Your Cleveland Cavaliers have won three-games in a row at the Corner of Huron and Ontario to rise above .500 for the first time during the 2014-2015 season, but to say they’ve done it in a conventional manner would be the understatement of the century.
While most NBA experts were speculating that it would take some time for LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and the rest of the Cavs to gel together as a team under new head coach David Blatt, most Cleveland Cavaliers fans were secretly thinking that this team would play as one right out of the gate.
I mean, LeBron James is the best player in the world, and Kevin Love is the best offensive power forward in the league, and Kyrie is perhaps the best young guard in the league. Surely, they could overcome the “newness” of it all, and immediately be immeasurably great.
Before we really get into the nuts and the bolts of who the Cleveland Cavaliers are right now, let’s take a step back and really look at WHERE the Cleveland Cavaliers are right now.
First, look at the microscope. When LeBron James left, so did the cameras and the pomp and circumstance that the city “enjoyed” during LeBron’s first era here on the North Coast. After he left, once or twice a year the national media would return, usually when Miami was in town, to revisit LeBron’s “decision,” but never for anything more than that.
My, how things have changed.
The microscope is firmly in place above Quicken Loans Arena as this week’s KLove/Kyrie-mustache-gate proved, and now everyone cares, and everyone is watching, both in the city of Cleveland, and beyond. Regardless of whether people are rooting for or against the Cavaliers fortunes going forward, they’re watching. What comes with that type of viewership are expectations, and generally expectations that can’t be attained by game seven.
In Cleveland, the Cavaliers are expected to win a title. Most fans will put on their sensibility cloaks when asked the question, “Can the Cleveland Cavaliers win an NBA title this year” and outwardly say, “No, of course not.” But hidden deep inside, most feel like LeBron and Love can work the miracle this year. Most would likely say that it’s not even a miracle; that this team can overcome lack of playing time together and their lack of a rim protector and their mostly passive defense, and win an NBA title.
In the media, they’ve mostly been heralded as the best team in the East.
To most NBA fans outside of Cleveland, there’s a general hope that this “Super Team” will fail, as the Lakers’ rumors that cropped up right around the time of mustache-gate proved, in hopes that Love, Irving and LeBron perhaps move on to greener pastures down the road. Think about this: over the past two weeks, rumors of a heated exchange between LeBron and Kyrie, as well as tension between both Kevin Love and head coach David Blatt were reported.
Dion Waiters has to be in his glory.
Regardless of the sentiment, everybody’s watching the Cleveland Cavaliers, and great expectations are multiplied substantially both internally and externally.
It’s not reality, just the way it is. How the Cavaliers handle this over the coming weeks and months, especially David Blatt and LeBron James, will likely shape this team into either a title contender or a disappointment.
Of course we want the Cavaliers to win, but the facts are the facts, they are going to struggle in one area or another for the foreseeable future. They can’t win a title in the first, second or even the seventh game of the season. and they really can’t play like a veteran “team” after a couple of months together. What they can do is learn from game-to-game, and win a lot on pure talent, while losing some as well.
It takes time, even with three top twenty players. Regardless of what happens now, the Cavaliers will be a much better team in January and February. Part of the improvement will be the simple fact that they’ve played half a season together, and part of it will be the simple ramping up that takes place as a team heads towards the playoffs, which I’ll get to in a moment.
The Cavs offense is good/will be good as the season progresses. I know that I may have just contradicted myself just then, but it’s purposeful. When a team has LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, that said team is going to score points in bunches, as they proved last night against the Boston Celtics. While the Cavs are in their current “getting-to-know-you” phase, there are going to be moments in which you scratch your head at their isolated brilliance (and not so brilliance), and drop your jaws at the moments of team dominance offensively.
Of course they are going to score. But once David Blatt’s offensive schemes are both implemented and understood, scary things are going to start happening. While David Blatt’s offense isn’t specifically the Princeton offense, it certainly is the base of what the Cavaliers will be doing. The offense is centered around team-oriented ball movement, cuts to the basket, and making good passes. While there generally aren’t “plays,” the “free-flowing” offense can dismantle the best of defenses once any team of players becomes accustomed to where the movement is going, and what player-tendencies are.
When you add talented players to the equation, evil things will happen to defenses. According to probasketballtalk’s Sean Highkin,
“not only has James already internalized his new coach’s playbook, but he’s already completely bought-in to the point that he’s teaching it to his teammates when the Cavs are supposed to be done practicing.”
In that piece, CBS’s Ken Berger reported that an hour after a practice had finished, as the coaches were leaving their meeting, “There was James on the practice floor with four teammates, marching them through the intricacies of Blatt’s offensive system from the perspective of each position, one through five. James had already mastered them all.”
Blatt’s playbook is complicated. Blatt’s playbook is extensive. But, once this team learns it, they are going to be unstoppable. It sounds regimented, and it is, in principle. The best part about it though is that once each player understands their roles, the offense is as free-flowing as any in the league, and all focuses on being in the right place at the right time.
I’ve listened to a lot of the rhetoric regarding Blatt’s propensity to play guys like Mike Miller and Shawn Marion over guys like Joe Miller and Dion Waiters. The truth of the matter is that Blatt is likely using his veterans early in the season because they are learning the playbook faster. Over the past two games, we’ve seen Joe Harris‘ role grow, while Miller has been used more sparingly. That’s a good sign for Harris, and for Cavaliers going forward.
