Is it possible to be out of the play-in tournament race?
The Cavs dropped two of their three games this week with tough losses to the Golden State Warriors and the Chicago Bulls. The Cavs are still technically in the hunt for the play-in tournament, but they will need to string together multiple wins to stay relevant.
Here’s what we learned this week.
The push for the play-in is a learning experience.
The Cavs aren’t a playoff team. They’re 16 games under .500 and are in year three of their rebuild. This team wasn’t built to compete. Expecting them to do so when they rely so heavily on four young starters and don’t really have the most ideal help around them is unreasonable. Given the teams in front of them, their lack of continuity, and their inexperience it would be shocking if they made a legitimate run.
That said, this can be a great learning experience for them no matter how gimmicky the play-in tournament is. We’re seeing how Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro and Collin Sexton are handling the pressure that come with talks of a potential playoff spot.
The young guys weren’t able to get the result they needed on Saturday night in Chicago. However, they have a chance to make up for it as they play the Bulls, Wizards and Raptors over the course of the next two weeks. These games will go a long way in determining how long they stay in this race. Seeing how they react could give us some nice insight into how thy will handle playoff situations in the coming years when this team is actually built to compete.
The starting lineup looks decent.
One of the most encouraging things about this week is how the starting lineup of Garland, Sexton, Okoro, Kevin Love, and Jarrett Allen has looked together. The lineup has played only 28 minutes together, but they more than held their own on the defensive end while not living up to their expected potential on offense. The lineup posted a 3.4 net rating this week.
The starting lineup should look better when Love is actually making shots. His outside shot looks off right now — he’s shooting 33.3% as of Monday. This would be by far his lowest percentage since coming to Cleveland. I would expect that to come back up as he settles back into his role and he gets more game time under this belt.
How the starting lineup plays is one of the most intriguing things about the end of this season. Odds are that this will be the starting lineup going into next season barring the Cavs getting a top-four pick in the draft.
The bench unit is out of sorts.
Unlike the starting lineup, the bench does not at least fit conceptually. Since getting healthy, which is really only the last couple games, J.B. Bickerstaff has elected to go with Matthew Dellavedova, Taurean Prince, Larry Nance Jr. and Isaiah Hartenstein off the bench. While those are the four best bench players at their given position, the unit doesn’t fit well together.
The four-man lineup of Delly, Prince, Nance and Hartenstein posted a -28.1 net rating in the 15 minutes they played together this week. This translates to being outscored by 3.7 points per game in an average of 5 minutes played together which isn’t ideal.
This problem is most noticeable when all four are playing together, but it stems over into other lineups as well. It’s tough to play three guys who are more-or-less non-impact three-point shooters in Delly, Nance, and Hartenstein. There really isn’t a simple work around that unless you are willing to move Nance to the 3, bring Dean Wade off the bench, and stagger Sexton and Garland so that one of them can always play the point. Bickerstaff hasn’t shown that he’s willing to do that yet.
The bench is the area that they need to improve the most if the Cavs are planning on making a playoff push next season. The players they have aren’t bad, but the fit is.
Garland is starting to show some consistency.
It’s difficult to win with young players because of the inconsistencies in their game. These inconsistencies are why it’s difficult to evaluate young players based on just their box score or advanced stats. Garland is a good example of this.
Garland has shown flashes of just how special he can be throughout this season which is what you want to see from a guard his age. He is also starting to show some of the consistency he’s lacked thus far. The second-year guard is averaging 19.3 points with a 59 true shooting percentage while averaging 7.8 assists and 2.9 turnovers a game this month.
Garland is at his worst when he isn’t asserting himself and playing with confidence. He’s done a good job of getting rid of those non-assertive games as of late. Since his 37-point game against San Antonio, Garland has attempted 15, 17, 13, 20 and 21 shots. Those games all include seven or more three-point attempts.
Garland’s shot total, especially from deep, is a good indicator of how involved he is in the overall offense. His threat as a shooter and scorer opens up opportunities for his teammates. That’s one of the reasons why he’s most effective as a playmaker when he’s also looking for his own shot as well.
It’s becoming more and more clear that Garland is a foundational piece you can build around. It’ll be interesting to see if he can keep up this string of good play as the Cavs make their push for the play-in tournament.