Say what you want about Mike Brown, but the man knows how to coach a defense.
A former assistant coach to defensive mastermind Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs from 2000-2003, Brown has built a reputation as a premier defensive coach in his own right.
During his first tenure in Cleveland, the Cavs never ranked worse than 10th overall in opponent points per game, and led the league in the category during the 2008-09 season according to basketball-reference.com.
That season the Cavs finished 66-16, the best record in the NBA.
Lately, though, the Cavaliers' defense has been a mess.
On a team riddled with injuries, Cleveland has ranked 23rd, 26th and 25th in opponent scoring the past three years. Their defensive identity has been nonexistent, with even their star player, Kyrie Irving, showing little interest on that side of the ball.
Enter Brown, who can turn the Cavs' defense around quickly, mostly by following the same principles he used the first time around.
From 2005-2010, Brown didn't actually have a lot of elite defenders on the roster. LeBron James got better year by year, Anderson Varejao made an All-Defense second team in 2010 and Delonte West did a nice job of containing opposing guards.
Other than that, all other Cavs during this time could have only been considered above-average at best. Ben Wallace is another name that comes to mind, but he was well past his Detroit Pistons-prime by the time he was traded to Cleveland.
This time around, Cleveland still has Varejao, but for how many games? Tristan Thompson has the potential to be a very good post defender. Alonzo Gee can guard multiple perimeter positions, but has the ceiling of a sixth man at best. Surprisingly, guard Wayne Ellington allowed the lowest opponent efficiency rating of any Cavs player at just a 13.4 rating, according to 82games.com.
Right now, the Cavs don't have a lot of reliable man-to-man defenders—an issue they'll most likely try to solve in the draft.
The addition of a shot-blocking center like Nerlens Noel or a do-it-all small forward like Otto Porter would certainly help Brown patch the Cavs' defense next season.
No one will ever confuse Mike Brown for Mike D'Antoni—and that's OK.
Brown's teams prefer to slow things down and operate in half-court sets. The Cavs from 2005-2010 ranked 19th, 18th, 25th, 25th and 25th in pace of play, per basketball-reference.com.
Teams that rely on fast-break scoring opportunities often struggle against Brown's defenses, as they force opponents to attempt to score on them in the half court, taking away their speed and athleticism.
While this can be detrimental on the offensive side of the ball, the defense should thrive if given the right players.
Since he didn't have a lot of elite defenders with the Cavs from 2005-10, Brown used a lot of sets that required help defense.
This meant a lot of responsibilities for each and every defender, and (perhaps too often) had big men at the top of the key putting additional pressure on the ball-handler.
Rotation will be the key for Brown's team next season, as everyone will likely have to work a little bit harder on the defensive end. As Brown stated in his press conference, the team "may hear language they’ve never heard before" when referring to practicing his different defenses.
Getting the younger players to buy into his systems early will be key, as will veterans like Anderson Varejao leading by example. Varejao may be the most valuable player this training camp, as he'll likely be the only player still on the roster from Brown's first tenure in Cleveland. His work with the younger post players like Thompson and Tyler Zeller will be critical for their defensive development.
The first time Brown was in Cleveland, he didn't hold every player to the same standard on the defensive end.
This has to change.
There can't be any special treatment for star players. Every single player must be held accountable for his own actions, be they good or bad. On a roster so young, it's crucial Brown have control of his players from the beginning, and know that their playing time will largely depend on their ability to defend.
No longer a rookie head coach like he was back in 2005-06, Brown should be much better in his leadership and overall command of the locker room.
Look for the Cavs' defense to be much improved in 2013-14, thanks to coach Brown.