The much deserved news is here. Kyrie Irving joins the NBA’s best in Houston in February. Way to go, Kyrie, on the first of ten all-star trips.
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A peculiar phenomenon of the internet seems to be that nuanced observation and dialogue is… unpopular. Maybe “not popular” would be a better way to put it. It seems as if the quickest way to page views and hyperlink glory is to churn out the most hyperbolic, sensationalist screed possible. In the quest to shout the most ridiculous and extreme views from the mountaintop in order to engender the most snickers, likes, or hates, it becomes impossible to differentiate between parody and actual opinion. Poe’s law makes the line between expressing a strong opinion and baiting trolls increasingly impossible to discern. Unfortunately, there’s no smiley face emoticon that can be slapped on every single mocking sentence, and praise can be dripping with sarcastic derision. So in light of Tristan Thompson Bobblehead Giveaway night tomorrow at the Q, I guess I have to say this without an ounce of irony or shtick: Tristan Thompson’s been pretty good lately.
How good? Since Anderson Varejao has been out of the lineup, TT has put up some very impressive averages: 14.1 points per game, 11.9 rebounds in 35.4 minutes a game. His PER is roughly 17.84 (calculated using linear weights PER). His true shooting percentage is .543, and his defensive rebound rate has been 24%. The most impressive number? He’s shooting .691 from the line in that time! If someone had bet me last year that TT would shoot almost 70% from the line for a solid month, I’d have said, “yeah, and the Lakers won’t make the playoffs.” Kevin called Tristan’s game buttery slickness. I’m calling him poutine. That free throw percentage is pure gravy.
How has Tristan done this? First of all his rebounding has improved dramatically. Tristan’s always been a good offensive rebounder. Before AV left the lineup, TT was rebounding at a rate of 12.9% offensively and 17.8% defensively for a total rebound rate of 15.2%. Since Andy’s injury, Thompson is rebounding at a rate of 14.6 ORB%, 24.0 DRB%, and 19.1 TRB%. Obviously, in Varejao’s absence, there are more rebounds to go around, especially when playing with Luke Walton, but TT’s rebounding is reaching elite levels. 19.1TRB% would be #10 in the league this season. As it stands now, TT is #10 in offensive rebounding this season, even including the time he played with Andy. Raising his defensive rebounding rate an additional 6.2% in Andy’s absence is impressive. That’s a per game average improvement of 4.2 rebounds a game.
It’s not just the rebounding. Canadian Dynamite has become a confident and effective offensive player. As we’ve talked about and Austin Carr has alluded to, Tristan Trevor James Thompson has torn down his offensive game and rebuilt himself as a right hander. Strangely ambidextrous, Thompson has much more touch with the right hand. The left hand shot seems to be flatter, and to have less spin on it. While he still shoots freethrows lefty, his new preferred move seems to be the right handed hook shot in the lane out to about 9 feet, which he’s becoming more and more effective at. Another reason that Tristan has become the ketchup chips of offensive players, is that he rarely takes dumb shots. Tristan is not a jump shooter and he knows it. He rarely takes a jump shot at all. He is much more effective with the hook or flip shot from both sides of the basket, but if he doesn’t have a good look, he’s gotten very good at giving the ball up and not forcing anything. His shot chart speaks volumes.
Thompson has gotten effective at shooting the jump hook, and can go over either shoulder (though I wish he’d go left a bit more to keep the D honest). He has a full on hook as well as a little jump hook push shot that he likes to shoot from the right and left of of the key. He’s also gotten very good at quick dunking guys and has dropped some of the weight he had earlier this season. No longer afraid of getting fouled, TT goes quickly to the bucket and has learned to get to the far side of the rim on dunks to avoid getting blocked. I’m impressed by his ability to be a double digit scorer simply through putbacks, dunks, hook shots, and the occasional dribble drive. Yes, his handle is pretty sweet for a big man, and he’s been impressing with his between the legs crossover. KG turned his head the other night, and TT flew to the rack from the top of the key to earn two freebies. Because of his dribble drive game, defenders can’t completely ignore TT outside of the key. Plus, his free throw form looks better every game. Even if he rarely uses it in games, it’s obvious that the time Thompson spent in the offseason working on his jumper has helped him at the charity stripe tremendously. As can be seen in this highlight real from Portland, it’s obvious he’s working at it between every game, too.
Another evolution of Tristan’s game has been better passing and decision making before Andy’s injury, Thompsons assist rate was 6.1%, his turnovers were 14.6% and his usage was 15.1%. Since the injury he’s bumped them to 7.9 AST%, 10.6 TOV%, and 18.3% Usage. So he’s also getting the ball more. He even had a 5 assist night against Boston. He may never be Bill (or even Luke) Walton, but he’s no longer Yinka Dare.
