It is no doubt that these trades make Cleveland younger. Three of the four players they received are 25 and only George Hill is 31. They traded away aging stars Wade and Frye, who are 36 and 34, respectively. Rose and Thomas may be 29 and 27, but they have both gone through major injuries that have resulted in them losing a step.
However, stars that can perform now are more important than youth in Cleveland. This is the last team-controlled year of LeBron’s contract. Part of the reason the Lakers agreed to the trade was to create cap space for LeBron and Paul George. These players may be good and young for Cleveland’s future, but can they win another title in what could be their last shot for many years?
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Cleveland’s lack of defense. That problem was never more apparent than in their last 10 games. They may have gone 5-5, but they only allowed less than 110 points twice and less than 100 once.
The team should benefit from trading away Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, and Jae Crowder, its three worst players in defensive win shares. But they also let go of their two best players in that category, Iman Shumpert and Dwayne Wade.
Of the newcomers, all but George Hill rank above the remaining Cavaliers in defensive win shares. But coach Tyronn Lue must be smart and give out minutes based on defense rather than offense. If he starts Hill at point guard, he is not fixing Thomas’s defensive problems. He should not have a problem at power forward because Kevin Love is the only option that exhibits questionable defense.
Cleveland may have improved its defense relative to the first half of this season, but this team will still rank in the bottom half of the league. They still lack a shutdown defender that can overhaul their current standing at tied for 27th in the league in points allowed. No Cavaliers rank in the top 100 in defensive win shares (Jordan Clarkson is now the first Cleveland player on the list at 119).
Cleveland may have acquired better defensive players, but the majority of the people they put on the court will still be well below average. As evidenced by last year’s trip to the Finals, their defense does not need to dominate. They reached the last round despite finishing 20th in the regular season and 13th in the postseason in points allowed.
Point differential is the key. Currently, the Cavaliers are 19th in this category at -0.9. This is largely because they are often blown out and play even less defense when they are already down by 15 points. Even so, their point differential standing could also mean that they often get lucky and should have a worse record than 31-22.
Last season’s point differential of +3.1 ranked a respectable 7th in the league. And Cleveland jacked it up in the postseason, posting a +7.9 mark that ranked second in the league. Cleveland is only 0.8 points off of last season’s offensive mark, so it’s the defense that needs to improve.
Cleveland has improved their defense at the trade deadline, but they have only added above average players. Their lack of a true shutdown defender such as Andrew Bogut or even one in the top 100 like 2016 Kevin Love will likely spell an exit before the NBA Finals.