CLEVELAND — Going into the second season of their rebuild, the Cavaliers are so starved for talent that their poor defense might not be a factor in the NBA Draft, at least not with their lottery pick.
But if the Cavs don’t select an eventual superstar on June 20, they will have to improve their status as the league’s worst defense to return to playoff contention.
As the regular season concluded Wednesday, the Cavs finished last in three major defensive categories — efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions, 115.1), rating (116.7) and field-goal percentage allowed (.495).
The NBA’s statistical website lists 530 players’ defensive ratings and the Cavs had nine in the bottom 37. That group includes four franchise cornerstones — Kevin Love (494, 114.0 rating), Larry Nance Jr. (496, 114.1), Collin Sexton (514, 117.5) and Cedi Osman (516, 118.2).
Love gave Osman somewhat of a pass because he was playing out of position at power forward while Love was sidelined for 60 games, 50 of those following left foot surgery.
“Putting him at the 4 for some long stints in this season and having him guard really some bigger players on the defensive end of the floor, that was tough in and of itself,” Love said of Osman on Tuesday.
Before he and the team parted ways on Thursday, former Cavs coach Larry Drew said he expected offseason improvements from Osman, Sexton and center Ante Zizic and that includes on the defensive end. Of the Cavs’ top 12 players, Zizic had the best defensive rating (359, 109.3), followed by David Nwaba (446, 111.5).
“Defensively they have to get better, if you’re talking about really taking that next step,” Drew said before the final game. “A lot of the conversation has been about their offense, but defensively all three guys have to come back different. They can’t come back the same defensive players they were when they left. If there’s an area they really have to improve in is the defensive end.
“Defense, it’s an attitude, it’s a mindset. I’ll challenge all three of those guys to come back different defensively next year.”
Eye on lottery
The Cavs (19-63) tied the Phoenix Suns for the second-worst record in the league and a blind drawing will be conducted Friday at the NBA’s Board of Governors meeting to decide which team will get the better lottery odds. The second-worst team can pick no lower than sixth, the third-worst no lower than seventh.
The draft lottery will be conducted May 14 and Love will be watching in hopes the Cavs secure the right to draft Duke’s Zion Williamson No. 1. The New York Knicks, Cavs and Suns all have a 14 percent chance of winning the lottery.
“I think everybody will be anxious,” Love said of the Cavs. “A number of great players in this draft, especially at the top, but it will be interesting to see where we end up. Because we have, what, a top 3 chance now? Obviously, we hope we get the best player.”
Center Tristan Thompson has one season remaining on a five-year, $82 million contract he signed in October 2015 and carries a salary of $18.539 million for 2019-20.
Thompson was playing at an All-Star-caliber level before he sprained his left foot in December. Considering his expiring contract and high salary, he could be a candidate to be traded in the offseason or before next February’s deadline.
Asked about his future in Cleveland, Thompson said, “I love being here. I just take it one day at a time.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.