The Cleveland Cavaliers and Failures of Offensive Imagination
First a quick look at the numbers:
Now some of this could just be the Cavs missing shots, but I think it goes a little deeper than that. First of all, they have traded about 4 shots at the rim for midrange shots this year. All else being equal, that alone costs them about 2 points/100. Beyond that, I would suggest the quality of shots they are getting in both locations has dropped. Again, the numbers back this up to a degree, with the Cavaliers shooting a few percentage points worse both from midrange and from the basket area.
This aligns with what you can see on the game tape. Much as Portland's offense is in many ways a "how to" guide for NBA offense, the Cavs are very much what not to do. My basic critique of them is that they don't respect the second most important commodity for an NBA offense to possess - time. There are 24 seconds on an NBA shot clock and the Cavs use them about as unwisely as can be imagined. On the one hand, they are painfully slow to get into any sort of set:
Once Cleveland does get into a set, the play tends to take an lot of time develop, partially due to poor design:
"The play was for LaMarcus. I should come off a pindown and give the ball inside," Batum said. "I just run the baseline, cut, received the ball. I was surprised at first to be that wide open. So, shoot it."
And further, they appear to have become acculturated to this rather lackadaisical approach, so that when someone does try to inject a little more pace and zip into the attack, it still looks completely out of sync. To blatantly rip off some work done by a friend:
This shows Waiters taking the ball up the court in what could generously be called semi-transition. The defense is reasonably set and the offense isn't quite set yet.
Varejao moves to set a screen for Waiters, however Waiters makes his move well before the screen is set, using an inside-out dribble to fake towards the screen before going baseline. In a vacuum it's a fine move. Unfortunately for one thing, he goes too fast and so he doesn't really pin either his man or varejao's man on the 'fake' screen. Secondly we can see that Blake Griffin is just parked in the lane, cutting off any driving angle. If Waiters had waited a little longer then Blake would have had to either find his man or leave the paint to avoid a 3s call. Instead Waiters drives right into the help and, predictably, has no path to the rim.
From here we see the entire Clippers defense collapse into the paint. Which is great, except somehow Waiters has very few passing options. Varejao and TT aren't in a position to catch the ball, Kyrie is in the corner (which is good) although Waiters has to pass it through ~1.5 defenders to get the ball there (less good), and Jack is somewhere behind the 3pt line and again, it seems like it would be an awkward pass in terms of angles. So, even though Waiters did a good thing in getting the ball into the heart of the D, in some ways they're in a much worse position than they were a few seconds ago. And in the end he tries to throw it to Kyrie and it goes way over his head and out of bounds (TT sets a nice screen on Kyrie's man though).
But even acknowledging those issues a great deal of this is coaching - Mike Brown is simply not a good coach of offensive basketball at the NBA level. The scheme is bad in both theory and execution. The players aren't totally sure where to go, but even if they DO go to the right spots at the right time, it is predictable and not particularly difficult to contend with. Finally, it often appears there is a plan B if plan A doesn't result in a good shot - it's sort of one look and then "recognition motion" (read: pickup style offense) without having a lot of players outside of Irving for whom this is a good mix.
Of course given the dreadful state of the Eastern Conference, all Cleveland needs to "contend" for a playoff spot is Irving to recover somewhat towards his career shooting norms. However, the turmoil of the first month-plus of the season has probably done its damage already, with the locker room fractured, the coach having lost the faith of the fanbase if not the players, and the (always remote, in my opinion) chance of Lebron coming back probably dashed by the thought of hoping on board this sinking ship.