Cavaliers

Wins and Lessons with the Cavs: Nothing but lessons here

(Lucy Matz/Cavs.com)

Cleveland Cavaliers Head Coach Ty Lue said this season won’t be measured in wins and losses, but rather “wins and lessons.” With that in mind, WFNY is going to follow along with what we learn every week.

Since Jeff Nomina’s last Wins and Lessons segment on Monday, the Cleveland Cavaliers have searched twice more for their first win of the season, and both times they came up short. And so the search continues. We decided to name this segment ‘Wins and Lessons’ in an ode to Coach Lue’s phrase about it, but the idea was that losses would be lessons leading to wins. So far, it’s nothing but losses. Of course, there are lessons to be learned, but the losses are starting to grow in terms of weight and gravity.

Nevertheless, let’s try to see what was learned from the Cavaliers this week…

Home, Like Noplace Is There: They call it home court advantage for a reason. Teams traditionally play better at home in front of friendly fans. They sleep in their own beds. They have the larger, more comfortable locker room. There’s a comfort factor there. This has not been the case for the Cavs this season.

The three most encouraging games of the season have been the three road games. The two home games have been incredibly frustrating affairs. It’s been frustrating for the team and the performances we’ve seen at home have been embarrassing, but the fans aren’t faring much better. The arena appears half full at best with the PA sounds echoing off the empty sears. There was a report from TMZ that tickets for the Nets game were going for $2. The Washington Post followed up by pointing out that tickets for the next four home games range between $4 and $8.

This isn’t a fan-shaming thing at all, either. It’s up to the Cavaliers to keep up the entertainment value on the floor and encourage fans to want to attend these games. This is just to point out how quickly all the energy and passion seems to have been sucked out of this franchise. They always say no one person is larger than an institution, but in the case of the Cavs, maybe that’s not true.

Either way, getting blown out at home by both the Atlanta Hawks and the Brooklyn Nets is about as big of a red flag as you can get. If the Cavs cannot win these games, or even be competitive in them, where are the wins going to come from? It’s a scary thought. If nothing else, the Cavaliers need to establish some kind of home court advantage.

Old Versus Young: One of the trending topics with the Cavaliers so far this season seems to be a stark divide between the old guard and the new guard. I don’t know if it’s a personality conflict or anything. For all I know, the team gets along great. But from an on-court identity and an overall franchise direction, there seems to be a pretty clear divide.

Tristan Thompson has been talking a lot lately about the new guys not understanding what is expected of a Cavalier. And perhaps the younger guys not understanding the defensive schemes that are in place.

After the game against the Nets on Wednesday night, Thompson told reporters:

“Some of these guys don’t know. They haven’t been a part of this culture that we’ve been building here in Cleveland. At the end of the day, the only guys who really know what’s expected every night is myself, of course, Kev, and Swish. Everyone else has been one-year, two-year guys. They don’t know the culture of being a Cavalier and what it takes, what we expect every night, what the fans expect when you put on that jersey. So we definitely need to reiterate, because they don’t know.”

It’s a strong quote, and the kind of thing a lot of people will roll their eyes at. But it’s important to remember that Tristan Thompson has been a Cavalier for seven full seasons. This is his eighth year in Cleveland. He’s seen this franchise before LeBron, went through the struggles of trying to lead with Kyrie at a young age, learned from LeBron, fought in four straight NBA Finals. He’s seen where the franchise was before, he’s seen what it can be when things are going well. He’s fighting to keep that culture. He’s the longest-tenured player on this team, and his words should carry weight.

But is the divide a good thing? Certainly not. Especially when The Athletic’s Joe Vardon reports that the Cavs felt pretty good after those first two games, and then had the rug pulled out from under them when Ty Lue told players like JR Smith, Kyle Korver, and Channing Frye that they wouldn’t have a role on the team anymore. It deflated the team and the performance against the Hawks reflected that. So Wednesday against the Nets, Lue reversed course a bit. By Thursday night in Detroit, without Kevin Love, Frye was in the starting lineup and Korver and Smith both played more than 20 minutes each. Korver had his breakout game of the season.

All of this speaks to a deeper divide. Perhaps one between the front office and the coaching staff. Or even the owner and the coaches. It’s pretty unlikely that Lue would decide on his own to stop playing vets after two games. The flip-flopping in direction sure feels like the push and pull of two entities fighting over how to win this season but also develop for the future. That discontent can easily spill onto the floor.

No Offense: In a league where offense has exploded so far, the Cavaliers are falling behind. The Cavs are taking the fewest three-pointers per game in the NBA. They’re 25th in ppg, 28th in assists per game, give up the 10th most turnovers per game, 26th in eFG%, 25th in ORtg and 29th in DRtg.

The offense frequently looks discombobulated and everything feels so heavy and forced. Even when the Cavaliers make a good play on offense, they follow it right up with a bad play or a poor decision or fail in execution.

There was a sequence against the Nets the other night where Cedi Osman worked off a Kevin Love screen and drew a double-team. He gave the ball to Love with a good look for three from the top of the key. Love hesitated, though, and didn’t take the shot. He then saw Jordan Clarkson executing a back-door cut and Love dropped a beautiful pass right to Clarkson in stride. Clarkson had a mildly contested layup that he double-clutched on and perhaps tried to draw contact. He missed the easy layup. Tristan Thompson was in perfect position for a rebound and had what looked like an easy tip-in opportunity, but he missed the tip. The Nets got the rebound and went the other way. It was a complete wasted opportunity. Several good options negated by hesitation, bad decisions, or failed execution.

I wish I could say this was an isolated thing, but this sort of sequence happens a lot when you watch. There are so many moments, these tiny fractions of possessions, where you see signs of good basketball. But they are almost always followed up with a negative. The Cavaliers struggle to maintain momentum and put together runs (except for when they fall way behind).

There’s plenty of other issues with the offense. The team is still struggling to figure out how to feature Love as the focal point of the offense. Against the Nets, he somehow only had nine shots. That can’t happen.

After a strong start to the season, Cedi Osman has also struggled the last few games, which is clearly affecting the offense. After scoring 17 and 22 in the first two games, Cedi’s output has dropped to 12, 8, and 3, respectively, in the last three games. This is a troubling downward trend, albeit a very, very small sample size. But Cedi shot 6-of-9 from three in the first two games and is just 3-of-11 in the last three games.

Rodney Hood has also been a pretty major disappointment on offense. Ty Lue had hoped for Hood to be the second option on offense, but he’s averaging just 11 points per game on .386 shooting from the field. He’s shooting .111 from three-point range. In a three-point shooting league, that’s an enormous concern.

Overall, the Cavs just have no flow to their offense right now. They turn the ball over too much, they don’t get enough assists, they have far too many lazy, weak passes, they’re not always utilizing spacing well. It’s just been a mess to watch through five games. There’s plenty of lessons here and plenty for the team to build on. This is not a team without offensive talent. Far from it. Most of this has been mental mistakes and poor execution so far.

*****

The Cavs only have one game this weekend, Saturday’s matchup at home against the Indiana Pacers. This is a rematch of the first round of the playoffs last year. The Pacers are looking to build on a hugely successful season last year, and are off to a 3-2 start this season. It will be a tough matchup for the Cavaliers, but it would be nice to see some of these lessons turn into a win.