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

Posts Tagged ‘basketball’

NBA Basketball

2012/11/27

2 Things About the 4 and 5…

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1. I won’t necessarily say I’ve done a 180 when it comes to the “trade Anderson Varejao argument.” I never fully thought it would net the Cavs a player that came close to doing what Andy does – and is doing even more of this season – for this particular team. I did think (and, partly, still do) that the team would feel the need to move him, likely at or around the 2013 Draft. I think he still might be traded at some point while still under this contract to this team because he’ll be coming off this contract right around the same time that the team will be figuring out how they want to divide their duckets among its new core crop. Andy will be 32 and staring at what will likely be his last contract. I don’t see any reason for his production to drop off while under his current contract, so you’re looking at a guy (CBA willing) that could command a 3 or 4-year contract at a hefty clip. This could be like a less crazy, more offensively useful Dennis Rodman hitting the market at right around his prime. That is what Andy is playing like now—and that player is useful no matter what team he plays for and, you’d think, especially if he plays for a team of up-and-coming wing players who might appreciate a good number of their outside misses being snagged. But using him to bring in some additional picks (those LeBron picks won’t last forever … the trick to this thing is to always have some accrued first rounders to look forward to) should the CBA make re-signing Andy less sensible for the Cavs (though, let’s face it, if the Kyrie Era’s getting it done, Gilbert will likely pay), they might see flipping their biggest asset as sensible, if they don’t see being contenders in the next 5 years. The biggest problem is equal value, since the league-wide perception of him is still that he’s a perfect off-the-bench “energy” guy, not one of the best centers in the East playing efficient offense, active defense and just sucking in rebounds.

Meanwhile, watching Andy play this year has been nothing short of amazing. If the young guys continue to progress (i.e. learn to play defense), Andy absolutely has more value here than anywhere else, because of how perimeter and pick-and-roll oriented they are/will be and how fun a Irving/Varejao/Waiters combo could potentially become (and, let’s face it, sometimes is already).

2. Now, Tristan Thompson…? Everyone I’ve either talked to or read can see all the problems with Thompson’s game this season. It’s that obvious: to slow making decisions, still too often blocked, not blocking shots, often out of position, still bad at free throws, still no shot at all. All that said, he’s averaging about 9 points and 8 rebounds in 30 minutes a night with a PER just a click or two below the league average. His FG% (always one of my worries with him) is up to 47% (needs to get well over 50%) and, even given his struggles, he looks like he could get into the 12/10 range that was reported as the goal he was set by coaches this year. I think the biggest thing with Thompson is that he probably shouldn’t be playing as many minutes as he is right now. The Cavs are tossing him out into the fire and he is getting more than his share of burns. But it’s waaaaay premature to label him “bust” or try to trade him (or even, really, to bring up the Valanciunas non-pick). He’s not an instant player – and non-superstar big men in particular need time. The test with him will be steady progress on his weaknesses – and we’re more likely to see that stuff in March of 2014 or 2015 than in 2013 … unfortunately. But there’s some Kurt Thomas potential to him that I think has value to this team going forward.

NBA Basketball

2012/08/07

Doing Danny Ferry’s Porch…

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Scott Henkle and I attended the NBA Draft (and wrote about it here). Henkle, then, trumped me one better by goin’ out west and watching himself some NBA Las Vegas Summer League action – specifically, the Cavs team where he anticipated seeing Kyrie Irving and the other 2/5 of our likely opening night starting lineup. He wrote about the experience of summer league for The Classical. We played dueling laptops to talk about his Cavs-centric observations:

Robert: You saw the third and fourth games in person, right?

Scott: Fourth and fifth. And I watched one and two on TV. I never saw three.

Robert: Okay … so you never saw the one where Waiters remotely resembled a professional basketball player.

Scott: No. I don’t believe that happened. I saw Waiters dribble to the three point line a bunch of times, take three steps in, pass, and then stand there waiving for the ball at the three point line.

Robert: You’re describing a solid NBA skill!

Scott: Then I saw him smile his charming-devil smile at everyone while sitting the bench

Robert: And how about his awkward-as-hell jump shot?

Scott: I barely saw it!

Robert: Really? He shot, like, 700 times a game. He was, like, 3-700 every game.

Scott: Like Kobe. But without the good parts. And Kobe wasn’t taken as high.

Robert: So, you’re saying Waiters should end up better than Kobe.

Scott: There’s no doubt. But my summer league experience was not about him, because I missed that one game that you said he was good in [and they rested him the last two games].

Robert: Fine. But I have a sneaking suspicion that even if Waiters turns out to not be as good as we’d like, talking about Dion Waiters is going to be really fun. I’m already crossing off the next three years of my life. I won’t be able to get anything else of substance done. But… sorry, what can we take away from this summer league for the Cavs?

