The Cleveland Cavaliers are off to a miserable 0-6 start in their first season after LeBron James joined the Los Angeles Lakers. They are coming off the best four-year stretch in team history, with four straight Finals appearances, and now things are moving in reverse right away.
Now the team is struggling in all phases of the game. First is the offense, in which the Cleveland Cavaliers rank as the fifth-worst offense in basketball per 100 possessions. The Cavaliers are currently averaging 106.8 points per 100 possessions. Over the past four years, the Cavaliers have scored at least 111.4 per 100 possessions, including 112.7 last season.
One aspect that has changed is the number of three-point attempts. The Cavaliers are taking the fewest frequency of threes of any team in the league. But even when the Cavaliers do attempt threes, they aren’t making them at a high percentage, going for third-worst in the league in three-point shooting percentage at 32.6 percent.
Furthermore, the Cavaliers have never been a team that gets to the basket often, but when they did they made them at an incredible rate. Obviously, a lot of the had to do with Kyrie Irving and LeBron James, but now that ability seems to be non-existent. The team is ranked third-worst at shooting percentage at the rim.
In a league where three-point attempts have never been higher per game in the history of the league the Cavaliers are going the other way. They need to find their identity offensively and start to move the ball more and set up their teammates. The Cavaliers rank near the bottom in assists and potential assists. This is a team that does not have a superstar talent anymore to get himself shots and other players on his team shots.
One team the Cavaliers should try to replicate is the Brooklyn Nets from last season. While that team was a bottom ten team in the league, they moved the ball and set each other up. The Nets last season were seventh in the league in assists and third in the league in potential assists.
The Cavaliers have hinted at increasing their pace. They are playing at a pace of 100.8 possessions, which is up from last year as it was 98.79, good for ninth in the NBA. The issue is every other team in the NBA has increased the pace too – evident by the fact the Cavs are twenty-fifth in basketball in pace this season despite the increase on last year. This shows the Cavaliers have not increased pace enough to stay competitive in the league in the post-LeBron era.
The Cavaliers need to begin putting themselves into better spots to build a good offense. The team fired head coach Tyronn Lue yesterday (per The Athletic’s Joe Vardon and Shams Charania), so it’s uncertain how that changes their philosophy in terms of pace. That being said, the first thing the Cavaliers need to do is start putting their first-round pick Collin Sexton in better lineups to get the best out of him and to help his development.
Sexton has played in 141 minutes this season, but 105 of those have come with Jordan Clarkson on the floor. Also, only a third of Sexton’s minutes have come with Kevin Love on the floor. The Cavaliers need to help Sexton build good habits, by playing him with their good veterans. With him paired with Clarkson, it’s difficult for Sexton to develop good passing and defensive habits.
When Sexton has shared the floor with Clarkson this season he is scoring 20.0 points and about four assists per 100 possessions. But when Sexton has been on the floor without Clarkson, Sexton is averaging 25.0 points and five assists per 100 possessions. Not only has Sexton played well with Clarkson off the floor, the Cavaliers have played well.
The Cavaliers have a net rating of plus-five when Sexton is off the floor, but a rating of nearly minus-13 per 100 possessions with Clarkson on.
Clarkson has played well at times this season and he continued to show his ability to score the basketball. The problem is he does it not to the benefit of his teammates. He looks for his and not to get his teammates good looks, but he’s averaging 16.2 points per game (second the team), which makes the narrative conflicted; the second unit struggles to score at times.
While Sexton has played just 141 minutes over six games, this fit of him and Clarkson is something to look at going forward, and the Cavs and interim head coach Larry Drew should eventually change it.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have an uphill climb on the offensive and defensive end, but this year should be about trying to develop the young players and good habits. They have some young guys like Sexton, Cedi Osman, David Nwaba, and Larry Nance Jr. who need as much playing time to see how good they can be going forward.
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*All statistics gathered via Cleaningtheglass.com, Stats.nba.com, and ESPN.com.