2019–2020 NBA Season Previews: Cleveland Cavaliers
Head Coach: John Beilein
Last Season: 19–63, 14th in Eastern Conference
- PG: Darius Garland
- SG: Collin Sexton
- SF: Cedi Osman
- PF: Kevin Love
- C: Tristan Thompson
Additions: Tyler Cook (R), Darius Garland (R), Alfonzo McKinnie, Kevin Porter Jr. (R), Dean Wade (R), Dylan Windler (R).
Losses: Deng Adel, Jaron Blossomgame, Marquese Chriss, Channing Frye, David Nwaba, J.R. Smith, Nik Stauskas.
Year one of the second post-LeBron era in Cleveland brought the same results as the starting year of the first: a 19–63 record and not much optimism for the imminent future. Despite being projected to win more games than in the 2010–11 season when LeBron left the first time, things turned out just the same last year as they did eight seasons ago.
After an uninspiring 0–6 start, the Cavaliers fired the head coach that helped bring the franchise its first championship in Tyronn Lue. Cleveland replaced Lue with Larry Drew, who reportedly was hesitant about even taking the position at first. That alone should indicate how poor of a season it was last year in Northeast Ohio.
Another reason for the Cavs struggles was that their best player, Kevin Love, constantly battled injuries for almost all of the season. Love played in just 22 games last year, and while he did average a double-double a night in points and rebounds a game, he shot the worst field goal percentage of his career at 38.5%.
One move that surprised a lot of people early on last season was the Cavaliers choosing to sign Love to a multi-year contract extension. Given the Cavaliers were entering a rebuild, many believed they would look to deal Love to a contender.
It seems Love has been involved with trade rumors since the minute he stepped foot in Cleveland, and now that the team is no longer winning games consistently, the speculation has only grown that Love’s days in the wine and gold are numbered. If the Cavaliers do decide to deal Love, it will be interesting to see what they could get in return for him. While he isn’t a superstar anymore, he is still a double-double threat every night and one of the premier power forwards in the NBA.
On the surface, it appeared that the Cavs point guard Collin Sexton had a superb rookie season. The “Young Bull” averaged 16.7 points per game, shot 40.3% from 3-point range, and became just the third rookie in NBA history to average 16 points per game while shooting 40% from deep and 80% from the free throw line (Larry Bird, Stephen Curry).
The advanced analytics, however, tell a much different story.
While Sexton shot over 40% from the 3-point line, only 3.5 of his near 15 field goal attempts per game came from downtown. Sexton shot more long 2-pointers than almost anyone in the NBA last season, as he was one of five players in the NBA to average 3.5 or more shots from 16–24 feet away from the basket. Sexton was inefficient on those shots as well and only converted on 44% of his 11.1 2-point attempts per game. His effective field goal percentage finished at just 48%, eight points worse than league average.
Another area Sexton struggled in was passing. Coming out of college, Sexton was known as a shoot-first point guard, and that’s exactly what he did in his rookie season. Sexton led the team in field goal attempts last year and averaged just 3.0 assists per game compared to 2.3 turnovers a contest. Simply put it, that’s not going to get it done as a point guard at the NBA level. When your starting point guard has the seventh best assist percentage on the team, and your backup center is a better facilitator than your point guard, changes must be made. Sexton must do a better job at finding teammates and getting the entire offense involved.
Sexton also struggled mightily on the defensive end. The Cavs point guard allowed a league worse 1.07 points per possession last season on pick-and-roll ball handlers. The Cavs defense allowed 117 points per game last season while Sexton was on the floor, and that number improved to 109.8 when he exited the court.
Sexton did improve as the season went on last year, as he started taking more outside shots and less contested mid-range jumpers. Despite this, he still put together one of the worst rookie seasons in recent memory. Only two players last year who played more than 70 games had a worse point differential per 100 possessions than Sexton (Kevin Knox and Cedi Osman). On top of that, Sexton’s -3.69 wins added were two and a half wins less than the next worst point guard in the league (Frank Ntilkina, -1.19).
Cedi Osman is another young player who showed signs of development as the season progressed. “The First Cedi” averaged 13.0 points on 50.4% effective field goal shooting to go with 4.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. He also shot 34.8% from 3-point range.
While Osman showed more promise from year one to two, he will still have to improve his outside shooting percentages, finishing at the rim and defense. With rookie Dylan Windler gunning for Osman’s starting small forward spot, the Turkish wing will have to up his production on the defensive end. Osman ranked just 92nd out of 94 small forwards last season with a -3.59 Defensive Real Plus-Minus, beating out only Jamal Crawford and Kevin Knox.
Along with Osman, another player who should continue to get plenty of looks offensively is Jordan Clarkson. The five-year veteran is a gunner on offense who is never afraid to shoot the ball. Despite coming off the bench, I project Clarkson to take the most shots of any Cavalier this season. He averaged a career high 16.8 points per game last season in 81 games off the bench. Clarkson is still a one-dimensional player at this point, as he struggles with his efficiency, playmaking, shot selection and defense.
