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

Posts Tagged ‘NBA draft’

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.

NBA Basketball

2012/01/10

The NBA: where occasionally entertaining development happens

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It didn’t happen in 2003.

Adding LeBron James to a roster I’ve widely talked about being the worst of (at least my) memory, did not change my sense of what kind of team I was following.  I still expected them to lose.  I knew we wouldn’t win anything of substance that year, but at least I got to be a fan of a transcendent talent.  That was the first time (barring flashes from Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez) that, as a fan of Cleveland professional sports and, certainly, the Cavaliers I had the chance to feel what it was like to be a fan of a player who would develop (very quickly) into a superstar. But, let’s be clear, I still expected them to lose.  It wasn’t even 2007 when it happened and, if I remember correctly, I was still a little cautious of the idea in 2008.  But by the start of the 2008-09 season, I knew something had come to pass and that if I didn’t change, I was going to be left behind.  So, I did it, finally.  I expected my team to win.

This happened in fits and starts and, I’ll admit, was never entirely comfortable, but I would no longer be shocked if things went right for the Cavs.  Things were supposed to go right for us.  We were going to win it all, if not this year than next – or if not this year than the next – or if not this year…

That’s why I think a lot of us who followed the team were so adamant that they could actually be competitive last season. I was in with both feet.  We were a quality organization with proven players and a recent track record of relative success.  But the battering that comes during a 26-game losing streak tends to make us run for cover – take shelter.  And, for me, it meant curling back up with the comfortable feeling that admits “my team is not good at basketball.” And that’s fine.

But this year we are not good.  Neither are we (exceptionally) bad. So what do I do now? What’s it like to be a fan of a rebuild that – unlike its predecessors – might have the ammunition and taken the first steps toward being a success again?

Essentially, this is a broadening of the feeling shared by most Cavs fans this year: I want them to win- just not too much. Which is totally rational, but also totally weird.  What are we rooting for? What do we as basketball fans actually want to see?

I didn’t experience the building of the Price/Daugherty teams.  By the time I came to follow the team, Michael Jordan was in the midst of making it very clear that we could have fine regular seasons, but the Cavs would never win anything of substance as long as he was around.  I grew into the Indians when they were winning away the 90s- when long-time Indian fans were going through the same mix of elation and abject dread that saw me through 2003-2008 (luckily we got nice heaping serving of Jose Mesa to ensure that, if nothing else, I could feel one consistent way about all of my favorite sports franchises).  So, if it’s not about wins and losses this year, and really it’s more important to figure out how to get Harrison Barnes, Jeremy Lamb AND Andre Drummond on this team next year (which will involve a funny story where Chris Grant swings deals that net us picks 1-60 in the talent-rich 2012 draft promptly before removing his Chris Grant mask and revealing that he is actually the Red Skull before removing his Red Skull mask and revealing that he is actually Captain America before promptly exploding and creating an entirely new universe within his office at The Q) what do I cheer for?

I posed this question to my friend, Scott, he quickly answered, “I’m rooting for the Pacers game” which is to say rooting for a game where we lose, but only need a little more to beat improved (and likely playoff-bound) teams.  That “little more’ is the next 2-3 years of drafts, trades, free agent signings and … here we go … development.

That’s what I’m a fan of now.  I’m not a basketball fan who is looking for wins from his team.  I’m not a basketball fan who knows it’s never going to happen for his team.  I’m a fan of displays of on-court development of the players we have now – good trades of veterans that can help us get more picks or other players whose development I will also cheer hardily – signs that our players have “turned a corner,” “gotten it,” or “flipped a switch.”  I’m, necessarily, a fan of potential … which, as it turns out, is kinda fun.

It doesn’t suck (all the time) to watch this team and their losses (within a certain context) are necessary now.  All I want is to see players playing hard and seeing their efforts rewarded (only very occasionally) with a win.

Lucky for me, through the first 2 ½ weeks of the season, that looks like exactly the team we have.  Let the winning begin …ah, maybe next year?

NBA Basketball

2011/06/11

And while I’m at it…

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Some quick thoughts on actual basketball goings on:

-I’ll actually be attending the 2011 NBA Draft, so expect a lot to be written on that one.  Should be fun (and, also, excruciatingly boring for long stretches, right?).  My favorite sign idea for our presumed #1 pick: “S(Irving) Cleveland Since 2011.”

And then we’ve got some mystery (and by “mystery” I mean “Minnesota is making a pick”)  surrounding the 2-4 picks that should make, at least, the first 35 minutes of the Draft very, very interesting.

