The Golden State Warriors have started off with a 4-3 record, looking sloppy and unfocused almost the entire way. They’ve struggled defensively and had problems securing rebounds and taking care of the ball.
In the East, the Cleveland Cavaliers have began with a 3-4 record, looking all sorts of confused. They’ve been among the worst teams defensively, and their offense hasn’t been that great either.
Both teams are in the bottom five on defense: the Warriors are 26th in the league in defensive rating, and the Cavaliers are 27th. But although the Warriors are first in the league in offensive rating by a large margin, the Cavs are only 15th.
The Warriors’ problems are likely due to a lack of effort and attention then because of a decrease in talent: twelve of the fifteen players on the roster are the same, and most of them should be in their primes. They should be elite if they try hard!
But the Cavaliers’ roster is incredibly different from last year’s. The loss of Kyrie Irving and the addition of random personalities like Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, and Jeff Green make for a strange team that doesn’t fit together well.
Simply put, LeBron is the only Cavalier playing well. The rest of the team is really struggling.
Of course, it’s early in the season, and LeBron will probably make the Finals for the eighth time in a row. But there’s some real reason for concern here.
The East is weak this year, and I’m done doubting LeBron James in the Eastern Conference playoffs. But we’ve seen their defensive problems matter on the biggest stage. In the 2017 Finals, the Cavaliers were not prepared defensively: their transition defense and general awareness were incredibly lacking. If the Cavaliers are even more disorganized this year, the Finals could be ugly.
The problem goes beyond the Cavs’ scheme or effort levels. Other than James, Jae Crowder, and sometimes Tristan Thompson, the Cavaliers don’t have strong individual defenders. Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, Channing Frye, Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, and Kevin Love are all below average defenders. That’s not a problem that will fix itself.
The Warriors have their own problems to sort out. But with the same personnel as last year, I think they’ll be an elite defensive team if they get their heads in the game. The Cavaliers’ defense could never get better.