Scott: I think, there’s really only two real basketball things that you can see in summer league. First, you can see someone who is faster, stronger, etc. in ways that don’t depend on defense. Case in point: Damion Lillard. He could have done what he did with no one on the court and I would have said fucking hell that guy’s good!

Robert: Please tell me the other thing you can tell is motor.

Scott: The other thing is comparison– looking at players taken earlier, later or not at all. In this regard our boy [Waiters] did not come out well against the other guys we might have picked.

Robert: And you can compare fat Samardo to slim Samardo.

Scott: Who I would like to marry, by the way. He is 94% head at this point. He still has a fat man’s head.

Robert: And still a fat man’s ass, if you can believe it.

Scott: Oh yeah.

Robert: He now has legitimate “hot woman curves”

Scott: Hot woman curves, lady shoulders… What is it with you?

[Editor’s note: “lady shoulders” comes from many previous conversations we’ve had about players lacking broad shoulders – in my defense, the official term is “Chris Bosh shoulders. This, as it turns out, is one of my biggest worries about Tyler Zeller. Total Chris Bosh shoulders.]

Robert: But, to your point about comparison … I read this [link to article] which takes some quotes from David Thorpe to say the only real red flag – especially for rookies – in the summer league is lack of hustle. Or, I believe he said “motor.”

Scott: Basically people—our friend Adam is a big one–love to do [the comparing]. That’s just fun for fans. And why twitter was invented. But I feel like I watch a lot of basketball and can, at this point, judge talent okay for a regular person and still I wouldn’t base anything on what I saw there. [pause] Except for Lillard.

Robert: Right. Because none of these players will have the same role come the regular season – not even Lillard (who Terry Pluto has been crushing on since February).

Scott: Right. Role playing is not highly valued there. Which brings me to… are we going to give a contract to Michel Eric?

Robert: You saw him in person. You tell me? What’s your scouting report?

Scott: I’m going to do your woman curves thing and say, “That man’s got some fine arms.” He’s like Ben Wallace. No offense, but an NBA body, for sure. There’s a place for a guy like that.

Robert: Yeah, just looking at the pictures of him in all the “who the hell is this guy” articles … well, you said it: those are some fine arms.

Scott: But he may not be a fit for a team that’s likely to average16 more points than Kyrie scores per game. Is that a stat? “Points over Kyrie”?

Robert: Yes, but it’s one of the advanced stats that I don’t understand.

Scott: Of the guys not [guaranteed to be] on our team he was the only one I liked. Turns out being tall is a real advantage in the NBA.

Robert: How about the guys who should be on our team next year: Tristan, Samardo and Zeller?

Scott: Zeller was the one I paid the most attention to. I like him. He’s solid. He’s in the right place. He moves smoothly and he runs well. I’m not making any super-predictions, but he’s solid.

Robert: I agree. I didn’t trust all of that “he’s great in transition” talk as … well … he’s a 7ft white guy.

Scott: He still is a 7ft white guy. But for a 7ft white guy… he’ll be trailing along nicely when Kyrie gets to the rim.

Robert: Zeller will probably struggle defensively against some bigger guys, but I can see him working into a Kurt Thomas-y guy. Save, of course, Zeller’s Chris Bosh shoulders… and lack of obvious crazy.

Scott: Who do you think he’ll struggle against?

Robert: Tyson Chandler will kill Zeller.

Scott: Yes.

Robert: Cousins will kill Zeller.

Scott: But what about, say, the Lopezs?

Robert: Brook Lopez might be Tyler Zeller’s dream match-up, right now. The additional upper body weight of Robin Lopez’s hair, though, might be tough for Zeller’s shoulders to handle.

Scott: Now you’ve crossed the line, sir.

Robert: But, I think Zeller looks like he could absolutely be a top-8 rotation player on a very good team, agree?

Scott: Oh, yeah. Wait. Do you mean a contending team? You mean the Heat?

Robert: He would absolutely be in the Heat’s rotation.

Scott: The 7ft white guy thing is pretty old fashioned.

Robert: 7 footer who can run with them in transition, rebound and hit an outside shot to open up the lane.

Scott: Sounds very 2000. Windhorst says the heat are going smaller. Mugsy Bogues is gonna be at the four for most of the year.

Robert: But he could play in that system, is all I’m saying. The Heat are going smaller because their best big might be Eddy Curry.

Scott: I agree.

Robert: You talk a lot about the experience of summer league in the Classical piece. Anything Cavs-centric that you want to tell that you had to cut from that?

Scott: Well, I got rejected by Ilgauskus. He was the first cavs-ish person I saw, and I more or less blanched and was all star-struck, and Adam pushed me to go up to him and I did and I was up there with my arm half around him (well, his thigh) and then he said ‘no no pictures’ and I walked away with my head down.  Like a child.  I thought it was me, but then I saw him reject a ten year old kid.