If you’re following at home, I’ll be the guy on the floor, several beers in, yelling “Damon Jones!” at the top of his lungs … for no particular reason.

-You can say what you will about the relative strength of this year’s draft, but the Cavs have the chance to draft who they view as the best player available (which does not guarantee success, but puts a team in an enviable position to grab a good one) and then get another of the top well-regarded players.  Even the worst drafts in history have had a handful of good players. You still have to make the right picks, but the Cavs have the chance to start accumulating a collection of young, well-regarded assets over the next several seasons.  It could be a lot worse, is what I’m saying.

I can’t really say a bad thing about going for either Kanter or Valanciunas at 4.  Kanter looks like the better offensive player, better rebounder, stronger (which, you know, used to be a big deal when people were concerned about facing Dwight Howard and the Magic in the playoffs).  Valanciunus (which I can finally pronounce, though only if looking directly at the name) looks like the better defender long-term, quicker, great pick-and-roll finisher (which is not a bad thing to have when you’ve just drafted your point guard of the future).  I’m not even terribly concerned about Valanciunus’ contract in Europe.  If he has to stay an extra year – that’s an extra year to improve and get ready for the NBA and, frankly, removes some talent from the squad that might help us be in place to draft another high-talent guy in a much more anticipated draft next year.  If I’m Chris Grant I want to have two first rounders going into next year too. Not necessarily two lottery picks again (how often can that happen?) but something where we might realistically pick fifth and fifteenth or something.  Then get Valanciunus over here for 2012-13 and start figuring out what you’ve got (oh, and trade for Derrick Rose at some point. Right.  Forgot about that part…).

For the two second round picks, I’d either see if they can be packaged to move back up into the later part of the first or grab the best center and wing you can with those picks.  There’s guys in the later half of the first that I think are quality – especially SF Chris Singleton from Florida State (widely regarded as the best defender in the draft … I can’t remember, did we need help with our perimeter defense?  Was that us??), Tobias Harris from Tennessee, Kenneth Faried from Morehead State (very, very small for a PF, but I like the idea of seeing what a guy who lead the NCAA in rebounding and has a tremendous motor can come into the league and make for himself) and Marshon Brooks from Providence.

If we keep the two picks, I like names like Jeremy Tyler, JaJuan Johnson, Keith Benson, Michael Dunigan, DeAndre Liggins and Jimmy Butler.  I also like players who have those names. But, let’s face it, there are people who know better than me…

-How about these NBA Playoffs?! I was having a conversation with someone the other day when I said something that I didn’t ever expect to come out of my mouth.  I said, “As a basketball fan, this is the most fun I can remember an NBA season being.” And, in case anyone forgot, this season featured my preferred team suffering through a miserable season complete with an historic losing streak – and this season is what I’m calling “the most fun”??  Actually, yeah.

Now, to be fair, everything from Dec. 2 through the trade deadline sucked. But for the last third of the season (or just for the games Baron Davis played) the Cavs were interesting again.  It was fun to talk about how awful they were but, by that point, we had gotten the LeBron’s Return debacle out of the way, we’d lost Andy and Antawn for the season, we got a guy (Baron Davis a.k.a. “Beardly”) who, for whatever reason (probably due to a compulsive lying problem), convinced this roster that they could compete, we got an extra lottery pick – and, damn, weren’t there some good storylines going into the playoffs?  Roll that into an absolutely joy-to-watch 2011 NBA Playoffs (Finals and all … no matter the result) and that’s something that I am going to deeply miss when it is gone.

Who would have thought the Grizzlies would have catapulted to top-3 favorite team status (they’d be 2, but I’ve gotta keep the Mavs there for now)?  It’s been fun.

NBA Basketball

2011/04/13

SOME PARTING SHOTS AT LOSING…

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I’ve been having an unfortunate amount of fun with ESPN’s NBA Lottery Machine.  In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been late to meetings, late to work and just generally less thoughtful and productive as I had been before I started playing god for 4 seconds at a time … assuring myself that the next time I’d do better … then playing god again.  In my haze of absolute power, I have seen the Cleveland Cavaliers built swiftly into an exciting, young team brimming with talent.  I have also seen them grudgingly accept that their best draft options may be a European SF/PF and a Turkish C who was ineligible to play at Kentucky this year making both of them unseen (and, thus, season ticket killing) if not unknown commodities.

But what playing Lottery Machine has taught me is that the Cavs gain little more than losing by … well, losing.  Over the last week, it seems like most of the drumming on about how we need to end up with the worst record in the league (and, therefore, a staggeringly better 25% chance at the top pick, instead of our second-worst and dream killing 20%) has been replaced by the very real fact that the worst team has only won the lottery twice since 1994 (even though, yes, one of those was us in 2003…) but both points seem to miss what might be a large part of the point going forward.

