We all thought defense was the problem.
The Cavaliers’ defense has looked pretty solid this season. They’ve only given up 100 points twice through 8 games, and boast the 9th most efficient defense in the NBA. However, the Cavs currently sit at 3-5 to start the season, with a schedule that hasn’t actually looked that difficult. Why is that? Well, Mike Brown has seemingly improved the Cavs defensive woes from last season, but has yet to solve the Cavs’ other problem from last year: Shooting.
The Cavs were 29th in field goal percentage last season, and 26th in effective field goal percentage. Relying far too much on a rookie Dion Waiters and Alonzo Gee, along with an ice-cold bench, killed the Cavaliers last season. This season, even with a healthy Kyrie and Anderson Varejao and new additions Earl Clark and Jarrett Jack the shooting has been WORSE. The Cavs are hitting just 40.7 percent from the field (29th in the NBA), 34 percent from three (19th), and have an eFG% of 44.8 (29th).
Part of this is due to the Cavs’ shot selection, which has been questionable at best. Here’s the layout of how frequently the Cavs shoot in each area, via NBA.com:
As you can see, the Cavs are relying quite heavily on mid-range shots, particularly from the right corner and the left wing, and are getting to the rim for just under 38 percent of their shots, which is under the league average. To compare, the Cavs shot at the rim 42.5 percent of the time last season. Part of this has been a higher reliance on spot-ups for guys like Anderson Varejao at the left wing, or Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark from outside. This is fine. However, you can also notice that the Cavs aren’t attacking the rim out of half-court sets with any consistency, which has been particularly frustrating, given how good Kyrie and Dion both are at getting to the rim.
Adding to these struggles is the fact that in spots the Cavs take high percentages of shots, they aren’t converting at a high rate. In the five spots where the Cavs are above league average (The dark blue above), the Cavs are hitting 36.9 percent of their shots. When this is accounting for nearly 1/5th of your offense, this isn’t a good thing. Combine that with the fact that the Cavs are shooting just 47 percent at the rim, a pretty terrible conversion rate, and it’s easy to see how the offense is stalling.
So how can Cleveland fix this? There really isn’t a simple fix, given that a lot of the issues have stemmed from Kyrie, Clark, and Anthony Bennett all starting the season ice cold. Perhaps reliance on Anderson Varejao, hitting 52% of his shots this season, or increasing the scalding-hot C.J. Miles’ minutes could solve the problem. I wouldn’t be shocked to see either of these happen here in the next few weeks. A simpler solution, however, would be an increase in pick-and-roll plays in the half court, and perhaps a higher pace. Right now the Cavs play at about the 16th highest pace in the league, but increasing that could allow Kyrie and Dion to score more in transition, which both are really good at, and would allow the Cavs to get more shooting chances in an attempt to offset the shooting problem.
More than anything, I’ve been really disappointed by the lack of pick & roll in this offense so far this season. With Irving, Jack, Waiters, Tyler Zeller, Bynum, and Varejao, you’d think the Cavs should have a pretty decent unit to PNR, right? Somehow, the Cavs aren’t really taking advantage of this. That needs to change to get this offense on track. I’d say back on track, but based on those stats above, I’d say they were never on track to begin with.