(pause)

Also, I think he weighs 17 pounds.

Robert: Gotta be kind to those feet of his. The docs say they can’t structurally support anything even closely resembling a healthy grown man’s weight. How was meeting Danny Ferry?

Scott: That was funnier. Adam shouted to him – and Adam has this whole thing about trying to force me to take pictures with people, which you probably already sense – but I’d just been rejected by Z earlier in the day, so there was this incredibly awkward moment with Ferry where I was like, “Is it okay? Is it okay?”  and he just wanted us to take the damn picture, and certainly did want to talk about whether it was okay. He had the smile on already and everything. And then Adam paused to look over the camera and  explain to Ferry:  “My brother-in-law did your porch.”

(pause)

Adam’s brother-in-law is a contractor in Cleveland.  But still.

(pause)

I do not know if Danny Ferry knew exactly what to think about that.

Robert: Is it still Ferry’s porch? Does he still live in Cleveland?

Scott: I would guess no? And that was the part I thought was the most confusing. Danny Ferry had no reason to think we were from Cleveland. Maybe Adam said it but, you know, Ferry was trying to make the experience as quick and painless for himself as possible.

Robert: Danny Ferry does not care where you are from.

Scott: Absolutely not.  I would guess Danny Ferry does not think about me much at all.

You can follow Scott Henkle on Twitter (@scotthenkle) or by just keeping a reasonable distance behind him. He also met Byron Scott.

NBA Basketball

2012/06/26

Anthony Davis: A Cautionary Tale

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Here we are again, viewership, mere days away from a series of decisions (both by our guys and by others) that will determine much of the course of the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise for the next several years. That’s right, it’s NBA Draft 2012: where every player’s a winner … until he’s not (or until he’s named Andre Drummond).

There’s plenty of information about the draft out there – player breakdowns, list of team needs, mock draft after glorious, glorious mock draft. But, I thought you could use a break from all of that. Give your brains a sip, sit back and imagine the following:

The New Orleans Hornets, after systematically rejecting the Cavs’s offer of … well, everything for the first pick in the 2012 draft, blink for just a second (possibly, Dell Demps receives the anonymous tip that Davis’s unibrow is actually the demon, Zorn, taken human follicle form and waiting for the concentration of voodoo magic in the Big Easy to wake him from his slumber and … well, you know what happens in these “demons wake to feast on human souls” scenarios…), reconsider and take the Cavs up on their offer.

Cavalier fans choke on their collective tongue, but quickly recover and start predicting that a Kyrie Irving/Anthony Davis team will soon take us to places never before imagined (by which I mean, “imagined as recently as three years ago”). And you know what? They look pretty damn good for much of the season. Davis is a dynamic finisher at the rim, displays a surprisingly smooth jumper from 15 and teams with Anderson Varejao to form one of the best (if unorthodox) defensive frontcourts in the league. No one is getting to the rim with Andy and Anthony guarding it, which allows Kyrie and the rest of the wing players to play an exciting, gambling style of pressure defense and the Cavs, while they still struggle to score consistently when Kyrie has an off night, look to have the pieces and settle into the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.

But, come January, Anderson Varejao suffers his annual season-ending injury (this time a particularly scary fractured skull when he lands on his head after being undercut on layup by a Dwyane Wade who, robbed further of his athleticism by a knee injury he can’t solve, begins patterning his game more off teammate Dexter Pittman and is increasingly involved in a series of hard fouls and opponent injuries) and Davis is moved to center where he splits time with sophomore-slumping Tristan Thompson.

Davis continues to play admirably, but teams start to use their stronger, wider body players to push him away from the action and beat him up on the boards. Then, in a game in late-March against the Lakers, Andrew Bynum steps on the top of Davis’s foot while running back on defense. This breaks several of the small bones in Davis’s skinny foot and shelves him for the rest of the season.

The Cavs still make the playoffs as the East’s 8th seed, where they get swept by the top-seeded Indiana Pacers. Kyrie looks amazing, but the Cavs, missing both Davis and Varejao, get destroyed in the paint and, well, most everywhere else.

Davis reaches a set-back in his rehab in late-summer 2013 and, after that, is only featured in stories titled something to the effect of “Cavs’ Ilgauskus Serves As Constant Reminder To Keep Fighting.”

So, viewership, remember something come draft day: no matter who we end up with at 4 (or wherever we end up picking), we could have the misfortune of getting the best player in this draft.

Whew… dodged that bullet.

NBA Basketball

2012/06/08

We Can’t Possibly Screw This Up. Right, Jim Paxson??

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Hello, viewership. It’s been a while.

