Cleveland Cavaliers: Losing Is Tough, But The Young Guys Are Learning

Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers, Willy Hernangomez, Charlotte Hornets
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Nobody likes to lose, especially not when they’re professional athletes. The Cleveland Cavaliers are losing a lot lately, and for some of them, that’s a reality that hasn’t been around in a while. Cleveland is fresh off going to four straight NBA Finals (mostly due to LeBron James‘ heroics, though), and now they are the worst team in the NBA at the moment, and could definitely stay there for the entirety of this 2018-19 season. They are 1-9, owning the league’s worst record, and have the league’s second-worst net rating, per NBA.com. Nonetheless, the young guys are learning by getting playing time in meaningful minutes, and nobody should take wins for granted in the Association.

It’s becoming abundantly clear that Cleveland winning 50 games last season was all because of how spectacular James was seemingly every night. Now, the Cavs are trying to find what fits them well on both ends, and that’s going to take a long time to figure out. On a positive note, though, the team knows where they are going from a head coaching standpoint.

After a reported stalemate after former head coach Tyronn Lue was fired after an 0-6 start, it was a relief when yesterday the organization and acting head coach Larry Drew finally came to an agreement in terms of a contract for the rest of this season, and at least partly into next year, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The Cavaliers are going to have enough problems to deal with on the floor this season, so at least having some consistency in knowing who’s going to be the head man on the bench is a plus. Drew has had a long career in the Association, and players respect him for that a great deal, at least I would assume so. The team needs to fully back a rebuilding mindset for the rest of this season, and with that being the case, having a guy like Drew helps spread the right message to younger pieces getting significant minutes share.

Initially going into this season, the message was reportedly about competing for the postseason in Cleveland, as on paper, it appeared Cleveland had some good pieces even without James. That hasn’t translated to winning realistically now, but that’s okay, as the team now can shift toward developing their key younger players. J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, Tristan Thompson and Thompson are solid veterans, but the Cavs have to be realistic and focus on giving their younger replacements in Rodney Hood, Cedi Osman, Larry Nance Jr. and Collin Sexton (among others) the bulk of the playing time, especially in crunch time.

Those players will and have already had mistakes, but Cleveland and Drew have to live with that going forward. Those guys should be Cavaliers for the near future and beyond (Hood is an unrestricted free agent after this season, but he reportedly wants to be in Cleveland for the long haul). Osman and Hood have had their bright spots at times, as both have made things happen as ball-handlers in isolation and in pick-and-roll situations on the perimeter, but there’s been inconsistency.

Hood has posted 12.6 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 27.2 minutes per game, but he continually is passing up open catch-and-shoot looks and is making things harder on himself and the Cavaliers in the process. It’s early, but he’s on track for having career-lows in three-point attempts per game (just 2.6) and three-point percentage, as he’s hitting on just 30.4 percent of those shots, per NBA.com.

Osman is averaging 12.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 32.0 minutes per game, but he has a ways to go with his decision-making. He continues to force the action too often when it’s not there, and his handle needs to greatly improve if he’s going to be a legitimate point-forward type of player. He’s only shooting 38.7 percent from the floor, and he’s struggled from three-point range recently after a hot start. Osman is playing really hard, though, but like many of the other Cleveland Cavaliers such as Nance, he’s just making too many costly errors that are leading to opponents taking advantage.

A rough turnover at a crucial point in last night’s heartbreaking 102-100 loss to the Orlando Magic was an unfortunate “teaching moment” for Osman and the younger Cavs. It allowed the Magic to get back in it after two made free throws, and then Osman unfortunately had an undisciplined closeout on Orlando’s Evan Fournier, which led to a successful buzzer-beating shot.

These sort of things are going to happen to Cleveland from now on, but it’s a necessary part of their impending rebuild. Kevin Love is going to be out for a while, and will reportedly be re-evaluated in six weeks (really at least) with a toe injury, per The Athletic’s Joe Vardon, and the Cavaliers struggling with him in anyway, they need to see what they have in players such as Nance and Ante Zizic. Nance reportedly signed a four-year, $44.8 million contract extension before the start of the regular season, and playing him often will aid in his growth as the season progresses.

In addition, Sexton needs to play more and more for Drew and company as the season progresses. It was recently reported by the previously mentioned Vardon that there’s been “disillusionment with Collin Sexton.”

That being said, the young point guard was the 2018 eighth overall pick, and he needs to get time, really with a starting minutes’ share in the next few months. Playing him not with Jordan Clarkson would be a good start, as the two don’t fit well on the court together, considering they both are score-first guards.

In time, though, Sexton can learn to open things up more for his teammates, and that will come with more experience running NBA sets, and Drew will help with that. Sexton is only averaging 3.4 assists per 36 minutes, per Basketball Reference, but he’s been a much more willing passer than Clarkson has been, and I would expect him and Nance’s chemistry to grow in pick-and-roll situations. He’ll need to not be so stubborn in his pick-and-roll defense, but he’ll adjust with more coaching; he’s played in ten games.

With the Cleveland Cavaliers not winning anything this season, they need to fully commit to giving their young players (including guard and small-ball 3 David Nwaba) considerable minutes in meaningful stretches of games. With more experience in those situations, they’ll get more comfortable, and down the road, perform better in situations like the one they botched in Orlando Monday night.