Matt Cianfrone is the newest contributor to Hickory-High. Over the next few weeks he’ll be offerring his Off-Season Help Guides, looking at how each team might upgrade itself in the draft or free-agency. You can follow him on Twitter, @Matt_Cianfrone.
After LeBron James left Cleveland many expected a long stretch of darkness before things would start to turn around. Luckily Kyrie Irving was even better than expected and the Cavs seem to have a much brighter future, much earlier on than many expected. In fact the Cavs were actually semi-contending for a playoff spot during the middle of the season before some injuries hit and tanking began.
The key for the Cavs is going to be surrounding Irving with the right combination of players so that he can continue to grow at a rapid pace, unlike what happened when Washington surrounded John Wall with headcases like JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche and Nick Young, and washed up veterans like Mo Evans and Rashard Lewis. The Cavs already have a couple of players that look like they may be part of that plan - Tristan Thompson, Omri Casspi, and if he’s resigned, Alonzo Gee. Looking at the past season though the area that the Cavs must improve on is very clear.Luckily for them they have a chance to address their issues in the draft. Unfortunately for them the free agent market is one that will be tougher on them. The biggest issue for the Cavs is that the positions they need players at, the wings, is a very shallow group.
Problem - Lack of Offensive Weapons
Plenty of the Cavs’ problems last season boiled down to one thing; outside of Kyrie Irving the team had no reliable offensive weapons. They relied heavily on Antawn Jamison and his 48.1 TS%. As one would expect that went very badly. With Irving off the floor this season the Cavs were nine points worse offensively per 48 minutes and the team’s eFG% dropped by 3.6 percentage points. The problem wasn’t a lack of ball movement though as the percent of baskets assisted on remained steady at 57% with Irving on or off the floor. This is a stark reminder of just how much the team lacked someone that could create a shot for themselves. Without Irving drawing the defense towards him, other aspects of the Cavaliers, ability to score points suffered as well. The team’s offensive rebounding fell from 32.6% with Irving on the floor, to 30.4% without him.
Numbers from mySynergySports show just how undiversified the Cavaliers’ offense was last season. Cleveland ranked 30th in the league in points per possession on post-ups (0.69 ), 28th in the league in pick-and-roll screeners’ points per possession (0.84), 30th in points per possession off cuts (1.02), and 21st in transition points per possession (1.12). All these offensive problems exist even before taking into account what the Cavs are losing in free agency. Jamison will almost surely not be with the team again next season. Gee, who played about 30 minutes per game last season and scored over 10 points per game, is an unrestricted free agent and the Suns are rumored to have interest. The team will also lose Anthony Parker, who looked finished at the end of last season, but still played in 51 games for the team. In fact the only players on the team who averaged over 10 points per game last season who are scheduled to return are Irving, Varejao and Irving’s backup Lester Hudson who only played in 16 games.
While it has been clearly shown that hero ball is bad offense team’s also need to have players who can score and the Cavs right now are sorely lacking in that department.
Rookie Who Can Help – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Kidd-Gilchrist looks very likely to fall to the Cavs with the Bobcats showing a lot of interest in Thomas Robinson and the Wizards expressing a lot of interest in Bradley Beal. Luckily for the Cavs, Kidd-Gilchrist could step in right away and give them some of the things they so desperately need.
First of all Kidd-Gilchrist is deadly in transition and paired with Irving, the Cavs points per possession in transition is bound to improve from 21st in the league. Kidd-Gilchrist is also a great slasher and uses the strength he flashes in transition to finish well through contact. Offensively though, there is one major area for improvement that is hard to miss – jumpshooting. Kidd-Gilchrist shot only 25.5 percent from the three point line last season in college and, while fast improvement is possible as Kawhi Leonard showed this season, it looks like it will take some time to fix MKG’s jump shot form and make him into a consistent threat from the outside.
