Film Study: The Cavs’ Bad Defense

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — When Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters combined for 52 points in a road win over the Los Angeles Clippers last week, we started to see some real potential in the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Since then, the Cavs have lost four straight games. And on Tuesday night, they took over as the worst defensive team in the league, having allowed 107.8 points per 100 possessions, eight more than the league average.

The Cavs’ defense actually ranks in the top eight in forcing turnovers and defensive rebounding. But it has major holes on the interior, despite the presence of Anderson Varejao, an excellent defender.

Highest opponent FG%, restricted area
Team OppFGM OppFGA OppFG%
Cleveland 152 199 76.4%
New York 76 116 65.5%
Chicago 114 178 64.0%
Boston 120 189 63.5%
Sacramento 140 222 63.1%

Through Tuesday, 11/13

Through Tuesday’s loss in Brooklyn, the Cavs are allowing their opponents to shoot a ridiculous 76.4 percent in the restricted area

Now, you will notice that teams 2, 3 and 4 in the table to the right all finished in the top five in defensive efficiency last season. And there’s more to defense than keeping your opponent from shooting a high percentage near the basket.

But you will also notice how big of a difference there is between the Cavs and every other team when it comes to defending the rim. Their opponents are shooting almost 11 percent higher than any other team’s opponents and more than 18 percent higher than the league average (58.2 percent).

To make it clear how bad that is, note that only one player (Dante Cunningham) took at least 100 shots from the restricted area last year and shot better than 76.4 percent. He was 89-for-116 (76.7 percent).

On Tuesday, the Nets shot an amazing 24-for-28 in the restricted area, recording 60 points in the paint, their highest total since April of 2010.

A look at the film makes it easy to see why, because the the Cavs’ defensive breakdowns were obvious, plentiful, and almost comical…

Problem: No hustle. Spotlight on: Alonzo Gee

The Cavs are allowing 19.7 fast break points per 100 possessions, second only to Milwaukee. Part of the problem is turnovers, and part of the problem is … well, just watch Alonzo Gee after Irving misses a shot in the paint…



When Kris Humphries grabs the rebound for Brooklyn, Brook Lopez is at the foul line and Gee is at the 3-point line. And when Lopez scores on the opposite end of the floor, Gee has barely cross the mid-court line.

Problem: No help. Spotlight on: Samardo Samuels

Jerry Stackhouse was a great scorer 10 years ago, but he shouldn’t be waltzing in for layups against your halfcourt defense at the age of 38. Now, Omri Casspi could certainly have done a better job of staying in front of Stackhouse on this play, but where is his help?



With Casspi forcing baseline, he needed help at the near block. But Jon Leuer was too high (unless he thought Reggie Evans was a threat from the elbow) and Samardo Samuels was all the way on the other side of the basket, tied to Andray Blatche. Samuels fails to use the 2.9 seconds he’s allowed in the paint to offer help when Stackhouse drives baseline.

Problem: No communication. Spotlight on: Samardo Samuels

Blatche sets a simple back-screen on Leuer, which results in an easy bucket for Joe Johnson, because Samuels…
1. Failed to alert his teammate of the screen.
2. Failed to hedge back and protect the rim.
3. Actually bumped Leuer himself.



Last year, the Cavs were pretty good defensively (allowing 97.9 points per 100 possessions) with Samuels on the floor. This year, they’ve been at their worst (allowing 120.6) with him in the game. It’s only been 100 minutes and the Cavs’ whole second unit has been bad defensively, but the last two plays are clear evidence that Samuels is part of the problem.

Problem: No resistance. Spotlight on: Dion Waiters

The Nets run a double high pick-and-roll with Humphries and Lopez setting screens for Deron Williams. This is a little out of the ordinary, because the entire left side of the floor is clear for Humphries’ roll to the hoop. But Dion Waiters still sees what’s coming from his spot. He just doesn’t do anything about it, barely taking a swipe at the ball as Humphries gets an easy layup.



Problem: No idea. Spotlight on: Kyrie Irving

After passing to the wing, Williams fakes a UCLA cut off of Lopez at the high post and Irving completely loses his man. When the ball is returned to Williams at the top of the key, Varejao has to help on Williams, leaving Irving helpless to defend Lopez down low.



Five plays. Five really bad breakdowns. That’s what the NBA’s worst defense looks like.

Now, the Cavs were wrapping up a six-game, 11-day road trip on Tuesday. But they had a day off (and hopefully a lengthy film session) between every game, and their defense has really been bad since Game 2. In fact, Game 1 was against the Wizards, who rank last in offensive efficiency, so take whatever defensive success they had on that night with the world’s largest grain of salt.

We all know that the Cavs are a team of the future and that this season’s results don’t matter much in Cleveland. But better defensive habits must start now. If the defense doesn’t improve as this season goes on, the culture will be affected and the development of their backcourt will be hindered.

As awesome as Irving highlights can be, it would be nice to see them in the playoffs. For that to happen, there needs to be fewer lowlights on the other end of the floor.


  1. Yes Cleveland is the worst defensive team in the NBA. When teams shoot 50% or better against you your not going get too many wins. These guys aren’t going to outscore teams because they don’t have the firepower. That makes defense that much more important. I just hope they realize this sooner than later.

  2. TV63 says:

    This is unacceptable. Cavs has some really good talent. If scott can’t teach these guys defense going on a 3rd year; then time for a new coach! There is no reason for this!! I can’t possibly believe another coach would do worse than Scott.

  3. Chico says:

    Varejão is all-star level now(if he mantains his play). Magic would have accepted that trade if they knew he was playing like this. Fortunately they didn’t.
    But probably Cavaliers will be lottery for 1-2 seasons until having big potential. Hopefully they will get lottery picks(1st or 2nd) in Draft 2014, so they would be able to add Wiggins or J.Parker on the roster.
    They also need experienced defenders for the reserve positions. Their bench is awful.

  4. Berdugo says:

    I think they’re still riding on LeBron’s momentum; and are still thinking that they’re the same team 4 years ago.

  5. Chester says:

    yes this is some bad defence, but i would stick with the cavs starting 5, but the bench other than daniel gibson is terrible. Thats why i cant understand people wanting to trade varejao when hes their best hustler and defender, plus 2nd best player at the moment. he has been off to a great start the last 3 years, just hope he doesnt get injured again like the past 2 seasons