As the Cavaliers get set to take on the New York Knicks Tuesday night at The Q, Cleveland currently sits with a 7-13 record at the 20-game point of the season. For all intents and purposes, the 20-game mark represents the first quarter of the season. It’s an important milestone because it’s typically the point in the season when you can begin to define what a team is or isn’t. It’s the point in the season in which you can’t really apply the “it’s still early” mantra.
That could be bad news for the Cavaliers, kings of the statutes of patience and learning. But in the case of the Cavaliers, “it’s still early” actually still applies. It’s not early in the season, but it’s early in the team’s development. That doesn’t mean everything is going to be fine and the Cavaliers are still on the path to an eventual contending team. It just means that’s it’s still a little too soon to place too much value on results. As disappointing as this season has been, the team as a whole is still improved over last season, and that’s really the most important thing.
But still, it’s awfully hard to analyze seasons on the horizon. All we can really do is analyze the season in front of us. At this point, the Cavaliers more or less are what they are. They are an atrociously bad offensive team with a mediocre defense. And yes, that makes them an upgrade over last season when the offense and defense were both horrendous. But beyond knowing they are marginally better than last year, what else do we know about this season’s team?
We know they are pretty good at home and pretty awful on the road. The Cavs are 6-3 in their nine home games and 1-10 away from The Q. They score 95.1 points and allow 94.8 points at home, and score 90.1 points and give up 103.5 points on the road. Just looking at those numbers tell you something else. That for all their offensive woes, it’s actually the defense that lets the team down on the road. The Cavs shoot more or less the same at home and on the road (41.68% to 41.26%, respectively). But at home the Cavaliers hold opponents to an impressive 41.72% shooting compared to 47.12% on the road. This is really a function of what our eyes have told us….the Cavaliers’ energy on the road is abysmal and they let teams score way too many easy baskets on the road.
Another thing we know about the Cavaliers so far is that they are actually better against Western Conference opponents than Eastern Conference foes. Different sample sizes, of course, but the Cavaliers are 4-10 against the East and 3-3 against the West, with all 3 wins being against Western Conference playoff hopefuls Minnesota, Denver, and the Clippers (well, ok, maybe Minnesota’s playoff hopes are fading fast, but when the Cavs played them they were playing some really good basketball).
But the biggest thing we know for sure about this season’s Cavaliers so far is that we really don’t know anything about them at all. This team is about as uneven and inconsistent as anything I’ve seen in quite some time. I said before the season started that I couldn’t remember a team with such a wide array of possibilities, and we’ve seen pretty much all of those possibilities come true at different times.
If you look at Basketball-Reference.com’s Game Results graph, the inconsistencies are plain to see. On any given night, we simply don’t know which version of the Cavaliers we’re going to get. I guess this is the nature of being a mediocre or slightly less than mediocre basketball team. You’re going to have both the good and the bad. We’ve had more of the bad so far this season, but I still believe we’ll see more of the good at some point in this season.
Perhaps I’m being stubbornly optimistic, but I refuse to believe that at some point some of these pieces will fall into place and the team will find a groove. I refuse to believe that Kyrie Irving won’t find his shot again and go back to being the highly efficient scorer that we’re used to. I love the way Dion Waiters has responded to his benching and the swirling trade rumors. I think Dion has a real opportunity to keep getting better. Andrew Bynum has steadily improved, gotten healthier, and improved his game condition.
But for all the positives, both in reality and in potential, the remaining 3/4s of this season will be about finding answers to the questions and discovering some degree of consistency. Tristan Thompson simply needs to be a night-in and night-out double-double player. At some point Kyrie and Dion need to find a way to play together for the sake of this franchise’s future. Anthony Bennett needs to become a serviceable NBA player.
I don’t know if the Cavs will contend for the playoffs this season. I’m inclined to heavily doubt it. But if things don’t improve over the course of this season…if this inconsistency and general poor play is really all these players have to give, then we know this roster is fatally flawed and things will need to be changed. The first quarter of this season may have given us more questions than answers, but the rest of the season is less about wins and losses and more about finding answers.
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