That while is due, partly, to that inevitable sinking feeling when a season like this past one ends. We had the third worst record in the NBA. Good for us. We found a new franchise cornerstone (and, Kyrie, you’ll forgive us for the mess as we attempt to keep the structure upright with a couple of jacks pulled from my old ’78 Pinto as we jam you into that very empty spot at the bottom corner of our franchise … forgive the concrete we hastily slather on like so much warm mayonnaise … forgive the way we blow and fan hoping that concrete will dry soon enough so that you don’t go anywhere – that this cornerstone stays put – that I can just go ahead and sell this damn Pinto and its jacks because I’m never going to need them again because you’re here and you love us and you will make every everything just plain okay). Good for us (that was where I left off, just in case you didn’t track it).

Everyone came out a winner. Kyrie validated his number one pick. We showed that we, maybe, can win some games behind him in the not too distant future. We lost just enough to get another high pick in this year’s draft. And we still weren’t good enough – or we suffered enough injuries – to have anyone feeling one way or the other about Byron Scott’s coaching job. Chris Grant hit a home run with Kyrie and Tristan Thompson. He whiffed on Casspi (though, and I’ve written it here before, it was a whiff that he had to at least try. Keeping Hickson would have been, likely, an unmitigated disaster.). He’s been calling a good game, so far.

So, the most that can be said of the Cleveland Cavaliers is that not much can be definitively said about the Cleveland Cavaliers. At least, not yet. Check back again next year.

And so we hit the end of the regular season and are all a twitter to start talking about who we’re going to draft. But then reality sets in and we realize that we have to wait another month until we know where we’re going to draft and then actually zero in on who might be available for us to draft.

So, I determined to let it all ride, viewership. I let it all ride until we found out that Nick Gilbert does not personally choose the draft order. I let it all ride until we found out that we got the number 4 pick in the 2012 NBA draft, a notch lower than our record slotted us and a coin-flip away from the number 1 pick, scooped up by the New Orleans Hornets who had tied us for third-worst.

Number 4… Number 4?! Number f**king 4?! But so many things could go wrong at 4. All of the teams ahead of us could actually draft logically and well and we will lose out on not only Anthony Davis, but also the top wings in the class, Michael Kidd-Gilcrest and Bradley Beal! At 4, Chris Grant might think it’s a good idea to gamble on Andre Drummond! He might try to sell us on Harrison Barnes or Thomas Robinson or even Jeremy Lamb!

We’re picking number 4, viewership … and I can’t think of a more interesting place to be.

This has been discussed by much more able talent evaluators than me, but after the Hornets select Davis, there’s plenty of questions and plenty of talent all the way into the second round. Drafts are often broken down into different tiers of talent, but the number of players in each tier is what fluctuates from year-to-year and what makes this draft particularly interesting. This year, we’ve got a consensus top tier – as last year we had a very shallow top tier of Kyrie and Derrick Williams. The top tier is the franchise cornerstone. Then you can argue that the next tier is from 2-6 and consists of, say, MKG, Beal, Robinson, Barnes and Drummond and could be argued to extend a few picks beyond that.

The second tier should project as potential All-Stars. The third tier players are projected as starters and high-end rotation players. This is the tier that runneth over in this draft. Teams will be looking to add players who can start – and many would start immediately – anywhere from 8 to 24, a pick that I did not, of course, pick out of thin air. And beyond that there is good value to be found well into the second round. There will be busts, sure, but it’s a good bet that there will be players who become much better than we expected.

So, yes, it’s possible that MKG becomes the next Scottie Pippen (who I like as a comparison more than Gerald Wallace which is, in many ways, a backhanded compliment for a guy you’re look at as, possibly, the second best player in the draft) and it’s possible that Beal becomes Ray Allen or, barring that, Eric Gordon. And it’s possible that Drummond becomes Kwame Brown with a poor work ethic (I just gave myself chills with that one) and Barnes could become Adam Morrison (a college scorer who lacks the athleticism to score in the pros) and Thomas Robinson could become Kurt Thomas, a solid, if unexceptional (save for his exceptionally crazy eyes), player.

What seems unlikely is drafting a player on the Diop/Wagner/L.Jackson Scale of Awful – and we have a fighter’s chance of adding two (if not three … or four … or five – sorry, bad reference right now) good pieces to go along with the three good pieces we have (which, if you’re curious, are Kyrie and Andy … Thompson and Gee combine to form one good piece – kinda the Voltron of NBA players). And the best part is how much there is to talk about. There are scenarios out there that net us any player outside of Davis, so it should be fun to see whose stock rises, who slips and how it all ends up playing out.

That’s the joy of 4 this year, viewership. Most years, the joy of one’s draft position comes only when there’s a sure thing waiting there. But this year, there will be talent available at 4 (talent that, I’m sure, Chris Grant will be able to talk me into), even if it’s not Savior #2 (but, maybe it is). So, let’s enjoy what could happen before and after our pick. Do you really expect the Bobcats and/or the Wizards to not do something completely boneheadedly ill-advised? Me either. Heh. This, I like.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be doing some mock-ups of what the team will look like with the various players in play for #4. Until then, viewership, embrace your inner 4.