On the other side of the ball, the Cavs defense is (still) such a mess that it’s really hard to grade him. Tristan passes the eye test, in that he seems to get in good position and be a decent one on one defender. He’s certainly better than his replacements, and has been all season. 82games ranks him as helping the Cavs D give up 7 less points per hundred possessions, and score an additional 4.2 per 100 possessions than his subfor a net rate of +11.2 for the season. This is more an indictment of Tristan’s really bad replacements though. Recently, TT held LaMarcus Aldridge and Paul Millsap below their averages and helped limit KG to 5-13 shooting. but he definitely has room for improvement here. Furthermore Tristan’s blocks are down drastically this year from last year, and he hasn’t been any better in Andy’s absence. His block rate has dropped in half from 3.3% to 1.7%. The increase in rebounding has benefited, but it would be nice if he could regain some of the aggressiveness on help defense that he had in his rookie year, while still leaving behind the wild abandon that got him consistently out of position.
The real question is: where can Tristan go from here? Tristan’s rapid improvement has been eye opening. It’s like he hired Mark Whalberg’s post Planet of the Apes acting coach to develop his post game. That serviceable post game was developed in a season and a half after Jay Bilas said on draft night,“he needs to learn how to play and how to score.” Can Thompson keep developing? One good thing is that he seems to add one skill at a time. If TT can master the hook shot, he can graduate to learning how to use the glass. He’s still not very good at this, but has gotten better at layups off the square. If he can figure that out, he can start learning how to dunk one handed, which will allow TT to finish at some better angles and let him wait to expose the ball on the flush. With those abilities and the little flip shot which I’ve seen a few times, Tristan can develop a counter off the hook: an up an under or a turn and face power move/step through/drop step. That should help him on the block. In the next couple years if he can develop a jumper even out to 15 feet, he could really be something.
Pre-season, I said that Tristan’s ceiling may be a slightly better on offense Ben Wallace. I’m revising that. His ceiling is unknown at this point. According to a comment Kevin made yesterday, “In the last ten years, the guys to average 15 & 12 and 50% fg are Duncan, Garnett, Howard, Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph (once).” Tristan is getting close to this in his last month and simple improvements seem possible. Let’s hope he can keep it up. TT’s ability to conjure dramatic improvement in season is a rare commodity. In looking at his game, I’m not sure I can figure out a player to compare him to. Name me a long armed left handed center in a power forward’s body who scored mostly out of the post, had a face-up game with no jump shot, could put up 12 boards a game, and was still a decent defender? Maybe Tristan’s a southpaw Dennis Rodman. This much is true: the fumbling and hesitant player TT was at the beginning of the season, when he was still a rookie, no longer exists. Tristan has achieved the rare feat of mid-season metamorphosis.
What I like most about Tristan is his demeanor on and off the court. He seems affable, well spoken, and genuinely funny. I absolutely love this video for TT’s induction into the bobblehead hall of fame, and the fact that TT’s taken on childhood epilepsy as part of his charity work. Furthermore, if Fox Sports is to be believed, Tristan was leading the huddles in the game against the Celtics. He seems one of the few Cavs truly committed to defense on every play, and he plays with an energy that is infectious. No snark — Canadian Dynamite has become one of my favorite Cavaliers.
P.S. I completely forgot to mention TT’s rapidly developing pick and roll chemistry with Kyrie, and the fact that he consistently runs the floor: two more gold stars in his favor, and the source of a few more buckets a game. That is all. Let the love fest continue.
P.P.S According to commenter, LaughingCavs, Tristan’s PER is actually 18.5 since Andy’s quad tear (linear weights PER is a rough PER approximation, and tends to drift by a point or so). He also included this great graph which tracks Tristan’s PER per (offensive) possession from the 500th (offensive) possession of the season onward. TT is tracking over 20 in the month of January. Exciting stuff.
Big day for the Cavaliers. First they trade a waiver-wire pickup for the entire Grizzlies bench PLUS a first round draft pick, then they pummel a reigning Eastern Conference Finalist. Also, based on post-game chatter, this game rates highly among Cavs:the Bloggers. I watched with company, so hopefully my attentiveness and recollection do this justice.
Cleveland sprinted off on a 31 to 27 first quarter lead. Kyrie was RIDICULOUS; 19 points on 8 of 10 from the field. Circus shots at the rim, pull-ups from mid-range, threes from deeeeep; Kyrie displayed the whole arsenal. The league’s soon-to-be undisputed best passing front court mesmerized with pinpoint dimes; Walton, Zeller and Thompson combined for eight first quarter assists.
