Weaknesses of the Top Four in the East

Every NBA team has a weakness that becomes more pronounced during the playoffs when their opponent can zero in on it and exploit it. Teams prepare for the NBA playoffs in a completely different way than they do for a regular season game. Teams can spend more time to analyze on the one opponent with a few days to prepare for the first game. The real question is can they survive their weaknesses, exploit their opponents’ and move on. Here are a few weaknesses I’ve noticed for the top four teams in the Eastern Conference.

The Cleveland Cavaliers

It has been well documented all season how poorly the Cavs have played on defense. Their defensive rating per 100 possessions is 110.2 for this season which has them ranked 21st a huge drop off compared to last season when they had a rating of 104.5. LeBron James is their best defensive player but even he has taken a dip this season. According to basketball-reference’s defensive box score plus/minus he went from 2.3 to 1.6 this year. After James, Tristan Thompson is their next best defender. The Cavs will struggle to field a defensive lineup that’ll be able to come up with multiple stops at a time.

Another issue for the Cavs is how badly their rebounding has been. After finishing 9th last season in rebounding, they have dropped to 19th this year. It gets even worse when their defensive rebounding percentage is analyzed. After finishing 5th last season they currently are ranked 24th this year. There have been signs of life in the Cavs blowout win against the Boston Celtics last week, they outrebounded them 51-38, as they cruised to a victory against the second best team in the East.

  2016-17 2015-16
Defensive Rating 110.2 104.5
Total Rebounds 43.6 (19th) 44.5 (9th)
Defensive Rebound Percentage 75.7% (24th) 78.5 (5th)

The Boston Celtics

This Celtics may have it toughest in the playoffs because if their real lack of offensive firepower when Isaiah Thomas goes to the bench. In the regular season, it is very difficult to change the game plan from night to night. However, in the playoffs teams are able to focus their attention to take away actions that their opponent is always looking to get. Teams will be able to dedicate more of their attention to defending Thomas, by changing their pick-and-roll coverages to force the ball out of his hands. If a team is successfully in doing that, who do the Celtics have that can make plays when he struggles. Basketball-Reference’s on/off split (provides a difference of stats when a player is on the court versus when they are off it) the Celtics offensive ratings over 100 possessions drops by 14.9 points when Thomas is off the court.

Avery Bradley is struggling with his shot after the All-Star break and he is not the only one. The Celtics three-point percentage has dropped from 36.9% pre-All-Star break to 33.6% in the games since the break. In their loss to the Cavs, Thomas struggled shooting 9-19 from the field as well as 1-8 from three. Bradley continued his struggles as well going 1-8 and 0-3 from three. As a whole, the Celtics shot only 21.2% from three. This loss can easily foreshadow the trouble up ahead for the Celtics in the playoffs.

The Toronto Raptors

The Raptors were one of the biggest winners of the trade deadline when they were able to acquire both Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker without giving up too much. The toughest challenge for a team bringing in talent via trade is developing chemistry on the fly without training camp. Chemistry on the court can be the hardest develop when there isn’t a ton of time to practice or enough games to get that in. It got even more challenging for the Raptors since they lost Kyle Lowry for nearly the rest of the season to a wrist an injury.

Now Lowry is back after missing 20 games and has to get comfortable with Ibaka and Tucker with four games left in the season. This should not be understated, Lowry needs time with Ibaka, and Tucker so they can understand where the passes are coming from. In the examples below, Lowry tried to throw a pass over the top of the fronting defender to Ibaka but it got intercepted which also led to a small heated exchange between the new teammates. Later in the game in a pick-and-roll situation his pass went through the legs of the rolling Ibaka who didn’t seem ready for it, and finally in their game against the New York Knicks, on a fast-break Tucker runs to the three-point line while Lowry was expecting him to cut for a layup.

Developing on court Chemistry takes time and that is something the Raptors were robbed of by Lowry’s injury, so having to develop this on the fly and in the playoffs could be a problem if they do not sync up quickly.

The Washington Wizards

Even though teams shorten their rotation during the playoffs, depth is still a strong need for a deep playoff push and this is the biggest weakness for the Wizards. Their starting lineup is so talented with John Wall and Bradley Beal leading the charge but when they go to their bench things just become such a struggle for them. At the deadline, they attempted to address the issue and brought in Bojan Bogdanovic who has played well for them. Since joining the team he has made 38.7% of his threes to help spread the floor. Kelly Oubre Jr has been a good piece off the bench for the Wizards as a wing player but it is tough to depend a second-year player to deliver come playoff time.

Another problem is their lack of depth at the guard spot. Brandon Jennings who signed with the Wizards after being waived by the Knicks was supposed to solve that issues. But since joining the team he has gone from 8.6 points to 3.7 and his overall shooting percentage has nosedived from 38% to 29.7% from the field and 34% to 23.9% from three. The weakness in the bench for the Wizards can spell trouble for them comes playoff time.

Every team has a weakness and in the regular season, it is easier to hide these weaknesses because teams usually do not have the time to game plan for them. Come playoff time that all goes out the window, with two to maybe three days off before the playoffs, teams will bunker down and develop a game plan to exploit those weaknesses and it will come down to execution. All teams are vulnerable but the question is can they overcome these vulnerabilities while using their strengths to move on to the next round.

Weakness of the Top Four Western Conference Coming Soon

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