First, let’s talk about my turns on the Lottery Machine.  My first go at the machine was like a magical wonderland of destiny creation.  Of the 10 times I played, the Cavs (then with the worst record in the league) wound up with the #1 pick six of the ten times … and once in those ten times the Clippers pick (2.8% chance of winning) came in at number 3 …  That is, of course, the dream scenario for a Cavaliers fan heading into the draft and something that, should it happen, would absolutely destroy the NBA because no one would believe that the lottery wasn’t fixed to save post-LeBron basketball in Cleveland (the secret being that the NBA doesn’t really care about saving basketball in Cleveland so, if two top-4 picks happen, David Stern is not going to be celebrating.  He’s going to be slamming his hand in his office door over and over and over again).

On my second trip to the Lottery Machine, though, the bottom dropped out.  The Cavs, still with the league’s worst record only got the top pick twice in the ten times I tried and routinely ended up with #4 and #8 (where, at the time, they had us picking Perry Jones with the fourth pick and I started slamming my hand in my office door over and over and over again.  Perry Jones III has since decided to return to Baylor for his sophomore year).

Just today, I returned to the machine – with the Cavs now proudly owning only the second-worst record in the league at 18-63 – and got these results in my ten tries: 2&8, 2&8, 4&8, 3&8, 1&2, 5&8, 3&8, 2&8, 1&9, and 4&8.  I could basically live with all but 3 of these – 2 of them get us the top pick – while 1 of them gives us the first and second picks in the draft (a scenario in which I will likely need a defibrillator and David Stern will have chewed off and swallowed one of his hands).

What does all of this mean?  Very little.  It’s not the real draft lottery. But, as I saw the number of times the Cavs got shut out of their/our beloved #1 pick (i.e. Kyrie Irving) even with the worst record, I started to see some benefit in finally … for once in this season … some benefit in finally not losing.

First, it gave me deep personal satisfaction when we won game number 18.  This is the game that separated us from our league-worst tie with the T-Wolves, but it also meant that the 2010-11 Cavs are not as bad – at least according to their record – as the 2002-03 Cavs. In a previous post, I named the teams Team Ricky (02-03 after Ricky Davis) and Team Hicky (10-11 after The Hickson) and argued that, even though this year’s squad was reeking like the interior of a car where a dead fish is stuck in the glove compartment and the car is left to sit in 90 degree sun and bunch of people vomit in the car and use it for a bathroom and then eat the fish and then vomit in it some more (or something …) – even though all that, Team Ricky was the worse team.  Team Ricky was the epitome of a bad Cavs team in my head and I didn’t want to give that very dear memory away.

Now, I don’t have to.  Thank you, Team Hicky.

Second … and there’s a lot of ways you can go with this … I happen to think it’s only good when you see some guys who might be on our roster next year play better basketball.  Will that better basketball cost us a better player (which you could argue would make next year’s team more better than having a roster of players who finally understand how to play a little defense, go after loose balls and rebounds and attempt, on the offensive end, to put the ball in the basket with greater frequency than failure … and that might be the case) but we’ll never know.  Getting the #1 pick is not something that is actually in any of our control.  Given that, I do believe a little in the possibility that these players – many of whom we’ll see again next year – can only benefit by putting the pieces together in finding out how to win a game in the NBA here and there.

Let’s be done with the losing.  At least for this year.

NBA Basketball

2011/04/03

TOURNAMENT NOTES: “Who this guy reminds me of” Edition

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-I’m really glad to see Arizona’s Derrick Williams finally making people’s radars beep louder (I knew I could count on you, Krolik…).  I’ve had the chance to see a handful of Arizona games and have really liked Williams.  He’s an incredibly efficient scorer with the strength to battle in the paint and the ability (or luck) to step outside and hit the 3 (he made 60% of his attempts).

I’ve been saying for a while that I wouldn’t be surprised to see Williams become a bigger version of Andre Igoudala (only better at scoring and not as good a passer … does that still count as a comparison or am I now describing a different player?), though a lot of this depends on which team he goes to and where they choose to play him (Kristofer Habbas has a great article arguing whether Williams could be a consideration for the first pick in the draft on nbadraftinsider.com and he also says it depends on which position teams decide to play Williams that determine his ultimate value).  I like him as a 3 (if he can improve his ball handling and outside shooting … again, am I now describing a different player?) who can use his strength and size to make up for what he might lack in quickness and elite athleticism both offensively and defensively at that position (Habbas argues that Williams needs to float between the 3 and the 4 to maximize his value).

