5 Areas Where the Cleveland Cavaliers Must Improve Next Season

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterApril 14, 2014

5 Areas Where the Cleveland Cavaliers Must Improve Next Season

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Cleveland Cavaliers have officially missed out on the NBA playoffs for the fourth consecutive year and now face a long and disappointing offseason.

    It's hard to point to just one or two areas in which the Cavs need to improve. While the defense was better than a season ago, the offense looked like it took a step back. Consistency was nonexistent, as were the efforts put forth by players on some nights.

    Cleveland faces some big decisions regarding the future of guys like Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Spencer Hawes and Mike Brown. The Cavs also need to decide on a full-time general manager.

    No matter who they choose to bring back and who to part ways with, these five areas must be improved for the Cavaliers to make the playoffs next season.

    All stats via NBA.com/stats.com unless otherwise noted.

Converting at the Basket

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    Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    Cleveland ranked dead last in field-goal percentage within five feet of the basket this season at just 54.5 percent.

    To better tell the story of the importance of converting from in close, the Milwaukee Bucks (54.6 percent) and Philadelphia 76ers (54.6 percent) round out the bottom three of the league. The top three? Just the Miami Heat (67.5 percent), Los Angeles Clippers (66.0 percent) and San Antonio Spurs (63.5 percent).

    Part of the problem is that the Cavaliers don't feature a traditional back-to-the-basket big man. Their current starter at center, Spencer Hawes, is attempting nearly four three-pointers per game and prefers to play outside the paint.

    Tristan Thompson, who's started every game for the Cavs at power forward, shoots just 53.8 percent from within five feet while having gotten his shot blocked a whopping 80 times.

    Even Dion Waiters, who excels at getting to the basket, is converting fewer than half of his shot attempts (49.5 percent) once he gets to the rim.

    It may just be a matter of developing their existing young talent, but the Cavs could go out and try to get an effective post player this summer.

Interior Defense

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Cleveland hasn't employed an inside shot-blocking threat since the days of Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

    This needs to change, and fast.

    Opponents had their way with the Cavaliers inside the paint this season. The Cavs blocked just 3.7 shots per game, good for 29th in the league. Anderson Varejao led the team with 0.6 blocks per contest, which was tied for 70th overall in the NBA.

    Spencer Hawes actually chipped in 0.96 blocks while with Cleveland, but that was only in his 26 games with the team.

    Opposing players having no one to fear while driving the lane resulted in a field-goal percentage of 61.4 percent within five feet of the hoop, which is the sixth-highest mark in the league.

    Varejao is a solid post defender, but limited vertically and may not even be back with the team next season.

    The Cavs need young players like Tristan Thompson (0.4 blocks) and Tyler Zeller (0.5 blocks) to become better rim protectors. They could also look for one in the draft or free agency.

Consistent Effort and Intensity

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Effort has been a huge problem for the Cavaliers this season, which is kind of sad given how much money these guys are making to play basketball.

    At times, Cleveland has looked unstoppable. Guys will move the ball beautifully on offense and put forth maximum effort on defense. This will last for a few possessions, quarters or sometimes even a full game.

    The next night, the Cavs will come out flat and look generally disinterested.

    While their record will end up being the best it's been since 2009-10, this was the most frustrating season to watch in years due to the team's inconsistency.

    Here are a couple of quick examples.

    On November 9, the Cavs lost to the lowly Boston Celtics 103-86, yet came back the following night to top the Chicago Bulls 97-93.

    In early January, sandwiched between wins over the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers, the Cavs lost to the Sacramento Kings by 44 points.

    Toward the beginning of March, with the playoffs on the line, Cleveland lost to the New York Knicks at home, yet won its next two road games over the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors.

    There were so many games throughout the course of the season that the Cavs could have won just by showing the type of effort we know they were capable of putting forth.

    That kind of consistent play has to be on display at all times next year.

Defending Outside Shooters

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    USA TODAY Sports

    As soft as the Cavaliers were in the paint, they did an equally poor job defending the three-point line.

    Mike Brown's defense allowed more three-point shot attempts (25.4) and makes (9.3) per game than any other NBA team during the 2013-14 season. Its 36.8 percent conversion rate was the eighth-highest allowed to an opponent in the league.

    While defensive effort was a problem, so was the personnel.

    Neither Kyrie Irving nor Dion Waiters are strong perimeter defenders. 82games.com indicates that C.J. Miles was actually having a good season by holding opposing shooting guards to a 13.5 player efficiency rating, but has played just two minutes since spraining his ankle on February 19.

    Cleveland needs to do a better job of protecting the three-point line and forcing opponents into taking contested shots.

    Irving and Waiters' willingness to buy in and become better defenders will be key for the Cavs next season.

Complicating the Offense

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    Mark Duncan

    Normally, simplifying an offense is the way to go for a team to succeed.

    When discussing a Mike Brown offense, however, one may struggle to simplify it any further.

    Cleveland ranked 24th in offensive rating this season, despite having the likes of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Luol Deng, Spencer Hawes and Jarrett Jack.

    After Hawes was traded from the Philadelphia 76ers to Cleveland, he told Brown he already had a good idea of everything the Cavs did on offense after playing just one game against them.

    According to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal, Brown agreed. “You probably do. What you went over in your scouting report is all we do,” he said.

    Unlike teams such as the San Antonio Spurs or Miami Heat, where plans are drawn up specifically to put players in spots to succeed, Brown's offense typically entails a single pick-and-roll or isolation play.

    Because of this, the team's overall shooting suffered. Cleveland converted just 43.5 percent of its shots from the field this season, ranking 27th in the NBA.

    A team with this much offensive talent shouldn't be this bad.

    Whether they decide to bring back Brown or not, the Cavs need to hire someone else to run the offense in Cleveland.