By this point, we all know that the Cleveland Cavaliers have struggled defensively. You don’t have to be a basketball savant or an analytics whiz to notice that the Cavs have problems keeping their opponent from scoring. It is the main reason why the team is sitting at a rather disappointing 5-6 record early this season. Cleveland is third-to-last in the NBA in points allowed per game at 113.9, and while that’s bad, the advanced stats paint an even more dire picture.
The highly useful stats site Basketball-Reference uses a formula created by Dean Oliver to calculate offensive and defensive rating. The good news for Cleveland is the team’s offensive rating is very good at 111.1, which is good for third in the league right now and is on pace to be the sixth-best mark in team history.
The bad news? Well, it turns out the team’s defensive rating of 115.2 isn’t only the worst defensive rating in the NBA right now, it is on pace to be the worst in league history.
Basketball-Reference’s database goes back to 1973-74, so it’s plausible that there’s a team that existed before then with a brutal defense. However, the Cavaliers are the only team that has eclipsed a defensive rating of 115, which is quite the accomplishment either way.
We’re only 11 games through the 2017-18 season, meaning Cleveland has plenty of time to right the ship on that end of the floor and make their defensive rating number go down. There are plenty of reasons for skepticism about whether they can do that with their current personnel (including the impending return of Isaiah Thomas), but with 71 games to go, anything can happen.
That said, if they do continue on this pace and end up making a run in the postseason anyways, it would be a fairly incredible feat and a testament to LeBron James and that offense for dragging the worst defense in NBA history through the playoffs.