Are the Cavs just Smoke and Mirrors?
After a slow start to the season, the Cavs have bounced back in a great way winning their last two contests, and more importantly, look like they can make the playoffs. Jarrett Allen has been such a pleasant surprise this year, acting as a true leader for a young Cavaliers roster. We’ve always known that Allen can be an elite defensive anchor, but his new offensive prowess has led to him leading the league in field goal percentage.
As much as we all loved Matthew Dellavedova, his floor presence was a constant negative. Ricky Rubio has been a fantastic boost off the bench and his ability to be a floor general late in games has given the Cavs a much more consistent closer. The only real negatives to this roster have been Lauri Markkanen’s defense and a missing scoring presence from Collin Sexton and Darius Garland.
So, what’s the issue?
Maybe it’s just me being a cynic, but I have quite vivid memories of a hot start last season that was followed up with an 11-39 finish. Injuries dampened what looked like a positive season, but other key flaws were brought to life after the grind of a 72 game season.
One of the biggest improvements this year is team defense. Cleveland has made huge strides forward, improving their bottom-of-the-barrel defensive rating from 114 to 107. This improvement is very solid, but teams haven’t been shooting the deep ball well against the Cavs. If teams can stretch out these all-big-men lineups, we could see this defense begin to regress.
My other main concern is Darius Garland and Collin Sexton. The two-guard combo has struggled to start this season. Neither of these two have been as aggressive this year, with Garland attempting three fewer shots per game and Sexton shooting nearly four fewer shots per game. Not only that but they’ve both had notable regression early on from behind the arc.
If those two don’t start taking and making more three’s this Cavs offense will not be able to compete with elite offenses across the league. You can’t expect players like Nikola Jokic and Trae Young to have off nights every time you see them.
Overall, I’m pleasantly surprised by the direction of this unit. Evan Mobley leads the league in contested shots, Allen leads the league in shooting percentage, and Kevin Love has been a quietly terrific boost off the bench. Once Sexton and Garland get going, this team could be very reminiscent of last season's New York Knicks. If not, we might just find ourselves in the lottery once again. But for now, let’s just enjoy these wins.
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