Uncategorized

2012/04/08

Tristan Thompson and the Problem of the Hickson Mirage Pt 2

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I won’t bother burying the lead here: it’s all going to be okay.

Or, if not okay, then, at least, it will not be what it was before (which, I suppose, does open the door for “worse” as well as “better,” but let’s turn that frown into slightly-less-frown and put our faith – or our slightly-less-doom – in the “better” here).  Just because Tristan Thompson is seeing minutes at his out-of-position, does not mean that he is a soon-t0-be-castoff like J. Jellybean Hickson was at this time last year (though we didn’t know it at the time).

The biggest thing Thompson has going for him is that he is a rookie. As such, he is under contract for, at least, three more years.  And, while we have all grown to have fan-crushes on the Toronto Tornado, to a fan, no one is sitting here telling you that they expect Tristan Thompson to be a star.  Some people think he will be really good, but most experts talk about him aiming for a 12Pt/10Reb/2Blk career … which, if you think of it, probably is attainable and probably would be just fine. The Hickson Promise, though, had us thinking bigger. He will forever go down as the player who – according to legend – Danny Ferry would not part with to bring a less-broken-than-now Amar’e Stoudamire to the Q to run with LeBron and Shaq (or, more accurately, to run with LeBron and wait for Shaq to catch up … eventually … in fact, in the fast break I’m running in my head they’re still waiting, waiting … waiting – ah, there’s Shaquille!) and even though the Suns dispute that they were ready to make that trade, there were games where the Hickson Promise would just rush to your head same as if you’d consumed an entire package of Peeps.

The problem was two-fold: we thought Jackie J. Hickson was better than he was and he thought he was too.  I don’t think it was J. Jerry’s fault. It was clearly our fault.  Our fault and our fault and our fault.  When we as the collective fanbase buy in to a player so, we have learned, unrealistically, that player’s going to buy into himself just as much, if not more so.  As Hickson’s role would change as Chris Grant and Byron Scott brought in players who could remember plays (although, the player that Hickson was swapped for caused a stir mid-season by admitting that he didn’t know all of the plays.  That’s irony … or miragery … or just funny) and who would not look like they were playing Marco Polo on defense and who had that switch inside them capable of being flipped into the “Understanding the Nuances of Winning Basketball” position, Jabberjaw Jabberwocky Hickson would, no doubt, pout.  By that point, he would believe he was a certain caliber of player and it would be the fans that, given time to have some buyers remorse, would think that notion exaggerated.  By then, it would no longer be our fault that Hickson (I’m giving up the J’s for the rest of the post … I do have some sense of the limits of your patience) inflated his own value.  It would be all on Hickson. Of course, it would be all on Hickson.  We would not remember our role (or management’s role) in getting to this point.  Just another deluded player that we were right about all along.

By then, though, we would also be paying Hickson about $12 million a year.

These are the types of decisions that should make us optimistic as fans of this franchise going forward.  Chris Grant seems to know that a rebuild is a rebuild is a rebuild – and that it’s not that he inherited all bad players from Danny Ferry, but that our perceptions of many of them were clouded with what they could do on a veteran-laden team led by the best player in the game.  That situation tends to make people look good.  Stripped of that situation, Hickson was a player who had ability (just look at his recent stretch as a Trailblazer), but who had to be constantly prodded by Byron Scott to reach anything near his potential.

Tristan Thompson – for lack of a more meaningful term – “gets it.” He seemingly wants to play defense.  He seemingly wants to guard the rim – and rebound – and dunk – and, yes, he seemingly wants to shoot from places and with a frequency that he shouldn’t right now – but, should he continue to develop, he has the potential to be a player who, like Anderson Varejao, is arguably overvalued, but … you know … unlike other players, properly so.

NBA Basketball

2012/03/31

Tristan Thompson and the Problem of the Hickson Mirage Pt 1

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Cavaliers fans have been here before.  Just a year ago, they had a player, an athletic 6’9″ player, a natural power forward in a season-long struggle with any shot outside of 5-feet from the basket, who they shifted over to play center because they’d lost a significant part of Anderson Varejao’s season and were (and continued to be until just recently) staring at Ryan Hollins as their most viable pivot option this side of Kate Moss.

Last year, you might remember this player was one J. Jonah Hickson. And in today’s shrinking NBA where no man may stand taller than 6’11″ and be any damn bit of good (maybe you can be 7 ft, but don’t even think about being 7’1″), he played a good stretch of center for this (if a noticeably worse version of this) team.  In the last 40 games of the 2010-11 campaign, Hickson (yes, the very same J.J. Hickson who was just released by the Sacramento Kings after averaging, essentially, 5 PTS and 5REBS) tore off an All-Starian stretch in the post, averaging 16.6PTS and 11.1REBS.  That’s not bad for an undersized center, you might think.  Byron Scott was finding ways to make J.J. Hickson maximize his positive impact on the game.

