INDEPENDENCE — There’s been a lot of talk about the Cavaliers wanting to play at an even faster offensive pace and increase player and ball movement as they begin their second post-LeBron James era.
Veteran big man Tristan Thompson and newcomer David Nwaba would rather talk about defense.
“It’s going to be baby steps,” Thompson said Thursday following practice. “Obviously you can’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘We’re top 10 in the league in defense.’ It’s going to be step by step.”
A year ago, the Cavs ranked 26th in a 30-team league with 109.9 points allowed and 28th in field goal percentage allowed at .474.
However, in 22 playoff games, when they switched on screens much more than they did in the regular season, the Cavs allowed the fifth fewest points (out of 16 teams) at 102.9.
“In the regular season, we’re pretty garbage because we don’t show our hand until the playoffs,” Thompson said. “This year, I think we want to change that. Guys want to come out and stress the defensive end and be a team that’s top 10 in team defense. That’s definitely an expectation of ours and something we’re trying to achieve.”
When told of Thompson’s top-10 goal, Cleveland coach Tyrone Lue said, “We have the versatility to achieve that.”
That starts with Thompson, who is one of the more versatile big men in the league defensively. So is fellow big man Larry Nance Jr., while shooting guard Nwaba is an extremely willing and aggressive defender.
Kevin Love struggles against big, offensive-minded, low-post centers and sometimes against quicker forwards, but he is an excellent help and team defender, while 19-year-old rookie point guard Collin Sexton has all the physical tools to excel defensively.
Guards George Hill and J.R. Smith were once above average but seem to have slipped a notch, though they and guys like Kyle Korver, Cedi Osman, Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood and newcomer Sam Dekker should benefit from a more team-oriented, switching system.
“We’ve got a lot of long, athletic guys that can play multiple positions and guard multiple positions,” Thompson said, ticking off the names of a number of teammates. “We’ve got a lot of versatility.”
How long it will take — or even if it will happen — for the Cavs to become a top-10 defensive team remains to be seen, but with James’ supreme offensive talents now in Los Angeles with the Lakers, Lue’s team will definitely have to improve on that end of the floor if it hopes to challenge for a playoff spot.
“The sooner the better is always what we like to hear and what we want,” Thompson said. “We’ve just got to trust it and trust our coach and watch a lot of film.”
Other than Thompson, the one player the Cavs won’t have to worry about is the equally long-limbed Nwaba, who has defended point guards, shooting guards, small forwards and even some power forwards despite being only 6-foot-4 and 219 pounds.
“All my life, I’ve been looking to stop the best guy on the opposing team,” he said. “Taking that role, I have no issue with it. At the end of the day, defense wins games. I take pride in playing defense.
“As far as stats-wise, those things go unnoticed. It’s just taking pride in defense.”
- Thompson gave sports talk radio some fodder by saying, “We’re still four-time Eastern Conference champions, so until you take us down from that, teams ain’t got much to say. Boston, Philly, they ain’t got much to say. Boston had home court Game 7 and lost (to the Cavs). Philly, you guys almost got swept (by Boston). Toronto, we know that story.”
- The Cavs added Liron Fanan as director of G League player development. Fanan will work to enrich Canton Charge players off the court through league and team initiatives. She also will use her international background to assist Cavs general manager Koby Altman.
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