“The Cavaliers are struggling.”
“Cleveland looks terrible this year!”
“The Cavaliers are choking, there’s no way they’ll make it to the Finals!”
We are barely two weeks into the 2017 NBA season and the sports world is already losing their minds about the Cleveland Cavaliers’ abysmal 3-4 start. Yes, the defending 3-time eastern conference champions are underachieving. Yes, they are losing to teams they should beat blindfolded with an arm tied behind their backs. Yes, it’s impossible to beat anybody in basketball blindfolded with an arm tied behind your back, but that’s beside the point. The point is this: the Cleveland Cavaliers will be just fine.
The 82-game season just started. We are only in week two of the new season and teams are seven games in. We’re not even 10 percent into the year and critics can’t wait to bash the underachieving Cavaliers! The season is a marathon, not a sprint, and it takes about 20 games for teams to really get an understanding of what potential they truly have as they progress into the year. With dramatic roster changes over the past offseason, it’s going to take time for this team to build chemistry.
To begin with, the Kyrie Irving trade took everyone by surprise. Irving’s unforseen demand then led to a restructuring of the team which gave the Cavaliers a completely new look from last year. Bring in Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, Jeff Green, Jae Crowder, and 2011 MVP Derrick Rose. This adds tons of experience and depth to a team that couldn’t even tie the Golden State Warriors’ shoes last year.
With a revamped roster, the Cavaliers have a serious challenge to overcome: crafting a starting lineup. With Isaiah Thomas out until at least January, the Cavaliers are currently juggling LeBron James and Derrick Rose for the starting point guard position. Dwyane Wade and J.R. Smith are playing rock paper scissors for the starting two guard spot. Kevin Love has no idea where he fits on the team. Seven games into the season and we have already seen five different lineups from Cleveland. There is clearly a struggle with chemistry here as Coach James and Assistant Coach Tryonn Lue try and figure out which starting five gives them the best chance to win. With 75 games in the season remaining, these guys have more than enough time to figure it out.
Next, there’s the issue of Cleveland losing to teams who didn’t even make the playoffs last year. What’s more, the Cavaliers are losing by wide margins; these games aren’t even close! They lost by 21 to a young, relatively unknown Orlando Magic who is off to a surprisingly good start. In their 3 game losing streak they lost by 22 points to the Pelicans then by 19 to the Knicks.
The main issue here seems to be lack of effort and awareness. Guys seem like they don’t know where they’re supposed to be or who they’re supposed to be guarding. Not only are the Cavaliers struggling to defend, they’re underperforming on offense. The offense just is not clicking yet and the defense consequently suffers. The Cavs are only shooting 34% from three while their opponents are shooting 40%. This means that Cleveland’s missed shots are leading to more transition opportunities for their opponents. The Cavs are averaging 16 turnovers per game while their opponents only average 11. This leads to more possessions and, again, more transition opportunities for their opponents. Starting to see how bad offense leads to bad defense?
The Cavaliers should be cut some slack though. Even with Lebron’s return in 2014, the Cavaliers have not exactly been known for their defense. Currently ranked 24th in the league, they could be considered pushovers on that end of the floor. However, you may be surprised by who sits three spots below them in the defensive rankings. At 27th in the league, the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors are not doing too well on defense either. Not to mention this team is only off to a 4-3 start to the season, losing to the Rockets, Grizzlies, and Pistons. This team, expected to mop the floor with the competition seems surprisingly vulnerable but that’s a conversation for another time.
Led by the greatest small forward of all time in Lebron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers are off to a shaky start this year. With an ever changing lineup due to injuries and chemistry imbalances, this team is struggling to find their way. There are over 70 games remaining in the season, and as players and coaches get a better feel for each other they will surely figure things out. Their defense will improve as they become more consistent on offense and they will surely put in more effort as the playoffs draw nearer. Relax NBA fans, the Cavaliers will be just fine.