The addition of Kidd-Gilchrist will also make the Cavs even more formidable on the offensive glass where he averaged over 3.0 per 40 minutes last season. Adding him to the already successful Tristan Thompson-Anderson Varejao tandem and the Cavs should find even more easy points next season.
One of the more interesting things with Kidd-Gilchrist is his similarity scores. Two of the top three scores were college superstars due to their ability to score in Luol Deng and Rudy Gay and outside of three-point shooting many of Kidd-Gilchrist numbers come very close, although with a much lower usage rate. While MKG won’t come into the league and score as easily as those two players did because of their shooting there is hope based on all of the other numbers that maybe he will be able to find a way to score more than many people think early on in his career.
The other benefit to Cleveland with Kidd-Gilchrist is that he also contributes to fixing the team’s other big problem -defense. The Cavs finished 19th or worse in every half-court Synergy category and 28th or worse in four of those categories. The Cavs were especially bad against the pick-and-roll where they finished 28th in points per possession in possessions ending with the pick-and-roll ball handler or the roll man. The only place they were worse at defending than the pick-and-roll was in spot-up attempts where the finished dead last in the league by giving up 1.03 points per possession. In both of these areas Kidd-Gilchrist should help, just because of his terrific motor. Kidd-Gilchrist looks like an elite wing defender and should be able to help some of the areas that Cleveland struggles in. By adding him the Cavs would improve both sides of the ball, and if he can ever fix his shot, they might be getting a potential star.
Luckily for the Cavs the other player that looks like a possibility to fall to them is Beal, who would bring plenty of shooting to pair alongside Irving.
Veteran That Can Help - Gerald Green
Finding a free agent that has a chance of ending up in Cleveland was a tough thing. The team will want to find younger players that won’t cost much and ruin cap space in the future, but that also have potential to continue to grow alongside Irving, Thompson and whoever the fourth pick will be. One very intriguing possibility is Gerald Green, the former Celtics bust who worked his way back to the league last season and performed very well with the Nets. Green would bring just the kind of offensive spark and shooting ability the Cavs need coming off the bench behind Kidd-Gilchrist and a player to play through on offense with Irving out of the game, He would also add another great transition weapon for the Cavs, as last season he averaged 1.23 points per possession in those situations.
What Green would also add is a post-up threat, something that the Cavs lacked last season. Green finished the year averaging 0.98 points per possession in post-up situations, which accounted for the second highest percent of his half-court possessions. The Cavs, as a team, only scored 0.68 points per possession in post-ups last season. Adding someone who can score from the block is a need, no matter the position. For Green the highest amount of his offensive possessions were used as spot-ups. Those spot-up attempts were very successful, as Green scored 1.13 points per possession in those situations and shot 39 percent from the three-point line last season. That shooting ability would keep defenses honest and allow Irving a bit more room to attack with, which would open the Cavs offense up even more.
Green would also help the Cavs defensively. Last season Green held opposing small forwards to only a 9.9 PER, a number significantly lower than the 15.0 that the Cavs’ team was able to hold them to. Green also was able to use his great athleticism to shut down isolation plays as he held opponents to only 0.62 points per possession, 0.2 points less than the Cavs’ team numbers.
Other options for players that may be able to help the Cavs are Ersan Ilyasova or O.J. Mayo though each has flaws. Ilyasova looks like he may be too expensive for Cleveland’s tastes and Mayo has never really produced to the level that was hoped for him. The Cavs would be gambling that a change of scenery would allow him to flourish.
As with most years. the Cavs are in a tough spot. They know that the chances of a difference making free agent coming to Cleveland is not likely, so the Cavs are always trying to find a sleeper in the pool of free agents. While Green is one of the more under the radar players out there, it seems likely that he either joins a contender or stays with the Nets. Because of this problem, the draft is as important for the Cavaliers as anyone else in the league. They must hit a homerun to pair with Irving and continue to build towards the playoffs. Luckily for them it looks like great value will be there for them at the 4th pick.