Cavs’ work in progress season has had its share of growing pains

Cleveland Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff (left) and Cleveland guard Collin Sexton converse in-game. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
Cleveland Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff (left) and Cleveland guard Collin Sexton converse in-game. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /

When you say it’s a “work in progress”, the expectations that come with that usually mean there will be ups and downs along the way. When you’re talking about this current Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team I often think of them as a “work in progress.”

There have certainly been moments this season that have been uplifting and then there are those moments that you simply have yourself scratching your head going, “what was that?”

After this last week of play, the Cavs have showcased both ends of the spectrum.

Though this team’s record stands at 20-36 for the season, they are an entertaining group of players that are gaining valuable experience in crunch time. Part of the “work in progress” approach to this group is simply that they are so young, in age and experience. When you consider Cavs guard Collin Sexton is 22, point guard Darius Garland is 21 and wing Isaac Okoro just turned 20, it’s really much like building a college program at the pro level.

With that in mind, the Cavs don’t have the luxury of building these players up both mentally and physically to contend on night in and night out basis and win games consistently. But they are winning some and those consistencies are improving.

This isn’t a team put together, post-LeBron James, that is just a hodge-podge of players working and playing simply for a paycheck. These are, in essence just kids still. And with that idea in mind, building confidence is a big part of the issue.

When my daughter played hoops at the collegiate level, her confidence would waver from time to time when she’d miss a bunny layup at the rim. Even though she’d made thousands of layups in her day, she’d struggle to hit that one in a game.

When I’ve watched players on the Cleveland Cavaliers like Garland miss a few easy shots in a sequence, you can just see that confidence deteriorating. Then you see him, like he did the other night against the Golden State Warriors, started launching three pointers two feet behind the line and missing, playing out of character, which the Cavs just don’t need him to do as their point guard.

In that game against the Warriors, Garland and Sexton were a combined 17-39 on shots taken, not a horrible percentage on makes, but they also only combined for nine assists. Sexton totaled 30 points, but he was a -29 on the plus-minus category while he was playing on the court.

Most of the Cavs were on the negative side in that all important category for the night too. Yes, Sexton’s 30 points helped, but it’s those other categories, like assists and the plus-minus that need to be much better for this team to win games.

With youth, too, comes that mental game, where “my shot isn’t falling” so I forget how to play defense. The Cavs only had eight offensive rebounds against the Warriors. And even veteran forward Kevin Love on several possessions wouldn’t box out or try for the rebound on offensive possessions giving the Cavs more offensive opportunities.

The perimeter defense was especially poor in the Warrior game, players were getting out of defensive positioning often, which spelled doom and eventually the loss. It was the second leg of a back-to-back, and Cleveland is still working players back, but the Warriors were on the second leg of a back-to-back, too, for context.

The following game against the Chicago Bulls, the Cavaliers played better but continued to have those lackluster moments that contributed to the loss. Most of those lapses again happened on the defensive ends of the floor where the Bulls were able to hit several wide open three-pointers as the Cavs defense would again get out of position.

Both Garland and Sexton had 22 points apiece against the Bulls but that was on a combined 17-41 shooting. Garland did have a season high 12 assists, which is better and more of what the Cavs need from their point guard.

All this comes back to the youth movement on the Cavaliers plus a little bit of coaching trying to figure out rotations and playing time.

With the injection of veterans Love and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova back in the rotation, it’s giving the coaching staff fits at trying to settle on playing time for the players. Players like Cleveland forward Dean Wade, who had had several starts recently and made quite an impact, because of Cavs players Jarrett Allen and Larry Nance Jr. being out for medical reasons, found the bench more often than not in the last couple of games.

It’s good, on one hand to get that veteran experience back on the floor, but on the other hand, it certainly made the last few games difficult to watch because the players are getting used to playing again, but they have to shake off the rust again and we were already past the halfway mark of the season. And with rust comes problems and that has been on display in the last week.

Next. It will take a bit before Larry Nance Jr. is fully himself again. dark

This team though is moving in the right direction, but it is “a work in progress.” When I tell someone that in my other job, it usually indicates that things aren’t exactly going smooth at the moment! But that’s okay, and this Cavaliers squad is certainly headed in the right direction, with that occasional, “Road Closed” sign in front of them!