Cleveland Cavaliers: 4 Thoughts, Week 3
Don’t touch that dial!
The Cavs might be...decent? ‘Good’ is a little strong, but until Kevin Love’s three hit the back of the rim last night and the final loose ball skittered away, the Cavs were dangerously close to
Sweeping a 3-game road trip
Beating presumptive East favorite Philadelphia in Philadelphia, and
Being a .500 team
Hell, if the playoffs started today, the Cavs would be involved! There’s a lot of season to go, but if you’re a Cavs fan, buckle in -- they might not be going away. A few reasons why:
1.Tristan Thompson, All-Star? It’d be tough to find too many NBA fans who didn’t know who Double T was. High-Energy Big? Check. Tremendous offensive rebounder? Check. Connoisseur of the garbage bucket? Check. Threatens a double-double every night? Check. A guy who you can give 33 minutes a night to and get 16.5 points, 11.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists each night, not to mention a block-and-a-half and a steal to boot? Wait what?
When you go back to ‘The Last LeBron Season, Part II,’ that 5-year, $82 million dollar extension he signed going into the title season looked like an aircraft-carrier-sized anchor. The iron man who had once played 447 straight games was suddenly oft-injured and unplayable. He logged just 20 minutes a night, and put up 5.8 points and 6.6 rebounds, all career lows. The league was headed towards the perimeter, and the Cavs were on the hook for another two years and $35 million. Yikes. Now he’s a legitimately good big. He’s staring up at Joel Embiid and Andre Drummond in the East, but they’re about the only starting 5’s that are out-producing him thus far. Who woulda thunk it?
2. Kevin Love is back to his Minnesota ways. Let’s set the bar high. Let’s focus on his 2013-14 tour de force, where he put up a 26.1-12.5-4.4, while shooting 45.7% from the field and 37.6% from downtown. That’s peak-Minny-Love. This year in Cleveland, KLove is putting up a 18.5-12.9-3.4, while shooting 45.8% from the field and 33.9% from behind the arc. ‘But Jeremy! That’s eight points fewer per game! He’s a shell of his former self!’ Au contraire, mon frere.
With two young, ball-dominant guards -- the nominal future of the franchise, no less -- on the court with him, Love has a much lower usage rate than he did in that season (23.2 vs 28.8) so he’s using 20% fewer of the possessions, and as a result taking 6.5 fewer shots. That’s the difference. All of the other support stats are basically in line, he’s just on a, dare I say it?, better team. Moreover, he’s been a 37.7% 3-point shooter in his time in Cleveland, so when he reverts back up to his mean, he’ll be knocking on the door of a 20-13 - cue the Keanu Meme:
3. Collin Sexton: He May Even Be Good. That was (part of) the headline last spring when a 20-year-old rookie getting tons of minutes on an awful team continued to work hard, had his best teammate return from injury, and turned the corner. Now he’s even better! We may have to have a word with basketballreference.com about Sexton’s positional designation, because he does not appear to actually be a point guard, but there are far worse things for a rebuilding franchise to have than a young guard putting up 18.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game.
He’s a career 40% 3-point shooter thus far, and has brought down his turnovers while improving both offensive and defensive ratings. With the exception of his assist rate dropping a touch -- understandably so, since he’s playing alongside a more natural point in Darius Garland -- he has improved upon all aspects of his game in year two. Those who worried about his fit next to Garland should be breathing easier 10 games in.
4.Jordan Clarkson, 6th Man of the Year? That’s hyperbole. But he is a game-changer for this Cavs team off the bench. He has a positive net rating for the first time in his career. He’s got a positive Box Plus/Minus for the first time in his career. He’s got a PER over 20. Some of that is stat-speak, so let me break it down for you. The first two mean that for the first time in his career, he’s not just a conscience-less gunner firing away the second he comes in the game and building up good counting stats on a bad team; he’s actually contributing to a winning effort. The last one is a catch-all metric evaluating a player’s overall efficiency; last year a 20.6 would have put him at 35th overall, between #1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton and 2x All-Star (kinda surprised it’s only two, actually) Bradley Beal. Good company.
Tough week ahead. Both Miami and Philadelphia bring their 7-3 records to the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, before another trip to the Big Apple and the Knicks, who may be bad and in turmoil - it’s still a road game for a young team. The Cavs have been better than I thought, but it’s still a rocky road to .500. We’ll find out if they made it back next time!