This week was a near perfect encapsulation of this rebuild.
It was a frustrating week on and off the floor as they dropped all four of their games. It’s safe to say the Cavs should soon be in full tank mode.
Here’s what we learned this week.
Kevin Love can’t stay out of the news.
Love still finds a way to generate buzz with his antics no matter how good or bad this team is. He generated all the wrong headlines this week for punching a ball to an opponent which led to an open three after being frustrated for a variety of reasons.
This incident was uncalled for and embarrassing. Especially for someone who is supposed to be the veteran leader. Love knows better than this. Unsurprisingly, this was blown up to be a bigger deal than it was.
The Love situation remains complex to say the least. He is owed $60,201,086 over the next two years which is exponentially more than someone who is averaging 11.5 points per game on 40.4% shooting is worth. At the same time, Love probably wouldn’t have signed a four-year extension if he would’ve known the Cavs would bottom out like they have the last three seasons.
It’s easy to see how all parties involved would be frustrated. Unfortunately, there’s no easy end this offseason as a buyout with two years left isn’t feasible and the Cavs would likely have to attach an asset, which they won’t do, in order to make a trade palatable.
While it’s hard to believe considering how bad they’re currently playing, there are reasons to be optimistic about next season’s chances. Darius Garland has been awesome this list month and has shown signs that he can be a star, Collin Sexton has continued to improve. Isaac Okoro is flashing more skills on the offensive end. Add in Jarrett Allen with a full off-season to get incorporated and a healthy Larry Nance Jr. and there are reasons to be believe this team will at least be competitive next season. One of the Cavs biggest issue this season is a lack of consistency on the bench. Suring up the bench with veteran players would go a long way in raising this team’s floor and keep them in games.
Another solution to this conundrum would simply be Love playing up to his abilities. Oftentimes the best ability is availability which Love hasn’t provided as he hasn’t played over 60 games since the 2017 season. Staying on the court and being a productive player, like we saw in Saturday’s loss as he finished with 25 points, 6 boards and 3 assists, would go a long way in him being able to get out of Cleveland.
Ironically, the Cavs are still a better team with Love on the floor despite his poor shooting and sometimes questionable effort level. On the season, the Cavs are 5.7 points per 100 possessions better with Love on than they are with him off. During the month of April, which Love played all 16 games in, the Cavs were 9.7 points per 100 possessions better with him on than they were with him off. Overall he had a -0.4 net rating on the month (with a 109.7 offensive rating) despite averaging only 12.1 points per game with an inefficient 49.7 effective field goal percentage during that stretch.
Love will be remembered as a Cavalier legend for his role on the best teams in franchise history. Unfortunately the last three seasons have done more to harm his legacy than they have helped. Hopefully a solution that is beneficial to both sides presents itself. The silver lining is that the Cavs are still much better with Love on the floor. Appropriate buy in from him, progression from the young guys, and an upgraded bench supporting cast could make for a fun 2021-22 season.
Collin Sexton’s passing issues, while real, are overblown.
Sexton has been the most consistent and best Cavalier this season. He’s 17th in the league in scoring and is doing so with solid shooting splits of .483/.378/.814. That’s good for an above league average 57.8 true shooting percentage. It should also be noted that there are only two people younger than him, Zion Williamson and Luka Doncic, ahead of him on the scoring list.
Despite the scoring, his passing is still being compared to point guards which isn’t appropriate since he plays off-ball if point guards are healthy and available. According to basketball-reference, 65% of Sexton’s playing time has come at shooting guard this season.
It’s true that he isn’t a great passer, but acting like he’s an offensive black hole is wrong as well. Assist numbers aren’t the best way to manage someone’s passing ability, but they are the best we have. With that acknowledged, Sexton is averaging 4.1 assists per game and 8.7 potential assists which is pretty standard for two-guards who play with ball dominant points. For comparison, CJ McCollum averages 4.7 assists and 8.9 potential assists, Devin Booker averages 4.4 assists and 8.3 potential assists, Donovan Mitchell averages 5.2 assists and 9.8 potential assists, and Bradley Beal averages 4.5 assists and 8.7 potential assists. These are the type of players his passing and assist numbers should be compared with.
Sexton needs to improve as a passer as he still can get tunnel vision from time to time. However, it’s unfair to label him as a ball dominant scorer who doesn’t look to pass. Especially when his numbers are comparable with players in his position.
There’s a middle ground between him needing to improve but acknowledging that his numbers aren’t as bad as some make it out to be.
The Kevin Porter Jr. discourse has gone off the rails.