Then the season ended.  And Tristan Thompson was drafted.  And Hickson was shipped to Sac-town for a fairly immobile small forward.  And the Cavs lost a significant part of Anderson Varejao’s season.  And Ryan Hollins and Semih Erden might as well be holograms for all they’re able to effect the game (well, positively, anyway … holograms don’t normally fill me up with sweet, frothy rage the way Hollins and Semih “The Sandman” Erden have).  And Byron Scott finally turns to an athletic, natural power forward (6’8″ this time … so, y’know … at least we’ve got getting shorter going for us) to take over the starting center position.  And this player, this Toronto-ian big, this Power T who, we all hope, will be pitying some fools in the NBA for messing with him some day in the very near future, is tearing off his best stretch, though on an admittedly shorter sample size.

So is everything 2012 is 2011 again.  Or better put: how do we know that Tristan Thompson is actually any good?  How do we know he’s not a mirage (not to be confused with being a hologram)?  If J.J. Hickson can stand under a basket and look like a decent NBA rotation big-man one moment and then a hapless scrub the next who, outside of Chris Grant, do we have to tell us that it’s all going to be okay?

Coming up next: Who we have to tell us that it’s all going to be okay…

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).

NBA Basketball

2012/02/06

Is Kyrie Irving THE GUY?

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It’s great when I get to start a post by quoting Eric Snow (the specter of whom Mike Brown must be seeing when he looks at his starting point guard, Derek Fisher).  Snow said, “You’ve either got The Guy or you’re trying to get The Guy.”

Snow was saying this in relation to the Cavs’ situation when they had LeBron James.  He was saying (if it’s not already clear) that in today’s (or any day’s, I guess) star-driven NBA, teams either believe they have the player they can build a championship around – the guy who will take them to the top and when he’s gotten them to the top, keep going up, up, up until the air gets so thin that everyone passes out and aren’t even conscious for the horrible plummet back to earth and the splattering on the sidewalk and … well, that’s where the figurative language meets its end.  They either have that guy or they don’t and want one really, really bad.

The Cavs, at the time of Snow’s quote, felt they had The Guy.  Then they didn’t.  And now…?

I’ll admit, I thought Kyrie Irving was going to be a very good player (pat, pat, pat on back).  I actually thought (and I don’t think I was in the minority here) that his ceiling would be as the second or third best player on a contending team, that the Cavaliers were still a The Guy away.  But, as our rookie point guard is progressing at a mind-thrilling piece, we can, however tentatively, nervously and with qualification, ask the question: Is Kyrie Irving The Guy?

I’m going to blow the end of this argument right here.  Who the hell knows?

But there are some promising signs-

The fact that Irving is scoring at an advanced-for-a-rookie-guard clip (18.1 PPG through Monday) in relatively limited minutes (29.6 – but increasing) and shooting 50% from the field is pretty ridiculous. Irving’s at an even 50% from the field, an even 40% from 3, his assists are up (he and Varejao are getting a great feel for each other on the pick-and-roll) and his turnovers are down (he hasn’t recorded more than 3 in 2 1/2 weeks) and he seems moderately more present on defense.  What this means, should this all prove the rule and not the exception is not that Irving is going to take 30 shots a game – make 15 with a sprinkling of 3s and get to the line a bunch (where he is “down to” 83% … practically Price-ian on this team) and be a 40PPG scorer.  I think we’ll see some stupid (the complimentary one) scoring nights over Irving’s career, but that can’t be his end.  Going forward, Irving will be much more valuable as a 20/8 guy who doesn’t need a ton of shots to get his and spends most of his time making it easier for his teammates to score (and, yes, hopefully playing steady, strong defense).

It’s just tough when your best player is your point guard. A team’s point is so crucial to their success (just ask the 2011-12 New York Knicks) and so much is asked of the position, that it’s difficult to also ask your point guard to be your leading scorer.  But isn’t Chicago considered a contender with reigning-MVP Derrick Rose?  They are – and I love Derrick Rose.  Is Derrick Rose The Guy? Absolutely, he’s The Guy.  But the last two teams to win an NBA championship with their point guard as their leading scorer were the Pistons (once, with Isiah Thomas) and the Lakers (once, with Magic Johnson) and those were both on incredibly balanced teams.

Your point guard can be your The Guy but, by all indications (and the Bulls haven’t proven this wrong yet), it’s then even more important to get balance and the ability to score big out there on the floor along with The Guy.  Or, to put it differently, at the end of close games, opposing teams should have to deal with the fact that the guy with the ball in his hands – while capable of taking and making the shot – at least, may not.

