The NBA just like any other sports league in the world is an ever changing landscape. Players come, players go. Teams rise, and then they fall. This is called competition and it’s what drives not only the NBA but the whole of life itself.
People are competitive by nature and NBA basketball players are some of the most competitive individuals in the world. There are many amazing athletes with the right physical attributes needed to excel in the NBA, but only by sacrificing time and energy into making yourself better than your opponents will you earn your way to the top.
One team that which seems to be falling from the top after a period of success is the Cleveland Cavaliers. Ever since LeBron James came home to the team that draft him they have made the Finals every year with them winning the title in 2016, but alas the 2017/18 Cleveland Cavaliers look nothing like the East-conquering titans that they have been for the last 3 seasons, and here’s why.
Last season the Cavs were lights out beyond the arc. They were 2nd in the NBA in team 3 point percentage at 38.4% and made the 2nd most 3s per game at 13. Kyle Korver was knocking down nearly 50% of his threes, Channing Frye was hitting roughly 41% of his triples and they had Kyrie Irving who is a sniper from beyond the arc.
This year the Cavs just don’t have the same lethality from long range and that really hurts them and their game plan. They are only making 35.1% of their 3s this season which puts them 18th in the league this season.
Floor spacing is a vital part of any NBA offense and the Cavs really need players like JR Smith to start knocking them down with rhythm and regularity or it’s not worth them being on the floor.
4. No clear message
One of the main reasons why Michael Jordan retired for the first time in 1993 was that he had spent so long at the top that he no longer felt the drive to be the best, and if he didn’t have that drive then there was no point in him playing anymore.
Teams need a clear and direct message that resonates throughout their squad so that everyone knows what the goal is how they are going to get there. The Cavs right now just are just a collection of individuals that look like they are playing basketball for their own individual ends. The Boston Celtics have won 10 straight games as of 11/10/2017 because they as a team are locked in when they are on the floor due to the message that has been instilled in them since day one: beat the Cavs.
The NBA is a young man’s game. Yes, with age comes wisdom and experience, but it get’s to the point where being younger and fresher with some experience is far better than being worn out and tired with a lot of experience.
This is heavily being shown by the Cavaliers this season.
The average age for teams this season is about 26.6 years, the Cavs have the oldest squad in the league with an average age of around 30.1 years. That’s more than a whole year older than the next oldest team which is the Golden State Warriors who (28.8 years).
The top 5 players for the Cavs in terms of minutes played per game have an average age of 30. Compare this to the Boston Celtics whose top 5 players in terms of minutes per game have an average age of just under 24 years. The Celtics are younger, more energetic and are much more up for the challenge the Cavaliers right now.
This article has really just turned into comparing the Cavs and the Celtics, but that’s because the Celtics are so much better than the Cavs right now and if the Cavs want to ascend up the Eastern conference then they have to sort out their team defense.
The Cavs have one of the worst defenses in the league and they will continue to lose a large proportion of their games unless something like a miracle comes along. After 12 games the Cavs have the 29th worst opponent field-goal percentage (48.3%), the worst opponent 3 point percentage (41.1%) and allow the 2nd most points per game by their opponents at 114.2.
By contrast, the Celtics have one of the best defenses in the NBA and lead the league in defensive rating (97.7). This is a combination of two keys aspects; the team ethos and the individuals inside the defensive unit.
The Celtics have been expertly coached by Brad Stevens in prioritizing a stellar team defense. They take a huge amount of pride in stopping their opponent from scoring and it will be their main focus when and Celtic player steps onto the floor.
Boston also has terrific athletes at many positions who play a lot of minutes. Ok, so Kyrie Irving isn't known for being a great defender but that was mainly due to lack of effort. Coach Stevens seems to have persuaded him to exert more effort on that end of the floor.
As for the rest of the roster, sliding Horford back to the power-forward was an obvious move that needed making as it allows him to guard players more his size and players like Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum are all great athletes who have the energy and tenacity to really bring it to the players they’re guarding.
This combo of a team and individual defense is something the Cavs do not have and it looks very unlikely to be sorted sometime soon.
1. LeBron is too good for his own good
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but LeBron James is still the best basketball player in the world, even in his 15th season in the league. The numbers he continues to put are simply astounding and yet he still seems to be underappreciated.
This season at the age of 33 he’s averaging 29.3 points, 8.9 assists, 7.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.2 blocks per game...and he’s doing that whilst shooting a career high from both the field (60.1%) and the free throw line (83.1%).
Even into his 15th season people aren’t realizing that LeBron is so good that it can appear sometimes that he doesn’t need anyone else. At the end of LeBron’s first stint in Cleveland, the Cavs were one of the best teams in the NBA winning 127 out of their 164 regular season games in 2009 and 2010. When LeBron left to join Miami the next season the Cavs were the 2nd worst team in the league only winning 19 games.
LeBron is so good that he takes teams of average players to the top of the league, and because of that it may appear that he doesn’t need any help, but even the King needs support. LeBron is not a God (I know, shocker). He is coming to the end of his career and he can’t do it all himself over an entire season anymore. The Cavs don’t the necessary complementary pieces needed for them to succeed with LeBron at the helm.
Players like Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade sounded good when they signed for Cleveland but in reality, they are both too old and too poor from the outside for them to be effective alongside LBJ. The Cavs needed to sign some more athletic 3 and D players who don’t need the ball in their hands to be effective.
It’s sad fact that I have to see my favorite athlete ever struggle when I know just how hard is playing for his city. Unless there is something drastic in the Cavs approach to how they’re playing or there is a big reshuffle come All-Star break then it looks to be a very disappointing season for the Cavs, which may end up in LeBron leaving Cleveland this offseason.