Ineligible Man Downfield: 5 stats that explain the Cavs so far
Plus: Odell Beckham Jr. looks like he's doing well in rehab.
The Cavs are already 25% done with the season.
Considering the injuries the Cavs have dealt with and the resulting lack of game-to-game cohesion, it’s hard to know exactly how good this team is. But through 18 games, Cleveland is 9-9 and in the thick of the playoff (or at least the play-in tournament) hunt. That’s further along than most (including me) expected. Here are five numbers that explain it.
Collin Sexton’s three-point percentage: 47.2%
Sexton’s shooting start will not hold. Probably. If he shoots this well for a whole season, what he currently is instantly changes even more than he already has. Even if it slips, Sexton looks like a changed player. He’s taking slightly more three-pointers than he did last year per game, looks more confident and is much more efficient than he was. It’s also the kind of shot he’s going to need if and when the Cavs play in games that matter.
Sexton’s leap is happening. Every part of his game looks better. This might be the biggest one.
109: The Cavs’ defense rating
Heading into Thursday’s night slate of games, the Cavs were fifth in defensive rating, per Cleaning The Class. That’s a massive, massive leap from the 19-20 season, when the Cavs were 29th, and the 18-19 season, they were dead last.
So what caused this jump? Andre Drummond, for all his warts, has active hands and is mostly playing engaged, effortful basketball. Larry Nance Jr. leads the league in steal percentage; Drummond is fifth. Isaac Okoro is already awesome on that end. Collin Sexton and Darius Garland are trying. And, it would seem, J.B. Bickerstaff is pushing the right buttons, keeping things simple and throwing little wrinkles (zone out of a timeout, a press here or there) to add some cayenne to the vanilla. This, more than anything, has fueled the Cavs’ improvement.
46: Kevin Love’s total minutes played
Love has appeared in one full game and just a few minutes in another due to injury. His return will change the Cavs’ defense a bit because he’s not Nance. But Love is the Cavs’ best shooter and the one player on the roster capable of drawing real attention from defenses. (Sexton is getting close, though.) If he can come back and stay healthy, he’s going to help. Love is too good not to.
16.6%: The Cavs’ turnover percentage
Per Cleaning The Glass, this is the third-worst mark in the league. And it’s a big reason why the Cavs’ offense is currently 29th in offensive rating. Cleveland’s offense is still growing as the personnel grows, so mistakes are going to happen. But this has to be cut down if the team is going to actually improve on offense.
A main culprit: Darius Garland, who has a turnover percentage of 15.2%. That’s in the bottom eight percent of point guards, per Cleaning The Glass.
9-9: The Cavs’ record
Calling this a stat is cheating. But the Cavs being .500 is downright impressive. Whatever comes next, playoffs or play-in tournament or not, this team is off to a fun start. That’s something. — Chris Manning
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Who we are
Chris Manning: Site Manager at Fear the Sword, co-host of the Locked on Cavs podcast, words at places like Cleveland Magazine and Forbes. On Twitter @cwmwrites
Jordan Zirm: Social editor at @TheCheckdown. Formerly of ESPN Cleveland. Words at B/R, SB Nation and UPROXX. Host of The Rebuild podcast. On Twitter @clevezirm
Alex Hooper: Contributor at Fantasy Sports Insight. Former Cleveland Baseball Club beat writer for 92.3 the Fan (WKRK), and contributor at Sports Illustrated, Let’s Go Tribe, and the News-Herald. On Twitter @lexhooper.