to win the battle of the boards every night. With Love, Anderson Varejao, and Tristan Thompson on the team, there is no reason to think the Cavaliers should not have a top 5 rebounding team in the NBA. The Cavaliers only grab 41.4 rebounds per game, which is tied with Utah for 21st in the league. If this improves, which it should, the rebounding bump should push the Cavaliers at least out of the bottom ten of defense.
Also, as more chemistry develops, the Cavaliers should trust each other more when it comes to defensive rotation and knowing the tendencies of others. As such, they have enough talent to form an above-average team defense.
3. LACK OF BENCH PRODUCTION
The Cavaliers started the season with Dion Waiters as the starting shooting guard, but due to his need for the ball and an overall lack of bench production, head coach David Blatt felt as if Waiters would be better served coming off the bench in order to improve its production. However, this has not worked, as the Cavaliers are dead last in the NBA in bench points per game with 21.7 points per game*.
The problem is two-fold here. First, no one on the bench is really playing all that well. Mike Miller, who was brought in to be a reliable shooter off the bench, has only score 13 points this season and is shooting a horrendous 27.8%, including only 20% from three.
Realistically, the only bench player even meeting expectations at all is rookie Joe Harris, who has been a spark-plug thus far off of the bench. He had zero expectations of being a contributor thus far, but has played well and may even be named the starting shooting guard soon, according to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal. However, the rest of the bench needs to step it up, and David Blatt needs to find a lineup with players outside of the starting five that he can trust.
The second problem is that the members of the Big 3 of James, Love, and Irving are playing too many minutes. James is specifically playing too many minutes, and this is because of Shawn Marion being inserted into the starting lineup. He was brought to Cleveland to be James’ backup at small forward, but since they are starting together, Marion cannot play many minutes backing James up. If Marion is moved back to the bench (he probably will be soon), this problem should be somewhat mitigated. However, it is a problem nonetheless.
4. INEXPERIENCED COACHING
David Blatt is a good basketball coach. He has won basketball games everywhere he’s coached. However, this is his first time coaching in the NBA. Not his first time being a head coach – it is his first time coaching in the NBA period. This is quite an adjustment for him.
As of now, Blatt does not really know how to be a good NBA coach. He has not figured out a good rotation yet, he is overwhelmed with game management, and frankly just does not know the most effective methods of coaching this team. Once Blatt finds an effective rotation and gets everyone on the same page on both sides of the ball, he will be much more effective.
Overall, the Cavaliers have many problems that can, and will, be fixed. They are too good to remain a sub-.500 team all season. However, it will take time for the Cavaliers to develop the chemistry that is required to be an elite team. They should develop it, and their biggest problems should be fixed as they develop said chemistry. Just be patient, Cleveland fans. Your time will be coming soon enough.
*All stats courtesy of ESPN.com, except for where denoted with asterisk. Here, stats are from hoopsstats.com