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Cavs’ Trade Deadline Buzzer Beater Makes Them Scary Again

Brian Babineau-Getty Images

Revitalized Cavs have a new edge. Here’s why it’s scary…

Koby Altman just revived the Cavaliers’ edge.

The rest of the Eastern Conference seemed poised to dethrone a group of disjointed, old, sluggish players who no longer enjoyed playing together. Had Feb. 11’s Boston vs. Cleveland game been played a week earlier, it would have been naive to not predict a double-digit victory for the 40-win Celtics at home. But now, just over a week removed from losing by 32 to the Rockets and squandering a 21-point lead in a loss to the Magic, the Cavs have a brand new mojo. 

Three separate trade deadline deals that shipped Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Channing Frye, Derrick Rose, Dwayne Wade, and Iman Shumpert out of town for George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., and Rodney Hood should revitalize a formally lethargic squad on both ends of the court. 

“I’m really excited about the new guys we have, and I’m really excited about what they are going to bring to the table,” said Altman. “I think we’re going to be energetic, and we’re just going to be fun again, and fun to watch, and fun to be around.”

First and foremost, coach Tyronn Lue should have the horses to be much more effective and versatile on defense. The Cavs moves at the deadline should bring reinforcements to one the league’s worst defenses. Most notably, Lue no longer has to lose sleep trying to conjure up ways to hide Thomas from opposing offenses. 

Thomas, while with the Cavs, was on pace to be the worst rated defender of the last 25 years, and his effect on a team’s defense is undeniable. During his time with the Celtics last season, they ranked 13th in the league defensively. It was a respectable ranking, but this year, with Isaiah gone, the Celtics have jumped to No. 1 in the NBA. Furthermore, the Cavs, in the weeks prior to Thomas’ return (Nov.11 -Dec.17), had won 18 of 20 games. They’d looked to be starting to figure it out, before beginning a losing slide when Isaiah returned.

That doesn’t necessarily make Isaiah the lone scapegoat for bad team defense, and he offers tremendous scoring prowess to a team’s backcourt when he’s at his best. However, his defensive ineffectiveness is a tremendous challenge to overcome, especially for a team that had lacked athleticism and youth. 

Speaking of youth, the new Cavaliers — Clarkson, Nance, Hill, and Hood — have an average age of around 26 years old, replacing six former players who had an average age of over 30 years old. This improvement in youth and overall athleticism should help the Cavs tremendously on defense. They won’t struggle as much on the perimeter, gaining much more lateral quickness and ability to stay in front of opposing ball handlers. Improved perimeter athleticism will put less pressure on their lack of rim protection.  

Offensively, the Cavs gain two dynamic bench scorers in Clarkson and Hood, averaging 14.5 and 16.8 PPG respectively. Each of them is skilled enough to get their own shot and have fresh legs to push the ball in transition. The Cavs rank in the top half of the league in pace (13th) and had been playing pretty quickly with the league’s oldest roster. Lue can now continue to push the pace with guys who are much more suited to the task. Along with Clarkson and Hood, they gain Larry Nance Jr.’s energy, effort and athleticism, which was well chronicled in Los Angeles. Expect Cleveland’s pace to quicken even more with their new additions. 

Moreover, Clarkson steps into Wade’s role with the second unit. At this point in his career, Wade is not the scorer (11.0 PPG) or athlete that Clarkson is. Hood will take Crowder’s minutes on the wing; he is a much better offensive player than Crowder (8.7 PPG) and has a defensive rating 4 points better than Crowder’s this season. This is ironic, given the fact that Crowder’s defense was supposed to be his value in the Kyrie Irving deal. 

What Cleveland has done at the trade deadline is like a metaphorical home renovation. They’ve kept all the good furniture and support beams, but replaced some of the old drywall and chipped paint. Altman thought his previous group was “marching to a slow death,” and all indicators were that he was right. Fast forward to Feb.11, and you have a team that blows out the league’s No. 1 defense on the night of Paul Pierce’s jersey retirement.


Why is it scary? It’s simple. During that march toward a “slow death,” the Cavs had somehow managed to rack up 31 wins and were sitting at 3rd in their conference. For as bad as they looked, especially on defense, and with all the reported drama, doom, and gloom, they were still one of their conference’s powerhouses. You can attribute that to the relative weakness of the East compared to the West if you’d like, but it’s irrelevant. The Cavs don’t play in the West and they just shellacked one of their chief competitors with one day of practice and almost zero in-season chemistry. Most importantly, they looked rejuvenated. They were having fun. 

That terrible team that had played about as bad as they could play, just got way better. 30+ wins at the All-Star break was the floor for them thanks to the basketball anomaly that is LeBron and, for most of the first half of the season, an often underrated All-Star in Kevin Love.

Now, after much needed roster improvements, and with Love’s return from injury in the coming weeks, how scary is their ceiling?

Edited by Joe Sparacio.

SQuiz
How many times have the Cavs held a team to under 100 points this season?
Created 2/12/18
  1. 14
  2. 22
  3. 5
  4. 15
How many franchises have been to 4 straight NBA Finals?
Created 2/13/18
  1. 7
  2. 1
  3. 4
  4. 9

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