HomeBasketball TodayIs Cleveland's problem becoming a crisis in the making?

Is Cleveland’s problem becoming a crisis in the making?

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Across nearly every margin or advanced statistic, everything would tell you that the Cleveland Cavaliers are an elite basketball team. While it’s been a slow start for Cleveland coming out of the All-Star break, when the Cavs are locked in, it’s hard for any team to beat them in nearly every category. Well, that is until some newly found data became available that could expose a possible flaw in Cleveland’s gameplan most nights.

In a recent study, numbers indicate that Cleveland under head coach J.B. Bickerstaff struggles at scoring on offense immediately after a timeout. In fact, the Cavs are the worst team scoring after a timeout, scoring only 0.93 points in 259 instances. Those roughly 241 points scored after timeouts are behind the Charlotte Hornets under Steve Clifford, the Portland Trail Blazers under Chauncey Billups, the Philadelphia 76ers under Nick Nurse, and the San Antonio Spurs under Gregg Popovich.

The rankings only slightly improve for Cleveland when the same study considers a team’s scoring out of a timeout on top of their average offensive rating, which indicates how many points a team averages per 100 possessions. Rather than ranking dead last, the Cavs are the 29th-best team scoring out of a timeout, ahead of the Spurs with -0.13 points out of the timeout based on their overall offensive rating.

But, in more in simpler terms, what does this exactly mean for Cleveland? First, like most NBA regular season numbers, there’s a lot of uncontrolled chaos in the statistics, which is part and parcel with any season. So, these rankings aren’t gospel and don’t indicate that Bickerstaff is actively hurting his team out of timeouts. Joining Bickerstaff toward the bottom of the list is Denver Nuggets head coach Mike Malone along with the aforementioned Nurse and Popovich. By every stretch of the imagination, Malone, Nuse, and Popovich are some of the NBA’s best overall coaches, just like Bickerstaff.

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Instead, this is just an interesting study on better understanding how coaches, like Bickerstaff, function on a game-by-game basis and zero in on some weaknesses that should be ironed out before the start of the postseason. If anything, it further drives home the point that NBA coaches in 2024 aren’t bound by a rigid offense that is purely predicated on whether or not certain personnel can all consistently run the same playbook. Instead, most of the time, teams don’t run set plays anymore. They install offensive concepts and core principles and let their players free flow and read and react out of that infrastructure. The unpredictability of it all is part of the reason that offenses have become so efficient today.

Despite their struggles after timeouts, the Cavs are still dangerous

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) and guard Josh Green (8) defend Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell (45) in the fourth quarter at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
© David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Cavs, under Bickerstaff, are a team that fits that exact mold of a team that has set concepts in place that read and react to how opposing defenses are playing against them. It’s what led to nights where Cleveland is dominating opponents in the paint behind their star-studded big-man duo of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. On other nights you may see more of a three-point barrage with defenses correcting to contain Allen or Mobley, with Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, and countless others taking advantage of the additional spacing.

With that in mind, the only realistic place NBA coaches like Bickerstaff get an opportunity to call plays is out of timeouts, which is something the Cavs struggle with. Perhaps it’s not a struggle and the lack of positive plays out of timeouts is strategic for Cleveland, allowing the team not to reveal its hand to a postseason opponent. Either way, it’s something that could be improved and, if it is, would make the Cavs truly the only complete team in the NBA.

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Evan Dammarell_headshot

About the Author

Evan Dammarell is an award-winning sports journalist covering all things Cleveland, including the Cavs, right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.

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