I think most of us understand by now that the Cleveland Cavaliers offense is going to be magnificent. There are just too many options for it to go wrong. Indeed, if it ever fails at all it’s because the team isn’t sure which way they want to beat their opponent. It’ll be like trying to figure out the sufficient finisher in Mortal Kombat. Kevin Love threes? LeBron James drives? Kyrie Irving ankle breakers-and-pass-outs? Pick your poison.
But that won’t be the problem for the Cavs this season. What will be is their defense. A good comparison may be the Los Angeles Clippers, who have spent the last few seasons outrunning and outscoring their opponents during the regular season. But then, come the playoffs, when the game slows down and there aren’t as many fast breaks, they have had a tough time winning series due to their defense being quite mediocre. They weren’t terrible per say, but they sure weren’t great.
It’ll be even worse for Cleveland. They will be terrible on the defensive end. They’ll win games much like the Clips during the regular season, outscoring opponents and running them out of the gym. In fact, they’ll do it so often that casual fans will brush aside their defensive deficiencies and scoff when told that the Cavaliers will have issues in the playoffs at some point or another.
Certainly we’ll hear too much of “But they just scored 70 in a half! IN A HALF!” this season.
We’ve all already seen the struggles Kyrie has on defense. Far too many possessions have ended like this:
Or like this:
And who does he have to back him up? Matthew Dellavedova and John Lucas III? I’m sorry, but those two guys won’t last long stretches running the point. Inserting them for specific lineup changes is one thing, but leaving one of them in there for too long to do Irving’s job will end badly. They simply aren’t strong backup point guards.
This also leads into the question about what the Cavs are to do if Kyrie goes down with injury? Guess it’s Dellavedova time, which coincidentally is a Latin term for “HOLY CRAP WE’RE SCREWED!”.
Moving away from the bleak outlook on the PG spot, things don’t get too much better from there, especially with the bigs. It’s a head-scratcher why Cleveland didn’t immediately seek out a solid defensive backup big (though Shawn Marion was a great catch) since they are weaker than a naked Chihuahua in winter down low.
According to Sport VU, all of the Cleveland big men were awful at protecting the rim last season. Love allowed a staggering 9.1 FGA at the rim and let opponents shoot 57.4 percent in there. Anderson Varejao allowed 5.3 attempts but let opponents shoot 54.2 percent. Tristan Thompson allowed 5.2 attempts and let opponents score 59.1 percent of the time.
In comparison, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Joakim Noah, allowed 7.8 FGA and only just 46.8 percent shooting.
Truly, the only two really strong defensive players on these Cavs are LeBron and Marion. That’s fairly scary, considering that Marion will turn 37 years old come May. LeBron himself even saw a drop in defensive prowess last season, presumably due to how often he had to do seemingly everything for the Miami Heat. His defensive win shares last season (3.7) were the lowest in his career since his rookie year (2.6).
How about the rest of that bench, huh? Brendan Haywood (34 years old), Mike Miller (34 years old) and James Jones (33 years old) are three of the main guys coming off of the pine. They can all contribute something, though they’ll be used for offensive purposes. Their defense, however good they were at the height of their primes, is now either fading or gone because of Father Time. Marion isn’t even an exception here, since his defense is slowly fading as well, it’s just that he was always a better defender than the other three.
So there you have it. A Cavaliers roster that is built for fun, but perhaps not for winning titles. Luckily for this club, they are in a weak Eastern Conference and will still have a great shot at making the NBA Finals next season. But between October and April, they’ll have to figure out something that (at least kind of) works for them on defense. Because if they don’t, they may be looking the most disappointing finish to a season since LOST.