The overreactions after the NBA trade deadline have been priceless so far.
One game and Isaiah Thomas is instantly back to his former self. An efficient 15-point game from journeyman Jae Crowder and suddenly he’s the Jazz’s savior. Earlier, after a 22-point drubbing of the Celtics in their homecourt, it was Cleveland’s turn to join the party.
It’s hard not to be a bit excited as a fan.
Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson are now suddenly the second and third best scorers after Lebron James, lighting it up as if they’ve been there from training camp. Both combined for 13-22 from the field and 6-10 from long-range and have provided more energy and speed than anything the Cavs have seen in their short-lived experiment with D.Rose, Wade, IT4, and Crowder.
Clarkson in particular looked to be a prototypical LeBron acolyte, shooting 75% from three, clearly benefitting from Lebron’s gravity, and providing enough offensive variety to create problems for the Celtics defense.
George Hill, the journeyman usually sought after to provide "veteran presence," had the roughest start by far, but still connected 2-4 from three and did his share on defense. Larry Nance, Jr.’s impact was much bigger than those five points tallied on the box score. In him, the Cavs suddenly have an above-the-rim player outside of Lebron who threatens the rim every minute on the floor.
The first game was a great icebreaker for Cavs' new acquisitions, yet, but it's still to early to call this a resurgence. There are some telltale signs that point to this being a maintenance system correction, rather than a revolution. Their issues won't exactly disappear just yet.
Consider these keys to their victory today.
No team has scouted this new-look Cavs yet
No one knew the Cavs were going to push their range in Boston. Clarkson, Hill, and Hood operated almost exclusively as knockdown shooters during the game. Half of their shots were from behind the arc, and this made it easier for LeBron to operate inside—a strategy he consistently turned to with his more successful teams.
Once teams figure out this team is essentially a younger and more prolific version of the 2016 Cavs and pay attention to their outside shots, LeBron might have to adjust and operate in the paint more—which may or may not be the best strategy depending on James’ health and willingness to bang bodies inside.
Cavs had the hot hand
The Cavs may have rebooted back to long-range supremacy, as they shot roughly the same from the three (53.3%) as they have from the floor (53.6%), but statistics show this game might possibly be a fluke.
Clarkson averages only .324 from three, way below the current percentages of Kevin Love (.404), Kyle Korver (.432), and Jose Calderon (.450). Hill had an excellent long-range percentage for the Kings (.453) but was utilized sparingly—if he shot as well as he did, the Cavs might get an even better boost even in limited minutes. Hood also shoots well from three (.389), but not significantly better than rookie Cedi Osman (.378) and J.R. Smith (.361).
The point: If long-range shooting equated to wins, they should’ve won a long time ago (Cavs are currently ninth in 3PT FG%, and shot 49% in their last three games—games that included their old roster members).
Celtics are in a slump
Since the start of the season, the Celtics have led the league in defensive efficiency at 0.997, but the past three games their 1.050 efficiency translates almost exactly to the middle of the pack (between Charlotte and L.A.). Their clip against the Cavs? A torturous 1.204.
Boston may be headed back to Earth, having lost two straight games and losing four of the last 10. Credit this to a wonky Kyrie Irving who hasn’t been himself following his most recent injury, the slumping rookies Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, whose inefficient scoring has put enormous burden on Terry Rozier and Irving on offense, and the added aggression may be putting a strain on a normally effective Brad Stevens defense.
It’s entirely possible the Celts have hit a wall at the worst possible time.
Cavs played a lot of one-on-one basketball
The Cavs’ new guards combined to deliver an astounding two assists in the game. This highlights their role as set shooters and second options. Once defenses tighten up it will be interesting to see the playmaking these three can provide—something that was absent with Crowder, Wade, Frye, and the King of the Fourth.
Cleveland has been eighth in the league in team assists per game, averaging 23.6, but in the last three games they’ve tossed 28.7 of them—good for second in the league. It might indicate that the recent spurt in wins have more to do with mentality than the recent roster changes.
The Lakers have even more cap space
At the end of the day, what really scares most Cavs fans in the long run is that their trade with the Lakers may have indirectly sent James to the longtime NBA powerhouse next season. The Lakers now have enough space to sign two max players with enough financial magic.
Regardless of what happens—the Cavs have become younger, faster, and more promising. Their young crop of Osman, Clarkson, Hood, along with the veteran tutelage of Hill (and that Nets pick they managed to keep) can make the rebuilding process less painful, essentially putting them in a win-win situation moving forward. But there are still big question marks—Hood’s injury history, Clarkson’s one-dimensional game, and Nance’s limited offensive repertoire may rear its ugly head and once again impede the Cavs’ inevitable march to the playoffs.