Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Are the Cleveland Cavaliers a team in transition or a team with an identity crisis?

 By Karl Kimbrough (pictured), Cleveland Urban News.Com Sportswriter (kimbrough@clevelandurbannews.com).  Cleveland Urban News.Com and The Kathy Wray Coleman Online News Blog.Com, Ohio's No 1 and No 2 online Black news venues (www.clevelandurbannews.comReach Cleveland Urban News.Com by email at editor@clevelandurbannews.com and by phone at 216-659-0473

CLEVELAND, Ohio-Since the 2010-2011 NBA basketball season the Cleveland Cavaliers have had one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Last season they were statistically last in defensive field goal percentage, giving up 47.6 percent. 
Cleveland Cavaliers Coach Mike Brown

When general manager Chris Grant fired former head Coach Byron Scott and brought Mike Brown back to replace him, it was no secret that Cavaliers management saw a need to overhaul the defense. So with that in mind, this season would be one of transition to a defensive culture. However, with so many offensive minded players would this truly be a cultural transition season or one with the team suffering from an identity crisis?
Former Cleveland Cavaliers Coach Byron Scott

Grant also brought in free agents Andrew Bynum, Earl Clark and Jarrett Jack to improve the defense and offense. Before training camp Brown made it known that he had met with each player on the team to get to know them better and to  let players know his passion for defense as well as what they needed to improve on over the summer. When training camp started defense strategies were taught and featured almost exclusively.

Coach Brown once joked during camp that he only implemented enough offensive plays so that the defense would have something to work against. It was very, very clear to the players and everyone else paying attention that defense was the only focus of the team early on in the training camp and during the early part of the season.

So many fans coming into the beginning of the season were eager to see the results of this training camp transition. Before training camp Brown said this would be a playoff team this season. Most teams that make the playoffs start the season off showing that they are capable of being in the running for a playoff position by being very competitive and winning more than they lose.

As we examine this Cavaliers team early this season we saw them to be very competitive defensively during the first four games. In fact, after four games the Cavaliers were rated in the top five in the NBA in three significant defensive areas. They were ranked second in points allowed at 91.3, a big improvement from last season when they were 25th in the league giving up 101.2 points per game.

After four games the Cavaliers were fourth in opponents field goal percentage, giving up a very low 41 percent. They were also fourth in opponent three point field goal percentage, allowing 29 percent. Last season they ranked 25th in the league, allowing 37 percent. These are all very important areas that speak to the defensive success they we are having early on this season. After the fourth game Brown proclaimed that the defense was much improved. But since then the defense has fallen off significantly.

Cleveland is now giving up over 48 percent shooting, which is worst than last season. The increase directly relates to points allowed in games five through nine, where they have allowed 109,94, 107 in regulation, 96 and 124 points respectively. Why have the Cavaliers collapsed on the defensive end of the floor so quickly? The answer lies in what former NBA second team all defense player Quinn Buckner, who is now an analyst with the Indiana Pacers, said about young players.

Buckner said that “ they [young players] have to be willing to pay the price and sacrifice [on offense].Young players have made their names basically on their offense, he said. Their identity has to switch some, he contends, and says that's hard for some people to do. 

"You have to be able to score, " Bucker claims, "but you've got to be able to stop people.”                                
Coach Brown admittedly has spent at least 75 percent of the practice time focusing on defense.  Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters were the number one and two scorers on this team last season. Neither has ever been known for defense skills. With this being the case,  not much has been mentioned about it. But the Cavaliers have a new offensive system along with the new defensive system, and this may cause their shortcomings on defense to become more visible.

Although the Cavaliers defense was much better in the first four games, the offense was suffering, scoring only 87 points per game. Kyrie had games of  15, 16, 15 and 15, and was shooting 37 percent from the field. Surprisingly, he shot 71 percent from the free throw line. Waiters had games of 11, 2, 17 and  8 points and shot 40 percent from the field. Waiters looked frustrated at times on offense and was benched on at least three occasions for defensive errors. Irving and Waiter are players who made their name on offense. With a poor offensive start to the season Irving and Waiters began to focus more on offense, and their defense started to lapse, as did defense, or lack thereof,  of their team members.

Irving has been flustered and frustrated at times, and it shows as he leads his team. Teams are more prepared for the pick and roll that had been a staple in the offense that former Coach Scott ran. Teams are blitzing the pick and roll and double teaming him. But instead of reading the defense and rotating the ball to the weak side of the defense where Waiters, or the small forward, usually Clark, is open. Irving either forces shots, or errant passes are made through the strength of the defense. This has contributed to a lot of turnovers, and Irving's career low shooting percentage.

Irving needs to move the ball more to the weak side of the defense. This will bring more flow to the offense and keep the defense off balance, creating better execution of the offense. It will also keep Clark and Waiters happy, as well as more focused on defense. Brown wants his two guards to play off the ball and move to open spots on the floor.

When Waiters does get the ball he is looking to go one on one or create his own shot. This creates disunity and lack of  trust among teammates. In addition, players like Clark and Anthony Bennett are getting inconsistent touches and have found no rhythm so far this season. In fairness to the players, more time should have been given to the new offense early on in the preseason.

After losing to the Charlotte Bobcats and scoring only 80 points, Brown was asked by reporters if Irving was dribbling the ball too much and if there needed to be more ball movement. Brown said then that he needs to see more ball movement from side to side from both Irving and everybody else. It is something that we preach, Brown said.

Brown told reporters that "we shoot a high percentage form the field. Anytime we make zero or one or two passes our offense drops all the way down to 29th in the NBA, shooting 32 percent on those possessions.”

Now with Andrew Bynum ready to play with Irving and the first team the lack of offensive preparation will be costly, with little practice time in between games. With Bynum on the court spacing will need to be greater and the pick and roll will need to be used less. Consequently, when you add it all up, the 2013-14 Cavaliers are a team with an identity crisis at this time, and it will continue unless they start sacrificing their offensive egos.