In the hours after the Cavaliers acquired Spencer Hawes, the new center told Mike Brown he had a good understanding of what the Cavs did offensively because he had just played them as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Brown joked that if he read the scouting report, he essentially knew all the Cavaliers did offensively.
The remark exposed Brown to more criticism about his unimaginative offense, which has left the Cavs in the bottom 10 in scoring and tied for last in the league in shooting following Saturday’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
But Brown has never paid much attention to critics and insists his offense will work just fine when executed properly.
“I think initially guys just have to understand how to play the right way and with each other,” Brown said. “That’s just moving the ball and moving bodies and spacing the floor correctly. Passing on time, passing on target, setting solid screens. The little things about the game of basketball on the offensive end of the floor is what we need to emphasize more than trying to get intricate.”
Brown argues that the Oklahoma City Thunder, a legitimate title contender and a team the Cavs just beat last week, are even more basic in their offensive principles, but they have arguably the game’s best pure scorer in Kevin Durant.
“Kevin Durant will come down the floor and jack up a 30-footer and everybody thinks it’s a good shot — which it is if you’re Kevin Durant, or the same with Russell Westbrook,” Brown said. “(Westbrook) will come down and it’ll be a no-pass shot and it can be a good offense if your guys are used to playing that way and they’ve got a feel for one another and you have a rhythm and understanding of what you need to do on that end of the floor. We have to figure out how to play the right way before we can get there.”
The Cavs enter Tuesday’s home game against the San Antonio Spurs averaging 97 points per game. Of the seven teams ranked below them in scoring, only two (the Charlotte Bobcats and Chicago Bulls) are in postseason positions today, although the Grizzlies are a game out in the West and just beat the Cavs on Saturday.
The Bulls entered Sunday with the worst scoring offense in the NBA, averaging 93.3 points, but they pulled into the third seed in the East following Sunday’s win against the Knicks, when the Bulls set a franchise record with just three turnovers. So obviously a team doesn’t need to lead the league in scoring to be successful. The Bulls win under Tom Thibodeau with a smothering defense which Brown is trying to reproduce in his second tour in Cleveland.
The Cavs have looked better at times lately on offense, particularly when they scored 114 points in the victory against the Thunder and became the sixth team all season to score at least 42 points in the fourth quarter.
But despite the improvements, Brown insists the Cavs are doing nothing differently on offense than they have all season. The addition of Spencer Hawes has helped spread the floor and clear the lane, Brown said, and he is a terrific passer who hits guys “on time and on target,” Brown said.
The Cavs’ offensive principles remain clear: Brown wants them to push in transition and try to score easily. If that’s not there, play pick-and-roll. If that’s not available, start moving the ball side to side before finally calling a play if all else fails. The Cavs have rarely made it that far on most offensive possessions, however, because guys relent to standing around and the movement stops.
Luol Deng, one of the best cutters in the league, has rarely had chances to do so until recently. Most of his touches have come in post-up situations or isolation.
“Us telling the guys what to do offensively has been the same the entire year,” Brown said. “The stuff we work on offensively we were working on a month ago. We’re just a little better with it now.”