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Don't Underestimate Cleveland Cavs in 2010-11

It goes without saying that things for the Cavaliers have changed dramatically this offseason. New coach, new GM, new public enemy number one.

Everyone knows that the Cavs aren’t going to be very good next year, and that a lot of the things they did well last year they will no longer be able to do. But there are some things that are going to change for the better for this edition of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Yes, LeBron did so many things for the Cavaliers that are not easily replaced, but he also held the Cavaliers back in certain ways and now that he is gone the Cavs have the opportunity to improve in these areas.

Perhaps the biggest improvement the Cavs will see from the LeBron years will be in the ball movement department. As great of a player as LeBron was, he often would dominate the ball and hold it for almost the entire 24 seconds before finally making his move. This would bog down the offense and the other Cavs would just stand around and watch LeBron. It was 1 on 5 basketball, but LeBron was so good he would make it work. People would always harp on Mike Brown for his lack of offensive imagination, but the Cavs were always effective at scoring the ball and much of this lack of imagination came from LeBron dominating the ball. But no more.

There is no one player on the Cavaliers right now capable of dominating the ball the way LeBron did, nor is there one player who has the inclination to do so. Antawn Jamison is without a doubt the most talented player offensively still on the Cavs, and he excelled playing in Washington under former coach Eddie Jordan who implemented a Princeton offense not that dissimilar to what the Cavs will employ next year. This includes lots of passing, ball movement, and cutting to the basket – and not a lot of isolation. Also, having a PG like Ramon Sessions who is determined to facilitate an offense will be an improvement from last year. The Cavs were able to score so well in the past because LeBron is the best player in basketball, but now that he is gone, expect there to be a lot more ball movement and cooperation on offense.

Another often talked about change this offseason will be the increase in tempo on offense that new coach Byron Scott wants to bring in. Last year, the Cavs were 23rd in the NBA in pace, but you can expect that to change. For one, another consequence of LeBron dominating the ball was that the Cavs would use all of the 24 second shot clock, but that will likely change. There is no reason for them to do this anymore, and they should try to find a way to score as quickly as possible. They don’t need to be the “7 seconds or less” Phoenix Suns of the D’Antoni era, but they should bring the ball up the court quickly and look for a good shot fast. That alone will account for a faster pace, but Scott wants the Cavs running the fast break a lot more. Part of getting fast break opportunities is forcing turnovers, something the Cavs didn’t try to do very often – they were 28th in the NBA in forcing turnovers. Mike Brown wanted the Cavs to focus on contesting all shots instead of riskily going for a steal, and the Cavs never had many shot blocking threats. Scott might try to implement a more aggressive defense to try and force more turnovers and create some easy buckets. Also, pushing the ball after every miss is something the Cavs have to do if they want to try and create easy scoring opportunities.

The last major area the Cavs might be better next year is team defense. Yes, this does seem ridiculous, but hear me out. LeBron is a great defender, especially in isolation situations, but he would often drift in help defense, looking to make a highlight reel play. It did happen every now and then, but more often what would happen is LeBron would get caught ball watching and lose his man. With the way Mike Brown set up his defensive rotations, it often wouldn’t look like LeBron was the guilty party, but he was. Whoever starts at SF will not be so bold on defense – they might not be as good of an individual defender, but they won’t leave the rest of the team out to dry. Also, LeBron would often not start guarding a teams best player until late in a game anyways, if at all, so the loss of that defense isn’t the worst thing to happen.

I’m not trying to blow smoke up your butt and tell you that the Cavs are going to win 60 games again next year. And even making the playoffs is going to be an incredible challenge, especially considering the strong possibility of Jamison and Mo Williams being traded. But not everything about next years team is going to get worse, as there are serious areas where the Cavs have the potential to be much better. LeBron not being around to dominate the ball will improve the ball movement and get more people involved on offense, and it will also help increase the pace of the offense. LeBron is also not around to get lost on defense watching the ball. A lot of people are rightly expecting the Cavs to not be very relevant next year, but to think they will be worse in all aspects of the game is a mistake.

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