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.