The Cleveland Cavaliers have continued to improve since J.B. Bickerstaff’s first full season as the franchise’s head coach.
This season could see more positive development from the team as the coach has reportedly implemented his “toughest” training camp.
“According to multiple sources, this has been Bickerstaff’s toughest camp yet,” Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com wrote on how the Cavs’ camp this season has differed from previous years. “Sessions have been competitive, spirited and lively. As [Max] Strus said, the Cavs have been ‘getting after it.'”
Bickerstaff took the head coaching position near the end of the 2019-20 campaign after his predecessor John Beilein resigned. Cleveland ended the season with a 19-46 record, placing last in the Eastern Conference with a .292 win percentage.
The following campaign saw the Cavs improve a bit, finishing the regular season 22-50. Even so, the foundation had been laid for the team, as evidenced by its 44-38 standing in the 2021-22 season. Cleveland made it to the play-in tournament in that campaign but lost to the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks to miss its fourth straight playoffs.
Last season, the addition of star Donovan Mitchell and continued strong performances from Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen helped the Cavs reach the 50-win mark, eclipsing it by one, and secure the No. 4 seed in the East.
Unfortunately, they were eliminated early in the playoffs, with the New York Knicks taking advantage of Cleveland’s offensive deficiencies. The Cavs ranked just 25th in points per game and last in pace in the regular season.
The Knicks’ defense had Mitchell and Garland begging for points in the first round. While they each managed to score more than 20 points per contest in the series, they were incredibly inefficient from the field, with Mitchell converting just 43.3 percent of his shots and Garland not doing much better 43.8 percent.
Caris LeVert tried to help with 15.0 points per match on a 42.9 percent shooting clip. However, no other Cavs player averaged double digits in the five-game series.
It seems that correcting Cleveland’s weaknesses has been a point of emphasis for Bickerstaff this offseason.
“The biggest difference is play speed,” Fedor continued. “After finishing last in pace, there has been a decree to push the tempo, looking for early-clock opportunities, having more urgency when getting into sets, making quicker decisions and hunting easier baskets in transition — even running on misses and makes. Playing that style isn’t easy. It takes top-to-bottom commitment. It takes daily reps. It takes every player being in great shape. That’s why this camp has also featured more conditioning.”
Only time will tell if Bickerstaff has gotten his players committed to playing with more speed and leveling up their conditioning. He has also had to deal with the challenge of new roster pieces, although those players are expected to help address some of the squad’s weaknesses.
“Beyond that, sessions have been slightly different because there are new pieces who bring a different skill set,” Fedor wrote. “It’s been about learning how to play with one another, figuring out where and how the newbies fit around the core group and experimenting with different lineups and combinations.”
The future is certainly bright for the Cavs. But with stronger Eastern Conference rivals, the team will need to step it even more if it wants to contend for a championship.