Thursday, November 6, 2014

Cavs Interior Defense

As much fun as it is to psycho-analyze LeBron, throw shade at Kyrie and enjoy everything about Dion Waiters, we shouldn't let it all overshadow the fundamental problem the Cavs have right now - they can't protect the rim. If another team gets the ball into the lane, it's too easy to score.

Here's a nice trend that is starting to develop on this West Coast road trip:

Robin Lopez: 19 points, 8-11 shooting
Derrick Favors: 21 points, 9-13 shooting
Enes Kanter: 18 points on 8-13 shooting.

They better thank the basketball gods they don't have to swing through Sacramento right now. Matching up with Timofey Mozgov and Jusuf Nurkic in Denver will be tough enough.

I would be a lot more worried about the Portland loss than the Utah one, which came in altitude on the second night of a back-to-back against one of the biggest front-lines in the league. No offense to my man Ro Lo, but if he's going to big boy you out of the game, you could be in trouble. If you are a C worth your salt, you are looking at Cleveland's front-line and getting excited. As Shaq would say - BBQ chicken! The good news for Kevin Love is that not many NBA teams start two guys who can score with their back to the basket.

When they play Memphis, tho.

This was always going to be a problem with Cleveland's roster. None of Anderson Varejao, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson have averaged over a block a game in their career. Take a look at this Trevor Booker dunk and notice what Thompson is (not) doing.

For whatever reason, it appears that LeBron doesn't have too much respect for the C position. I guess he just figures he'll get enough scoring around him that he can blow bigger teams off the floor because that's twice he assembled a super-team without any concern for acquiring a big man who can control the paint. It eventually worked in Miami, but it's hard to watch what's going on in Cleveland and not think - didn't we just leave this party?

The Heat made up for their lack of size by trapping very aggressively and trying to overwhelm teams with their length and athleticism. LeBron and D Wade were defensive terrors in Miami's small-ball scheme, protecting the rim, turning other teams over and getting the game going up-and-down, where their superior athleticism could take over. The Big Three in Miami averaged 2.3 blocks a game in their first season together.

Even with all that, though, they were constantly having to make up for a lack of size upfront - Roy Hibbert pretty much made his reputation on three playoff series against Miami. Yet, somehow, Cleveland is even smaller. Chris Bosh is WAY longer, more athletic and capable of playing interior defense than Kevin Love. The Cavs don't even have someone like Chris "Birdman" Anderson on their roster right now - the Heat don't win a second ring without him.

** Javale McGee to Cleveland has to happen, for so many different reasons.

There are ways to overcome such a deficiency, but they require everyone working together and playing on a string on both sides of the ball. It's going to take some time for it all to sort out. My guess is Cleveland is going to have to out-score other teams because I don't see the personnel on hand to dictate tempo on the defensive end of the floor, especially as LeBron's athletic ability slips as he goes deeper into his 30's.

In essence, the Cavs are a boxer with a weak chin. They have got a really strong over-hand right, but they got to protect that chin and any guy with enough power can take them down.

Looking over the rest of the month, they don't face a ton of imposing front-lines. The one opponent that jumps out in their next few games is Anthony Davis, as they don't have anyone on the roster who can challenge his shot and prevent him from living at the rim. If David Blatt can figure out a way for this team to defend AD, he really is a basketball genius.

We should get a glimpse of how much they have improved their interior defense in the middle of November, when they go SA (Duncan), at WAS (Nene/Gortat), TOR (Jonas), ORL (Vucevic), WAS. They should be glad they aren't in the West - imagine if they had to run a gauntlet like the Kings do at the end of November, when they play 8 Southwest Division games in a little over 2 weeks.

The toughest stretch of games they have in the near future probably comes in the middle of December:

12/12 - at New Orleans (Davis)
12/15 - Charlotte (Al Jefferson)
12/17 - Atlanta (Al Horford)
12/19 - Brooklyn (Brook Lopez)
12/21 - Memphis (Z-Bo and Marc Gasol)
12/23 - Minnesota (Nik Pekovic)

They better be guarding those guys as a team, because they don't have anyone on hand who can guard them individually.

The stuff about sharing the ball and figuring out roles on the offense - that will get settled eventually. An inability to protect the rim and match-up with bigger front-lines, though, could be their Achilles heel all season.


  1. this was the fear coming into the season, and it's coming true.

    i don't understand why thompson isn't a better interior defender. you would think his athleticism would help make up for some of his lack of size.

    i hope it was a joke, but as a clevelander i cannot abide a trade for mcgee. i don't want to see that guy anywhere near the cavs...

  2. I remember watching Tristan Thompson at UT, when he averaged 2 blocks a game as a freshman. His length and athleticism means there's no reason why he couldn't be better at interior defense - its a lot like Thomas Robinson.