CLEVELAND, Ohio – For as much as January has been a month filled with growth, it’s also been a reminder for the Cavaliers that this rebuild will be a process that endures.
Patience and persistence will need to be what drives the Cavs through this season. The Cavs dropped their fifth straight Monday night, losing 106-86 to the New York Knicks.
As the Cavs came home to begin a three-game homestand, their weariness from the six-game road trip showed, especially in the team’s rough shooting and mediocre defense.
Here are three takeaways from Monday night’s game.
1. Larry Nance Jr.’s best role is hybrid big man/utility playmaker
Nance has played in four games since missing six games due to left knee soreness. While Nance is not a stat-sheet stuffer, his impact is measured in energy. Nance is the definition of what some big men are in today’s NBA game. He’s a savvy passer, a rim runner, a quality rebounder, and capable shooter – all those skills make for a valuable player.
And on Monday, Nance continued to show his value. He led the bench in scoring with 12 points, and he also led the reserves with 10 rebounds. It’s his fourth double-double of the season.
“It’s really good to have him back,” coach John Beilein said. “It’s really good. He helps with defense, he helps our offense, he keeps the ball moving. Very unselfish player.”
On the play above from the third quarter, Nance cut behind the Knicks defense for a dunk. The play is just a part of his skill set, but what gives his value depth is his playmaking. Nance’s assist numbers are down from last season, as he’s averaging 1.6 assists per game this season.
Still, Nance is an integral part of the Cavs’ ball movement. According to NBA.com, Nance is fifth on the Cavs in passes made per game (31.6). As the Cavs go forward, they need to put Nance in more situations to show off his passing skills.
Because more times than not, though he’s not racking up many assists, he’ll make a pass that maintains the offense’s fluidity.
2. Cedi Osman is a legitimate 3-pointer shooter
Like Nance, Osman shouldn’t be put into a box offensively – but to begin the season he essentially was.
Osman was slated as a 3-and-D player earlier this season, but as the months have passed, his versatile game of being a slasher and smart cutter has been key for the Cavs’ offense. Osman’s ability to find the seams in defenses is his best attribute, but at the same time, he’s recently displayed shooting ability that seems to be sustainable.
Last season, the question of whether Osman could be a quality 3-point shooter was legitimate. He shot 34.8% from deep last season. This season, though, Osman is shooting a career-high 40.3% from the 3-point line. He shot 4-of-6 from beyond the arc Monday night.
In the month of January, Osman is shooting 48.3% from the 3-point line.
What’s been good about Osman’s shot this season is that the ball is coming off easier from his fingers. As seen below, Osman simply lets the ball fly straight off his fingertips.
In past seasons, Osman’s release hasn’t been as fluid, and he hasn’t shot as straight either. But this season his follow through is cleaner. It’s resulted in him posting the best numbers of his career to date.
3. The Cavs’ lack of wing depth is apparent
The wing/forward position has been revamped so much in the modern NBA that essentially anyone who is at least 6-foot-4 and plays decent defense can thrive against opponents on the perimeter.
That’s why the Cavs’ current lack of wing depth is hurting them.
Alfonzo McKinnie is not with the team because his 10-day contract expired. With Kevin Porter Jr. out with a sprained left knee, McKinnie brought defense and energy in his stead.
During the six-game road trip, McKinnie flourished and showed his value as a defender and rebounder, including a double-double during the Cavs’ loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. In six games, he scored 7.3 points per game and grabbed 4.7 rebounds.
Dante Exum, who’s truly a big guard, played some minutes at small forward Monday. While he can guard multiple positions, he’s not enough of a scorer to be effective as a wing player. Exum scored three points against the Knicks, and he hasn’t scored in double figures since his 28-point outburst on Jan. 5 against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Nance spoke on how the Cavs currently lack energetic players at the wing position.
“That’s where we miss KP (Porter), that’s where we miss guys like Alfonzo,” Nance said. “The energy guys off the bench. Not having J.C. (Jordan Clarkson) hurts, so that’s something we just gotta figure out. It’s an adjustment every week. Tonight I tried to bring a little bit of something else off the bench, pushing it a little bit, but just as a whole we were pretty dead.”
The wing position has always been one of the most important. It’s where the bucket-getters, shooters and playmakers have dominated for years.
It’s why the Cavs need more production from the perimeter – especially on offense – as they continue the season.