The Cleveland Cavaliers have played 4 games this season, and sit at 2-2. In 3 of the 4 games, the Cavaliers were able to feel good about the way they played. Only in the Chicago game last week could their effort and desire really be challenged. This is a good sign for the early season.
Tonight, as they continue their road trip by playing against the Golden State Warriors (2-2), the Cavaliers will try to keep the momentum going. One of the biggest positive for the Cavaliers is that 3 of their 4 opponents have been very good defensive teams this season. In terms of defensive efficiency, the Bulls are 1st, the Bucks are 3rd, and the Wizards are 12th. Only the Clippers (19th) fall in the bottom half of the league.
The Warriors will present another tough defensive challenge, as Golden State comes into this game ranked 14th in defensive efficiency. In past years, the Warriors have been the poster child of fast paced basketball with a premium on offense more so than defense. The Warriors have been evolving into a more defensive oriented team, and this year their defense has been outperforming their offense so far.
In many ways, the Warriors and Cavaliers are very similar teams. They both feature dynamic young backcourts that both franchises are banking on to be the core of their team going forward. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson represent in Golden State what Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters represent in Cleveland. While David Lee and Anderson Varejao are different offensive and defensively from one another, they are both quality rebounders at the PF/C position.
When you look at the offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, and pace factor numbers for these two teams, they’re all fairly close, with Golden State being a slightly better offensive team. The Cavaliers have the edge in pace factor. Both teams have their issues on defense.
The Cavaliers, predictably, have had their defensive struggles. They are 20th in efficiency and 29th in opponents eFG%. They are giving up the 10th most points per game. However, there are 3 areas where the Cavaliers are saving themselves. Those areas are interior defense, turnovers, and defensive rebounding.
The Cavaliers are 12th in opponents points in the paint per game, 5th in defensive turnover rate, and 6th in defensive rebounding rate. Heck, they’re even decent at defensive FT rate (opponent FTs per FGA), where they rank 16th in the league. So the Cavaliers are about average or well above average in 3 of the Defensive Four Factors. So why is the Cavs’ defense so bad? That atrocious opponents eFG% is the culprit.
For all the good things the Cavaliers are doing in these other areas, they are simply allowing their opponents to get too many good looks and wide open, uncontested shots from mid range out to the 3 pt line. The Cavaliers’ young backcourt is probably most to blame.
Kyrie Irving is still getting beat too often at the point of attack, forcing the defense to compensate. With some good ball movement, this allows opponents to usually find the wide open player for a good shot. Secondly, Dion Waiters is still floating too much defensively when the guy he is guarding is off the ball. Opposing wings have had entirely too many wide open 3s because Waiters has been sagging into the paint to cheat on help defense.
The good news is, this is an issue that can and probably will be fixed in time. It’s important to remember this is still Waiters’ first taste of playing man defense after his two years in the heralded Syracuse zone system. Against the Warriors, though, the Cavaliers’ backcourt defense must step up. It’s nice that Gee can help out defending opposing PGs, and that does make a big difference, but at some point, if Kyrie is going to be a truly elite PG, he’ll have to start giving more effort on the defensive side of the ball. And I think he will. These things just take time.
Overall, the Warriors will be a nice test for the Cavaliers. On paper I think this could be a really entertaining game, but then again, usually when I think that, the Cavaliers come out flat and uninspired. So beware.
We’ve already mentioned the Warriors’ stellar young backcourt and David Lee. In addition to those 3, the starting lineup features Andrew Bogut, who is still adjusting not only to a new team, but to playing with confidence after coming back from his foot/ankle injury last season. It will be interesting to see how Coach Scott chooses to have Andy and Tristan defend Bogut and Lee.
Then there’s the SF position, where the Warriors will feature rookie Harrison Barnes. If you recall, many Cavalier fans were outraged on draft night when the Cavaliers selected Waiters over Barnes. Now, we’ll get to see the two play against each other. We’ve already had the intriguing Waiters-Beal matchup. That one was fun because they played the same position, but the Cavaliers never had the option to draft Beal. This one is different because the Cavaliers could have taken Barnes instead of Waiters.
Just as nobody should read too much into one, nobody should read too much into 4 games. But Harrison Barnes has definitely gotten off to a slow start in the Warriors’ first 4 games. There’s no question Waiters has been the better player through 4. But that is not a validation of Chris Grant’s decision. Only time can validate that pick. But for tonight, it will be fun to keep an eye on the two rookies to see how they fare.
The Warriors’ bench is a decent one as well. They feature Jarrett Jack (who has had some great games against Cleveland in the past), Carl Landry, and Richard Jefferson. They suffered a setback, though, when Brandon Rush tore his left ACL last weekend against Memphis.
The Cavaliers’ bench could have injury issues of their own, as there is still no word as to Tyler Zeller’s availability as of this writing. If Zeller can’t play, it will be interesting to see if Byron Scott reverts back to Luke Walton or if he gives Samardo Samuels some minutes.
All in all, I’m not sure what to expect from this matchup. This early in the season, I haven’t seen much of the Warriors. I’ve watched every minute of the Cavaliers and I can’t even tell you what to expect from them. That’s the fun of these early season matchups. We’re all still trying to get a feel for what’s real and what’s illusion. Either way, I think tonight’s game has a lot of potential to be a really fun matchup to watch.
Image Source: AP Photo