Numbers Don’t Lie: Cavs took huge steps defensively in 2013-14



Across from the coach’s office within the Cleveland Cavaliers’ locker room is a poster-sized sheet that serves as a reminder for what this team had set out to accomplish heading into the season. All 30 NBA teams, listed in order by opponent field goal percentage—a widely-used gauge to determine defensive prowess in a game that can vary widely in the way of pace of play. Last season, when Byron Scott took that final walk, the giant metal door clicking behind him, the Cavs were listed 30th. When Mike Brown was reintroduced just days later, the message was clear: If the Wine and Gold were going to improve, it would be through defense. And while they did not make the playoffs, a goal that was clearly disseminated from the top, the team did improve substantially on the defensive end, finishing 12th in the league in opponent field goal percentage with a mark of 45.2.

Other defensive statistics also show marked improvement. After finishing the year 25th in points allowed per game in 2012-13, this year’s unit finished 16th. The Cavs (perhaps surprisingly) had the fifth-lowest average for opponent points in the paint (38.9) and had the seventh-lowest average in fastbreak points (12.1). They finished 2013-14 17th in defensive efficiency (104.8 points allowed per 100 possessions), one year after finishing 26th (106.9). Where they failed, at least in the way of being among the top third of the league, was in three-point percentage, finishing 22nd (.367). 

Offensively, the team was a mixed bag as they ranked 22nd in scoring (98.2) and 27th in field goal percentage (43.7) after ranking 19th (96.5) and 29th (43.4) in 2012-13. The Cavs ranked 17th in pace of play this season—a mark that by no means has a direct correlation with success—after finishing last season 12th. They finished the year 23rd in offensive efficiency (101.3). In 2012-13, they were 23rd as well with a mark of 100.8.

Statistical improvements or regressions, at least when it comes to team-wide output, can rarely be linearly extrapolated into subsequent years. They’re largely a function of the individual players and their fit within the system. Anderson Varejao will be a year older with a partially guaranteed deal. Much will change between this unit and the one which will take the floor this October.

Many of the numbers listed above, while improvements, represent a jump to league average. The LeBron James-led Cavalier units under Brown were frequently among the best in the league. It’s clear that the team made strides defensively as compared to a year ago—a goal of theirs heading into the year—which was the goal in bringing Brown back for his second tour. If he is retained beyond this summer, it will be for these reasons, with the hopes and conviction that that poster across from his office displays something even more favorable come this time in 2015.

(Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

  • boomhauertjs

    I feel like Brown’s teams have had trouble with defending the 3 (2009 ECF’s come to mind), so that wasn’t a surprise.

  • Harv 21

    Not doubting that this is an important stat, but last year the coach didn’t appear to coach defense and the guys didn’t even pretend. So my first thought is that while #12 is nice, they were bound to move way off #30. This year Tyler Zeller was stronger and played less minutes and Andy played like twice as many games, so that alone helped the percentage. And anybody with a pulse who replaced CJ Miles for so many games will improve the defense.

    What I’d really like to see is the ability to get stops when they need to. They were horrible at the ends and beginnings of quarters, when their minds seemed to be still/already in rest mode.

  • Kildawg

    Deng wasn’t the solution at SF, which is easily the Cavs biggest weakness. How the SF position is addressed will affect this Cavs team for the next few years and it’s something they need to get right. Gee is clearly bench fodder.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Sorry not buying it for as much as the defensive stats may have improved the offensive stats got worse, team chemistry is a joke, Tristan Thompson regressed, Anthony Bennett showed nothing, Karasev never played, their top FA signings both of whom Mike Brown was very familiar with after his short, brief time in LA (Bynum and Clark) were disasters and those are just a few of the things off the top of my head.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    For me they don’t need a SF if both Irving and Waiters are on the team. They need a big man. Sadly big men don’t grow on trees so unless they become proactive and pursue one through FA I don’t see much help in the draft.

    I watched MS&LL last night and they had the guy who covered the Cavaliers throughout the year the guy who Kyrie doesn’t care for who’s name is escaping me. When asked what position he thought the Cavaliers needed most he replied big man. When asked who all he could come up with was Brook Lopez. Maybe two years ago but not now that he’s in the final year of a deal and coming off another procedure on his bad foot. As mgbode can atest I’ve been a Lopez fan for awhile but as someone who has had foot troubles I can tell you I wouldn’t want him now.

  • TV63

    Exactly! Cavs have been plagued year after year with injuries. We can’t take that chance.

  • TV63

    Idk about the team chemistry. Many of the players came forward and supported Mike as well as each other. It’s a whole lot better now! No argument with Bynum, Clark being a failure. Everyone is hush hush about Karasev but people that have seen him in Canton say he stinks. I don’t understand why you hold onto him in that case. He’s just dead weight. Bennett was simply the most mismanaged #1 Draft pick in NBA history. He will improve greatly next year. THompson actually didn’t regress as much as you think. His FT% , TS% went up His fg%, EFG% are slightly down. I think the bigger argument with Tristan is he still doesn’t have a consistent jumper, he doesn’t pass, there is no rim protection and he flounders terribly against more than half of the PF/Centers in the NBA. This starting position NEEDS IMPROVEMENT BADLY! He’s not it. Bench player, yes. He’s got a great personality and all of that but we need MORE. Can the FO get over their teddy bear love for him and get to reality on this position?

  • Kildawg

    Z had foot troubles early in his career and look how he turned out. Keeping Hawes with Zeller solidifies center, which leaves the forwards as a need (unless Bennett develops and hits the glass and Thompson continues to improve), which brings us back to not having a NBA caliber starting SF. Having one would greatly benefit Irving and Waiters though.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Z had his foot troubles early on for the most part Lopez has been in the league longer but has had injury problems throughout. The fact that his latest surgery is to alter the way he steps because of past foot problems should be scary for any team let alone the Nets.

    As far as Hawes goes it’s already been reported he wants to play on the west coast so we’ll see what happens. I would have thought when Hawes was added that he would have opened the floor for Irving and Waiters but for the most part it didn’t happen. And Zeller was being shopped at the trade deadline.

    Irving and Waiters can’t play together now you add in a SF who needs the ball and I have no clue how the three could play together. Unless that SF has the initials LBJ.

  • HoopsMachine

    Somewhat inaccurate article which doesn’t cite that they allowed the highest amount of 3P FGM/FGA’s in the league at 9.3/25.4 while opponents were shooting 36.7% which makes them the 9th worst team at defending the 3 ball.