The newly formed trio of center Karl-Anthony Towns, small forward Andrew Wiggins and guard Jimmy Butler have the upstart Minnesota Timberwolves up at the top of the Conference with perennial powers Golden State and the Houston Rockets.
In Los Angeles, the Clippers seem to be surviving well without point guard Chris Paul, with forward Blake Griffin fully accepting his new role as the number-one option on the team, while guard Lonzo Ball is still trying to find the correct times to be aggressive on the Los Angeles Lakers.
In the Eastern Conference, point guard Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics have quickly rebounded from the devastating loss of forward Gordon Hayward and have propelled themselves to the top spot in the Conference. Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and center Kristaps Porziņģis are quickly exhibiting that they have the tools to potentially be two of the best players in the League.
However, the most intriguing story has been the struggles of the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers. The team has been slumbering through their first 11 games, limping to a record of 5-6.
Why have the Cavs become an easy win for opposing teams early this season?
Their defense is atrocious. That’s not an exaggeration by any means. Teams have come in against Cleveland and had their way with them offensively. Against the Cavs, the rest of the NBA is averaging 113.0 points per game, a field goal percentage of 55.4 percent and a three-point percentage of 41.6 percent, leaving the team in the bottom three of the League in each respective category.
The team has already had a considerably bad stretch of games, losing four games in a row against a group of teams that included the Brooklyn Nets, the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks, who are considered to be some of the weakest teams in the Eastern Conference.
In each of those losses, they gave up more than 112 points. A top-tier NBA team should not be anywhere near the bottom of the League in any statistical category.
However, Cavs fans should not be too concerned about the slow start. The team has the potential to piece it together by at least the halfway point in the season.
First off, the team just needs time in order to build up chemistry. The roster experienced a major shakeup due to the trade with the Boston Celtics, where they sent away superstar point guard Kyrie Irving and gained another star point guard in Isaiah Thomas, forward Jae Crowder and center Ante Žižić.
The team also added former MVP Derrick Rose, forward Jeff Green, forward Cedi Osman, point guard José Calderón and star guard Dwyane Wade.
This massive shift in the roster has undoubtedly had an effect on the chemistry of the team. The squad hasn’t yet learned how to mold together, with the starters (besides LeBron) struggling to produce on a consistent basis. However, time does heal all wounds, and the longer that this team plays together, the more comfortable that each player will be with each other’s playing styles.
Putting together a new team takes time, but once this group figures out its roles, the offensive firepower held by the Cavs will be almost impossible to consistently defend.
Secondly, the team is missing a “big” piece of its offense in the form of All-Star Isaiah Thomas. Thomas, a main piece of the blockbuster deal that sent Kyrie Irving to the Celtics, has been sidelined with a lingering hip issue that first bothered him in the postseason of last year. The point guard represents a major offensive weapon that the Cavaliers are lacking.
In the previous year, Thomas not only put up career highs in points per game, sitting at 28.9 points, and in field goal percentage at 46.3 percent, but also led the Boston Celtics to first place in the Eastern Conference. He was also second in the League’s fourth-quarter scoring, averaging 9.8 points, solidifying himself as one of the most clutch players in the entire NBA.
The trade for the injured point guard has left a giant hole in the Cleveland offense that has truly maimed their production. A healthy Thomas would bolster the team’s offensive production and help to right the ship in time for the push for the playoffs.
Finally, we get to the only reason needed for why the Cavaliers will be completely fine by the time playoffs come around. Their saving grace comes in the 6-foot-8-inch, 250-pound frame of LeBron James.
He has led his teams to seven straight NBA Finals, a record unheard of in the recent era of basketball. LeBron holds the ability that no other player in the League has, to instantly turn the course of a franchise on a dime in the right direction.
Compounded with his leadership and ability to push his teams to wins, LeBron is shaping up to have one of his best years of his career, coming off of a ridiculous 57-point outing on 64 percent shooting against the Washington Wizards.
He leads the team in four of the five major statistical categories, with forward Kevin Love leading the team in rebounds.
The Cavaliers should always be confident with LeBron at the helm and healthy, as he has continually led them to greater heights and success.
Yes, the team is struggling right now. But that’s not to say that this trend will continue.
The team is going through growing pains that newly-molded teams must go through. But honestly, as long as LeBron is still breathing, he will be able to lead this team to great success again.
As the rest of the pieces fill out, the Cavaliers will become the force in the East that they have been for the last three years.