But he also operates so smoothly within the game plan that he’s relatively quiet with his 19.5PPG and 8.3RPG while shooting 60% from the field, 75% from the line and – ahem – 55% from 3.  Those “quiet” players are always interesting to me, since watching (in my opinion) the best “quiet” player I’d ever seen play college ball in person, Michael Redd. Redd would have games where you’d look up at the scoreboard after and think, “Wait, when did he get those 25 points?  I thought he scored, like, 12.”  And we all know how much less quiet Michael Redd got when he got to the pros.  That does not mean that Williams is going to experience the same success as Redd (or the same debilitating knee injuries, for that matter), but sometimes your memorable scorer is not scoring in the best way (…Hello, Kobe Bryant).

Of course quiet players can also disappear … as in entirely … as in not have a productive career.  So, sure … if you wanna think of it that way…

Depending on how workouts go, Williams is probably the No. 2 pick in this draft and nothing to sneeze at if the ping-pong balls don’t fully go the Cavs way in the lottery.  A front line of Varejao, Hickson and Williams, while still imperfect, is fun to think about.

-Oh, and speaking of memorable scorers, if the Cavs do miss out on the first pick (and, presumably, Kyrie Irving with it), they might be staring at Kemba Walker with the Clippers pick. Have we seen a better quick, scoring 6-foot guard in college since Allen Iverson?  I don’t think so.  And, while I’m not ready to give Walker the type of NBA career that Iverson enjoyed, I think there’s “important piece” written all over him.  When trying to describe Walker, this is the best I could come up with: Terrell Brandon mixed with Ben Gordon mixed with another guy who is not quite as good.  Remember, Brandon was once called “The Best Point Guard in the NBA” by Sports Illustrated and he was a very good scoring guard.  Gordon is bigger than Walker, but they both have that volume scorer’s mentality (and, actually, in hindsight, I think I’ll remove the “another guy who is not quite as good” from my comparison.  I think that guy is also Ben Gordon).  I think Brandon Knight of Kentucky (who is drawing a ton of comparisons to Jason Terry) has the chance to be a very good player, but  (yes, even more than Jimmer…).

NBA Basketball

2011/03/22

When Bad At the Draft Is Not Bad At the Draft…

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Okay, here’s something you already knew: the Cleveland Cavaliers do not have the strongest history when it comes to the NBA draft.  That’s why so many people, myself included, are nervous when it comes to the prospect of the team’s desire to rebuild through the draft.  We can accumulate all the potential (and actual) lottery picks we want, we can buy a first round pick late in the round (like Dan Gilbert has promised us he would do every year – including last year’s draft when being aggressive in adding young talent could have theoretically held some sway over LeBron’s decision to stay or go – and yet we have not seen him do it once) and we can accumulate second round picks like I pile up back issues of TV Guide in my mother’s basement, but if those picks get used on players like Dajuan Wagner, Chris Mihm and/or Desgana Diop then we’re in the same place we found ourselves in this year, only our droves of uninspired role players will be more highly paid.

But you knew that already.  That’s why you, like me, have to take any optimism with a grain of salt.

But here’s something you don’t know:  the Cleveland Cavaliers are actually really good at drafting NBA players.

At least, that is, if you listen the fine folks over at 82games.com.  Not only has their statistical inquiry into every team’s draft history over the last 20 years shown them that the Cavs are not bad at the draft, it’s shown the Cavs to be the fifth best team in the league over that period.  20 years.  Cavs.  5th best draft record.

But how is this possible?  How can the team we clearly know as being bad at the draft actually be among the best?  Keep in mind, 20 years does not cover the drafts that got us Daugherty, Price, Hot Rod or Kevin Johnson.

Well … a number of things make it possible, actually.  First, let’s look at how the article’s author, Roland Beech, assigned value to the players/teams:

Rating = points/game + rebounds/game + assists/game

Why use this definition? It’s the data I have easily on hand, which while not a good player rating system is a decent wag for these purposes. Then I group players as follows:

  • Star — 20+ rating
  • Solid — 15 to 19.9
  • Role Player — 10 to14.9
  • Deep Bench — 5 to 9.9
  • Complete Bust — less than 5
  • DNP — (never played in the NBA)

And, given that, he had this to say about Cleveland’s high standing:

Cleveland is a much more mixed record. A huge lift up for LeBron (no brainer), but they did also tab Boozer at #34, Andre Miller at #8, Ilgauskas at #20, Brandon at #11 for their other stars. Some top ten misses though in Mihm (#7), Wagner #6), Ferry (#2), and Diop (#8).

