The Cleveland Cavaliers had a very disappointing end to their 2022-23 season, as they lost in the first round. Not only that, it was in five games. To add insult to the already existing injury, the Cavs’ closest loss was only by four points in the first game, and the next-closest loss came in Game 4, where Cleveland lost by nine points.
Many believed that Cleveland would win that series, and that it could go to a Game 7. Even if Cleveland were to lose, it seemed unlikely it’d be in a short series. However, practically everyone on that Cavs roster underperformed tremendously, and the Cavaliers were one of the biggest (bad) surprises of the whole 2023 NBA Playoffs.
Not just the players underperformed, but the coaching staff, as well. There was some criticism to be handed out to the head coach of the Cavaliers, J.B. Bickerstaff. In the regular season, Bickerstaff was a Coach of the Year candidate, as he placed fourth place overall. In the 2021-22 season, Bickerstaff was fifth place in the Coach of the Year race, as well.
Statistically, Bickerstaff is a tremendous coach, and he may be underrated. The Cavaliers had the best defensive rating last season, and had the seventh-best defensive rating in the 2021-22 season, a year that they did not even make the playoffs.
A large part of the defensive tenacity on the Cavaliers’ roster is due in part to Bickerstaff’s mentality as a head coach. He gets into his players’ heads that defense wins championships, and for the majority of NBA champions, they have been great defensive teams.
That said, even though he’s a tremendous defensive-minded coach, there is still some belief that he might not be the right type of coach that fits the roster that he has, and there’s seemingly some questions about him long term.
Bickerstaff has done a solid job with the Cavs, but is the right coach for them long term? It’s tough to say with certainty right now, especially when it comes to offense.
The Cavaliers’ offensive rating was 19th in the 2021-22 season, and they were ninth in offensive rating last year. Sure, the ninth-best offensive rating seems fine, but considering that the Cavaliers had an All-NBA player in Donovan Mitchell, as well as one of the best point guards in the NBA in Darius Garland, the Cavs’ offense could have been better.
Not all of the blame in the world deserves to be handed to Bickerstaff for losing in the first round, but he definitely deserves a share of the blame. There were signs in last year’s regular season that he might not be the right long-term head coach for the Cavaliers as well.
First off, the Cavaliers were one of the slowest teams in the whole NBA last year. Scratch that, they literally had the slowest pace in the whole NBA last season. This is a big red flag, as both Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell are fast-paced players, and Jarrett Allen is one of the best rim-runners in the whole NBA, so having a slower pace might not be the best option for this Cavs squad. Bickerstaff could get fired and replaced, if need be.
This isn’t suggesting Cleveland has to try out a similar pace to Steve Nash’s Phoenix Suns team, a seven-second or less offense. An offense ran like that can never win an NBA championship, but the same can go for a grit-and-grind offense. Slow-paced teams usually don’t win NBA championships, but neither do super fast-paced teams. Somewhere in the middle might work.
Next, Bickerstaff is a really stubborn head coach. One can respect arguing to officials from time to time, but Bickerstaff is seemingly always was yelling to officials. Last March, Bickerstaff got two technical fouls and was ejected from the game. Why does being stubborn have anything to do with being a bad coach? Well, in theory, it could hinder the Cavs’ offense. Bickerstaff’s playbook might not be very diverse, and he could get ejected or fined more for altercations with NBA officials.
Yes, J.B. Bickerstaff is a great coach, but he has his flaws, like everyone does. He won’t likely be fired next season, unless something major happens. But, Bickerstaff could seemingly be on a rather short leash next season, so-to-speak, and that’s probably warranted.
If he does not meet expectations next season, and the Cavaliers are not truly competing for a title in 2023-24, as they should be, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him on his way out of Cleveland.