RAISING THE CADAVALIER - many, many thoughts on the Cleveland Cavaliers by ROBERT ATTENWEILER

NBA Basketball

2012/03/03

Byron Scott and the Myth (?) of Player Development

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There are things that we think and things that we know.

We may think that Kobe Bryant is a better player than LeBron James.  We think it because we want to think it.  Part of us wants it to be true.  It’s the same part that made the exact opposite argument when LBJ was playing for CLE and Kobe was a tad more in his prime (and, viewership, if any of you ever tells Kobe, even 20 years from now, that I ever insinuated that he is passing his prime, I swear to god I will drug you, dress you up in my clothes [they’re not bad … you like western shirts, right?] and prop your body in some believably “Robert” position [or, barring that, the Heisman pose] in front of one of my apartment’s windows – because Kobe will be coming to cut my ass [which will actually be your … well, you see what I’m saying]).

But we knew we were wrong then – because the numbers told us we were probably wrong – and we know we’re wrong now, because numbers have always loved LeBron James and no year more so than this one.

Likewise, there are things that we think about Byron Scott as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers and what his effect has been on some of the team’s younger players – and there are things that we know. We may think that he’s not the world’s best tactician.  We may think it’s only a matter of time before his style causes his players to tune him out.  We may think that the Cavs are clearly playing better basketball this year and that Coach Scott has to be given some credit for the overall improvement in the team’s culture from last year to this.

Maybe we even know some of those things.

But sometimes it can be pretty tricky to tell the difference.

Now, I always liked Mike Brown.  I liked Mike Brown, mostly, because Mike Brown won more games as head coach of the Cavs than anyone had in a very long time.  He also didn’t seem like a dick, which was nice.  He won with a superstar player playing for him – though he never won so much to cover over his obvious weaknesses as a coach.  He was not overly concerned with offense.  And he was not good at developing young players.

During his tenure, only Daniel Gibson went from rookie to rotation player – and he yo-yoed in Brown’s esteem, partly, it seems, because of injury and partly because Daniel Gibson was never going to be 6’8” Sasha Pavlovic (it’s okay, Boobie … there are worse things to never be in your life).

Enter Byron Scott – and suddenly the same player who couldn’t get regular minutes for a defensive-minded coach has become the team’s best perimeter defender, and a key member of an athletic, versatile bench that – when everyone’s healthy – can help this young team compete.

Now, I’m going to take Bryon Scott’s word for a lot of this, but he talked about taking Gibson under his wing and Gibson has seemed to have a strong relationship with the former shooting guard from jump.

And this season’s “project” player for Scott, Alonzo Gee, is also demonstrating a more polished, effective game and threatening to break into the starting line-up.

Coach Scott, while admittedly dealing with a completely different set of expectations from the fans as the organization rebuilds, seems to be able to target younger players and work with them to become more consistent contributors for a competitive team.

Except, according to the numbers, none of that is true.  We just think it’s true.

Under Scott, Gibson is playing the most minutes per game (in 2010-11 and 2011-12) since his career high-water mark of 2007-08.  But his PER this season (don’t you fall asleep on me!  I know you don’t like it when I talk advanced statistics – I don’t like it either – but I promise I’ll only say PER, like, three more times…) is a career low.  And even last year, when his PER (two more times) was his best in six seasons, it was still short of the average for an NBA player.

And as for Alonzo Gee: his stats are startlingly similar to last year’s. He’s just playing a few more minutes this year.  His PER (one more) is up by about a point but, again, short of the pro average.

Clearly, the point of this is that we should all go back to booing Gibson and Gee, chiding them for being useless at the game of professional basketball and watching as backsides stick to the end of the end of the end of the bench.  Oh, yeah, and Coach Scott makes players the same players they always were – not exactly a ringing endorsement.

But, no, of course, that’s not the point.  The point … and I don’t know that I had one so much as an observation … is that Boobie and Gee are two of my favorite players to watch on this team (along with Kyrie, Varejao and Tristan … sorry to leave you out, Semih) and, while it doesn’t seem like they’re MVP candidates, it does seem like they help this team in ways that you could see them helping a better version of this team.  And both players are excelling on the defensive end – which tends to be under-represented in the statistical world.

Or, maybe, Coach Scott is just building a really nice bench for this team and that part of his reticence to move Gee into the starting line-up has been that Gee is not a starting caliber 3, even if he’s doing nice things for us off the bench – and that being better doesn’t always mean being “better.”

Just another lesson in rebuilding, viewership: when slightly below average is a better slightly below average than the slightly below average from last year, you’re watching the 2011-12 Cleveland Cavaliers.

Oh, yeah.  PER (done).

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