So, yeah, even excluding the fact that the selection of LeBron James was an unmitigated drafting success (until it wasn’t), it’s not so much that the Cavs have been bad at drafting, it’s that they were bad at drafting at the worst possible time.

Which is also a weird thing to consider, since we (or, at least, I, but I’ll assume there are a couple others out there, as well) think of the Cleveland Cavaliers as an entity that does different things at different times, but one with which I have had a relationship that hasn’t changed much over the course of my 22 years of following the team.  I follow that team and so I think of that team as “that team” and not as a series of different people working for an organization that, itself, has also been run by a number of different people.

I can talk about The Stepien Years or The Fratello Years or The Ricky Davis Years – or plug in anyone else in there who has ever worked for this organization – but, in my head, it’s still “The Cavs are not good at drafting talent” rather than what it should be which is “Jim Paxson was not good at drafting talent” or “Embry and Paxson have long devalued draft picks” or something more concrete than “The Cavs are not good at the draft, but the Cavs are good at the draft.”

I’ll admit that Paxson, guiding the team from 1999-2005 represents the biggest train-wreck-ish stint that makes me gun shy about the teams prospects on draft day.  And, to be fair, Ferry only had first round picks twice between 2005-2010 (and only one of those lost picks was on a decision he made … the Antawn Jamison trade which was basically Ferry’s all-in move).  But Ferry drafted well enough (Shannon Brown, Hickson and Eyenga in the first round – Boobie, Darnell Jackson, Danny Green and the rights to Sasha Kaun in the second (with only Gibson being a pick we went into the draft owning … sure, Danny Green is in the D-League and Darnell is with the Kings now and who knows if we’ll ever see Sasha Take 2 – no Pavlovic, he – but, for deep in the second round, there’s some value there.  There are also a couple of players still in Europe whose rights Ferry bought on draft day … again, we’ll see).

Looking back over Paxson’s bad drafts, the big thing that sticks out is that he was put in the position of continually having to draft from a position of need.  It’s easy to forget that Zydrunas played many healthy seasons after, but he was hurt during the years where the Cavs traded Jamal Crawford for Chris Mihm (2000) and then drafted Diop in 2001 (though, the real puzzler with the 2001 draft is that we later picked Brendan Haywood and traded his rights for Michael Doleac.  Yes, that is head-case-but-still-more-than-servicable Brendan Haywood for we’ll-keep-him-for-one-season Michael Doleac … hmmm).  I tend to not criticize teams for passing on players when many teams do as well, but you have to think that Joe Johnson, Richard Jefferson or Zach Randolph PLUS Brendan Haywood would still have given the Cavs a bad enough team to be in the ballpark for Dajuan and Boozer the next year and still probably in the running for James in 2003 – but with a much better nucleus in place, factoring in a healthy Z.

And I guess that should be our lesson going forward now:  Keep them bad enough to accumulate talent, but make the collection of bad as good as possible.

So, what can I say about the Cavs with certainty going forward.  Should I expect them to be good at the draft or bad?  With a rookie GM in Chris Grant, I really can’t say.  But I can say that the Cleveland Cavaliers are a professional basketball team that at one time or another has employed people that have been varying degrees of good at their jobs and that history is fairly irrelevant when it comes to predicting the decisions of a group that, year to year, may be made up of different people than have made those decisions in the past.

Ahhhhhh…. Now that’s good optimism.

NBA Basketball

2011/02/21

NBA Draft: Part 2 – JONESING

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Last month, RTC took a look at the two names most often mentioned in the same sentence as “Cavaliers” and “first pick in the 2011 NBA Draft”: Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and Duke’s Kyrie Irving.

And while my estimation of Sullinger has continued to grow (he’s no longer better Michael Cage … I recently read ‘better Elton Brand’ which, seeing Sullinger’s passing, rebounding and ability to score with both hands, I’m willing to tentatively buy) and my estimation of Irving remains unrealistically high and will only grow higher and less realistic as the Cavs continue to need a top point guard and Irving continues to not play in games, they are, by no means, the only two players battling it out to fill both a future Cavs roster spot as well as a place in all our hearts.

This edition of RTC’s NBA Draft Preview looks at a pair of Jones: Perry Jones III of Baylor and Terrence Jones of Kentucky.

Perry Jones III F/C 6’11” 14.5PPG, 7REB, 0.8BLK

This is arguably a tricky point in the season to be making judgments about freshmen players – many having an antagonistic relationship with something called a “wall.”  But, let me say this: the thought of Perry Jones in a Cavs uniform scares the living crap out of me.