Dion has seen his minutes cut, but that’s excessively misleading. He’s moved to the bench as the team’s sixth man, and has a more focused scoring role in the minutes he does play.
There are a lot of reads in the offense, based both on where players are standing on the offense, as well as reading the defense, and what they are doing. First, the current crop of Cavaliers players have to learn the intricacies of each other, and ultimately, they’ll have to understand the defenses that are being thrown at them. Once that happens, we could be in store from multiple 100-120 point nights, and not just based on a fourth quarter burst, like what happened against the Celtics.
It sounds wonderful, but there are going to be very simple growing pains that are attached to it. LeBron James is the Amadeus of our times in this current basketball era. Like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird before him, he can see the court unlike anyone else in the league. He gets the offense. He understands where the players need to be, and he’s been trying to create that model for the Cavaliers.
Yes, he looks uncomfortable at times, but that’s partially based on what others are (or aren’t) doing. Now, I don’t think LeBron is right. I don’t know if he’s tired, or if he’s got back issues, or if he’s just frustrated with his teammates offensively, but he’s just not the same Brahma Bull that we enjoyed watching here in Cleveland during his first era here, as well as his four years in Miami. We’ll have to see how that develops over the coming months.
As the Celtics found out on Friday night in the fourth quarter, when LeBron is LeBron, bad things happen, and this offense is elite. I just can’t wait to see what happens when everyone else figures it out too.
Is this Cavs team frustrating?
Yes, but I truly get the impression that this team is trying to learn how to play together, both under Blatt’s new schemes, and just in that “new-car-smell” sorta way. When you get a new car, you enjoy driving it, but always lack the confidence of a car you’ve owned for several years. You need to figure out all the bells and whistles before you can hop on in and drive with complete focus on the road.
That’s where the Cavs are right now.
They are figuring out how to turn on the windshield wipers and store their favorite radio stations. If we’re to be honest here, in a year or two, I’m not sure the Cavs would play it much different, when taking into account the ultimate goal of the playoffs.
As I mentioned before, the Cavs will likely ramp things up as the team turns the corner for the playoffs. While the San Antonio Spurs are a fantastic regular season team, they spend that time preparing for the playoffs. The heart of their lineup, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker, have their minutes protected. This works two-fold, both in keeping them healthy, as well as giving their bench important minutes in important games.
Before you start hammering Blatt and his use of his stars and his bench, understand that he is walking an interesting tight rope.
Blatt has to balance giving quality minutes to secondary and tertiary players on the roster with a team that has to learn how to play together. While I watch social media networks slamming Blatt for his division of minutes, they aren’t taking into account that the starting lineup has to be fine-tuned, and they have to learn each other’s tendencies.
As I mentioned before, we’ve seen the roles of Shawn Marion, Dion Waiters, Mike Miller and Joe Harris change. We’ve seen Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao figuring things out one game at a time. We’ve seen Kyrie score first, then pass first. We’ve seen Kevin Love do whatever it takes.
Honestly, the big question is LeBron James. He obviously gets the offense, and obviously looks like a different player, for the most part. Time will tell with LeBron’s game, although I suspect we are starting to see it take shape. Time will tell with the bench, although we will start to see that take shape.
The rotations are awkward right now, but they seem to be getting better. The bench is a mystery, but the good part about that is there are actually good players that need minutes. But, how many minutes does Shawn Marion need to play to be effective? He’s not a ten minute guy. Dion Waiters has shown the ability to be offensive lightning in a bottle though. Joe Harris looks to be shaping out as a starter, and I think he’s impressed both Blatt and James. Where does that leave Miller going forward?
And while folks have hammered Blatt with regards to Brendan Haywood not playing, but is he even healthy? He’s a defensive first center, and he’s won an NBA title. If he’s not playing, he’s not healthy.
I’m not saying you can’t question Blatt. I’m not saying you can’t be disappointed that the Cavs aren’t better than 4-3. I’m not saying you shouldn’t worry about the lethargic play at times, or even the lack of defense. What I am saying is that this team doesn’t look a thing like it will come February, and that’s a good thing.
What I find interesting is that Kyrie Irving is becoming that player that many, including myself, didn’t think he could be. In the fourth quarter against Boston, Kyrie dominated, scoring 12 of the first 15 points in the first three minutes. LeBron then reported that “Kyrie told me to be aggressive and stop being so passive. Early in the fourth quarter he got it going, so I kind of laid back and let him go and he said, ‘Be aggressive and make some plays.’ So I told him all he got to do is talk to me.”
How big is that?
Kyrie has found his voice, and is using it to motivate LeBron. Who saw that coming, other than perhaps LeBron James. Of course, tomorrow, we’ll probably be reading the Kyrie and LeBron had another “heated exchange.”
I’m also convinced we’ve yet to see this team’s true roster, and can almost guarantee we see movement as we close in on January and head towards the trade deadline.
The Cavs are going to go out and get a center, and I think they’ll do whatever else it takes to make this team better.
In the end, doing a State of the Union after seven games is idiotic, just like most of the discussion that this team is who it is after seven games.
They aren’t even close,
and that’s bad for the NBA.