When Chris Grant put this team together, he had a different image in his mind how the start of the season would go.
Excitement is the word that comes to mind when you thought about the Cavaliers before the season start: New coach, all-star point guard, multiple free agents—one being one of the best centers in the game when he’s healthy—and two more first-round draft picks to add to the group.
However, it seems like none of this has mattered. They are 4-7 and only a game better than last year’s team after 11 games. The seven losses have been bad losses, highlighted by a 29-point thumping by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Even in the wins the team hasn’t looked good. So there aren’t a lot of good things to take away from the Cavs early in the season.
Brown is preaching defense on a roster fit to score—a lot. None of the Cavs’ draft picks Grant selected in the past three years were taken on their ability to defend, or their potential to defend. Basketball is a two-way sport; players have to be able to play offense and defense. Brown inherited a group of players who only ever played offense—most of which played for Byron Scott in his up-tempo offense.
The Cavs’ defense is giving up 99.5 points per game, good enough for 15th in the NBA. That isn’t a number sitting well with Brown. A successful Mike Brown defense has always given up somewhere between 90-95 points per game. However, the NBA is different than it was in Brown’s first stint with the Cavs. More teams have adopted the up-tempo offense and have fallen in love with the three-point shot. So the 99.5 points per game average the Cavs have now isn’t as bad as some may think. It’s the stretches they go through when they play stellar defense for half of a quarter, then all hell breaks loose and they give up 10 points in a minute.
As the Cavs get further into the season the defense will get better. They have experienced some bumps in the road—big bumps—and with the team assembling a players-only meeting, it seems like they are close to rock bottom. With how badly they’ve played this season they can only go up from here, right?
The Cavs’ biggest need this offseason was small forward. They kept Alonzo Gee, signed Earl Clark in free agency and drafted combo forward Anthony Bennett No. 1 overall in the draft, and it still seems to be the team’s biggest need. Shame on you, Chris Grant.
Clark began the season as the starting small forward, then Brown switched to Gee, and now back to Clark. No one can predict what happens next, but I’ll go out on a limb and say Brown goes back to Gee. However, Clark has shown a spark in his play as of late, averaging 11 points in the past three games and shooting 70 percent from three-point range.
The Cavs have been starting C.J. Miles at shooting guard with the absence of Dion Waiters. Miles has been a breath of fresh air this season. He is averaging 10.9 points on 46 percent shooting from the field. When/if Waiters returns, Miles may be inserted in the small forward spot if Clark and Gee do not improve. Miles has good size for a shooting guard standing at 6-6, but is below average for a small forward. But with his ability to hit a jump shot, Miles is earning himself more playing time. Miles may be a liability on defense, but Brown has to determine if the team plays better with him out there, or with Clark or Gee.
Waiters was the one player experts figured wouldn’t have success in the offense. Brown likes big shooting—i.e. Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Sasha Pavlovic—and Waiters is slightly below average sized for a shooting guard, standing at 6-4. And with the recent players-only meeting fiasco the media is reporting, who knows where his state of mind is. His offensive talent has never been questioned; he can do a lot on offense. But does Brown see more of a liability when Waiters is on the court? Going back to Syracuse, known for the Jim Boeheim 2-3 zone, he never had to man up against an opposing shooting guard.
Waiters, along with a lot of other players on this team, are learning how to play good defense for the first time. Imagine trying to train a cornerback to play receiver. Yes, he could play receiver because he has the skill-set to play, but he won’t be an effective receiver. There’s a reason why cornerbacks play that position: Because they can’t catch. And there’s a reason why Waiters plays offense: He can score.
It’s likely that Waiters’ name is thrown around in trade rumors. However, it may be unlikely. With the 2014 draft coming up, full of franchise-changing players, teams may be hesitant to trade for a player like Waiters. They want to build around the player they select in the draft, and want to make sure Waiters is a good fit.
Very few things can be said about the Cavs’ No. 1 pick. He hasn’t gotten much playing time, which is justifiable, giving fans a small sample size to judge him. But the small sample size the fans have seen has been abysmal. Grant, in his time with the Cavs, has spent his draft picks on players with a lot of potential.
You can’t judge a No. 1 overall pick on his first 11 games. You judge him on what he achieves in his career when he retires. Bennett is only 20, so he has a long way until retirement comes. He, like Waiters, is learning a completely new system. When he was at the University of Las Vegas, head coach Dave Rice called for very little defense. And before that, he played in Canada, a completely different style of basketball. The best thing for Bennett is to get him more comfortable and give him more playing time. Although he may not deserve it, playing time is the best way to develop young talent. The playing time must be in the NBA, not D-League. Sending him to Canton would diminish his confidence, which would only stunt his development. It might be tough to watch at first, but last year he showed he was one of the best scorers in the nation. Let him show it in the NBA.
Excitement has turned into frustration for Cavs fans after the unexpected 4-7 start. The next seven games for the Cavs come against only three teams with a winning record. If they are looking to turn it around, the time is now coming off a three-day rest.