At the start of the college season, P. Jones was seen at the top of most draft boards (right behind UNC’s Harrison Barnes, who is also now out of the conversation for the top spot).  Everyone was anxious to see this kid who, at 6’11”, could play the 3, 4 or 5 and athletically was drawing comparisons to Tracy McGrady. The McGrady comparison seems apt, mainly because Jones has a great chance to spend a few seasons glued to a bench until he finally catches up to his gifts … which will, most likely, happen while wearing a uniform of a different NBA team than drafted him.

Watching P. Jones play, the athleticism, smoothness and capable shooting touch all stand out.  But what also stands out is that he seems to be in way over his head right now.  He is not particularly active without the ball that, among other things, puts him in poor position to grab rebounds.  His face reads – probably accurately – like his head is flashing between having one million things going on and just shutting down.

This is not an indictment of P. Jones who, again, is fabulously gifted.  He just looks so far away from being a contributing NBA player right now.  That may change – and it might change soon.  He is, after all, averaging 15PTs and 7REBs a game on 58% FG shooting in his last 5 games – all without the benefit of assertiveness, toughness, smart hustle and high basketball IQ.

So, you know, it could just be me…

Terrence Jones SF 6’8” 17.9PPG 9.1REB, 1.9BLK

Terrence Jones, on the other hand, plays with what I’ve started calling the “Calipari F-You Face.” Picture Derrick Rose … now DeMarcus Cousins … Tyreke Evans … even John Wall.  They all wear a very similar face (the only exception is Cousins in the several moments following a perceived missed-call on his behalf … that’s an entirely different kind of F-You Face) and it’s a face that has me firmly believing that T. Jones plays with a chip, plays hard and … okay, there’s also that 18/9 with nearly 2 blocks to lead a very talented team that – stocked with freshmen or not – tends to be a factor in the tournament.

T. Jones has drawn some comparisons with former Kentucky Wildcat, Antoine Walker, for his ability to keep a stat line free of zeros, to be equally good at getting his and making it easier for others (and not, as you might think if you carry the comparison further, for being soft, out-of-shape and chucking up 3-pointers without the benefit of actually being very good at making them).

T. Jones is a good, though not a jaw-dropping, athlete, which may be one of the things that keeps him out of the top-3.  Also, playing SF in the NBA will, presumably, take him further away from the basket and obscure some of his rebounding and post-defending abilities.  His upside is clearly not as high.

We’re ever so slowly beginning to learn something about the NBA: guys with actual basketball skills have value.  If there’s no sure-fire star to draft (and consensus opinion tells us there is not here) you’d better draft a guy who is very good at some part of basketball, be it rebounding, defending, shooting, scoring efficiency, shot blocking, etc.  That way, even if you haven’t solved your team’s long-term star search, you have a guy who will be able to play and contribute to your team (yeah, even if that team’s going to be crappy again next year).  This also means that if you have to trade the player you pick down the line, you’ll be offering someone of value, rather than offering, say, Hasheem Thabeet (who, yes, you could argue seemed to have the one good skill of shot-blocking, but there were enough other warning signs that the Grizzlies probably should have picked up on: skinny – and, therefore, not physical enough to have the type of low position to be effective at his good skill … if, in fact, it was a skill and not just a product of him being taller than everyone.  Teams have to figure that out too.).

Should the worst happen and we end up with the 4th overall pick, I’ll have little problem choosing Terrence Jones.  Earlier than that might be a stretch, but you have the feeling his bust potential is low.

NBA Basketball

2011/01/29

NBA Draft: College Stud vs. Injured Guard who only played 8 games of D-I ball

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Last night, the Cavaliers tied their franchise’s longest losing streak by crapping out their 19th in a row in a loss to the Nuggets in Cleveland (although, let’s be fair, in those 19, they really only “lost” 15 or so, saving the others with such moral victories as J.J. Hickson grabbing more than 6 rebounds or, say, holding their opponent to under 65 points in the first half … Your 2010-11 “moral victory” Cavaliers currently sit at 12 wins – or good for only third worst in the league.  Perspective, Cavs fans … perspective).

But we awake to a new day – and when that day happens to be a late-January Saturday and, if we have not already, we should probably spend a little time thinking about college basketball (or, as I like to call it, “slightly less professional basketball”).

Specifically, let’s spend a little time with the players most likely to be available and worthy of taking on all of our psychological baggage for the next several years.

