It was a summer day in July, after days of speculation, innuendo, rumor and assumption Cleveland fans finally was on the good end of the joke for the first time in a long time. LeBron wrote (with the help of Lee Jenkins) a heart warming, humble letter and ode to his appreciation to northeastern Ohio. It was the spring that allowed hope to freely dance in the heart and minds of fans.
5 months later the Cavs are 19-14, in their last 10 games they’re an average 5-5 after coming off a streak where they won 8 straight games out of 10. Except where they stand now they wouldn’t have home court advantage if the playoffs started today. With their next 6 out of 9 games against opponents of teams who have an average winning percentage of .695 the Cavs will have their work cut out for them as they will have no LeBron as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love deal with a knee bruise and back spasm respectively.
Yet they could use this time to define their bench as that has been a point of contention for this team and new coaching staff. With multiple changes to the starting lineup and no consistent rotation for the bench, if they could have the latter half of that equation figured out by the time LBJ comes back, life for the Cavs could be improved vastly.
The only problem with that is, they’re playing very good teams with established coaches who don’t have to figure out rotations, installing new defensive schemes, and learning the NBA game as a whole. While I believe the notion of learning the NBA game is overstated, dealing with strangers’ ego, personalities and fostering relationships isn’t. David Blatt didn’t come up through the ranks here such as guys like Erik Spoelstra, Mike Brown. While they were world beaters when they started, players knew them when they were assistants, they were the guys pulling film for them to study. They were able to build relationships which allowed for players to trust them when times get tough. Blatt, has very little of that. While there are players that will vouch for his brilliance as an offensive strategist, that list is very small and with a team with as many young players as the Cavs have those words only go so far.
While the coach definitely must prove to his players that he does indeed knows what he’s doing, the players at some point to have to buy in and give what the coach is saying a chance. I know, a real chicken and the egg situation. In the meantime I’ll list some things below the Cavs can do now to improve their fortunes before the All-Star break.
1. Kyrie should distribute more; Kyrie might never be Chris Paul or Rajon Rondo when it comes to passing the ball, but if he’s going to average more turnovers than steals and less assist than Kobe per game then this team won’t go but so far. Too often Kyrie dribbles to not create for others, but to only create for himself. On pick and rolls, he either gives up the ball a beat too late or not at all. If he shifted his focus slightly to generating offense for others that would potentially open the floor for others and should lead to easier buckets for him.
2. Pick and roll and post action with Kevin Love. Love looks uncomfortable, he’s the third wheel to LeBron and Kyrie and while we could argue that shouldn’t be case, that’s the hand that’s been dealt. Get Love involved, this would probably increase his energy on the defensive end. Basketball is so much more fun when you know you’re going to touch the ball. It has energy, there’s nothing more frustrating than wanting to be involved past just inbounding the ball and grabbing rebounds.
How often have we seen pick and roll with Love and LBJ, Love and Kyrie. This would cause the defense to have to make a very hard decision, double and leave one open, go over the top and risk getting burned with the screener dashing to the hole, or popping out for a jump shot. Go behind and risk the man with the ball having space to rise up and shoot. It’s a simple enough concept, but under pressure, the obvious is easy to miss. Secondly, place Love in the post, let him create for him and others, he’s a good passer, and he can be efficient down low. This will also prevent him getting 3 happy. With him in the post you can runback door action, cutting, off ball pick and roll which could produce easy shots for others and not allow the defense to plant and double down on Love.
Remember Karl Malone and John Stockton, well they ran the 2 man game about as good as any big man guard combo ever. If the Cavs could implement this kind of action with Love, LBJ and Kyrie the three of them wouldn’t have to work so hard on offense and should reduce their turnovers so they don’t get crushed in transition.
3. Pick a starting rotation. Waiters, Dellavedova, Miller, Marion, pick one, stick with it, and let that be it. Nobody wins with the constant flux of guys in and out of the lineup. There’s a comfort in knowing when you’re going to play, knowing in general how many minutes you’ll get. It also allows you to prepare. If I know I’m only going to get 10 minutes with Halle Berry compared to a week, I’ll probably work a little faster, use more urgency. When you know who’s going to be on the court with you it allows you to figure out your approach to the game well before you get to the court.
I would say start Miller, hespreads the floor and doesn’t need the ball to be effective, he can spot up from any point on the floor and requires the defense play him honest or get burned if they double off of him.
Make Waiters your 6th man, commit to it. Develop him into your leader of the second team and pseudo back up point guard. He can score and create for others and with the second team he’s allowed the space to do so without stepping on toes that would allow for him to place his ego on the back burner when on the court with LBJ and crew cause he knows he’s going to have dedicated time on the court without them.
As for Dellavedova, the coaching staff loves his defense, me, not so much. However, it doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere so utilize him in spurts. While he’s on the floor for his defense he must be more discipline and not fall so hard for the pump fake, he’s putting too much pressure on the big men when guards drive past him. He also has to become a viable offensive threat, can’t play hot potato with the ball. Defenders lay off on him so far you’d think they were on a stake out when they’re guarding him. If he’s not going to shoot he can’t be on the floor, it places unfair pressure on everyone else.
4. High fives; I know, it was just as weird when I typed it as when you read it. Nonetheless, there was a study a few years back that teams that gave more high fives than others were more successful. It was a sign that they were more supportive of each other as teammates. This team looks like an arranged marriage at times. They deal with each other because they have to, not because they’re in love. I’m not suggesting they all have sleep overs and eat smores, but encouragement and support from one another can go a long way.
Six games out of the top seed in the Eastern Conference, 48 games left to make a move. While it’s not early, they have 4 months to get this team where they need to be to make a deep playoff run. The stakes are high, all eyes are on them, not a position a Cleveland team is used to being in, and one they won’t be in long if this falls apart.