Wins and Lessons with the Cavs: Focusing on the positives (and a win!)

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Former 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, and in honor of his memory, WFNY is going to follow along with what we learn every week.

Let’s be honest, it’s been tough talking about the Cavs this season. There’s a reason WFNY hasn’t done the Behind the Box Score or even kept up with Wins and Lessons since mid-December. Writing about losing isn’t fun and becomes redundant. While winning is important, deep down, we as fans know that the more our favorite basketball team loses this season, the better chance they will have at landing the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, which this year is known as the Zion Williamson Sweepstakes. Though WFNY’s Andrew Schnitkey wrote this morning about how even winning the lottery doesn’t guarantee success.

With that said, the wine and gold need to continue to improve and develop, which will lead to a win now and then, much like they did this past Sunday when they beat the Chicago Bulls, their second win since December 19 (25 games), ending their six-game losing streak. At 10-41, they own the worst record in the NBA and haven’t won back-to-back games since November 23-24.

The Cavs were expected to struggle this year but not this bad. Then again, no one could have predicted all of the injuries either, including to Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, among others. Stack those injuries on top of being led by an interim head coach and not really being able to play defense consistently as a team and it’s not a good combination.

Even throughout all of the struggles, it’s still important to focus on the positives. Let’s take a look at some of those positives of late, especially from the specific players who will likely be Cavaliers for the rest of this season (and beyond), all three of which have been the top-three scorers for the wine and gold over the last nine games. Granted, it’s a small sample size but in a season with many more valleys than peaks, it’s important to focus on the positives and improvements, no matter how small they may be.

Cedi Osman is beginning to find his game on a consistent basis and is becoming much more comfortable as a playmaker

Cedi Osman has been a fan favorite. He didn’t get to showcase his skills and ability to be a legitimate NBA player much last season, but he has taken full advantage of the increased role this year. The forward has had plenty of ups and downs all season and still needs to work on being a more consistent scorer and playmaker, but if the last few games have shown us anything, it’s that Osman has the ability to be a solid player in this league.

After playing in just 11 minutes per game in 2017-18, the 23-year-old has averaged 31.8 minutes in 49 games (48 starts) so far this season. In this games, Osman has averaged 12.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.1 assists while shooting 41.6 percent from the floor and 32 percent from beyond the arc. While his three-point shooting and even shooting as a whole obviously needs some improvement, if the last nine games have taught us anything, it’s that the second-year forward is continuing to improve with more and more experience.

Since January 11, Osman has averaged 15.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.3 steals while shooting 50.5 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from long distance in 31.5 minutes a night. The good news is that he’s been the team’s leading scorer over the last nine games, the bad news is that he’s not even averaging 16 points per game while doing so.

via basketball-reference

One night after scoring a then-career-high 25 points while knocking down 8-of-11 shots (6-of-7 from three-point range) last Wednesday in Boston, Osman followed that up by scoring a new career-high 29 points while making 11-of-20 shots. It’s clear that he’s starting to figure things out because he’s allowing the game to come to him, rather than force things. His head coach agrees.

“Yeah, I think he’s starting to figure it out,” Cavs coach Larry Drew told The Athletic’s Joe Vardon this past weekend. “I think the way teams are playing him, he’s really just kind of taking what they give him, not really looking to force things. That’s where when I think he gets in trouble trying to create something that’s not there. Now, it seems like he’s just allowing the game to come to him.”

While becoming more comfortable, Osman has learned to seek contact, especially the closer he has the ball to the basket, rather than stray away from it. That allows him to get to the free-throw line rather than make tougher shots where a foul may not be called on his defender. Considering he is getting to the free-throw stripe more often over the last nine games (3.0 free-throw attempts compared to 2.3 attempts his first 40 games of the season), it’s obvious that that little change in his game has made a difference, even if it’s a very subtle one.

“That’s something that actually I learned through the films,” Osman said. “Before I was going away from the rim, instead of toward the rim and I was going away from the players instead of towards the players. But right now I’m trying to take the contact and earn some fouls. Trying to find the basket or create for my teammates.

