Dallas Mavericks Need Everything They’re Getting From Super-sub Brandan Wright

Historically, the Sixth Man of the Year award has been reserved for guys who bring instant offense off the bench. Dallas MavericksBrandan Wright might not fit that description, but he has been every bit as impactful as any other bench player in the league.

Wright, 27, doesn’t get a lot of playing time, but he is one of the Mavs‘ most efficient players in his 19.3 minutes per game.

Dallas’ net rating is 3.5 points per 100 possessions better with the 6’10″ big man on the floor. He leads the league in field-goal percentage, connecting at an insane 80 percent clip early on in the season. As icing on the cake, Wright is also second only to New Orleans Pelicans‘ Anthony Davis in player efficiency rating.

His offensive load has also increased. Wright has scored in double digits in Dallas’ last eight games. His teammates trust him to score when they feed him the ball, and opponents have to scheme against his efficient movement on the court.

Wright has always been very efficient, but his numbers so far are truly special if he is able to sustain them. To head coach Rick Carlisle, it’s no mystery as to why his backup center is thriving.

“He’s a knowledgeable player that understands where openings are,” Carlisle said, according to ESPNDallas.com’s Tim MacMahon. “He does a good job anticipating and getting to them. We’ve got guys that understand where to get him the ball, where he is and things like that. That helps, too.” 

Wright himself appears to have a straightforward mindset on how to play the game.

“My job is simple. When I get the ball, I need to make a play with it,” he said.

While being a regular on highlight reels is nice, Wright’s influence on this year’s Mavericks team has gone way beyond that.

 

A Versatile Presence On Both Ends

Wright has done an excellent job emulating Tyson Chandler‘s presence. He is running pick-and-rolls just as effectively as the Mavs‘ starting center, and is throwing in a healthy dose of rim protection to spice it up.

It’s no secret how Wright has such a high field-goal percentage. He lives above the rim and gets the majority of his points through dunks. 

Wright usually finds his looks in two different ways—either by setting a screen and rolling to the basket, or by lurking on the weak side. Here are two examples of him being on the receiving end of J.J. Barea’s lobs:

He is great at timing cuts and his teammates usually have no trouble finding him.

“He understands how to read his defender, and it’s easy to get the ball to him. You can’t overthrow him. I have actually [tried]. It hasn’t happened yet,” Mavs guard Devin Harris said according to MacMahon.

Wright isn’t a post player, but he has a nice hook shot in his arsenal. Take a look at these two plays:

When defenders rotate in time and the dunk isn’t there, he generally puts the ball on the floor for a dribble or two. He is supremely athletic and has a very soft touch for a big man, which allows him to rise above the interior defender and finish over the top.

Wright always looks for the finish when he gets the ball anywhere in the vicinity of the rim. That decisiveness certainly contributes to his efficiency.

While he excels at a couple of things offensively, Wright is considerably more versatile on the defensive end. Here are a couple of clips of his defensive presence:

The first play is a great example of his pick-and-roll defense. Wright is presented with the challenge of stopping the driving guard, while not losing the roll man. He baits Houston Rockets‘ Francisco Garcia into the drive and swats the shot.

In the following play, Wright completely shuts down Donatas Motiejunas in the post. He holds his ground, stays down on the fakes, forces the travel and blocks the shot for good measure.

There are some bruisers around the league who can push Wright around a little more in the post, but he is strong enough to hold his own against most guys. Even if his matchup slips past him he still has the leaping ability to recover and contest the shot.

The Mavericks as a team tend to bring a lot of help, and Wright’s speed helps him time rotations. In the third clip, he stays with his man for long enough to make a dump-off impossible, but still does his job as a weak-side defender.

With his 7’4″ pterodactyl wingspan, Wright is able to close out on shooters and interrupt passing lanes. In the final play of the montage, he does just that. After hedging, he runs back to his man with outstretched arms and inadvertently forces a turnover.

That kind of length and speed also gives Dallas the freedom to occasionally switch Wright onto guards without compromising the defense.

His rim protection has been solid overall. Wright ranks eighth in the league in blocks per 36 minutes among players who have played 150 minutes or more this season.

