When the Cleveland Cavaliers announced they were hiring John Beilein as their next head coach, the decision was met with a fair share of scrutiny. The reason for this was obvious.
Beilein had no NBA experience, spending his entire coaching career at the college level. Yet, here Cleveland was, entrusting him with the early stages of a grueling rebuild, handing him a roster with an uneven mix of youth and veterans on expiring contracts.
On the surface, it seemed crazy. Eight games into the 2019 season, this hire may now qualify as “so crazy it just might work.”
While the sample size is small, the results speak for themselves. What Beilein has done with the Cavs in the early stages of his NBA coaching career is serving as proof he may be the perfect hire for this team.
No, a 3-5 record is hardly what you’d consider a rousing success, especially considering this franchise is 17 months removed from a Finals appearance. That said, it’s impossible to watch this team and not see the impact Beilein is having.
Cleveland has remained competitive in every contest this season, regardless of who the team was playing. Despite the Cavs’ tendency to allow big scoring runs from opponents, they still find a way to claw their way back into games. Teams which likely expected to coast against Cleveland have been forced to fend off a scrappy opponent down to the final frame.
Considering the low expectations for the Cavs, this alone is noteworthy. However, that it’s happening behind the leadership of a coach with zero professional experience is incredibly impressive.
The stigma which follows college coaches into the NBA is often “yeah, he was successful there, but can he handle the pros?” The reality is some of the most successful college coaches have been colossal failures when making this transition.
Knowing this, it was fair to wonder if Beilein would struggle in the NBA regardless of his many accomplishments at Michigan.
That hasn’t happened yet.
At a time when Beilein is expected to show his warts, when the struggles of a rookie coach are supposed to be on full display, he’s instead yet to provide any indication this job is too much for him. He’s yet to look like he’s in over his head.
As a result, he has his team playing hard for him in a year where expectations were about as low as you can get.
Beilein is ensuring his players doesn’t fold when adversity strikes, something we saw plenty of last season. He’s helping Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr. navigate through uneven starts to their respective rookie seasons, ensuring their confidence doesn’t waver.
Most significantly, Beilein has veterans Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson buying in.
Imagine being a member of this team’s championship roster, sitting through the mess that was the 2018-19 season, and then being told the front office was hiring a coach who’s spent his entire career in college basketball. Then have said coach tell you he wants you to help groom the abundance of youth on this roster despite the fact losing will remain a frequent occurrence.
Selling this message was no easy feat, but somehow, Beilein has accomplished it with Love and Thompson. The former has gone out of his way to coach Garland up between games, while the latter is off to the best season of his career.
Again, the sample size remains small. Beilein has yet to face the hardship that comes from a lengthy losing streak or keeping his team competitive during the midseason dog days of January and February.
Still, the expectation for this season was that Beilein, like many of the young players on his roster, was going to have his NBA career get off to a shaky start. That things would be disjointed and mismanaged early while he learned the ropes of coaching in the pros.
We’ve yet to see anything like that.
Instead, we’re seeing a Cavs team showing immediate progress, hanging with opponents it has no business competing with. A team which is supposed to be playing lifeless basketball while the younger players learn and the vets await inevitable trades, but is instead both energetic and entertaining.
This rebuild still has a long way to go. That said, if the initial results are any indication, the Cavs have brought in the right man to help the team navigate through it.