To start things off, I want to say I went to the preseason game last night against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Cavs were playing without 2 of their main horses in the game, Kyrie and LeBron. With that being said, you could still get a sense of what David Blatt has been preaching up to this point and what he wants to do for this team going forward. I was talking to a buddy before the game and we were discussing what type of coach we thought he was, and we both said we have heard he’s been compared to Greg Popovich for the Spurs. I probably can’t think of too many better coaches you want to be compared to, but Blatt is still an unknown commodity in the NBA and not sure if his coaching style and philosophies work on the highest level of basketball. Now, it helps that after he signed as head coach, he just happens to get the best player on the planet to sign shortly after, and he will be able to mask many problems that could arise on the court during the course of a game. I’m going to break down what I saw last night, and primarily what Coach Blatt has been is focusing on this season.
- Pick and Roll – It seemed like every single play had a pick and roll for the ball handler at the top of the key. The play may be initiated with different looks each time to utilize different players, but its still a pick and roll. The Cavs are able to do this because they have multiple players capable of making plays with the ball in their hands, whether it’s taking the shot themselves, hitting the rolling or fading screener, or scanning the defense to find where the help comes from to hit an open player for a jump shot. The offense seemed to be predicated on multiple pick and rolls, and this is very effective with multiple playmakers on the court.
- Passing, Passing, Passing – Another thing I noticed is that Blatt has to be preaching ball movement. This must be one of the reasons he gets compared to Popovich, because last years Spurs team was probably the best passing and ball movement team I have ever seen. They would pass up very good looks at the hoop, for an even better shot with nobody caring who gets the credit. I’m not saying the Cavs are there now, or will ever get to that level, but I could definitely see it was a point of emphasis and something they have been working on so far this season.
- Outside Shooting – It helps when Kevin Love hits 4 3’s in the first quarter and Dion Waiters was getting to the hole with ease, but this team was getting multiple wide open 3-point looks last night. Kevin Love hit some contested ones, but when you hit a few early, there are going to be some heat check moments following; and those also went it for him. He was on fire and really set the tone early. This probably relates to the previous bullet point in passing, but I saw many possessions where players passed up a good shot they could have taken, to give it to someone with a better shot. Looking at the stat sheet, they hoisted up 34 3-point attempts making 13 of them. Thats quite a bit in both categories, but as long as they are open attempts, you can’t get too upset with it.
- Traps – With it being the preseason, this is the time to experiment with what works and what doesn’t with certain personnel groupings. Last night you saw a lot of what the Miami Heat used to do in their man-to-man defense, and that is a lot of trapping. Why it’s similar to what the Heat did was that its not only in the corners where you have the out of bounds line as an extra defender, but they would trap on the wings and at the top of the key off a pick and roll. Now its hard to really see what it will actually be like without LeBron and Kyrie on the floor, but it was something have have been working on.
- Zone – As I said before, this is the reason for the preseason. Experimenting what works and if it is something they could utilize and keep in their back pocket for certain situations in the season. The zone they played was not a normal 2-3, 3-2, 1-3-1, but a match-up zone. Everyone was finding a man and guarding him as if it was man, but then passing them off as soon as they went into someone else’s zone. This could really be effective with a small lineup with Kevin Love at the 5 and LeBron at the 4 since they are both abnormally agile for their size and positions they would be playing. If you are on offense and a team goes into a zone, the 3 main ways to break it is 1) get into the middle of the lane 2) keep passing to get the defense out of position 3) force a mismatch. With Kevin Love at the 5 and LeBron at the 4, its going to be very hard to find a mismatch out there they can’t hold their own with. A few times last night, Jabari Parker for the Bucks got Kevin Love to guard him out on the 3-point line and made him pay with a few nice moves and finishes. Most of those, however, you can live with as a defense.
David Blatt may not be a household name yet, but from what I saw and the talent he has on this team, its only a matter of time until we see his coaching style and philosophies imprinted on this team. A lot still needs to be seen and tested against in the regular season and playoffs to anoint him anything at this time, but if they stick to the points I made above during the regular season, plus the addition of LeBron and Kyrie will make a huge difference, they will be a well oiled machine in the future. They have the players capable of winning a championship, and I don’t think the coach will be the one holding them back from reaching their potential in the future. Its going to be an exciting time in Cleveland, enjoy the ride!
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Caleb Boone