It's a small sample size, but as bad as the Cleveland Cavaliers were defensively up until the trade deadline, any kind of progress on that end of the floor is welcomed with open arms.
Of The New 4, acquired by the Cavaliers on deadline day, point guard GeorgeHill and big man LarryNanceJr. have stood out defensively, as magnified in Cleveland's 112-89 win at Memphis on Friday night on the tail end of a back-to-back.
Hill had three blocked shots and a steal in the victory. Nance had four steals and a pair of rejections. They spurred the Cavaliers, who allowed the second-fewest points they have all season, tied a season high with 13 steals, forced a season-high 23 turnovers and scored a season-best 35 points off those turnovers.
LeBronJames, who posted his 11th triple-double of the season with 18 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists in 37 minutes, noticed the impact Hill and Nance have had in only four games since joining the team.
"Obviously, G-Hill's hands, Larry's length and athleticism allows us to kind of keep everything at bay," James said. "Our league is all pick-and-roll. So when you've got a point guard and a center that can play two on two and the other three can kind of stay at bay, it helps out everybody."
Before The New 4, which also includes JordanClarkson and RodneyHood, arrived, Cleveland ranked 28th of 30 teams in team defense. In the four games the Cavaliers (35-23) have played with The New 4, they've allowed on 101.2 points per 100 possessions, the fourth-best mark in the NBA.
With Nance Jr., at 6-foot-9, he's not overly big for a center, but possessing the hops of his father, Cavaliers legend LarryNanceSr., he's able to protect the rim, something Cleveland desperately lacked before his arrival.
"With the new rule, you get in that restricted area just jump straight up," coach Tyronn Lue said. "With his vertical at the rim, a lot of guys can't even see the rim. It's huge for us."
Nance said he was schooled in the rule of verticality as a rookie with the Lakers.
"My first year, I played with RoyHibbert," he said. "So, the Godfather of Verticality -- 'The Hibbert Rule.' So, he showed me that a little bit and we worked on it a little bit in LA."
Hill showed the basketball world this is going to be a different Cleveland team in terms of defense when he pressured former Cavaliers point guard KyrieIrving fullcourt from the jump in his Cleveland debut Feb. 11 at TD Garden. The last Cavalier who possessed the ability to do that was DeAndreLiggins.
His length has helped him to craft a reputation as a hard-nosed defender for the majority of his career.
"He has a 7-foot wingspan," Lue said. "So trying to throw the ball over his head in transition, he's always going to be able to get to those. It's big for us turning our defense into offense."
Lue said it took about a quarter for the Cavaliers to begin to assert themselves defensively against the Grizzlies (18-39).
"I thought the second quarter on, we got physical, we got into the body, got into the ball a little bit on pick and rolls," Lue said. "(We've) just got to continue to keep improving. But overall ,pretty good for the first three or four games.
"Now, we have to keep working and get better."
Which is just what James has in mind.
"I think right now, we're really paying attention to detail and we're executing the game plan," James said. "And that's it. It's not two weeks ago, or one week ago, or three months.
"Right now, we're just trying to pay attention to detail. Not quite sure if we held a team under 90 this year. Today was a first and it was a really good step."