Cavs 101 Hornets 108
The Cavaliers starters let a closely contested game become a rout all in a five-minute span in the second quarter. The Cavs entered the second up 28-26, but then proceeded to shoot 4-23 and allow the Hornets to (among other things) go on a 15-0 run, mostly at the expense of our starting five. The Cavs rallied in the second half, behind strong games from Antawn Jamison (20pts, 11rebs) and Boobie Gibson (10pts, 3assts) actually outscoring the Hornets 58-46 and making a game of it. But David West … well, David West always seems to play well against us. Last night, we did David West the service of bumping up his season averages, letting him score (34) nearly twice as many points as he’s been averaging this season (17.9).
But back to our starters…
First off, it’s slightly unfair to compare the starters’ stats with the bench’s. Slightly, since Byron Scott went 11 deep against the Hornets, meaning that the bench was made up of one more player. But, really, one of your starters should be worth his own weight, plus that of your 11th man, so I have no problem doing this comparison straight-up.
Here are our starters: Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, J.J. Hickson and Anderson Varejao. Here’s what our starters gave us: 36pts, 26rebs and 8assts. And here’s what Jamison, Gibson, Ramon Sessions, Ryan Hollins, Joey Graham and (*sigh*) Jawad Williams gave us: 65pts, 27rebs and 11assts. While more or less even in rebounds and assists, our bench outscored our starters by nearly 30 points.
Now, this isn’t going to happen every night, but the strong play from the bench has been an early-season trademark of this team. Now, while I certainly don’t want the bench to stop scoring so much, this disparity does bring out some issues that I doubt will go away this year.
Issue #1: Most of our starters are not good at making the ball go through the hoop. This was Mo’s first game back, so I’m going to cut him a little bit of slack and let him get back up to speed before I take back every good thing I said about him a couple of posts ago. Hickson is starting to look, at times, like he’s new to this game of basketball (you know, the one that he plays professionally) and if those two aren’t doing the bulk of your scoring, it won’t be coming from Andy, Parker or Moon. In fact, I shovel the lion’s share of the blame for that second quarter Hickson’s way. Yes, there was some terrible defense played all around, but whenever J.J. got the ball that quarter, it never saw another pair of hands. He’d hold it and dribble it (you know, exactly what players are not supposed to do in this offense) and then force a bad shot. That happened, I swear, three out of four times down the court at one point.
Which is all to say that, until Hickson becomes dependable on a game-to-game basis for this team, we will struggle to score and J.J. will find himself on the bench for long stretches (as he did – surprise! – against the Hornets).
Our best offensive players are probably Jamison first, followed by Mo, Boobie and Hickson. Jamison’s ahead of Mo and Boobie’s ahead of Hickson because of reliability. If Antawn plays the way he has for most of the last six years (and it looks like he might) he is the most reliable offensive player we have. He’s also a good rebounder, if only an average defender. The way Boobie has played this year, especially in the fourth quarter of games, has been, if not great, at least much better than anticipated.
It looks like it will take a while for Mo and Hickson to regularly score at a high level so, yes, your next best options are on the bench. It’s that thing: someone has to score.
Issue #2: Our starting shooting guard and small forward are not starting quality. We have two players right now who could start for a team better than us: Varejao and Mo (good Mo, not bad Mo). Parker as a starter made total sense when we had LeBron. Good character guy, smart player, could knock down 3s, didn’t need many touches. But now, as we’ve seen, he gets touches. Everyone on this team gets touches – that’s part of the point – and Parker is good enough to look like a solid pro out there, but he can’t create well enough to score with any true consistency. And Jamario… wow (bad wow, not good wow). You’re going to get clearly outplayed by Joey Graham? Joey Graham?? I guess you will. Jamario’s athletic enough that I’d convinced myself he could be effective cutting to the hoop and would be a solid wing defender, but that hasn’t so much been the case. Graham, at least, comes in and gets a Flagrant 2 foul (and an ejection) knocking a red-hot David West on the head showing some grit (or … um, dangerous levels of aggression) against the opponent who’s torching you. Oh, yeah, he also gave 9 points and 5 rebounds in 19 minutes. Come on, Jamario!
Interesting Joey Graham plot line: Did you read the other day where Joey Graham compared himself to Ron Artest … saying that he likes to intimidate, mix it up and that he (Joey Graham) is also a little crazy? It looks like Joey finally went to a consultant who figured out how to brand him. And I like it. All aboard the Joey Graham bandwagon! Wait, why am I the only one on this wagon…?
Issue #3: There’s no good solution. Ideally, this team would probably split starting production with bench production pretty evenly. Mo and Hickson would be putting up 15-20 a piece. Jamison and Boobie would be putting up 10-18 a piece. Everyone would be happy. But I doubt we’re going to get that very much – and with the starters, I have a sneaking suspicion that Mo and Hickson will, kind of, go as the other goes. Do we start Boobie at the 2, Joey “Teddy” Graham (nickname patent pending) at the 3 and Jamison at the 4? Do you want your bench to be Parker, Moon and Hickson? Do you want your starting backcourt to be 6’1” and 6’3”? Do you want Hickson to have even less motivation to play well? No, no. A hundred times no. But it goes back to the challenges this team will face with no discernable super-star (or even a discernable offensive black hole). There will probably be nights where enough guys don’t get it done and we look like junk. Remember when we used to be able to look like junk and still win? All that’s in the past. Welcome to Fratello Era 2.0.