Having Wright on the roster is a true luxury for Dallas. He has a very similar skill set to that of Chandler, which allows the team to maintain its identity even when the starting center is off the floor. 

Carlisle has also played both Chandler and Wright together for defensive purposes against bigger frontcourts. Even though neither of the two players have range, their combined mobility makes up for the lack of spacing. 

Wright increased his field-goal percentage to 67.7 percent last year. His incredible efficiency will inevitably take a dip at some point, but it’s certainly not impossible for him to shoot over 70 percent over the entire season.

The Mavs are getting all they could possibly ask for from Wright. They just have to hope he continues to deliver.

 

All stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference or NBA.com, unless otherwise noted.

You can follow me on Twitter: @VytisLasaitis

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Cleveland Cavaliers Need Help That Ray Allen Can’t Provide

Six wins, seven losses and countless questions that are simultaneously premature and unavoidable.

By the numbers, the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ first month of new-look exploits has left something to be desired. In times like these, superstars cite the importance of patience, coaches get metaphorical and the rest of us wonder if there’s a way to fix this in short order.

CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger recently refloated one possibility that had emerged this summer.

“Additional help could be on the way, with still-unsigned Ray Allen weighing whether he’ll return to the floor for what would be his 19th season,” Berger wrote. “If he does, the Cavs are the undisputed favorites—and have a gaping hole in their bench unit that is ready-made for Allen to fill.”

Superficially, one can’t help but relish the notion of Allen in a Cavs uniform. It would be a story if nothing else—one more prominent name alongside LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. One more weapon to compensate for sixth man Dion Waiters’ uneven output. Another veteran joining forces with Mike Miller and Shawn Marion.

That’s enough oldie-but-goodie star credentials to film another sequel to The Expendables.

The real problem with signing Allen isn’t that it raises the Cavaliers’ average age. Nor is there any risk he’d actually make the team worse. This would be safe move, and it’s hard to argue with that.

But Allen wouldn’t be the solution. Despite his two championships, 10 All-Star selections and 2,973 three-pointers, he isn’t the answer to all those premature and unavoidable questions.

That answer is likely to be found at the defensive end.

Through their first 13 games, the Cavaliers are yielding 105.1 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com—just the 22nd-best mark in the league. They’re giving up 17.6 field goals per game from within five feet of the basket (ninth-worst league-wide) and allowing opponents to make 64.3 percent of their field-goal attempts from that range (third-worst in the league).

Even if you’re somehow convinced Allen can still turn in first-rate defense, he’s no rim protector.

“We’re not a team that has great shot blocking,” head coach David Blatt conceded to media earlier this month, per Chris Haynes of Northeast Ohio Media Group. “On the other hand, if you look at our schemes, we can protect the rim. It’s jut not necessarily with shot blocking. But that’s an area we have to do a better job.”

Keeping scorers out of the paint will require better team defense. Disrupting those scorers once they get into the paint may require a savvy acquisition on the trade or free-agency market—an acquisition instead of an addition to Allen.

Making a competent defender out of Love is another story altogether.

Big men Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson have been doing their parts. Love, however, has continued to earn his reputation as one of the league’s most porous stoppers at the rim. Among the 50 players who have defended against at least five field-goal attempts per game so far this season, Love ranks 48th in opponent field-goal percentage—allowing a 61.1 percent rate of success.

By comparison, Dirk Nowitzki has only given up 52.3 percent of those interior shots, and he’s by no means a model of rim protection.

“But here’s the thing—this isn’t new,” Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry recently wrote. “Love was among the least effective volume rim protectors in the league last year, too. Like it or not, he is who we thought he was, and any team leaning on Love to help protect the paint will be exposed.”

Given Love’s transcendent shooting ability and top-shelf rebounding, he’s going to get his minutes.

And pointing the finger may not be very productive—especially with broader defensive deficits also taking their tolls.

“Of course you want to have somebody to protect the rim,” Varejao told reporters this month, per Haynes. ”I believe our problem right now is not because we don’t have a shot blocker, it’s because our defense is terrible. We’re doing a bad job on defense. That’s what is killing us.”