But, no, you say? Kryie will just blow by – spin by – cross-over past – dribble through the defense on his way to the game-winning lay-up.  Okay, great.  End of discussion.

Or we can talk about how, while he might develop into The Guy, the real Kyrie Irving Era won’t begin until we get one more elite offensive talent to pair with him.

Still, it’s a hell of a start.

Uncategorized

2012/01/21

FORESIGHT IS ALWAYS 20/200 … or, it’s never too early to start thinking about how bad we might still get

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Just when you thought you were done seeing those “worst loss in franchise history” things…

Well, let’s hope that was the “aberration” Byron Scott said it was and look at the bigger picture.

At 6-8, the Cavs have wins against the Pistons, Bobcats (twice), T-Wolves and Suns – and competitive showings against the Pacers and Lakers (though not, unfortunately, in two against the Raptors).  So, they’re beating the teams they are (at least, mostly) better than and showing the resiliency to not roll over against the league’s elite (remember, Bulls game = aberration).

Kyrie Irving is playing better earlier than many people thought.  Anderson Varejao is being a particularly good version of Anderson Varejao.  Antawn Jamison is finding ways to be effective/inefficient.  This team is a professional basketball team again.  In fact, the only people more excited by the way the Cavs are playing might be D.J. Augustin and D.J. Augustin’s agent.

Of course, going forward, there are still plenty of things waiting to upset the apple cart of good feeling (and piss on all of the apples and then set the cart on fire) and get us right back to NBA bottom-feeder (instead of hovering-just-above-the-bottom-feeder).  And I’m not even talking about the schedule.  I’m talking about the trading deadline and/or the off-season and what we’d look like without Varejao, Jamison and Ramon Sessions.

1.)   Varejao: What’s that?  You’ve heard that the 2012 NBA Draft is deep with delicious, delicious talent? You’ve heard that teams have been inquiring about Andy and that a deal could net the Cavs an additional pick which would be better than nothing considering Varejao will be past his prime if/when the Cavs are ready to contend again?

But you also like that the Cavs look more active defensively this year (outside of certain aberrations) and think there are things the younger bigs (Tristan Thompson, in particular) can learn from Varejao? Well, spit out that cake.  You cannot have and eat, y’know?  Here’s the thing (and it’s been written about, I’m just agreeing): there is no sense in trading Varejao if the only thing you’re doing is getting a younger (and quite possibly worse) player.  If you’re trading Andy mid-season, he’ll be going, no doubt, to a contender – so your precious added draft pick will likely be in the mid to late 20s.  And, while this isn’t written in stone, I’m betting that Anderson Varejao is going to be better even 3 years from now (when, hopefully, he’s able to come off the bench again at power forward and slow down his career odometer a little) than the players available with that pick.  Again, not stone writing here – but I’d be willing to lay valid currency on it.  And I’m not sure that half of a shortened season is enough time for him to impart on Thompson the types of “how to succeed as an NBA hustler” lessons.  Give him, at least, a full season.

Might there be a trade proposed in the off-season that makes sense?  Sure. Off-season deals are the ones when you’re more likely to see a decent or up-coming player get moved for the piece that is Anderson Varejao – or a team making the move thinking it will contend but then actually sucking – the deals that, with some luck, end up looking a little better than you first thought.  But Anderson Varejao for late first round pick (even a 2012 first round pick) ain’t getting us any better and sooner than Anderson Varejao.  And, you know, we’ve already got him.

2.)   Jamison:  Well, things couldn’t all be hopeful-outlooky…  Antawn Jamison is (understandably) the focus of the vast majority of fan frustration this year. We’re not frustrated with Irving or Thompson.  They’re rookies.  We’re not frustrated with Varejao.  He’s busting his ass out there and being productive.  Maybe we’re frustrated with Casspi, but he’s still too new (and we were already so used to being frustrated with the guy we traded for him).

Jamison is a former All-Star who – for better or worse – is going to wind up taking most of the shots not falling into the box score under “Irving, Kyrie.”  And, you know what?  He should be.  He’s the only person on this team with a proven track record as a scorer on the pro level.  And, you know what else?  He hasn’t been terrible this year.  He’s averaging 16.1PPG and 5.8REB and, yes, while you don’t want your starting power forward shooting 41% from the floor, Jamison’s always going to shoot way too many 3s and long 2s, bringing his field goal percentage well south of what you’d like from his position.  He’s put up some stinkers (and has been destroyed by big, physical frontcourts since he got here) but, as has been pointed out, when the Cavs are successful, they’re usually getting good games from Irving and Jamisonand that’s the problem.

