Although the Cleveland Cavaliers' surge in offensive growth and team chemistry has been astounding to watch, there are still areas in desperate need of improvement this season.
No team will ever be without flaws, but the Cavaliers are in a unique opportunity to bolster themselves into the top tier of Eastern contenders at this deadline. They will be adding two more star-level talents once Darius Garland and Evan Mobley return from injury, hopefully sooner rather than later. While Garland will not travel with the Cavs on their upcoming four-game roadtrip, he is currently conditioning to return to court by the end of January.
Sitting fourth in the Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers have put themselves in place for a second year with homecourt advantage in the playoffs after going 11-3 in their last 14 games. Last season, though, the Cavs' fourth-seeded advantage landed them with an early offseason in a five-game series loss to the New York Knicks. If Cleveland hopes to avoid a similar end to last postseason, they need to make a trade before the February 8 deadline to add another reliable player to their lineup.
A new statistic shows where the Cavaliers need to improve before the playoffs
Entering the regular season, the Cavaliers were reportedly focused on reinventing their offense with a more dynamic approach. In the midst of the star injuries, Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has relied heavily on a deep bench with three-point shooting prowess.
By swinging the ball around the perimeter and using big man Jarrett Allen as an offensive hub, the Cavs have consistently found an open shooter and launched a league-high 42.8 three-point attempts per game over the last 14 games. While living and dying by the arc is guaranteed to drag a team's efficiency down, BBall Index's latest dive into half-court shot creation signifies Cleveland's worst flaw this campaign.
The Cavaliers have one of the league's best shot qualities in the half court, but they are converting at a near-worst rate. For a team that struggled mightily to get any open opportunities consistently last season, this show stark improvement. Still, missing quality attempts is a flaw the Cavs cannot afford to continue having by the final buzzer of game 82.
With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, Cavaliers insider Chris Fedor has noted Cleveland is likely to be aggressive on the trade market ahead of the deadline in his Wine and Gold Talk podcast. With such a deep roster, the Cavaliers could target a two-for-one deal, sending two of their own players in return for one player in an exchange that would consolidate their talent into a shorter yet more well-rounded and reliable rotation.
Regardless of the amount of talent on the team, NBA coaches only rely on eight players on a nightly basis in the postseason, making Cleveland's current nine-or-more rotation unsustainable. Given the Cavaliers' reported interest in a 3-and-D forward such as Dorian Finney-Smith, Royce O'Neale or De'Andre Hunter, they are seemingly prepared to take an all-in approach for a sizeable shooter.
By adding a veteran defender with consistent shooting ability, the Cavs can elevate their shot conversion while continually generating these open attempts that are placing them in a position to advance deeper into the postseason. While certain Cavaliers players have impacted the team immensely on one end of the court, they have not made their presence felt nearly as much on the other. For instance, in tight games down the stretch, Bickerstaff has repeatedly substituted Isaac Okoro into the game for any upcoming defensive possession only to bring him back to the bench in favor of sharpshooter Sam Merrill for offensive drives.
Over the next few weeks, the Cavaliers will likely field countless phone calls from rival executives inquiring about a swath of trades, some better and some much worse. While any general manager calling about Cleveland's core four would swiftly hear a phone hanging up, any number of other Cavs could possibly be available at the deadline. As Keith Smith of Spotrac and the NBA Front Office show always says, however many players you think are untouchable on your favorite team, it is probably one or two at most.
In any trade Cleveland makes, it almost certainly guarantees a parting of ways with a valuable fan favorite. The Cavaliers' depth has become one of their greatest success stories, making numerous role players beloved by the Cleveland faithful. Should the Cavs front office make a deadline swap, though, their moves over the last few seasons suggest a competent and intelligent team that would not make any trade without a level of assurance that they can rely on the newest addition.