I believe KPJ has the talent to become an incredibly special player. He has the skillset to be a scoring champion and an All-NBA player if he reaches his full potential. That said, it’s time to stop relitigating the KPJ saga every time he has a great game like he did Thursday when he became the youngest player to have a 50/10 game.
Despite his incredible performance on Thursday, Porter isn’t exactly lighting the league on fire. Porter is averaging 16.7 points on .422/.316/.774 shooting splits with 6.4 assists and 3.4 turnovers per game. This is good for a 49.3 effective field goal percentage and a 53.0 true shooting percentage.
Numbers for a young player aren’t indicative of their overall potential. Especially ones as young as Porter. However, it should be noted that those numbers combined with the limited games he’s played this year aren’t moving the needle much this season. If he were still in Cleveland, the Cavs would nonetheless be in the bottom of the standings and the same frustrations would be present.
It’s important to remember that Porter didn’t fall to 30th in the draft for basketball reasons. He wasn’t traded for basketball reasons either. I’m not going to list all of Porter’s off court issues that we know about, which includes a health & safety protocols violation earlier this week, but there were real, valid reasons why things didn’t work. Off-court issues are what got us to this point.
It was not in the best on court interest of the rebuild to trade Porter. There’s nobody in the organization who would say that. The move was done with the wellbeing of Porter in mind as he was sent to the Houston Rockets who have a history of helping athletes in Porter’s position thanks to the incredible work of John Lucas.
The Cavs knew that this was a possible outcome when they drafted Porter 30th. They did the right thing by him in sending him out the way that they did. The “fire Koby Altman for this” portion of this fanbase and local media is ridiculous and a blatant oversight of everything that actually happened. It is also unfair to compare this to the childish on-court antics we’ve seen from Love for a variety of reasons. Those antics and the Porter allegations aren’t the same things and shouldn’t be given the same weight.
I’m glad to see Porter play well. I hope it works out for him in Houston. But it’s important to keep in mind that it working out in Houston doesn’t mean it could’ve or would’ve ever worked out in Cleveland. Oftentimes doing right by an individual isn’t what is in the best interest of the team. I think that’s an acceptable outcome in this situation.
Darius Garland is proving to be the most valuable member of this team.
Garland is on an impressive run since the all-star break. He is averaging 19.5 points on .464/.403/.848 shooting splits while averaging 6.5 assists, 3.2 turnovers, and 1.3 steals per game since the break. Garland is a -2.1 net rating during that stretch and the Cavs are 10.1 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor than they are with him off.
Those numbers look even better when you factor in just the month of April. The second-year guard averaged 20.5 points on .480/.385/.878 shooting splits while averaging 7.3 assists, 3.3 turnovers, and 1.5 steal per game. Garland is the only Cavalier starter with a positive net rating in April (1.3) and the team was 16.2 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor.
We’ve seen flashes from Garland all season but some questioned whether he could sustain good play for an extended period of time. This most recent stretch proves that he can.
It’s very encouraging to see someone as young as him have such a positive impact on a team that does not have many good win now pieces. The Cavs have something special with Garland.
The tank is on.
Unfortunately for Garland, his season is temporarily, if not permanently, put on hold due to an ankle injury he endured in Friday’s loss to Washington. Given his impact on the team, his future importance, and their current place in the standings, it is likely best to take this opportunity to keep him out of the lineup and fully embrace the tank.
The Cavs are currently sixth in the lottery standings but are only 2 games away from dropping to the second slot. The team will not jump to seventh in the standings no matter what since the Bulls and Raptors are five full games better than them.
It would be ideal if the Cavs could at least get to the fourth spot in the lottery standings which they are currently a game out of. The sixth spot has a 37.2% chance of landing in the top 4 while the fourth spot has a 48.1% chance of being in the top four. The odds don’t improve much from spots 4 to 1. The only advantage is that the higher seeds can’t fall as far in the lottery.
The Cavs have the fourth hardest remaining schedule in the league which is beneficial in this situation. Every team on the schedule from here on is in the playoffs or the play-in tournament.
The Timberwolves and Magic are the teams to keep an eye on. The Timberwolves are 6-4 in their last ten gams and are playing with renewed energy after D’Angelo Russell returned from injury in early April. The Magic have also won two of their last three games and are starting to play some better basketball (well at least by their standards).
It’s been a disappointing and frustrating year for the Cavs, but they aren’t many pieces away from being a really intriguing team who could surprise a lot of people next season. This could be the last chance for them to truly dig to the bottom in the standings with this current core. In my opinion, they should do everything they can to get to at least the fourth spot considering this draft class and who is currently on this team.
Hopefully, this is the last time we need to embrace the tank for a while.