Cavs

An Early-Season State of the Land Address

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are running into a rough patch right now. Trekking through a season that has been full of ups-and-downs already, the Cavs are riding another downswing. The team is labeled as rebuilding, but what kind of a rebuilding team employs a 31-year-old, five-time all-star? In fact, they signed him to a four-year, $120 million extension the year their rebuild began.

Kevin Love has started every game that he’s been healthy for this season. The UCLA alumnus is either 1st or 2nd on the Cavs in points, rebounds, and assists. Love seems to be on the road to another all-star appearance, especially in an Eastern Conference that could draw JV comparisons to the Varsity Western Conference.

What about 2 All-Stars?

Dare we say that the lowly Cavaliers have a second all-star contender? Tristan Thompson is having a breakout season for the Cavs down low. Thompson is in his 9th NBA season, all with the Cavs. The big man is putting up 14.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.2 blocks per game, all career-highs for him.

 

So what gives? The Cavs are still bad. Their 5-15 record puts them just 1.5 games above Golden State for the worst record in the league. Oh, how times have changed… Since their encouraging 4-5 start, Cleveland has lost 10 of their last 11 games. Yikes, but still, what gives? How does a team with two borderline all-stars that began the season with a near .500 record through nine games, drop so far? Well, as was stated above, the Cavs are rebuilding. They have two steady big men starting for them who have been stellar, but you need more than 2 players to have a competitive team.

The Cavaliers drafted three rookies this past off-season: Darius Garland, Kevin Porter Jr., and Dylan Windler. So far Windler hasn’t played a minute for the Cavs, as he’s been nursing an injury. Garland and Porter have been thrust right into it from the get-go, playing in every game this season.

Despite some flashes of potential, the rookie duo has very obviously been overwhelmed. Their poor shooting and lacking defensive awareness attest to this fact. They look lost out there often, but it’s hard to imagine Cleveland expected any less when they selected these two. They combined for just over 600 minutes through their college careers because of injuries and suspensions. Dylan Windler was easily the most prepared of the three rookies to play from day 1. He played more than six times the minutes Garland and Porter did in college put together. The sharpshooting wing is nearing his NBA debut, and it’s already easy to picture the impact that he can bring to this team that they are desperately missing.

Sophomore Sexton

Last season, the Cavs had a season-long showcase of another cornerstone of their rebuild in Collin Sexton. After a slow start, he revved it up to close out the season, but the prospective sophomore strides haven’t been as visible as you may have hoped. His 3 point shot, although still better than it was coming out of college, seems to have regressed from last year. His vision still leaves a lot to be desired, as the Young Bull often races too fast to take in the rest of the court. However, his defense has shown improvement since last season, when he consistently got abused while trying to guard the pick-and-roll.

So the young guns are struggling out of the gates a little. This explains a bit, but what about the other guys? Matthew Dellavedova is the team’s backup point guard right now. He’s long been a fan favorite in Cleveland, even after he left for Milwaukee following the 2016 title run. Delly is the team leader in +/-. He brings a calming presence onto the floor when he takes the reins. His smarts and playmaking abilities make his teammates better, but he hasn’t been able to make himself better this season. Dellavedova is an atrocious 9.7% from 3-point range this season.

Rising Larry

If you look on the other end of the spectrum for this Cavs team, Larry Nance Jr. has made a Brook Lopez-level leap in regards to his three-point shot. Larry began consistently taking shots from beyond the arc last season, as he was forced to start alongside Tristan Thompson in many games due to Kevin Love’s injuries. The Akron native went from shooting 16.7% on 0.2 threes per game 2 years ago, to 33.7% last season on 1.5 per game, to hitting 39.3% on 3.3 attempts from range this season. Last year, Nance posted the best numbers of his career in every major statistical category, and the big man’s only doubled down on his improvement this year. Larry Nance Jr.’s not just a dunker anymore, but I never said he isn’t still one heck of a great one.

Cedi!

Another player who showed great improvement last season was former second-round-pick Cedi Osman. Only Pascal Siakam increased his scoring totals more than Cedi did last season. This helped earn him a nod for the Rising Stars game. Already exceeding his expectations from when he was drafted, it’s unfair to criticize Osman for not doing more, but occasional outbursts lead to the sense that there is a greater potential for him that is just waiting to be unlocked.

Part of it is finding the right role for the newly-extended forward. Last season he was used as a secondary playmaker, but really struggled on the defensive end as the cover for the opponent’s best wing player. He was statistically one of the worst defenders in the league, along with fellow partner-in-crime Collin Sexton. The year before, he was a hustler. An end-of-the-bench reserve on LeBron’s last hurrah with the Cavaliers. Though he’s been a starter for the Cavs in every game so far this year, his role has been incredibly flexible. Anywhere from a low-usage 3-&-D wing to a primary creator, Cedi has been there. I expect him to soon settle into a consistent role as the Cavs continue to find their identity throughout this season.

One notable thing that sticks out from that one season with LeBron, was how close of a relationship Osman managed to make with James in so short of time. He famously was invited to an exclusive workout with LeBron, Kawhi, and Durant the summer James left for LA. Squint hard enough, and you can see dim flashes of LeBron’s game in the young wing.

Cleveland has a lot of fluctuation and movement going on right now. A lot of players stepping into unforeseen roles. This was all part of the plan when the team brought John Beilein on board as head coach. Beilein has one of the elite basketball minds on this planet. Eventually, this will all pay its dividends. The transition can look ugly, albeit very necessary. It doesn’t help either that the Cavs have had the 3rd toughest schedule in the league so far, according to Power Rankings Guru. Just like Larry Drew had to preach to the Cavalier veterans last year when Collin Sexton struggled a bit, it takes patience. Give it a little time. It worked with Sexton. The same will happen with this team.

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