With LeBron out for an extended time, it is well documented that other players need to step up and show what they can do with this more limited lineup. However, it might not be the individual players stepping up for scoring that really is the key here. Obviously many fans will be looking for how many points are added from Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. There might be more compelling things to look at than just which star scores more.
In listening to the reporters question Blatt right after the known loss of LeBron, they continuously tried to question him about the concept of Love becoming “more integrated in the offense” and how do you make up for all that LeBron does. While I understand that line of thinking, is that really the key here over the next two weeks? I would challenge that by saying “No”.
If Love was not integrated in the offense with LeBron present, will it really matter how integrated he is while LeBron is out? If he is highly integrated when LeBron is absent, it might even be a negative when LeBron returns if that does not continue. Did anyone wonder how Love might feel if he is integral with LeBron out and an afterthought with LeBron in? I have and I don’t like to answer that question.
If Kyrie does a great job running the offense with the ball in his hands with LeBron out, will it really matter when LeBron returns? Did anyone wonder how Kyrie might feel if he is highly effective with the ball in his hands with James out and has that taken from him when LeBron returns? I don’t like to answer that question either. So what I recommend Cavs fans look for is a series of things unrelated to Love’s integration with the offense or Kyrie’s ability to handle point guard duties.
One of the reasons I recommend looking beyond those obvious issues is that I think it is a given that Kyrie can run the offense effectively with the ball in his hands. He proved that over the summer and, as I pointed out previously about Kyrie, he is the key to the Cavalier’s ultimate success this year as the point guard of this team. Kevin Love will almost certainly be more integrated in the offense because of both LeBron and Andy being out. Those two spent a ton of time in pick and roll situations and that can’t happen anymore. With or without LeBron, Love will naturally become more of a focal point if the Cavs move the ball on offense as has been emphasized by Blatt and the players.
Some of the things I will be looking for in the next series of games without LeBron are as follows:
- Will the team play with consistent effort and intensity? Too many games have been littered with inconsistent effort this year. Without LeBron there is no excuse for a lack of effort. The first games without James have not been great examples of what they need to do. I hope that the future games will demonstrate that consistent effort.
- Will critical role players begin to step up during this time? Shawn Marion, James Jones, Mike Miller, and even Brendon Haywood need to show why they were brought here to the Cavs. If the Cavs have any chance in the playoffs, those players will need to be firing on all cylinders by the end of the year.
- Will Matthew Dellavedova be able to contribute more than just effort and knock down some wide open 3 balls? He also needs to be more confident off the dribble and create some offense. Right now he is tentative and not appropriately aggressive. He needs to pick his spots of course, but some creation is needed for a backup point guard.
- Does Dion Waiters continue his rapid ascent as an efficient scorer, facilitator, and lock down defender? Anyone who has been watching can see that Dion’s effort and intensity has grown as his confidence in his role increases. This actually follows a pattern that my staff recently pointed out to me of Dion starting slow at the beginning of seasons. He has followed this pattern again and is on a rapid rise right now.
- Can Tristan Thompson begin to contribute “rim protection” as he did against Charlotte? He seems to be rather annoyed by the constant media insistence that the Cavs have no rim protection. That has become clear in recent interviews. I wouldn’t put ANYTHING past TT if he puts his mind to it. He has shown, beyond any player on the Cavs, an ability to raise his game as needed for the team. TT is an ultimate “glue guy” that every team needs to win championships. I will be watching his blocked shot totals during this stretch without LeBron.
- Can Brendon Haywood contribute significant minutes off the bench? If he is able to play 10-15 minutes per game effectively, he will be a huge asset going forward beyond his contract oddity that can be used for a trade chip this off-season. Everything I have seen says that the answer to that question is “Yes”. If both he and Tristan can provide some rim protection as I suspect, the Cavs can negotiate any possible deal from a position of strength and not desperation.
- Can Kyrie control his temptation to dribble through 4 guys to get to the rim and actually trust his team to run the Blatt motion offense? Although I have stated that this is a given, his desire to “make up for LeBron” might sway him away from trusting his teammates and the offense. What I am hoping is that he will try to “take over” when he sees the team is in a scoring drought but not the majority of the time.
- Will the Cavs management keep a calm hand on the rudder of the franchise when the inevitable losses add up a bit in LeBron’s absence? I think this is a key going forward especially while LeBron is out. There is no need to make a panic move or a move just to make one. They can afford to be measured and careful striking when the time is right and the deal is fair.
- Finally, and most importantly, will LeBron be watching and adjust his return based on what he sees on the court. If Kyrie effectively runs the point and controls the team with the ball in his hands, will LeBron take notice and allow more of that when he returns? If Kevin Love is effective with the pick and roll or pick and pop, will LeBron run more with Love? If the role players step up and knock down shots, will he continue to trust them? If effort and intensity are consistently at a high level, will he join them or still be in “chill mode”? (I kind of know the answer to that one but I had to throw it out there.)
These are some of the things I will be looking for during this two week stretch. The Cavs might not win as many games as we would like but they still can advance as a team while LeBron is out. Let’s hope that happens and then the glass will be truly half full as Kevin Love professes. Go Cavs !!!