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way about where it looks like we will be drafting.  First, barring a scorching three months of basketball, the Cavaliers will end up with one of the three worst records in the league.  Though they’ve given me no reason to believe this is the case, they will most likely win again this year.  But, by the time they do, the next worst team could easily have 3-4 games of betterness on them.

Second, we could never win another game – finish the season with only 8 wins, none of them coming in 2011 – and end up picking 4th in the 2011 NBA Draft.  Just worth thinking about.  The way the basketball gods have been shoving our collective head in the toilet this year … well, just don’t be shocked if we don’t get the number one pick.  In fact, be shocked if that does happen. Since this is a draft that looks to have four or five really intriguing prospects, that may not be the worst thing either.  Yes, we want the best available player wherever we pick, but this draft may have screw-up potential written all over that first pick – and, remember, the guy making our picks now was part of the management that picked Marvin Williams ahead of Chris Paul.

You may now lock yourself in the bathroom and scream.

Welcome back…

So, who are the guys we’ll most likely be looking at in the top of the draft?  If you watch college hoops – or, as I did, quickly started figuring out who the top prospects were when it was clear this Cavs season was going to be … um … not entirely fulfilling – you know these names already: Jared Sullinger, Kyrie Irving, Perry Jones III, and Terrence Jones (some other names have started appearing atop the board, such as Derrick Williams from Arizona and Enes Kanter from … well, nowhere right now, I don’t think … but I haven’t had the opportunity to watch them play yet so, Derrick and Enes, just know you’re in my thoughts).  None of these guys is a can’t-miss player, but they should all end up being good-to-very-good and, as far as the Cavs go … you know what they say about beggars being choosers and all.

Today: Sullinger and Irving.

Jared Sullinger – 6’9” 280lbs. Forward from The Ohio State University.

There’s a lot to like about Jared Sullinger.  He’s come in as a freshman and anchored the current No. 1 team in the nation to a tune of 17.8PTs and 10REBs a game.  Most of the detracting talk has been about how “NBA” his body-type is.  What’s his body-type, you may ask?  I think it’s called “Leon Powe with good knees.”  He is not an explosive athlete and, combined with the fact that, yes, there are some guys out there taller than 6’9”, he sometimes has problems getting his shot off against bigger players.  I saw this last weekend, when Ohio State played Illinois.  I thought I was reliving J.J. Hickson’s rookie season, as several of Sullinger’s looks close to the basket were easily stuffed by the longer Illinois defenders.  But, you know what Sullinger ended up with?  27PTs and 16REBs.  Not too bad going against a team who is exploiting your weaknesses.  While we have plenty of examples of dominant college players who were just not able to translate those skills into NBA success, I think it’s a mistake to overlook Sullinger’s production because of athletic shortcomings.  Players who rebound well tend to always rebound well.  And Sullinger definitely has the strength to compete against NBA players. In fact, the two things he should have no problem bringing to the NBA – rebounding and toughness – are two things sorely lacking on the Cavs this year.  I keep thinking of Sullinger ending up like Michael Cage (who, we should remember, wasn’t all that bad).  Not exactly top-4 level production, but a solid contributor.

Kyrie Irving, 6’2” 180lbs. Point Guard from Duke University.

Okay, here’s where I really start betraying my hopes and dreams for the Cavs going forward: I don’t care if Kyrie Irving has to have his (currently) busted toe amputated before the pre-draft camps, I want us to take Kyrie Irving.

Irving was shaping up to be the breakout player of this freshman class when he went down with a toe injury and, yes, yes, yes, while I understand that the toe is not where you want a guard developing any sort of injury history (though Boobie’s hasn’t resurfaced since it cost him much of his production two seasons ago) we can’t keep dumping out a steady string of average point guards who get destroyed by the best 10 point guards in the league.  Irving has great point size and quickness and, at the time of his injury, was shooting 53% from the field and 45% from 3.  Irving looks like he has the skill set to be an above-average defender on the wing and might just keep us from getting destroyed nightly – not just by top-flight guards like Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul and Deron Williams – but by … ahem … last night, the Denver player who killed us the most when we were trying to come back was Ty freakin’ Lawson.

If he’s healthy (I’ll backtrack just a bit from my amputated toe declaration), I can’t see why we don’t pick Irving, unless someone has picked him already.

NBA Basketball

2010/11/29

CAN HE BUILD IT? I HAVE NO FREAKIN’ IDEA.