A recent 110-93 loss to the Toronto Raptors put Cleveland’s defensive struggles on full display. James and Co. gave up a career-high 36 points to sixth man Lou Williams. Williams and starting point guard Kyle Lowry combined to attempt 27 free throws—a robust indication of the Cavaliers’ desperation to stop penetration.

Love had five fouls in 34 minutes.

Assuming the Cavaliers can channel all that defensive energy into a more rule-friendly effort, perhaps this team can at least begin addressing its shortcomings internally—especially as it grows more familiar with its new pieces and coach. Otherwise, help may be needed.

Just not of the Allen variety. 

Sure, he might help an offense that already ranks ninth league-wide with 105.2 points per 100 possessions. But chances are that production will steadily grow in time either way. Every game is another step toward the kind of chemistry that helps an offense hum.

Allen is a luxury item, perhaps even a redundancy.  

Officially, there’s still no guarantee Cleveland will land Allen—even if his close friendship with James ostensibly gives the organization some inroads. ESPN’s Chris Broussard recently tweeted that “Cavs, Bulls, Wizards, Spurs among the 7 teams interested in Ray Allen,” adding that “Allen’s in Miami, keeping himself in shape.”

Allen himself has made it clear he’s in no hurry to make a decision.

“I’ve just been home, taking my kids to school,” he told reporters in October. “I’m working out, taking care of my body. I’m in great shape. I’ll just watch how the season progresses, and if I do feel the desire to continue to play, then I’ll decide what situation is viable for me.”

Allen’s former coach, Doc Rivers, (now with the Los Angeles Clippers) suggested the icon shooter may be waiting to see how the season shakes out for his respective suitors, comparing his available opportunities as they take further shape.

“Honestly, I think he’s making the right decision,” Rivers told the Sun Sentinel earlier this month. “…That’s why he’s doing it. I think it’s a good reason.”

Maybe Allen’s next decision will involve the Cavaliers, and maybe it will be a good one. But if Cleveland is serious about starting the shopping season off right, it’ll be on lookout for a defensively minded big man who might be had for the right price—a Larry Sanders or Robin Lopez—to tag team with Varejao.

Barring such an addition, Cleveland’s only other hope is harder to quantify. Will leaders step up? Will the youngsters learn? Will Love exorcise his defensive demons?

The Cavaliers’ championship upside depends more on questions like these than on signing Ray Allen.

 

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.

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Kobe sounds off on need for change post-Ferguson

Kobe Bryant on Ferguson: Until the legal system changes ‘it’s going to keep on happening’

      
 

 

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Do the San Antonio Spurs Need to Consider Tweaking Their Roster?

The San Antonio Spurs seem to have the perfect roster. Few analysts question it, there aren’t any particularly glaring holes and the Spurs keep winning.

Gregg Popovich’s team limped through a 2-3 start but has since adapted to the setbacks, capitalizing on a weak schedule and earning seven victories in its last eight games.

Still, Marco Belinelli’s recovery, Matt Bonner’s mediocrity and Tiago Splitter’s prolonged absence raise minor red flags. Belinelli is being eased back into game action, Bonner is dealing with a stomach virus and Splitter’s official return date remains unknown, according to Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News.

With the trio ailing, should San Antonio be pursuing some sort of acquisition in an attempt to boost the roster just in case the injuries become a long-term mess?

The most important question, in this case, is how much a top playoff seed means to the team. Making a move would mean the Spurs are gunning for a top position, because they’ll almost certainly earn a postseason spot regardless.

Boris Diaw probably won’t log 35-plus minutes all season in Splitter’s absence, and the Spurs shouldn’t be opposed to limiting significant playing time for Jeff Ayres and Austin Daye—both of whom are unspectacular.

San Antonio could try utilizing smaller lineups, something opponents have used as a counter to five-man units with Tim Duncan and a center. This idea would entail a three-man combination of Tony Parker, Cory Joseph, Danny Green, Manu Ginobili or Belinelli alongside Kawhi Leonard and a center.

Per 82games, though, none of the Spurs’ top 20 lineups last season employed “The Claw” at the 4. What’s more, San Antonio couldn’t use Diaw at center in the preceding example, because that would shatter Pop’s rotations. And if the veteran was used at the 4, well, it’s no different than a normal unit.

