What We've Learned About 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers so Far
That's all the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers have played in 2014-15. Two games. One win. One loss. That's not a lot to go off. And yet, somehow, we still know the sky is falling in Cleveland.
Fine. It's not. It can't be.
Season-defining lessons aren't learned through two games—no matter the team, no matter the players. These Cavaliers are still in their infancy, trying to figure things out. Reading too much into their initial performance would be inexplicably hyperbolic and, frankly, incredibly foolish.
It's a good thing we're not here to overreact then.
Though it's still early, the Cavaliers' opening games—a loss to the New York Knicks and an overtime victory over the Chicago Bulls—have been informative. Said information could change on a whim, but for now, it's still valuable intel. So let's acknowledge and dissect it—free from overreactions and falling skies.
(Super)Stars Aren't Aligned Just Yet
Looking up and down the Cavaliers' roster, it's hard not to entertain the idea of them having an historical offense.
LeBron James. Kevin Love. Kyrie Irving. It's enough to get the blood pumping and send the point-piling aspirations skyward. But in order for the Cavaliers to make history, their superstars need to make nice.
In other words, they need to sync up.
Irving, James and Love don't seem to know one another's tendencies just yet (which is totally understandable), and it shows. James committed eight turnovers in Cleveland's debut, something he only did three times in the previous four years. He looked uncharacteristically and unsettlingly sloppy, and he explained why afterward, per Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick:
I'm throwing passes where I was hoping that some of my teammates were, and they were not there, and that will come with each game, each practice. It's a team that's learning each other. The one in the corner, where Kyrie [Irving], I thought he was gonna stay in the corner, he cut backdoor. There was another one late, when I thought Kevin [Love] was gonna kind of roll, he popped.
Chemistry isn't forged overnight—or even over the course of days. It's going to take weeks or months before James, Irving and Love can anticipate what the other two are doing. In the meantime, there will be some awkward, bordering on careless, mistakes. There were even some—though not many—in their victory over the Bulls. These miscues are all part of the process.
They're all part of progress.
The Cavaliers Are Going to Run
The Cavaliers are not going to be habitually fast. They aren't trying to tank, nor are they trying to just outrun all their opponents. They actually rank in the bottom five of possessions used so far.
The speed we're talking about is situational speed.
Through their first two games, the Cavaliers haven't been afraid to throw outlet passes. Whenever they have an opportunity—usually off an opponent's missed shot—they're leaking one person down the court and trying to get easy buckets in an approach that's proved moderately successful.
They're only averaging 15.5 fast-break points per contest, which would have ranked ninth last season, per TeamRankings.com. But through two games, they've already established the blueprint. Defenses will have to figure out a way to limit these opportunities as the Cavs become more comfortable alongside one another.
Unless, of course, they decide to stop.
Which, of course, they won't.
The Bench Is a Work in Progress
Just like pretty much everything else, the Cavaliers' bench is a work in progress.
Those outside the starting lineup will have to find their place in the offense. On most nights, it doesn't look like David Blatt will stretch his rotation more than eight or nine deep. If the Cavaliers want to avoid playing their Big Three extensively—specifically James, who has logged 85 minutes through two games—they'll need bigger contributions from the second unit.
Right now, the bench is averaging 16 points per game. That would have ranked last in 2013-14, and it's not even close, per HoopStats.com. The Portland Trail Blazers had the league's worst second unit last year, and they still tallied nearly 24 points a night. Even the Miami Heat's bench registered 29-plus points per game.
Two contests aren't enough to write the second unit's obituary. But as of now, the Cavaliers are a shallow team that's too reliant on Thompson to carry the supporting cast. That, like so many other things, needs to change.
Cleveland Will Hit the Offensive Glass...Hard
Offensive rebounding has been a strength of Cleveland's thus far. And if Thompson has anything to say about it, that won't change.
During the Cavaliers' win over the Bulls, Thompson collected 12 offensive rebounds. That's a lot—enough to overshadow the fact that he brought down just one on the defensive end.
Still, this isn't about his performance alone. The Cavaliers collected 11 offensive boards against the Knicks, in addition to the 20 they hauled in against the Bulls.
No team in the NBA averaged more than 14.6 offensive rebounds last year, and Cleveland probably won't match or exceed that number. But with the aggression many of the Cavs are showing on offensive box-outs, this could be a top-five offensive rebounding team.
There Will Be Shots for Everyone
Well, almost everyone.
Much was made of the Cavaliers' offensive parity. Who would be the third wheel? Could all three of Irving, James and Love deal with attempting fewer shots?
Would the NBA allow them to play with a second ball?
"After I was traded this summer, I kept hearing about how our challenge was going to be figuring out how to share the ball among LeBron, Kyrie and myself," Love wrote for The Players' Tribune. "Reporters kept asking me how I felt about it."
He, along with James and Irving, probably feel pretty good about it following their win in Chicago.
Love and Irving attempted 17 shots apiece; James hoisted 30. Granted, they were afforded an extra five minutes of action, but 24 of James' shots came in regulation, as did all 17 of Love's.
Not one of them attempted more than 18.5 shots per game last year. When the ball is moving properly—and with the bench as shallow as it is—there shouldn't be many sacrifices to make. All three could realistically attempt 17-plus shots a game.
Perhaps they won't. Dion Waiters is on this team, after all. But it's not out of the question. And that it's possible at all should make this compromise-crammed transition slightly easier.
Dynasties Aren't Built Overnight
Championships aren't won in October. They also aren't won in November or December.
Patience is key for the Cavaliers. They were never going to mesh overnight, only to obliterate opponents immediately. This team needs time, just like the 2010-11 Heat did when they began the year 9-8.
It doesn't matter that they play in the Eastern Conference, that they house three top-15 stars or that they've been hyped up so much—anything less than near-perfection constitutes failure. This is a project. James made that clear in his return letter for Sports Illustrated. It could be weeks before the Cavaliers become who they're expected to be. It could be longer.
"No one should be stunned if the Cavs require a year and some more roster maneuvering to bring home a title," wrote The Plain Dealer's Bud Shaw. "It's dangerous to expect it to arrive on the doorstep like an overnight delivery."
Whenever it all comes together, the result should be amazing. The Cavaliers should be every bit as dominant as they're supposed to be. Until then, it's the job of the players and fans to stick out the grace period—however long it lasts, however tough it gets.