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I remember back in 2007 when I faced the very difficult task of transitioning my mentality as a sports fan from “At the end of the day, my team will always lose” to “Wait a second… My team is supposed to win.”  The grinding I could hear were the gears in my head shifting to where I got mad at losses, would sink into a light depression when we’d finally get bounced from the playoffs and constantly think about where that “final piece” would come from that would finally get Cleveland its wheelbarrow full of gold.

Yeah… those gears have had to switch back.  Now, we get to stretch back and look at the big picture issue known as rebuilding and everyone is calling for this Cavaliers team to be completely gutted … blown up … and built back up.  But, let’s be honest: the reason that hasn’t happened yet is that Chris Grant and Dan Gilbert can only speculate right now about what the best way to rebuild this team is.

None of us know.

So, Grant is left to talk about accumulating assets and developing young players (well, developing J.J. Hickson anyway) and trying to show some respectability after the organization was embarrassed nationally this past summer.

How will he build?

Over the course of the next few weeks, RAISING THE CADAVALIER will look at some of Grant’s options.  First up: he’ll build through the draft.

The good news: we no longer owe any other team a draft pick.  So, as it stands, the Cavs will have their own first and second round picks until they decide to part with one.  We’ll also have additional second round picks in 2011-2013 – roughly, and this could all change with various asterisks that accompany most trades, Oklahoma City’s in 2011, New Orleans’ in 2012 and Minnesota’s in 2013 (from the Ramon Sessions trade).  Then, we’re looking at Miami’s first rounders in 2013 and 2015 (because Ted Stepien was such a bad owner that teams can no longer trade away first round picks in successive years).  We can also choose to switch first round picks with Miami in 2012 (which, I guess, is in hopes that the wheels come off the Heat in 2012 for some reason).

There’s also the nearly $14 million trade exception – that we will presumably use to take on a player that another team wants to dump but force them to give up some picks as well – and anything we might get back should we part ways with Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison or Anderson Varejao (widely considered our more tradable assets).

So, using the model that any rebuilding endeavor is, at least, a three year process, we have a minimum of ten picks (four first rounders and six second rounders) over the next three drafts if we hold onto our cards.

Not horrible.

And, if you’re going to build through the draft, the most conventional wisdom is that you will have to get pretty bad – thus assuring the chance at a high draft pick – before you really can get better.

And who do we point to as evidence of this?  The Oklahoma City Thunder.

While we still had LeBron, critics were always claiming that Cleveland was trying to build a winner “the wrong way.”  The right way, in their eyes, was to build a winner as it looked like the Thunder were building it: grab a twice in a decade star (Kevin Durant) and surround him with quality draft picks so that the team can all grow together and eventually end up winning it all.

And the Thunder were generally lauded for doing that.  My argument was, “But you don’t understand!  We don’t draft well!  We drafted DeSagana Diop and DeJuan Wagner (and Luke Jackson and Chris Mihm and Vitaly Potapenko and on and on) in the freaking lottery!  Just let us find players who are already good (or were a season or two ago) and let us build our team that way in peace!”

That’s going to be the trick of building through the draft.  There’s no way of knowing what you’re players will become or how far they’ll develop.  Solid rookie seasons and improved second year campaigns do not always mean a player will develop into a rotation player for a championship team.

This is (in my opinion) what the Thunder are experiencing now.  They got it right with Durant and got it way right with Russell Westbrook (currently averaging 23.8/5.1/8.4) but they’re still missing that third guy if you’re not convinced that it’s Jeff Green or James Harden.  Green’s averaging 18PTs and 6.8 REBs but hasn’t been able to entirely quell fears that this Thunder team is not a finished product.  And critics have already talked about Harden as a bust just because he is not Tyreke Evans or Stephen Curry, two players taken after Harden who have flashed considerably more star power, be it on considerably worse teams.

And what happens if Thunder GM Sam Presti had hit home runs on every one of the players and constructed a young super team.  Would he have been able to pay enough to keep them together for more than 5-7 years?  Would they have developed enough in the time before they got too expensive to keep together?

The Thunder will probably be just fine.  No need to worry about them.  But we should be careful of saying, “We’ll do it just like they did it.”  No offense to Chris Grant, but I just don’t trust that a GM will hit enough with 10 picks (most of them second rounders) to rebuild us into a competitive playoff team.

Not that I have any problem selecting 1-5 in any of the next three drafts, but we need to be much more aggressive than just waiting to see how these picks pan out because, let’s face it, you can’t get good players to commit to playing in Cleveland, not even if they’re from near there.

I don’t know if a formula exists, but I don’t think the draft focus is as reliable as some have suggested. Next up, we’ll look at how several contending teams this year got to be that way – and pay special attention to any who might be from mid-market land.