Consequently, a small lineup would necessitate another shooting guard or small forward to make the option feasible. There aren’t many viable free agents, but Ray Allen is a popular name likely to gain traction—especially given a recent update from ESPN’s Chris Broussard.

Allen shattered the hearts of Spurs fans in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, yet the sharpshooter shouldn’t be ruled out because of that distant emotional pain.

Considering the injuries and overall three-point struggles San Antonio has encountered to date, Allen represents a decent addition. Though his defense is a turnoff, he’d provide long-distance shooting support during any Belinelli- or Patty Mills-less outings.

In order to sign Allen, however, the Spurs would be required to waive someone, because they currently have 15 players under contract. The side-eye would slowly begin scanning for Ayres and Daye, which doesn’t conceptually seem terrible.

But as fantastically mediocre as those backups are, the Spurs are already ridiculously thin in the frontcourt. Dropping either forward would mean San Antonio could not afford a major injury to any one of Duncan, Splitter, Aron Baynes or Bonner, and that is simply not worth the risk.

While Ayres and Daye are expendable, neither is necessarily release-able in favor of a guardwhich is equally hilarious and confusing. Their rebounding ability, as inconsequential as it may seem, is actually needed in small doses.

Ultimately, Allen does not provide a sufficient upgrade but would actually create a small but meaningful void, so he shouldn’t be pursued. 

Seeking a trade is the obvious alternative, but the Spurs realistically have no pieces to send other than draft picks or exceptions. Unless San Antonio targets a specific defensive upgrade to replace Ayres or Daye, the Spurs shouldn’t seriously consider waiving either forward.

Additionally, Kyle Anderson might seem like a wild card on the surface, considering he’ll probably split time with San Antonio and the Austin Spurs of the NBA Developmental League.

The franchise did something similar with Joseph a couple seasons back, giving the guard extra burn in the D-League while sporadically using him in the NBA. That time has certainly proved beneficial in the long run now that Joseph has stepped into a backup role and performed efficiently.

However, while sending Anderson to Austin for portions of his rookie campaign will help him record semi-consistent playing time, a change of scenery doesn’t alter the number of contracts.

Even if San Antonio wanted to pursue another option for its roster, the lack of available talent and full sheet of contracts combined with Ayres and Daye understanding their respective roles should not be discounted. Though neither is an under-the-radar stud, they both occupy a specific role that isn’t in dire need of an upgrade.

The Spurs’ best option is to stay the course and wait for a fully healthy team. Once that happens, nearly every question surrounding San Antonio’s roster will fade away.

 

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and accurate as of Nov. 24.

Follow Bleacher Report NBA writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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LeBron was right: Cavaliers need more time

LeBron James’ realism was met with rolling eyes, but the young Cavaliers are taking time to jell.

      
 

 

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LeBron was right: Cavs need time

LeBron James’ realism was met with rolling eyes, but the young Cavaliers are taking time to jell.

      
 

 

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LeBron James was right: Cavaliers need more time

LeBron James’ realism was met with rolling eyes, but the young Cavaliers are taking time to jell.

      
 

 

View full post on USATODAY – NBA Top Stories

Timberwolves Injury Update: Kevin Martin may need right wrist surgery

The Minnesota Timberwolves fell to the San Antonio Spurs on Friday by the score of 121-92. The blowout loss dropped the Timberwolves to 3-8 on the season, fourth in the Northwest Division. Anthony Bennett lead the Timberwolves with 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting in 32 minutes off the bench. The Timberwolves were without Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin, both out with wrist injuries. The bad news on Martin is that his wrist is fracture and he may need surgery.TonyTheTiger via Wikimedia Commons Rotoworld.com reported that  Martin will have his wrist examined in the coming days to determine whether or not he’ll need surgery. It appears that Martin will be out at least six weeks, which is a significant loss to the Timberwolves. In absence, expect Chase Budinger, Corey Brewer and Mo Williams see the majority of the minutes in the back court and small forward. Martin, in his 11th NBA season out of Western Carolina, is averaging 20.4 points and 3.7 rebounds per game this season. The veteran guard has played f

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Do Chicago Bulls Really Need Healthy Derrick Rose to Contend for NBA Title?