As a Cavs fan looking forward, I (and I believe everyone else, Jamison included) would love to see him traded to a playoff team for a first rounder.  Using exactly the same logic as with Varejao, Antawn Jamison is (most, most likely) going to be less serviceable three years from now (to the Cavs, anyway) than Player X drafted in the 20-30 range.  But, there are also 25 games this year after the trade deadline.  So, no one should complain about the number of wins we’re getting early.  If Jamison gets moved at the deadline (which, again, is the right move … or a right move) this team will likely go from “not good” to “baaaaaad” real quick as teams play “5-on-Kyrie” until the end of April.  Now, what team needs Jamison?  Does any team need Jamison?  That remains to be seen.

3.)   Sessions:  Ramon’s lost a little of the luster he had early in the season when he was hitting(ish) his 3s, seeming to care just a smidge about his defense, and teaming with Irving to form one heck of one point guard.  He’s still shooting a career high from 3 (31%), but you’d love a little more distance between that number and his overall field goal percentage (32.5%).  I don’t think I’m going out on too long of a limb in saying this: Ramon Sessions is a top-10 back-up point guard.

And that’s great.  The Cavs need top-10 players everywhere, so if their back-up point is one of the better back-up points in the league (and it’s fair to say that Sessions is), then we don’t have to worry about that and we can get back to the business of replacing our bottom-10 starting 2, 3, 4 … well, I don’t have to tell you.  Sessions is still a pretty young player (25), so there’s still the chance he can improve and still be playing at his peak back-up years when the Cavs next start considering the playoffs.  And he’s an upgrade over who many teams have coming off the bench, so there’s going to be rumors about Sessions out there.  I could go either way with this one.  Again, having Sessions keeps us strong at a very important position.  But, you can find guys who can replace enough of what he brings so that (for a team that’s not very good, remember), you won’t be losing a ton of games on account of this one move.  And if you trade him and wind up getting a player you think could start in this league … well, that’s a whole lot of hypothesizing that’s probably not useful at this point.

NBA Basketball

2011/12/30

Suspicions and Absolute Certainties after two games…

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-Someone needs to tell Boobie Gibson that his license has been revoked, that he’s no longer allowed to drive.  When Boobie puts the ball on the floor, things generally just don’t work out.  In a perfect world, he would model his game after Bruce Bowen: defend and take nothing but 3-point shots.  I’m not saying Boobie is as good (or dirty) of a defender as Bowen was, but he does good work on that end of the floor for a team that still struggles locking down the perimeter.  Maybe Bowen-Lite … Bowen-Lite-&-Short.  BLS, Boobie.  BLS.

-Is it just me or do none of Antawn Jamison’s odd array of floaters and flip shots work anymore.  I was watching the Pistons’ broadcast of Wednesday’s game and the commentators actually called Antawn “unguardable.”  I think those of us who have been watching him in a Cavs uniform for the last year + might beg to differ.  Yes, we all remember Antawn in a Wizards uniform wrecking all kinds of havoc with all kinds of unorthodox shots, but for whatever reason (the shots look weaker and flatter than they did, so I’m going to go with older legs/knees) they only serve to drag down Antawn’s field goal percentage and, with it, the number of quality possessions the Cavs get (which, we should all remember, ain’t all that many to begin with…).  Against the Pistons, Antawn scored the way he should score with this team: 3-pointers (though, that should not be his go-to, as it often was last year … He’s gonna take ‘em, people … We might as well just accept it…) and driving cuts to the basket.  He clearly gets the offense Byron Scott wants to run and showed against the Pistons that he can still have success as other than just a “stretch” guy.
-Remember last year when the Cavs led the league (at the start of the season, anyway) in bench scoring, with the reserves regularly outscoring the starters.  Well, we’re back.  The starters have been outscored by the bench in both of the first two games, but they’re doing it differently than last year.  First, when your bench is as (or more) competitive than your starters, it generally points to the lack of high-end talent in your starting line-up and that’s very true with the Cavs.  But where last year’s bench production was largely due to Byron Scott bringing Antawn Jamison off the bench, where Antawn would play starter’s minutes and take a starter’s number of shots, this year’s unit is just a good unit of high-energy, athletic players who can defend and are being led by a point guard who, given his early-season production, is a starting-quality NBA 1.  I don’t know that any of the second unit bump the starters from their spots (they’re not that much better), not this year anyway.  But it’s good to know that there will be players on the court for all 48 minutes who can help the Cavs win basketball games (though, yes, still clearly not many…).

-Two games (1 preseason, 1 regular) is all I need.  Samardo Samuels is our back-up to Anderson Varejao.  Look, I like the fact that Ryan Hollins is 7-feet tall as much as the next person, but what I like MORE is how Samardo seems to be able to score, rebound and generally look like he knows that he is one of ten players on the court when he’s out there and, as such, is free to participate in this game of basketball.  Is Samardo undersized?  Sure.  But, with the current state of quality bigs in the NBA, how many back-up centers are there who are going to torch this guy?  Probably not 30.  Okay, now, Samardo, you are released to go 1-14 for 3 points and a rebound tonight…