Contrary to what most experts predicted at the beginning of this season, the Cavs are proving to be a tough matchup for opposing sides. Their starting lineup is an interesting compilation, with veterans Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson leading a young core of Collin Sexton, Darius Garland and Cedi Osman. So far, things are looking up in Cleveland.
With the legendary direction of John Beilein, the Cavs have played their way to a 4-5 record through the early stages of this campaign. Beilein is recognized as one of the most successful play-callers in collegiate history, but this is his first stint in the NBA.
Early returns have been great, as the players seem to have bought into his philosophies.
Thank you vets
One of the main reasons for Cleveland’s early success is the dominant post play of Tristan Thompson, who is currently ranked second in offensive rebounds per game. In a contract year, he’s certainly proving his worth to the Cavs.
In his nine appearances this season, Thompson has racked up averages of 16.4 points on 54.2 percent shooting from the field, 11.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.6 blocks in 33.7 minutes per outing. It’s a small sample, but several of these figures are career-highs for the Canadian-born big man, who is also the longest-tenured player on the team.
Thompson isn’t the only member of Cleveland’s frontcourt that’s playing well, however. Kevin Love, who signed an extension with the Cavs over the summer, has accepted a leadership role, and he’s proving to be worth every penny.
For the better part of his career, Love has been known as a double-double machine. The former No. 5 overall pick is living up to that moniker this season — his 12th in the league.
Through Cleveland’s first five games of this season, Love had 86 points, 84 rebounds and 24 assists. The only other player in NBA history to hit all three of those marks in his team’s first five games of a season was Wilt Chamberlain in 1966.
In his nine games played, Love has registered averages of 18.3 points on 48.1 percent shooting (34.6 percent from downtown), 13.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists 32.9 minutes per contest.
Together, Love and Thompson are setting the tone:
“We’re just feeding off each other,” Love told ESPN, referring to his cohesiveness with Thompson. “We talk every day that we need to set the tone for the rest of the team.”
Coming into this campaign, there were some questions lingering as to who would be the Cavs’ starting point guard. Was it going to be Collin Sexton or Darius Garland?
Ultimately, Beilein decided to go with Garland at the point. Sexton wasn’t left out the equation, though. In fact, The Young Bull is now thriving at the shooting guard position — a role that seems more suitable to his slashing style of play. Garland, on the other hand, has a more traditional, pass-first approach to his game. Though their techniques are a bit different, they’re proving to be a dynamic duo.
Sexton posted a new career-high in Sunday night’s 108-87 victory over the Knicks, scoring 31 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field (5-of-8 from beyond the arc), three assists, two rebounds and one steal. Garland added 12 points, six assists and three rebounds.
“I love the way (Collin) attacks the basket, but I think what’s being underrated here is his growth from last year to this year on his defense,” Beilein told ESPN after Sunday’s win. “You can see he’ll still make a mistake every now and then — everybody does — but for the most part, he’s an athlete who should become a very good defender.”
So… why is Cleveland playing well? Sexton says the team is simply having fun:
“We’re just playing together,” Sexton told FOX Sports Cleveland. “We’re having fun. I feel like when we’re having fun, we’re at our best.”
The Cavs are set to wrap up their current three-game road trip on Tuesday night with a matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers. Tip-off inside the Wells Fargo Center is set for 7:00 p.m. ET.
Let’s see if Cleveland can keep its momentum rolling.