Achtung Panzer! #6: The Tanking Cleveland Cavaliers

Welcome to the debut of Pace and Space from our new digs…two miles from the old digs! Still in rain-soaked suburban Seattle, but I’ve moved house, gotten a good night’s sleep, unpacked (mostly), so let’s talk NBA, shall we?

The Cleveland Cavaliers, like the New York Knicks we talked about a couple of weeks back, are less “tanking” and more “a complete joke of a franchise that ought to be compared to the likes of the Browns or Jets in the NFL.”

At 8-21 through games of December 21, the Cavs own the third-worst record (bless the Knicks and Hawks, both of whom have appeared in this series) in the East and the fifth-worst (hello Pelicans and Warriors) in the entire league. The only team to have appeared in this series better than Cleveland is a Portland team that came back from the dead and now stand 14-16 and 8th in the West.

The Cavs are rumored to be trading Kevin Love, one of the few connections they have left to their glorious (and shockingly recent) past of four straight Finals appearances and a title with LeBron James.

Collin Sexton is still hot garbage, posting minus-0.4 VORP (or minus-1.1 per 82) after posting the third-worst season in that stat (minus-2.1) in NBA history behind only Kevin Knox (minus-2.2 last year) and Michael Olowokandi (minus-2.6 in 1999-2000.)

As if Sexton stinking out the joint for the second straight year to start his career weren’t bad enough, the Cavs’ draft woes continue, as 2019 fifth overall pick Darius Garland is posting an advanced season even worse than the ones Sexton and Knox barfed out last year.

Garland is posting minus-0.059 WS/48 and minus-2.3 VORP/82, unable to do a thing on either offense or defense, with negative Win Shares in both categories.

If you’re going to post a sub-8 PER (7.6), you’d better be Bruce Bowen on defense…and Garland is more like the true sieves of the league, guys like Tim Hardaway Jr., who couldn’t guard my dead grandmother.

Garland is especially prone to getting forced into terrible midrange shots; he’s taken 17.5 percent of his attempts between 10 and 16 feet and made just 30.8 percent of them. That wouldn’t even be good in the Dark Ages.

The sad thing is that this Cavs team does genuinely have players you could build a franchise around—Larry Nance Jr. leads the team in True Shooting (.591) and stands second in VORP (0.5) at age 27.

Tristan Thompson remains the solid low-post role player he’s always been, with a team-high 0.8 VORP and 1.3 DBPM.

But the Cavs have bad contracts (Cedi Osman and that $30.8 million garbage fire of an extension despite his lack of any discernible basketball skills, plus Love’s 4-year, $120 million albatross.)

The Cavs have terrible draft scouting (two of the three worst rookie seasons by VORP in the history of the league and half of the four worst seasons, full stop, if Garland continues to puke on himself on the regular during his debut campaign.)

They have a coach who wasn’t even that good of a leader in college in John Beilein, one of the most puzzling coaching hires in recent memory. Beilein isn’t Brad Stevens. There was no plausible reason why any sane person would’ve figured him for a good fit to jump up to the NBA level. But the Cavs hired him anyway.

Cleveland is 18th in 3PAR, 26th in FTR, and 18th in percentage of shots taken within three feet of the basket (and 23rd on FG% from that range.) They are below average in every element of winning basketball on offense, and combining that with ranks of fifth-worst in Offensive Rating and second-worst in Defensive Rating, Cleveland is tied with only the atrocious Hawks at minus-9.6 for the worst Net Rating.

At least the Wizards, owners of the league’s worst defense, can score once in awhile (they’re fourth in offense.) Cleveland can’t even do that.

This Cavs team is what happens when “get LeBron to the Finals at any cost” is, in essence, running up a giant credit card bill, having everyone love you on Christmas, then getting that statement in January and having to pay it.

Is there any hope at all for this franchise? Nope…it will be a long, dark, cold winter for this franchise thanks to whiffing twice on the chance to get the kinds of players that could bring them out of the rebuild stronger. Sexton is still crap. Garland is historically awful as a rookie. And there’s no road forward to get another LeBron.

Oh well…you’ll always have 2016, Cavs fans.

NEXT WEEK: This series wraps up (as there are no other truly awful teams this year, just teams on the low end of mediocrity hell) with the Washington Wizards.