Why the Cavs Are So Much Better Than We Thought


Jack O'Neill, Staff Writer

On October 1, 2021 I published my first US News article.  This article was a Cavs season preview. Like most, I had a very pessimistic view on the upcoming season. I described it as, “expect at least a progressive and experimental year from the young core of Garland, Sexton, Okoro, Mobley, and Jarrett Allen.” I added,  “I wouldn’t get our hopes up this season to make a deep run in the playoffs.” Safe to say, I was completely wrong about this prediction. The Cleveland Cavaliers have been one of the most fun, electric rosters in the entire league. The Cavs are winning tight games night in, and night out that make you leave the new Rocket Mortgage fieldhouse excited for the future of Cleveland basketball. To top this all off, the Cavs are finally looking like a well run organization, without the presence of Lebron James. How does a team that was completely put out of the projected picture before the season, turn into the 3rd best team in a highly competitive Eastern Conference? Let’s take a dive into why the Cleveland Cavaliers are successful.


“Offense wins you games, but defense wins you championships” is a common expression teams and fans use to help emphasize the importance of the defensive side of the ball. Although the cavs may not have championship aspirations this year, defense sure is winning them games. The cavs have the 4th best defensive rating in the entire league with a rating of 107.64. The Cavs also have the lowest average points allowed to opponents, allowing opponents to 102.5 ppg. Rim protecting phenoms Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen have assured the rest of the league that the paint is not ‘sweet’ in cleveland. The power forward-center duo has averaged 1.6 and 1.3 blocks, and 8.2 and 11 rebounds per game respectively. The highly criticized ‘Tall Ball Lineup’ has done wonders for the Cavaliers. Although unconventional, having three 7” players on the court has given opposing offenses headaches. As I mentioned earlier, it’s extremely difficult to score in the paint, or get second chance points. This is significant improvement from a team who was 27th in the league in defensive efficiency just last year, with the cringe worthy rating of 115.65. Sure, it’s clear that the cavs can play defense. It would seem obvious that a team consisting of Evan Mobley, Isaac Okoro, and Jarrett Allen should be able to hold it down on the defensive end. This isn’t where ‘Tall Ball’ got its criticism. It’s been on the offensive end. How Have the cavs played on offense?  Let’s look at some numbers to determine how well they have been playing on that end.


Much of the offense’s success can be pinpointed to first time all star Darius Garland. Garland being the primary ball handler, does a phenomenal job of getting the big guys involved. Garland’s vision creates scoring opportunities for big men  such as Jarrett Allen who is a prototypical lob catching and defensive oriented big man, who averages 16 ppg. Scoring over 15 pgg as a primary lob threat is very uncommon and credit should be sent towards Garland, and his incredible vision. Statistically, the cavs are the 19th best offense in the league. Although not eye opening, the  Cavs average 111.87 points per 100 possessions. You have to take into consideration that the cavs, a defensive oriented team, is still around average in a league where offense seems to be the number one priority. Statistically,  the Cavs specialize in pick and roll, using this 14.9% of the time, and playing in transition, with a frequency of 14.6%. The new addition of Caris Lavert is expected to add more scoring, and overall a more efficient offense as the Ohio native is known for being a natural scorer, averaging 18.7 ppg this season. So far, the biggest weakness in this offense has been the backup point guard possession. For the early portion of this season, Ricky Rubio was playing some of the best basketball of his life. Providing a spark off the bench, and even sometimes finding his way into the starting lineup. If I told myself 3 months ago that the cavs biggest weakness would be the backup pg, I would call you crazy. Suddenly, Rubio tore his ACL, and this point guard duo of Garland and Rubio vanished. After that the Cavs traded for Rajon Rondo, who has shown he can still be a viable backup point guard, when he is on the court, and not dealing with injuries. The cavs have also desperately picked up guards in free agency, such as Brandon Goodwin and Tim Frazier, but neither have shown the ability to be a consistent backup point guard.

All good teams have an identity, whether it be transition offense, defense, or shooting threes. For the first time in years, it seems like the cavs finally do. The cavs continuously play elite defense which helps them beat teams who on paper, have much more talent than them. The entire team buying into this defensive identity has done wonders for ‘The Land’ and for the first time in 4 years, we can look forward to watching Cavs basketball. What is so exciting about this is not just now, we can look forward to watching the Cavs in the upcoming years; with this young core looking to only get better. Safe to say this wasn’t just an ‘experimental year’, as your Cleveland Cavaliers have a legitimate chance at making a deep playoff run, and in the future, championship aspirations.