Walton perpetuated his point-forwarding in the second quarter, including a set-up for a monstrous Tristan dunk. Luke registered five assists in his first seven minutes of play; remember, he’s a free agent this offseason, so the team better maintain cap space. Otherwise the quarter started poorly, as Waiters attacked but could not finish, and also rimmed-out an open three. Cleveland’s six points in the first six minutes allowed Boston to mount a 37 to 41 lead. Tristan Thompson scored eight of his twelve second-quarter points in the final six minutes though, to navigate the team to a 54 to 53 half time lead. He finished with 16 for the half; Kevin Garnett was jealous of how smooth Tristan’s shooting has become.
As usual, Cleveland limped out for the third quarter. Boston fueled an early run behind Jeff Green and Avery Bradley three pointers. They built a seven-point lead until Alonzo Gee decimated the Boston defense with filthy drive & dunk. Cleveland embarked on a 7 – 0 run, including an out-of-bounds play drawn up for their go-to-guy: with three seconds on the shot clock, the pass went to Tristan, who left Garnett grasping at air, and threw the hammer down! Cleveland trailed heading into the fourth by a score of 70 to 73.
The first nine minutes of the fourth seesawed back-and-forth, as neither team gained more than a three point lead. Then, the magic started. Kyrie drove and finished to give the Cavs an 84 to 83 lead. Next, Rajon Rondo inexplicably chased down an errant pass and saved the ball to Kyrie alone under the basket: 86 to 83 Cleveland. Kevin Garnett hit two free throws, but then off a Waiters assist, Alonzo Gee pump-faked and dunked to restore the three-point margin. On the ensuing Boston possession, Garnett received a veteran-vs-rookie phantom call, with Tyler Zeller’s clean block ruled a foul. Garnett hit both freebies and Zeller fouled out, replaced by super-sub Luke Walton.
The teams traded misses, until TT grabbed a d-board, handed it to Kyrie…and Irving went coast-to-coast! 90 to 87! On Boston’s possession, Rajon Rondo attempted to one-up his young counter-part, but missed…the ball was tipped, then tipped again, and Luke Walton snagged the clutch rebound! That man is everywhere!
What’s next? Of course, a Kyrie and-one; put this game on ice, tonight’s baddest man alive says the game is over. Cleveland leads by six with twenty-seconds to go and the rest is a formality.
A nice win for the team. Kyrie finished with 40 points on 74% true shooting, including 15 in the fourth quarter. Tristan finished with 21 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists worth of buttery-slickness. Walton tallied seven assists as the team piled-up 28 on 37 field goals.
Good game. Cavs rule. Celtics stink. Onto some notes:
- Kevin Durant still plays tonight, but Kyrie may very well end up the NBA’s best player today. That happens a few times per season, and is amazing for a twenty year old. With solid defense, what is his ceiling? Top-three NBA player?
- Waiters had an off-night, shooting 3 of 12. Five of his shots were at the rim, though obviously he couldn’t finish. He missed an open three and dished three assists with zero turnovers. One aspect of Dion’s role in the offense that frustrates me, is that when off the ball, he meanders away from the play. He is frequently 30 to 35 feet from the basket when someone else has the ball. The game turns into 4 on 5. He needs to learn / be taught about some action to perform when off-the-ball.
- Zeller played a relatively feisty game, featuring 10 boards, 3 blocks, 4 assists and plus-5 in 38 minutes.
- Did you know that Luke Walton’s effective field goal percentage is 47% in the first half and 32% in the second half? No? Just something I noticed.
- Did you know that in the last 17 games, Tristan has attempted 3.5 shots per first quarter, only been assisted on 29% of his makes, and converts at 42% effective field goal shooting? In the other three quarters, he averages 2.4 shots and is assisted on 46% of his makes with 55% eFG. You hadn’t noticed that? What game are you watching?
- Daniel Gibson returned to the line-up, but ummm, didn’t really do anything.
- Ohio State alum Jared Sullinger posted a double-double, his third in January.
Nothing is imminent yet, It has been done! the Cavs have traded Leuer for Marreese Speights and Josh Selby. Picks may or may not be involved.
Someone talk Kevin down from the ledge.
THIRD UPDATE: Looks like Pargo has been waived. Looking at a very different roster after today.
Ed Foth was born in 1919 in Cleveland Ohio. He served in the air force during the second World War, started his own successful company, and had a great marriage for 67 years (until his wife passed away a few years ago, God bless her soul), and was a true family man. He had a ton of interests too – Vegas, Golf, his garden, but in all the time I knew him no interest seemed to come anywhere close to his obsession with Cleveland sports.
I was lucky enough to spend many, many hours discussing every single facet of being a Cleveland fan with Ed which, admittedly, has influenced my fandom. Sitting at the bug game in 2007, watching my Yankees fall to the Indians due to a sudden swarm of gnats, I couldn’t help but feel happy for my family, particularly for Ed, who wanted nothing but to see one of his beloved home teams win another championship. Later, when the Indians finally ousted the Yanks, I thought he might have that chance. (Damn you Boston. May you forever be tormented in you-know-where.)
