As the Cavaliers begin what promises to be one of the most media-frenzied and talked-about seasons in franchise history this season with LeBron James carrying the team again, the mysterious new head man leading the team comes in with zero NBA head coaching experience. Consequently, not many people know exactly who he is or what he will bring to the table. However, after years of success overseas, this proclaimed “offensive genius” has a pedigree that will bring respect from the players and fan base from day one.
David Blatt began his basketball career at Princeton, where he played under one of the best minds in basketball history in Pete Carril. There, he was able to develop a strong understanding for his famous Princeton Offense, which Blatt has modified for his own coaching successes. Much like the old Tigers teams from the ’70s and ’80s, David Blatt’s system strives off of ball movement and sets that help create spacing for pick and rolls and the occasional isolation.
Watching some videos of David Blatt’s teams play, it has the look of an NBA system with a significant amount of pick and rolls on the perimeter, but there are also a lot of off-ball screens to help shooters get open and space to score.
The Russian national team’s head coach also had a very strong success rate in getting the whole team involved, as four starters on his Maccabi Tel Aviv team last season averaged over eight points per game. Additionally, according to basketball.eurobasket.com, 74.5 percent off his Euroleage Champion team’s field goals came off of assists compared to just 57 percent from the Cavaliers last season; quite an improvement in terms of efficiency with his coaching style.
What these types of cuts and movement will be able to do, especially for some of these young guys like Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, will allow them to be effective as slashers and spot-up shooters rather than having to create for themselves. And, with Kyrie Irving on LeBron James on the floor, they should not have to do much of that anyway. With Wiggins especially, this type of play should greatly help transition him to the NBA. It will take much of the pressure off of him — and Bennett as well — if they are able to simply hit open shots and use size and athleticism to clean up the offensive glass.
This obviously is not going to be a team that will be consistently looking to feed the post to a great back-to-the-basket scorer, so in what looks to be a perimeter-oriented offense, another thing to look for is some shooting.
Kyrie Irving shot just 35 percent from beyond the arc last season, and Wiggins, Bennett and Waiters aren’t exactly known to be sharp-shooters either. It will be interesting to see how many minutes Matthew Dellavedova, Mike Miller and James will be able to contribute and help space the floor. Of course, Lebron James has the ability to stretch out a defense as well.
What will be the biggest thing to watch is how this offense breaks down with the shot clock winding toward zero. There is no wrong answer with James and Irving on the floor, and chances are that it will essentially come down to one of them creating something off of a pick and roll more times than not.
However, moving from a system that seemed to be an isolation every time down the floor last season to one that will look to emphasize strong cuts and ball rotation will be a nice change. First though, David Blatt will have to find a way to make this talented roster buy in to what he is selling. From there, his coaching style has proven it can lead to championships overseas. Now it is time to prove it in the NBA.