The Chicago Bulls can be a dominant two-way force without a fully healthy Derrick Rose.

But the line separating really good teams from full-fledged contenders is one Chicago can only cross with the former MVP at his best.

After getting only 49 games out of Rose the past three seasons, the Bulls have learned to live without him. Thanks to a combination of internal development and external acquisitions, they have even started to thrive in his absence.

They are 8-3 on the season, having scored four of those victories while Rose was sidelined by ankle and hamstring injuries. They are one of only four clubs—one of only two in the Eastern Conference—with top-10 rankings in both offensive (eighth) and defensive (seventh) efficiency.

Those are the tell-tale markings of an elite NBA team. The fact that those numbers have largely been compiled without Rose’s assistance highlights the tremendous depth on this roster.

“They may have two or three All-Stars minus Derrick,” Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, per Bleacher Report’s Josh Martin, “so they’re a good basketball team.”

And Rivers’ praise came before the Bulls, missing both Rose and Pau Gasol (calf), reeled off a double-digit road victory over the Clippers.

The Bulls have both star power and a deep supporting cast.

Gasol, the prized piece of Chicago’s offseason haul, has seamlessly transitioned into his new home. The skilled 7-footer leads the team in rebounds (10.6) and blocks (2.5), while ranking second in scoring (18.6).

Chicago’s only player pumping in more points is fourth-year swingman Jimmy Butler. The Marquette product, who is slated to hit restricted free agency at season’s end, has exploded out of the gate. He currently holds career highs in points (21.3), field-goal percentage (50.8), rebounds (6.2), assists (3.9) and player efficiency rating (22.5).

“Jimmy Butler, what can you say?” coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters after Butler tallied 22 points, eight assists and six rebounds against the Clippers. “When that game was on the line he made big play after big play. He’s playing great basketball.”

Center Joakim Noah, an All-Star in each of the last two seasons, has been rounding into form after undergoing left knee surgery over the summer. Learning to play alongside a low-post weapon like Gasol has been another adjustment Noah has had to make.

The high-motor big man has dished out six assists in five straight games and grabbed 12-plus rebounds two of his last four times out. As a defensive cog and offensive catalyst, he positively impacts the game in so many different ways.

Those are Chicago’s stars. Add Rose’s name to the mix, and it becomes an embarrassment of riches.

But the supporting cast might be equally impressive.

Taj Gibson remains one of the league’s top reserves. He’s shooting a career-best 56.9 percent from the field and has matched his previous high with 13.0 points a night. His energy level on both ends of the floor is as high as it’s ever been, and his importance to Chicago’s success hasn’t diminished a bit despite all the new weapons around him.

“Taj is probably the most selfless player in the NBA,” Noah said, per Bulls.com’s Sam Smith. “A guy who is depended on all the time and never gets the credit he deserves. I appreciate everything he does. We can’t get to where we want to get to without Taj.”

Decorated rookie forward Nikola Mirotic has only found 12.1 minutes a night, which speaks volumes about this team’s talent.

Ditto for rookie sharpshooter Doug McDermott and his 12.5 minutes per game. It’s hard to find him time when veteran sniper Mike Dunleavy is converting his long-range looks at a 40.4 percent clip.

Kirk Hinrich is a pesky defender and a major three-point threat (39.5 percent). Aaron Brooks is a wildly effective scorer (19.4 points per 36 minutes on .483/.469/.789 shooting) and willing passer (6.3 assists per 36 minutes). Tony Snell adds to Chicago’s collection of shooters and provides another athletic presence on the perimeter—if he’s able to make it off the crowded bench.

With Thibodeau at the helm, the Bulls are always going to play a relentless brand of defense. And with all this added firepower, they can now frustrate their opponents on either end of the floor.

“We’re scoring a lot of different ways,” Noah said, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. “I remember when the score was 81-76, just fiending to get a basket. Now we’re scoring 100 every night. And I feel like it can get better.”

That’s where it all comes back to the 26-year-old face of the franchise.

The Bulls are showing how good they can be even when Rose isn’t a constant presence in the lineup. But greatness only comes within the realm of possibilities once he can start logging significant minutes.

