The Cleveland Cavaliers haven't had the start they wanted. Nine games in, they have the second-worst offense in the NBA (96.6 points per 100 possessions, per Basketball-Reference) and a record of 3-6. They've lost all six of their road games and their three wins at home have been by a combined total of seven points. They look like they do not know how to play with each other.
The low point was Wednesday night in Minnesota. The Timberwolves put up 38 points in the first quarter, built a 20-point lead by the second and dealt Cleveland a 124-95 loss. Minnesota has one of the league's best offenses, but seeing Mike Brown's Cavaliers struggle to that degree is worrying. Cleveland has had a tremendously tough time scoring all season, but was at least defending at a decent level for a while. Now the Cavs are 19th in defensive efficiency, per Basketball-Reference, but Brown says this is all a part of the process, via Jodie Valade of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
"If I see progress with a little hiccup every now and then, then I've got to make sure that I'm realistic," Brown said. "We're not going to go from 30th in the NBA defensively to a top five defensive team every night. Then there might be some times on the road - or at home - where we get hit in the mouth, and it's not as pretty as what we expected. But last year as a group, we won (24) games. And you don't go from (24) wins to 66 wins in a matter of two months."
Ryan Mourton of SB Nation Cavs blog Fear the Sword is trying not to panic:
I don't think this is indicative of who the Cavs are, and sometimes a beating like this does more good than harm. Looking through the history of the NBA, you would be hard pressed to find a good team that didn't suffer a single blowout throughout the year. At least it was a good team on their home court. When playing with a new coach and new teammates, there are going to be prolonged stretches like this. Every game is a fight, nothing comes easy, and guys are doing more thinking than playing trying to understand a new system.
Part of it is undoubtedly that the Cavs are trying to get used to what Brown is demanding of them. Part of it is that they're trying to integrate center Andrew Bynum, who can't play in back-to-back games or log extended minutes and had to leave the team for a personal matter before the Timberwolves game. His presence on the inside changes how Cleveland operates, but his knee issues make it extremely difficult for the team to establish any consistency with him.
Regardless of who's been on the floor, Cleveland's offense has been ugly. It's cause for concern that the Cavs' three primary ballhandlers -- Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Jarrett Jack -- are shooting 39, 40 and 38 percent from the field, respectively.
No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Bennett is shooting 4-for-32 on the season. The team as a whole is making a league-worst 40.8 percent of its field goals and is struggling to get to the free throw line. Brown's teams have never been known for creative offensive sets, and maximizing the scoring talent he has at his disposal will be a challenge.
It's not time to freak out just yet, but it might be soon. The Cavaliers will host the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday, then they'll have two games against the Washington Wizards. If this team is to be taken seriously as a playoff contender, this would be a good time to start putting things together and putting the ball in the basket.