Cleveland was finally supposed to have something to be proud of regarding sports. This city was supposed to see an NBA superstar team rise up with the acquisition of LeBron James and Kevin Love this offseason. Those two, paired with Kyrie Irving were expected to turn the Cavaliers into a top 3 team in the Eastern Conference and compete for a spot in the NBA Finals. However, this team has been average at best. James has not been as dominant as usual. Love has struggled to find his where he fits into the offense on this team. With Cleveland announcing that center Anderson Varejao has been lost for the year due to a torn Achilles, this team does not seem to be in good shape.
They sit fifth in the Eastern Conference through 32 games and would be set for series against Chicago in the first round if the season ended today. The Cavs’ point differential is an average +2.5 and rank near the middle of the league in both points for and points against (13th and 14th). LeBron and company rank 11th in shooting percentage but a lowly 25th in shooting percentage against. This team commits the same number of turnovers as it generates. Every aspect of this team shouts average. The Cavaliers do not seem to do anything especially well, other than maybe scoring fast break points. With all of the moves the Cleveland front office made spanning for landing James in free agency, to mortgaging the team’s future on Love, to bringing in a new head coach in David Blatt, to signing veterans Mike Miller, James Jones and Shawn Marion. This Cavs team resembles nothing of what it did a year ago. And it has drastically improved, just not to the level it was expect to reach. Now it is time to uncover what is holding them back.
The biggest issue has been Love’s contribution to the team. The power forward was good in Minnesota as a scorer and rebounder. Part of that though was due to the sheer volume of the offense that ran through the former Timberwolf. Love is taking close to six fewer shots per game this season than last season and his shooting percentage has dropped from 45.7% to 43.4% from the field. From beyond the arc, the drop is even worse as Love has declined from 37.6% to 33.8%. As a result, Love’s scoring average has dropped from 26.1 to 17.1. On top of that, the All Star forward has seen his rebounding totals drop from 12.5 to 10.2. Much of this can be explained away by James and Irving’s offensive skill while Love is trying to learn a new system but this is a fairly large decline in production. Love does not really fit in well for Cleveland. The Cavs really need a defensive presence around the basket and he does not provide it. The best thing the Cleveland brass can hope to do is trade Love away in exchange for a couple of draft picks, a little more depth and, most importantly, a rim protector.
Another major setback for the Cavs has been the lack of production from role players. Players like offseason acquisitions Miller, Jones and Marion have fallen flat while younger talent such as Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson have failed to make enough of an impact. Waiters is the only player averaging over 10 points per game. Marion is averaging just over five points and Jones and Miller are averaging less than four points per game. If we saw anything from the James’ days with Miami, it was that role players make a huge impact on a team when they play well. Without them, it is very hard to be a top team in the league.
LeBron also hasn’t been the same dominant player he used to be either. He is scoring two points fewer per game. More importantly, his shooting percentage has dropped from 56.7% to 48.8%. That is a huge drop off and it hurts the Cavaliers due to James’ overall drop in efficiency. His rebound numbers are down by about two per game as well while his assists are on the rise. LeBron is morphing slightly this season but his transformation has not been enough to benefit the Cavaliers. He also has had all of the minutes he has played catch up to him as well. LeBron has missed a few games this season and has been playing banged up throughout the entire season to date.
This combination of players has essentially been a bit of an experiment. Mixing Irving, who is a score first point guard, Love, who relies on his outside shooting opportunity and a high usage percentage, and James, who is arguably the best pure scorer in the league behind Kevin Durant does not translate to success. These three players are each talented in their own right but do not mesh well as a team. This is not a team that is capable of winning a championship with its current roster. This offseason will surely see a lot of changes for the Cavaliers. There is a reason the James only signed a two-year contract. He wanted to be sure this would all work out. Do not be surprised if he looks to leave Cleveland again when it expires unless the roster is seriously overhauled. It simply does not work right now. I do not think it will ever work. The best thing for Cleveland would be to rework the lineup and find a pure point guard and a defensive big man in exchange for Love while switching Irving to more of a scoring guard role. All of this is unlikely but that’s the only way this team will be successful while keeping its current core.