There might not be a team under more scrutiny than the Cleveland Cavaliers (Okay, maybe the New York Knicks). With a roller coaster season of emotions, playing to the competition and injuries, the Cavs have undisputedly lost their championship-or-bust expectations; but that’s what’s great about a new year. Even though nothing special will actually happen when midnight strikes, people will convince themselves of change. What’s more amazing is that many people in true desperation of change follow through and don’t take the fresh start for granted. Without a doubt, the Cavs are desperate. Here are 5 New Year’s Resolutions the Cavaliers must follow through with if they want to return to their perpetual state of ecstacy from the beginning of the season! The only difference with our New Year’s countdown is that we’ll try to not drop the ball.
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5. Big 3 Must Reach Offensive Potential
Kyrie Irving is tremendously gifted when handling the ball, but he has to learn to play better off the ball. He should look to Dwyane Wade’s play during the Miami Heat’s LeBron era for some guidance.
Kevin Love needs to be more active in the Cavalier offense. At times during the game, you might even forget the fact that a $16 million player is on the court. He has to become more assertive and demand the ball in the post, rather than just be delegated to jump shooting responsibilities. Before he joined the Cavs, his numbers were expected to decrease, as they have, but his efficiency was expected to increase, but without a definitive roe, his efficiency has actually decreased. The issue is too many forced threes and a lack of a definitive role.
LeBron James also has to recreate some of the magic from his Heat days and play better off the ball as well. Focusing on moving without the ball when he’s not the primary ball handler has led to skyrocketing FG and 3PT percentages. Even though he is still shooting a respectable 48%, keep in mind that he can do much better, and was shooting a ridiculous 56.7% on an injury depleted Heat team last season. Also, because of the “hero ball” he’s been playing, he has been turning over the ball frequently this season, averaging 3.8 turnovers per game, the highest in his career.
When the Big 3 scored 81 against the Bucks with a balanced attack.
The Cavs are obviously supremely talented on the offensive end of the floor, ranking 4th in the league in offensive efficiency (107.3), 7th in assist rate (17.7), and 8th in true shooting percentage (55.5%). However, at times during games, you see a lot of isolation between LeBron and Kyrie, resulting in Kevin Love playing like a glorified James Jones and a lack of offensive fluidity. The Cavs depend too heavily on their Big 3, as evidenced by their pathetic 80 points without Kyrie Irving against the Detroit Pistons.
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4. Coaching Needs Competence
Blatt needs to take full command of the reigns. The most celebrated NBA coaches, Pop, Thibs, and Doc Rivers all have complete control over the locker room and Blatt needs to mirror that. He cannot continuously allow his players to dictate decisions that should be his. He was the one hired to do the game planning and he needs to manage their egos and ensure that they follow his orders. He cannot keep allowing LeBron to compromise his position as head coach by interrupting and overshadowing him. James has mostly expressed indifference towards the Coach, and so Blatt must respond with competence and leadership.
Blatt’s sets revolve around a lot of ball movement, cuts and screens. If the team would actually run his plays, LeBron would be able to conserve his energy because he wouldn’t need to take on so many isolation and pick and rolls plays. Ideally, this would lead to fewer defensive lapses and turnovers from the King as well.
The system in place has been set by Coach David Blatt, but the players need to believe in it, and show that they are willing to run his sets. This team is extremely talented but their capabilities are not being maximized by Coach Blatt. He is known for being experimental and logical, so he needs to show that regardless of NBA experience – he didn’t win all that hardware overseas for nothing. It goes beyond just changing starting lineups.
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3. LeBron James Must Silence Leadership Speculation
LeBron needs to display his leadership skills, which has started to receive speculation by the media. He needs to endorse Coach Blatt’s system so that his teammates are more inclined to follow him. It may not be like his Miami days that he is trying so hard to recreate, but Coach Blatt’s sets have worked favorably for the team when they actually run them.
