The Cleveland Cavaliers Win Streak Matters Less Than it Seems

— November 30th 2017

LeBron James’s excellence combined with an easy schedule usually spells good things for the Cleveland Cavaliers. This win streak, however, doesn’t change the fact that the Cavs are majorly hurting.

By Dylan Hughes

It was a tad worrisome to see the Cleveland Cavaliers off to a 5-7 start in the 2017-18 season. Not just because of the record alone, but because of how poorly they were playing. After losing Kyrie Irving in the offseason, the Cavs were already coming in weaker—especially considering his replacement, Isaiah Thomas, was and is still shelved.

To compound that issue, the guards slated to fill Thomas’s shoes were Jose Calderon and Derrick Rose. Calderon basically does nothing anymore; he’s scored in double figures once in eight appearances. Rose is currently injured and considering an early retirement.

The best option for the Cavs at this point is simply using LeBron James as the point guard and surrounding him with shooters. To help their spacing, they have started Kevin Love at center. And after beginning the year as a starter, Dwyane Wade has moved to a reserve role in favor of JR Smith. They have plenty of other options to fill in the empty spaces, some being better than others. Kyle Korver is still very good, shooting 44.3 percent from three this season. Channing Frye has had to play backup center with Tristan Thompson hurt. Jeff Green has had an impact, and Wade can still score in bunches if need be.

None of those players are without glaring holes in their game, however. None of them are good defenders. Green and Wade are not good long-range shooters. Jae Crowder, who is starting in Cleveland, is playing his worst ball since being traded to Boston in 2015.

Before the team’s current nine-game winning streak, they ranked dead last in the league in defensive rating at 113.1. They had the league’s third best offense, but it wasn’t enough to make for a respectable net rating (-4.1, 24th in the league.)

They lost games to the Magic, Nets, Knicks and Hawks—teams they would have had no trouble handling in the past.

During the current win streak, they have at least been able to beat those lesser teams. What does that prove, though? At this point, we just expect a Cavaliers-Warriors Finals matchup every year. In this stretch of nine straight wins, just two were over teams above .500—Detroit and Philadelphia. The rest are a combined 48-71 (as of now), which equals out to a .403 winning percentage.

Thanks to injuries, the Cavs have had to try a ton of different lineups, many of which have not performed well. Their most used lineup of Calderon, Smith, James, Crowder and Love—their current starting unit—has played 92 minutes together and has a net rating of 15.5. When you swap in Iman Shumpert for Calderon—their next most used lineup at 80 minutes—that lineup has a net rating of -14.2.

It’s hard to believe that starting unit will sustain such a positive net rating, even though they still have a relatively easy stretch of games upcoming. There’s also a chance that Thomas returns in mid-December, per recent reports, and Cleveland won’t have to worry about playing Calderon any longer.

The players around LeBron don’t matter a ton right now, especially considering he’s putting up some of the best numbers of his career. At 28.2 points (58 percent from the field, 42 percent from three), 8.2 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game, James is looking like the best player in the world and then some.

This roster is still fatally flawed, though, and their 102.3 defensive rating during the win streak won’t hold through April. Especially when Thomas joins the party.

Winning nine games in a row is great no matter the competition, but Cleveland’s problems haven’t gone away. Any team with LeBron James has a really good shot at the Finals, but this team has a lot of work to do to prove they can reign supreme in the East once again this season.

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