INDEPENDENCE (92.3 the Fan) – To say the game has passed somebody by is generally used as a figure of speech because of age. For the 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers, the game is literally passing them by through eight games.
The game is faster, but the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions are not.
It must be noted, that the 2004-05 Suns’ pace becomes bogged down by the pace of their opponents, so their own pace as a team would be more on par with those of the NBA in 2017. The fact presented by the above tweet just demonstrates that the rest of the league has caught up to the run-and-gun stylings of those Suns teams.
The Cavaliers average 100.58 possessions per game through their first eight, which is just two possessions more than last season. While the Cavaliers’ pace has not changed much, the top six teams in the NBA have a higher pace than that of the 2016-17 Brooklyn Nets, the top team in pace a year ago.
Head Coach Tyronn Lue often speaks at length about playing with pace, and has mentioned how long rebounds have been an issue for his poorly conditioned team getting back on defense. He also sees the team’s struggles to score as an issue defensively.
“I think the offense is having a negative effect on the defense,” Lue said. “When we’re not making shots and not scoring, I think it becomes mental. That’s for a lot of teams. When you’re not scoring, the defense drops.”
So is the Cavaliers’ issue at 3-5 about offense or defense?
Just like the measurement of pace, it goes both ways. In the same way a team’s pace statistic is currently calculated largely by how much pace an opponent plays with, the issue of stopping teams with more possessions is about getting both scores and stops.
The Cavaliers are currently doing neither, but with more shooting efficiency around the league, their lack of scoring may be as crippling as their 111.3 defensive rating, 2nd worst in the NBA.
“It’s incredible what’s going on in this league right now. The way guys are making shots, the way teams are shooting, I’ve never seen this before in my 15 years,” Guard Dwyane Wade said. “You make a run, you get it within two, then you miss a couple shots in a row, you’re down nine like this.”
Both Lue and Wade acknowledged that the core of the Cavaliers in their best three-year stretch were not defensive world-beaters, something well known at this point. It is even more evident now that without either Kyrie Irving or Isaiah Thomas, a lack of offense will be their undoing.
“Right now we’re not outscoring you, we’re not stopping you,” Wade added. “We’ve got to do one or the other, and we’ve got to figure that out quickly.”
The Cavaliers do not have tremendous defensive personnel by any stretch. Only four players on the roster in LeBron James, Jae Crowder, Iman Shumpert and JR Smith are known as defensive assets, while nearly all of them have been praised for their offense.
Lue remained steadfast that his team’s shots will fall eventually, and that will help the defense.