Through 32 games, the Cavaliers sit at 18-14, good for 5th place in the east behind the Raptors, Hawks, Wizards, and Bulls. Despite a very ambiguous season, it’s easy to pinpoint where the Cavs have struggled: defense. There have been far too many easy shots and double-digit leads relinquished; by now, the Cavs have more than realized that offense can only take them so far.
Continue to the next page to see the top 5 issues the Cavs are having on defense and how they can fix them!
#5 We Miss The Wild Thing
The loss of Anderson Varejao to a season-ending achilles injury will really test the depth of the Cavs’ bench. Varejao started at center, averaging 24.5 minutes per contest. He contributed a decent 9.8 PPG to go along with 6.5 RPG and 1.3 APG, all while shooting 55% from the floor. These numbers are all up from last year’s. What’s not as apparent is Varejao’s role on defense. Despite being pegged as an offensive player, Varejao has really stepped up his defense this season. At the same time, Tristan Thompson has also improved his defense, so filling in Varejao’s role will not be hard, but finding a center to back-up Thompson will be difficult. A defensive minded center will be necessary since Kevin Love is fairly poor at defense.
Without Varejao, Blatt is scrambling to put together the pieces. Since Varejao’s injury, Blatt played a rotation only consisting of a starting 5 of Irving, Miller, James, Love and Thompson, with Dellavedova, Jones, Harris, and Marion coming off the bench. Notice how there is no big getting playing time aside from Love/Thompson, which will be tough to maintain considering that the two have been both been playing over 40 minutes per game since his injury.
Continue to #4 on the next page!
#4 Wanted: Defensive Center
The Cavs have been rumored to be shopping Dion Waiters for months now, citing chemistry issues with the Big 3 due to Waiters’ isolation playing style. Although Waiters has made improvements in his game to better fit the team, he is the best trading piece that the Cavaliers have and they are in need of a defensive center to fill in for Varejao’s absence. The Cavaliers are allowing opponents to shoot 65.9% in the restricted area, which is second-worst in the league. A big part of this is due to Kevin Love, who often does not even make an attempt to contest shots or dunks. In this scenario, Solomon Hill of the Pacers drives into the paint, and Love simply swipes at the ball rather than contesting his shot:
The Cavaliers have asked about Kosta Koufos, center for the Grizzlies, but the Grizzlies are asking for Waiters and a pick, which the Cavs feel like is too much for a role player. Another possibility is Jordan Hill, who just signed a 2 year contract this past summer. While he is a starter on the Lakers, the Lakers are preparing for next summer’s free agency, so they are definitely willing to listen to trade offers.
Continue to #3 on the next page!
#3 Wing Defense Woes
Wing defense has been a concern all season, since the Cavaliers do not have an elite wing defender – LeBron’s the best we got and he’s a forward! Matthew Dellavedova is an solid defender but often an offensive liability who lacks the necessary play-making abilities of a Point Guard. Opponents shoot 65.9% in the Cavs’ restricted area, which is 29th in the league, revealing the Cavs’ inability to stop opponents on the wings and limit dribble penetration. Consequently, opponents are easily able to get past the first line of defense, thus greatly increasing their chances of scoring in the paint. A prime example of this was Cleveland’s recent embarrassing home court blowout loss against Detroit, in which Waiters and company (Kyrie Irving inactive from injury) weren’t able to contain a volatile Pistons backcourt featuring Brandon Jennings, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and D.J. Augustin. Early penetration from these three extremely nimble guards opened up the Cavs’ defense, which cracked when the Pistons spread the floor and shot a franchise record 17 three’s while still nearly matching Cleveland’s points in the paint (34-36).
Recently, Dion Waiters has stepped up in this regard, showing aggressiveness and defensive tenacity instead of banking on his offensive production; in the Miami Christmas Day special, Waiters was the Cavs’ biggest energy source with three steals and two blocks. However, the Cavs haven’t received that sort of effort from enough of its roster on a daily basis.
Fret not, as there are solutions. Rookie Joe Harris, for example, has excellent on-ball defense and has recently seen more playing time over veteran Mike Miller at the Shooting Guard spot despite his lack of NBA experience. However, it goes beyond talent for the Cavaliers (literally, not too many moving parts left on the roster). Cleveland has more fundamental issues on defense that can only be fixed with time, continue to the next page to find out what.
#2 Where’s The Chemistry? Where’s… The Trust?
The Cavs surrender 108.3 points per 100 possessions this season, which is 25th in the league (NBA.com). This boils down to a lack of communication on defense, as the Cavs have decent individual defenders with Shawn Marion, LeBron James, Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellavedova, Joe Harris and a few more up for discussion. Another possibility is that they are still not grasping (or believing in) Coach Blatt’s defensive schemes. What’s difficult is not so much the complexity of the schemes as is familiarity; young Cavaliers are still understanding each other’s playing style and developing the trust of a championship caliber team. This is something that the Cavs must struggled with; it is not something that can improve overnight.
Continue to the next page to analyze one offensive set the Cavs just can’t seem to crack:
#1 Pick And Who?
The Cavs have also been playing very poor pick and roll defense, in which both defenders end up going the same direction, opposite of the opposing ball handler. This has happened many times, and it’s something the Cavs just can’t seem to get right:
While we might not always be up against the super agile Ty Lawson, the two Cavaliers involved in the pick and roll need to communicate, or decide ahead of time if the primary defender will stay or switch. This makes it much simpler on the secondary defender and allows for them to step up and contest the open jump shot. Opposing ball handlers split the D so easily that the Cavs definitely need to do something about the P-R defense in order to improve overall defensively. After all, it can only get better… hopefully: