CLEVELAND, Ohio – For the Cavaliers, starting the fast break begins with having someone who is good enough to push the ball up the floor. On top of that, that same person has to make good, quick decisions.
It seems simple, but the problem is the Cavs don’t push the ball nearly enough – and that hinders them from gaining easy scoring opportunities. According to NBA.com stats, they’re ranked 27th in fastbreak points and 24th in pace.
Larry Nance Jr., Cedi Osman, Collin Sexton and Alfonzo McKinnie all can handle the ball on the break, and they all run the floor well without the ball.
But with the Cavs losing 124-112 to the Washington Wizards on Thursday, their six fastbreak points showed room for improvement.
“One of the biggest things we’re working at, and I don’t think you saw it tonight, is our offense just running the floor,” coach John Beilein said. “Just getting up, getting rebounds. We haven’t been able to do that. We’re trying to.”
Osman and McKinnie are skilled at filling lanes and providing quality angles for passes. Before the game, Beilein tabbed McKinnie as the team’s best “runner.” McKinnie had just returned to the team, back on his second 10-day contract. He was initially waived earlier in January, and he had been on a non-guaranteed deal.
For a player who has played on 10-day contracts lately, McKinnie has value as an energy guy that cannot be understated. He’s a good rebounder, averaging 2.7 rebounds in 13.3 minutes. He also is a skilled defender, and he uses his athleticism and 6-foot-7 frame to guard multiple positions.
So with Osman and McKinnie being two skilled fastbreak players, how can they help the rest of the team in that department?
“Tie a string to them and some other guys,” Beilein joked. “They gotta drag ‘em down the court. They just gotta see it, but they gotta be able to do it in games, and they gotta understand that.”
Beilein said the Cavs have been practicing their transition game, and they tried using one rim runner and one trailer against the Wizards. Osman, Sexton and Kevin Love each scored two fast-break points.
“It did open some good things up, but not enough,” Beilein said of the different style of break.
Love said with the Cavs implementing a revamped break, the team will need to get used to it.
Transition offense is inherently frenetic, almost like organized chaos. Sexton is arguably the fastest player on the team with the ball in his hands, so he’s naturally a solid player in transition. He leads the team in fastbreak points per game (2.8).
The fastbreak remains an area, though, where the Cavs miss bouncy rookie Kevin Porter Jr., who is out with a sprained left knee.
Porter is another player who can grab the ball and quickly dribble up the floor. Whenever Porter pushes the ball, it seems as if he’s gliding along the floor. He was averaging 1.6 fastbreak points a game before suffering the injury against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Jan. 5.
Still, while fast breaks are traditionally led by guards or swingmen, there’s nothing traditional about the dynamics of NBA positions anymore.
Nance, a forward, is a wild card among the group of Cavs who can push the ball up the floor. As a multi-faceted player, Nance’s handles are tight and controlled, perfect for running the break. He tied a career-high 22 points in the loss and wants the Cavs to initiate their transition offense better.
“We have guys that can get it and go, and I think we really gotta start doing that more,” Nance said, “because it throws the defense off, and instead of the big getting it and looking around for our guards, just take it and go.”
The Cavs will have another opportunity to improve in running the floor Saturday, when they’ll face the Chicago Bulls.