“Actually maybe like the last two months, I changed my playing style. I started like attacking more, but you know, so I’m confident with my 3-point shot so whenever I’m open I’m going to take those. … I guess people talk that I had a career night but I think the more important thing is that what we can improve as a team. We’re playing good, but at some points, we just have to figure out how to play better.”

He still must work on his defense, but then again, that seems to be more of an overall team issue than an individual one. Of all the players in the league that play more than 13 minutes a game, Osman (118.6), Collin Sexton (117.8), and Thompson (117.2) have the worst defensive ratings in the league.

With that said, at least Osman is improving offensively and should continue to do so with more playing time and an increased role on that end of the floor.

Ante Zizic is taking advantage of more playing time

As we all expected,1 Zizic is the last man still donning the wine and gold in Year 2 from the trade that sent Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and the big man.2

With Tristan Thompson out since January 18 due to a left foot injury, Zizic has made the best of his increased role. Much like Osman, Zizic didn’t get much of an opportunity to make a difference in 2017-18 but has done so this season, especially in 2019.

In 2018, the big man averaged just 3.9 points and 3.4 rebounds while shooting 47.4 percent from the floor and 60.6 percent from the free-throw line in 10.8 minutes a night (24 games, two starts), including 11 DNPs. Then, it was almost like a switch was flipped once the calendar flipped to 2019. Then again, maybe that switch is the fact that Zizic has played a much bigger role simply because Thompson is out.

Following five straight DNPs from December 28 to January 5, the 22-year-old has been quite a different player, one that has been a nice addition to the rotation. Over his last 11 games (six starts), Zizic has averaged 12.6 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 57 percent from the field and 82.5 percent from the free-throw stripe. Notice anything? He’s averaging more points since January 8 (12.6) than he did minutes from October 17 to January 5 (10.8). Quite impressive, to say the least.


via basketball-reference

The 6-foot-11, 254-pounder will never be a gamechanger, but if he can be a solid role player and some much-needed depth in the frontcourt off the bench, that’s important going forward. He must continue to improve and develop as his career rolls along and if the last handful of games has taught us anything, it’s that he will do so if he is given the opportunity.

Talking about Collin Sexton

The rookie has had quite an interesting first season in the NBA. Although it seems like he’s a bit behind schedule, especially when you compare him to a young rookie phenom like Mavericks forward Luka Doncic, searching for positives is important, especially when it comes to a 20-year-old that’s getting his first taste of the NBA.

In a season that has been full of ups and downs for the rookie point guard, including being taken out in late-game, key situations for veteran Matthew Dellavedova, Sexton has made the most of his opportunities when given the chance. In 37 games (27 starts) in 2018, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound point guard averaged 14.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.7 assists while shooting 42.4 percent from the floor and 36.1 percent from beyond the arc. Then in 2019, he has somehow shot much better from three-point range but much worse from two-point range. In 14 games (14 starts) this calendar year, Sexton has averaged 13.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 3.1 assists while shooting 36.6 percent from the field and 45.8 percent from long distance. Remember when people said he wasn’t a shooter? He seems to be changing that narrative.

via basketball-reference

While taking 1.4 fewer shots per game, Sexton has shot 1.5 more threes in 2019 compared to 2018. It’s obvious that much of his focus has been on that. Now, he just has to focus on improving his efficiency from inside the arc while continuing to knock down shots from long range. If he can make that combination work, Sexton’s game will take a huge leap going forward. It’s possible, and if he has proven anything so far during his rookie season, it’s that he will put in the work to (hopefully) make it happen.

I’m not one to talk about Cavs Twitter too often, but the fact that some people are openly rooting for Sexton to fail really, really confuses me. Even if you don’t like the fact that Cleveland selected him with the eighth overall pick this past summer or there’s something else that you don’t like about it, his development and ability to be a solid point guard are vital for the future of the Cavs, both short and long term.

The Cavs have averaged just 101.8 points over the last nine games, the fact that Osman, Zizic, and Sexton are the team’s top-three scorers should at least shed a little brightness on a future that seems very unclear for the wine and gold. In a season full of plenty of negatives, it’s important to focus on the positives, even if they are few and far between.

  1. Insert sarcasm font here. []
  2. I know, the Cavs also received Boston’s first-round pick which turned into Sexton, but I’m talking about the actual players that were in the trade. []