Grading Mike Brown with Cleveland Cavaliers so Far

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Grading Mike Brown with Cleveland Cavaliers so Far
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown hasn't been the easiest coach to watch through the first six weeks of the NBA regular season.

Despite being rehired this offseason with the full confidence of the Cavs front office, Brown has yet to deliver the bevy of wins expected from this season's promising young roster. While responsibility for the Cavs' underwhelming 7-13 record does partially fall on the players, it's been far easier to discredit Brown, whose preferred style of defensively rugged play has been as aesthetically pleasing as a Salvador Dali painting—just an utter mess on one end.

Still, outside of the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, the Eastern Conference is wide open this season, and the Cavs are on a relative tear since Nov. 30, including three home wins in their last four games.

With nearly one quarter of the season over and early player evaluations taken care of, it's time to pass judgement on what has gone right, wrong or just flat-out ugly for Coach Brown.

 

Offense: D+

David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

Let's not sugarcoat this one: The Cavs offense under Brown has been bad.

As it stands, the team is scoring merely 94.5 points per 100 possessions—an offensive rating that is just barely above the Milwaukee Bucks' league-worst 94.4 mark.

The Cavs remain the league's worst offensive team within five feet of the basketball, and they collectively settle for too many mid-range jump shots, ranking second in shot attempts from both 10-14 and 15-19 feet.

And just as a cherry on top, the ball simply isn't moving, and that's not just on Kyrie Irving. As a team, the Cavs are next to last in assists per 100 of their own possessions, with 14.4—just above the Rudy Gay/DeMar DeRozan-led Toronto Raptors (13.8).

NBA.com/Stats
The Cleveland Cavaliers team shotchart so far for the 2013-14 season.

For his part, Coach Brown has admitted to spending 75 percent of the team's practice time preaching defense, leaving little room for any visible offensive development.

While spacing and ball movement are always going to be issues, Brown hasn't done himself nor the team any favors with his consistent roster shuffling through the early slate of games. Per Basketball-Reference, Brown has used eight different starting lineups so far this season, including seven through the team's first 16 games.

However, for all of Brown's difficulties generating offense, it's not as if Brown has been a complete failure on this end. He's finally settled on a winning starting lineup featuring Irving, C.J. Miles, Alonzo Gee, Tristan Thompson and Andrew Bynum.

Second-year guard Dion Waiters has been relegated to the bench where he's been more productive, averaging 15.4 points on 44.1 percent shooting compared to 13.3 points on 39.8 percent as a starter. Furthermore, Bynum in particular has seen his minutes and production steadily increase, giving the Cavs the low-post presence on offense and defense that they sorely needed.

Larger, glaring issues still remain. The team battles a dual identity when Bynum is on/off the court, which throws a wrench into its most effective big lineups. Players are still scrambling on offense because of the lack of coordinated ball and player movement.

While Brown has attempted to add a few noticeable plays, including HORNS sets and low pick-and-rolls, the offense frequently stops after the first action of either. Part of this will be resolved as the Cavs solidify their chemistry, but for Brown, he needs to allow the team to actually practice a coherent offense while adding wrinkles and countermoves to existing sets to generate more movement.

 

Defense: B+

David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

Despite defense being the hallmark of Brown's coaching style, the Cavs have been especially mercurial in the first few weeks when the opposing team has the ball.

To review: The Cavs opened the season as a borderline top-10 defense. They then dropped to nearly league-worst levels in adjusted defensive rating. For now, however, the Cavs have stabilized as a league-average 15th in defensive efficiency again, allowing an estimated 102.1 points per 100 possessions.

What can we make of this besides a lack of consistent effort?

Per Synergy Sports (subscription required), the Cavs have actually become an elite team at attacking the pick-and-roll ball-handler, with the 0.69 points per play (PPP) they yield ranking second in the league.

It's a similar scheme that the team has been utilizing all season: throw help defense at the ball-handler, rotate defenders and quickly recover around the pick. Although it leads to a foul in this particular play, its initial defense on Chris Paul helps cut down the deadlier of two evils.

Just as well, the team is proficient at defending against the roll man and spot-ups, similarly ranking ninth and eighth, respectively, against those plays.

What they aren't capable of defending are isolation plays, in which opponents are scorching them for 0.94 PPP—the worst isolation defense in the league. Fortunately, isolations have been limited to just 6.3 percent of opponents' total offense.

It's an odd testament to the fact that, although the Cavs lack any elite defensive specialists (apologies to Mr. Gee), their defensive system, when whirring, can be effective. Just ask the L.A. Clippers when they were held to a measly 32.2 percent shooting on Saturday night. 

 

Player Management: C+

Ned Dishman/Getty Images

It's safe to say that Mike Brown isn't exactly the most motivational person in the room. Nor has he shied away this season from (rightfully) calling out his team for a lack of effort.

At the same time, he's been consistent about avoiding throwing anyone in particular under the bus, referring instead to a collective need, by all players and staff, to improve. Following the Cavs' loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday, Mike Brown had this to say, per The Plain Dealer's Mary Schmitt Boyer:

"It's on all of us,'' Brown said as the Cavs fell to 6-13, 1-10 on the road. "It's on me. I've got to keep trying to a better job of getting them prepared better for the game -- mentally and physically. It's on everybody in that locker room. It's players and coaches. We've got to come out and we've got to compete for 48 minutes.''

In subjective terms, Brown understands the ramifications of a team's identity taking shape around its leadership.

He's coached some of the league's biggest superstars, and while his experiences with a certain Akron-native small forward could have gone better, he's learned to handle his current protege with trust, while avoiding the media-generated buzz around occasional enigmas such as Waiters and Anthony Bennett. After all, this isn't his first rodeo with Cleveland, and for now, management has given Brown its full support.

 

Final Grade: C+

There's a chance, if you're reading this, that you're not a fan of Mike Brown. Actually, you most likely don't have a fond opinion of Mike Brown.

But for the foreseeable future, he's not going anywhere, which should be fine. The Cavs are on pace for a 0.350 winning percentage—a best in the Irving era—and are in prime position to grab the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference should a single team slip, especially with Toronto's recent trade, as reported by ESPN's Brian Windhorst and Chris Broussard.

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If nothing else, remember that the San Antonio Spurs—arguably the team of the past decade and the team with which Brown learned what championship-level play looks like—have achieved success based on defense, stability and consistency.

These are all things the Cavs are currently striving for. They have one down. Brown has a fighting chance to take care of the rest.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all stats provided by NBA.com and current through Sunday, Dec. 8.

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