INDEPENDENCE: During the first season of his first reign as Cavaliers coach, Mike Brown estimates he spent 90-95 percent of his practice time working on defense. By comparison, the 75 percent Brown estimated this week he spends coaching defense seems paltry.
Regardless of the percentage, the results are evident. The Cavs were last in the league in defensive field-goal percentage, allowing teams to shoot better than 47 percent against them last season. Through four games this season — albeit a miniscule sample size — the Cavs rank fifth, and opponents are shooting under 41 percent. It’s a dramatic improvement for a team that finished 27th, 27th and 30th defensively in the three seasons Brown was away. Even he concedes the Cavs are ahead of schedule defensively.
“We still have a lot of room to grow and my biggest thing is to see if we can be consistent, but they’ve done a nice job defensively,” Brown said. “They’re doing things right within the system that you can see on tape. They’re communicating, or trying to communicate. They’re trying to trust the system and each other. Then they’re helping when the help needs to happen. We’re getting some pretty good glimpses defensively who we can be at the end of the day.”
Brown has his own catch phrases, such as “five guys defending the basketball” and “five guys on a string,” but a lot of what the Cavs have done thus far defensively is fairly basic. Brown confirmed Tuesday they’re only defending the pick-and-roll thus far one way, using a hard show in which the big jumps out on the ball-handler, then retreats to his man while the guard gets through the screen and resumes defending the dribbler.
It’s the most basic defensive play, yet the Cavs never seemed to execute it properly the last three seasons under former coach Byron Scott.
Scott spoke in some of the same terms as Brown, such as teammates trusting each other defensively and communication being the key. None of that seemed to happen, however, and Scott never really had an answer as to why.
“I think last year we thought maybe we could outscore teams, but that’s not the case,” Tristan Thompson said. “It doesn’t win you many games. It can win you about 25, but that’s about it. We won about 25 trying to outscore people.
“Everyone in the NBA can score buckets. What separates you from being good and great, from playing in May and golfing in May is getting stops on defense.”
Brown insists his players defend every possession for all 24 seconds on the shot clock. And when that didn’t happen, he burned timeouts throughout the preseason and stopped practice to gather the players and show what they did wrong. He has even been forced to do that at times during real games.
Brown added new layers to the defense prior to the weekend games at the Charlotte Bobcats and Indiana Pacers, but the Cavs never really used them, preferring to stick with the basic principles that have worked so well thus far.
“I truly believe if you have something you believe in and you have the physical and mental willpower to execute it and go to it,” Brown said, “you can be really good at it if the belief is there.”
Sticking with Bennett
Anthony Bennett’s scoring drought is reaching historic levels, but Brown is sticking with the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Bennett is 0-for-15 shooting through the Cavs’ first four games, tying him with Olden Polynice, Terence Morris and Reggie Evans for the second-longest games played streak to begin a career without a basket (since the 1985-86 season), according to STATS, LLC.
Should he fail to score a basket in today’s game at the Milwaukee Bucks, he’ll tie Joel Anthony for the longest games-played drought to start a career. Anthony, ironically another Canadian who like Bennett attended UNLV, played five full games his rookie year with the Miami Heat before making his first basket.
The difference, of course, is Joel Anthony was an undrafted free agent who attempted just two shots in those five games. Bennett is the reigning No. 1 pick in the draft.
Brown, though, has given no consideration to benching him and allowing him to clear his head.
“I’ve seen it with my own eyes,” Brown said. “He can score from all three levels and once he figures out how hard he has to play offensively in order for it to happen on a possession-by-possession occurrence, he’ll be good.”
Brown has actually been pleased with Bennett’s defense and rebounding. It’s just the offense that has taken longer than expected.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.