LeBron’s leadership gets questioned a lot, but it’s for certain that he does a lot for the team that doesn’t get seen in public or in front of the flashing cameras. He talks to his teammates a lot on and off the court, but he also has to lead by example. Defensive effort is severely lacking on this team, and this is because the team does not have winning, hard-working habits ingrained in them. LeBron, in his self-appointed role as player-coach, needs to show his teammates that defensive tenacity is not only a positive, but an essential component of championship contending teams. His ability and willingness to stay in front of an opponent and contest their shots has seriously regressed in this season from his greener Miami days.
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2. Team Defense MUST Improve
Pick and roll defense, rim protection, and overall defensive effort are underwhelming this season for the Cavaliers. They are 6th worst in the league in opposing FG%. Even the New York Knicks are better in this regard. Many have noticed LeBron’s lack of defensive intensity, but he is probably just conserving energy for the playoffs and his career longevity. He will definitely pick up the slack during the post-season, but this is still detrimental, because he is not encouraging good habits among his teammates. However, Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, two known defensive sieves, have definitely been stepping it up on D and showing more defensive intensity than in previous seasons.
Cavaliers are hedging too much on pick and rolls and trying to replicate the Miami Heat’s defense where scrambling and constant switching was utilized effectively. However, the Cavs are a less disciplined and younger team that do not have the defensive talent nor the successful habits that the recent teams have had.
A starting front court of Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, with Brendan Haywood and Lou Amundson off the bench is not particularly intimidating for opposing big men. With Varejao, arguably the Cavs’ best defender, out for the season, the best case scenario is to hope that another team is willing to part with a rim protector for some of the trade chips the Cavs are dangling. A trade is possibly the only way for the team to be immediately competitive and for the team to improve to an average level defense.
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1. Bench NEEDS To Step Up
After the loss of Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson will be entered into the starting 5 position. TT needs to develop into more of a starting center material. He will need to do more than get offensive rebounds and putbacks, from here on out. In a very shallow front court, he will need to learn to alter shots from the weak and strong side, while still being able to cover his area and man so that the interior defense doesn’t completely collapse.
Mike Miller must find his shooting stroke again. He is another liability on the defensive end, and without that shooter’s touch he’s famous for backing him up, he has no serious value on this team. It would be a shame if his signing turned out to be a bust. He has gotten out of his severe slump and has been playing better in December, but he needs to maintain consistency. There have been glimpses of potential, however. With James out and Love missing the fourth quarter of the Cavs recent loss to the Atlanta, the Cavs bench rose to the occasion, out-soaring the Hawks’ second unit 35-29.
Many early leads are lost because the bench is so weak and inconsistent. Good teams are able to stay competitive, even with their stars sidelined, because of a good system in place in which players can still establish game fluidity and intensity because bench players know how to fill those multimillion dollar shoes.
What about Cavs Nation – what’s our New Year’s Resolution as fans? Continue to the next page to find out!
Developing a championship team with so many young guys is a learning experience that takes time. Fans shouldn’t be too worried, and all that fan talk and buzz about trading everybody away is ludicrous. While a trade is necessary to bolster interior defense, the core needs to remain intact. No good team was built in half a season, maybe besides the 2008 Celtics (which was comprised of veterans who were willing to self-sacrifice, and a coach that clearly explained every player’s role). The team first needs to establish an offensive identity where everybody knows his own role and knows each other’s tendencies, as well as CEMENT in a defensive philosophy that resonates within each and every player. James has made it clear:
“You learn from experience, man. You go through them and you figure out ways and which button to press as far as you as an individual, what helps the team…”
“…We haven’t been together long. People want instant success so much in our sport and I think that’s too hard to ask for when a team comes together for the first time. I understand it. I know what it takes and we’re going to have moments where it doesn’t look so good. We’re going to have moments where it looks great. And then we’re going to have moments where it just doesn’t seem like it can get any better or get any worse. That’s why you kind of stay even keel with the whole process and understand that if you believe in what you put in, believe in the work that you put in and the process, then things will shape its way out. It takes time.”