The Cavaliers did very well in the NBA Draft this past June, as Cleveland selected Darius Garland, Kevin Porter Jr. and Dylan Windler. While it seems unlikely, all three of these players could find themselves in the starting lineup by the end of the season. Given how underwhelming the Cavs projected lineup currently is and how many games Cleveland is expected to lose, the three first-round picks could all see themselves in the starting five at some point.
Many people questioned the Cavaliers decision to draft Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland in the lottery of the 2019 Draft. For the second straight year, the Cavaliers drafted a point guard in the lottery after taking Collin Sexton eighth overall in the 2018 Draft. Drafting Garland could mean that the Cavs don’t have much faith in Sexton moving forward. Despite playing just five games as Commodore before going down with an injury, Garland averaged 16.8 points per game, shot 47.8% from 3-point land and had an impressive 63.9% effective field goal percentage. Garland biggest strength in the NBA will be his shooting and his natural ability to score.
I can see Garland thriving in a secondary ball handling role. While he is a good scorer, he had more turnovers than assists and struggles with his passing. Garland also doesn’t have much potential on defense due to his skinny frame and lack of muscle. This lack of strength also impedes his ability to finish at the rim on offense.
Kevin Porter Jr., may be the most polarizing player in this year’s draft class. On one hand, “KPJ” is a flashy athlete who can score with ease, shoot off the dribble, and handle the rock. On the other hand, he shot just 52% from the free throw line, averaged less than 10 points per game in his lone season at USC and showed signs of immaturity throughout his only college season.
While Porter should be a solid scorer, he has to improve his decision making at the next level. He finished his freshman season with nine more turnovers than assists and had an offensive rating of just 92.3. Porter’s defense should be average at the pro level given he has all the physical tools to be successful on that end, but his awareness on D must improve.
The third rookie the Cavs took in the first round, Dylan Windler, is an unusual prospect. He is a 6-foot-8 wing that can shoot with the best of them and rebounds like a madman. Windler averaged 21.3 points and 10.8 rebounds a game as a senior at Belmont while posting a slashline of 52–43–87. As mentioned, he is a tenacious rebounder who posted a defensive rebounding rate of 27.3% last year.
Windler has also shown an elite ability to finish at the rim, as the combo forward converted on 74% of his attempts near the basket last season. While these numbers may be a byproduct of weaker competition out of the Ohio Valley Conference, Windler still figures to be an intriguing prospect moving forward.
X-Factor: Larry Nance Jr.
It seemed like Larry Nance Jr., was the only Cavalier that played solid defense last season. According to Defensive Player Impact Plus-Minus, Nance was the only Cavalier with a PIPM over 1. Nance also ranked fourth in the entire NBA last season in steal percentage.
Nance won’t ever be an elite offensive player, but is still a solid option on that end as a rim runner, passer and is improving as a shooter. Tristan Thompson will start over Nance, but the son of former Cavalier legend Larry Nance Sr., should still make a considerable impact, especially on defense.
Can Darius Garland and Collin Sexton start together?
The simple answer for me is no… absolutely not. Some have said that this duo could become a Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum type tandem, but I don’t see it.
For one thing, Garland and Sexton’s playstyles are very similar, and I can’t see them blending well together. Neither of these two guards can pass the ball particularity well, would could lead to a lot of predictable isolations, stagnant offensive sets, and shot hunting. Garland can play off the ball because of his shooting, but he won’t get that many opportunities to shoot if Sexton doesn’t improve his passing.
Not only would Garland and Sexton not do well on offense together, but their defense would be catastrophic. Both players are projected to perform poorly on the defensive end moving forward, and putting both of them on the court together could be easy pickins for opposing offenses. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cavs tinkered with trading Sexton this season.
What does John Beilein bring as a coach?
After 12 seasons at the University of Michigan, John Beilein has made his way to the professional ranks to join the Cleveland Cavaliers as head coach. Beilein has the reputation of being an expert game manager and great developer, as he brought in several lower rated players at Michigan and turned them into pros.
If one thing is for sure, it’s that John Beilein will look to get the most out of his players and has a great history of being a great mentor and teacher to his teams. Beilein overachieved at Michigan, and has the chance to do so again in Cleveland. While he’ll certainly have his work cut out for him, Beilein should serve as a great coach for the Cavs as he’ll look to implement his two-guard, motion based perimeter offense.
Last season was a disaster for the Cavaliers. Their play on the court was subpar and off the court things were even worse. J.R. Smith left the team, Collin Sexton was criticized by teammates for “not knowing how to play,” Tristan Thompson had several issues off the floor, and the team went through two head coaches and 27 different players.
After all the drama and losing last year, things should get a little better for the Cavaliers this time around, but not by much. I project the Cavaliers win total to be in the low twenties.