“As stacked as Chicago’s roster may be,” Martin wrote, “this team would hardly have a prayer of competing for the franchise’s seventh championship without a healthy and effective Rose leading the way.”

There have already been signs of the impact Rose can make.

Individually, he has appeared understandably rusty. The career 46.0 percent shooter has hit only 43.3 percent of his attempts and just seven of his 24 threes. His 18.0 scoring average and 5.4 nightly assists trail his career numbers (20.8 and 6.7, respectively), but that decline has been a direct result of logging a career-low 28.0 minutes a night.

While Rose has had some issues with his shot, he has not had any trouble leading his team.

On the season, the Bulls have outscored their opponents by 6.4 points per 100 possessions. That’s good enough for the sixth-highest net efficiency rating in the league. With Rose on the floor, that number jumps to 15.4, which easily tops the Dallas Mavericks‘ top mark of plus-12.6. Without Rose, the Bulls have a plus-3.3 net rating, which would check in at 10th overall.

And for the Rose haters conspiracy theorists out there, no, Rose hasn’t planned his absences around avoiding the toughest tests. The five teams he has squared up with have a combined record of 27-31, a .466 winning percentage. The six games he missed came against clubs with a 23-43 record, only a .348 winning percentage.

Rose helps Chicago put constant pressure on a defense. He’s still lightning-quick off the dribble and a devastating finisher at the basket (career-high 68.8 percent conversion rate inside of three feet).

He was a willing passer before he had help. In 2011-12, when Rose averaged 21.8 points and no other Bull topped 15.3, he had a 40.3 assist percentage. Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, who has had a wealth of scorers around him, has never done better than 39.9.

The Bulls have other weapons, but they all become more powerful when Rose is involved.

Chicago needs Rose to make a championship run. He’s a necessity, not a luxury.

That being said, the Bulls don’t need him on the floor until he’s physically and mentally ready to return. They have more than enough to keep pace in the Eastern Conference without him, especially with the Cleveland Cavaliers struggling to create any chemistry.

Chicago’s depth doesn’t make Rose expendable, it allows this team to play things as safe as it can with regard to his health.

“Everybody on the team, from subs to starters to stars, can play key roles this year,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes. “In the early going, depth and Thibodeau‘s ‘we have enough’ attitude can carry the load so the bigger names can rest and recover. As the season progresses, the rotation will shrink and the marquee players can start to take over.”

The supporting cast is growing without Rose, and he is taking every step to put himself in the best possible position.

“[I'm] just trying to do everything right,” he said, per ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell. “Eat right, hydrate right, stretch right, work on my flexibility, just trying to put everything on my side so at the end of the day I’m just trying to get better.”

It’s hard to ask for more patience from a franchise that has already spent two years waiting for his return. It’s no easier to avoid thoughts of despair every time his body forces him off the floor.

Still, there’s a chance this all works out for the better.

The Bulls are a two-way wrecking ball, destroying every team in their path regardless of who’s sitting at the controls. The pieces are in place to contend for a title. If this rest period aids Rose in his recovery and helps develop the players behind him, Chicago’s ceiling could continue to climb.

But Rose must be involved to help this team fulfill its massive potential. As has been the case for the last several years, Chicago’s success once again hinges on his health.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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Do Cleveland Cavaliers Need More Time or Just More Help?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Superstar trio forms to equal parts fear and fanfare (depending on whom you ask), and expectations reach a fevered pitch, only to have said troika stumble somewhat clumsily out of the gate.

Oh, and then everyone loses his or her mind. Can’t forget that.

The narrative arc of this year’s Cleveland Cavaliers has mimicked that of the 2010-11 Miami Heat so faithfully you’d think Michael Bay was writing the scripts.

And so it is that we find ourselves revisiting a familiar trope: Do these Cavs need more talent or simply more time in order to thrive?

Looking at the roster, the former might sound like a ludicrous proposition. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Shawn Marion, Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters—Cleveland fairly reeks of freakish talent and time-tested mettles.

To be sure, there’s plenty of cachet to Cleveland’s credit, exemplified by its second-ranked offensive efficiency (108.3). On this front, the Cavs have slowly but surely began creeping toward their Platonic ideal. Which, if you’re the rest of the league, is a terrifying proposition indeed.

Seldom are titles won on one side of the floor, however. As such, Cleveland’s 26th-ranked defense (108.3) remains the mud-caked elephant in the room. LeBron is still LeBron, of course. But Irving and Love—for all their offensive gifts—aren’t even in the same dimension as Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

The Cavs’ defensive woes are manifold. But if you’re looking for one stat in particular that encapsulates Cleveland’s struggles, it might be this: Per NBA.com (subscription required), in the team’s first eight games, it was surrendering an apocalyptic 65.4 percent on opponent field goals from zero to five feet from the rim. Dead last in the league.

That might sound like a simple case of bad rim protection. But while Love, Varejao and Thompson haven’t exactly been Dikembe Mutombo in the paint, the issues with the Cavs’ interior are much more complex.

Compelled to pen by Cleveland’s woeful pick-and-role defense against the lowly Denver Nuggets, SB Nation’s Jason Patt went a bit more in depth into what’s made the Cavs such sieves on D:

There are several reasons for these major struggles. The Cavaliers don’t exactly have many wing stoppers to limit dribble penetration, with both Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters renowned for being poor defenders. LeBron James has slipped a bit on that end, while Shawn Marion isn’t what he once was. Looking at the rest of the roster, there’s not really a plus wing defender in the bunch. It’s no wonder Corey Brewer is reportedly on Cleveland’s radar in trade talks.

In the frontcourt, nobody from the Kevin Love, Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson trio can really be described as a strong rim protector. Love certainly isn’t; his habit of not always challenging shots in order to avoid fouls has come with him from Minnesota.

If the Cavs indeed have designs on improving their overall depth, defense is sure to be the motivating factor. Patt cites the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Corey Brewer—a rangy havoc-wreaker of a player capable of defending up to four positions—as one stopgap possibility. And there are sure to be others bandied about the rumor mill.

The question is whether and to what degree any potential trade might compromise Cleveland’s certifiably cartoonish offense.

Nobody grasps this need for balance better than rookie head coach David Blatt. Widely considered one of the game’s foremost offensive minds, Blatt—whose European grand tour netted him a bevy of championship wares—isn’t exactly turning a blind eye to his team’s mounting transgressions.

“I can honestly tell you I’m a little disappointed in the moments of lethargy that we have on defense,” Blatt said following a recent 118-111 win over the New Orleans Pelicans (via ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin). “And our guys need to understand that if we want to consistently beat great and good teams and very good teams like the one we saw tonight, we cannot afford to sleep for parts of the game or parts of the quarter.”

To his credit, Blatt has done everything in his power to walk the talk. His most intriguing gambit: Giving rookie guard Joe Harris—lauded as a three-and-D specialist during his four years at the University of Virginia—more minutes off the bench in lieu of the comparably anemic Waiters.

There’s little doubt the Cavs will remain ear-to-ground in the coming weeks and months, ready to pounce should any defense-bolstering trade arise. The strategic conundrum they’ll be grappling with, however, is anything but simple:

Has their offense been good enough soon enough to warrant a bit of patience at the defensive end, or can Blatt and Co. count on similar offensive incendiaries should a trade for a top-tier stopper actually take place?

For his part, James has taken to stressing an all too familiar sermon: patience.

“Our team, it’s a work in progress, and when you have a lot of new players—particularly a lot of new, very talented players—sometimes it’s a little harder to put together,” James told USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt following a brutal loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on November 6. “If you look historically, that’s sort of been the case in many of these situations.”

These Cleveland Cavaliers will never be the havoc-wreaking defensive force that was the LeBron-era Heat—The Flying Death Machine, to borrow a bit of Twitter parlance. If, however, they can manage to somehow sneak above the league fold while maintaining their already rubber-burning basketball ballistics, contention—particularly in a historically weak Eastern Conference—is anything but out of the question.

That these Cavaliers are destined to see a more scrutinizing eye practically goes without saying. The danger lies in said eye posing ultimatums on what the team needs specifically—be it players or patience or anything else—when really the answer is much more simple:

It doesn’t need either. Although it could probably use a little bit of both.

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