Ed was your typical trooper when it came to Cleveland teams falling short – he approached the disappointment with a sort of gloomy optimism, surrounding all of his hopefulness with a gigantic swig of negativity. Ed knew as well as anyone else that while next year meant another chance at success, it also meant another opportunity to fall short. Year in and year out I’d hear him lament the past year’s failure, and how the next year could be the year it all came to fruition. But underneath all the positivity was that same distress that plagues us all.
In 2010, my senior year of college, my uncle was lucky enough to snag a bunch of tickets to game 1 of the Cavs/Celtics playoff series. On May 1st, despite Lebron’s “elbow,” we were fortunate enough to watch Mo Williams (crazy dunk and all) and the Cavs beat the Celtics. Things were good, and Ed was happy. I vaguely remember him saying something along the lines of, “I think this could finally be our year.” His positivity was overflowing – he had let his Cleveland guard down, and was anticipating a championship. Of course, we were all wrong, and I’ll spare everyone the recapitulation of what happened next.
And now, less than three years later, Ed has passed. Unlike many of us, he was lucky enough to witness a parade down Euclid Avenue, but also unlike most of us, he knew just how sour being a Cleveland fan can be. And so, as they bury a true American success story, a good man from the great generation, I’ll think not only of the success he achieved in his life, of his patriarchy that ushered in a family of two children, four grand children, and seven great-grandchildren, and of the love he held for his wife until the day he died, but also of his passion for Cleveland sports.
Rest In Peace, Ed. May the Browns, Cavaliers, or Indians one day achieve that ever elusive W.
Cavs close out the West coast trip with a pretty methodical loss to the Utah Jazz. As it often happens, I try to live-blog these games and invariably lose steam. Really wasn’t ever in the balance after mid-way through the 3rd quarter.
Pre-Game – Utah coming off 5 days rest, the Cavs 3. Should be some high-level basketball. C.J. Miles back in Utah for the first time after playing there for 7 years. Strange that C.J. Miles is a 7-and-a-half year veteran and he’s only 25. Also strange is that he was listed as a point guard his first season in the NBA. Would have liked to see Mo Williams playing tonight – always liked Mo. He had some very positive things to say about Dan Gilbert and the Cavs organization in an interview with FSN Ohio. He’s recovering from an injury to his finger. I think he makes the Jazz a sleeper team to be reckoned with in the West.
1st Quarter Overview: Cavs started out hot with a variety of different scoring looks. Quickly out of a timeout, the Jazz came back led by Randy Foye. C.J. Miles and Tristan Thompson both had nice 1st quarters and were relatively quiet the rest of the night. The Cavs went cold near the end of the quarter and only scored 5 points in the last 5 minutes. At the end of 1, Jazz had a 26-23 lead. It didn’t feel so bad as most of the Jazz’s shots were long 2s and 3s – they were just making them. The Cavs weren’t getting exposed on D although they did give up a few offensive rebounds which lead to second chance points.
1st Quarter Live-blog Notes:
- Tristan sets pick – Kyrie decides to pass to Tristan who really didn’t roll so much as clear. This with less than 3 seconds left on the shot clock. Tristan left chasing down a bad pass and 24 sec violation. Kyrie doesn’t always have the best clock awareness.
- Zeller cans his second deep jumper, now 2 of 3 from outside 15 feet. Something he hasn’t done this year and needs to refine as his career progresses.
- TT fakes a screen and rolls – gets a touch pass and flips one in from the baseline.
- Cavs letting the Jazz hit the offensive boards.
- Cavs running an offense with Walton and Waiters in. On defense, Jazz stroking from outside.
- Waiters with a disgusting crossover – but gets blocked at the rim.
- Kyrie/Walton PnR. Walton buries 3. Jazz announcer: “are you kidding me” x3
- Cavs end quarter with a wimper – poor execution.
2nd Quarter Overview: The Cavs came out aggressive in the 2nd thanks to Dion Waiters. He started the quarter off right with a VICIOUS dunk and it really seemed to light a fire under him. He just continually attacked from that point onward. Many times as he surveyed the defense, I wholly expected him to fire a long 2 or do some worthless through the legs dribbling and take a fadeaway. And yet, in the same situations that I’ve seen him settle for those shots, he just kept attacking the basket. He wasn’t especially successful finishing, but he was drawing fouls like Finals Wade ’06 only with Reg Season Waiters ’13 referees. (A convoluted way of saying: no phantom fouls here.) At the other end the Jazz began punishing the Cavs inside. Well, maybe more specifically, the Jazz bigs punished the Cavs, but it wasn’t always from inside. Regular reader/commenter/Jonas-hater extraordinaire Rich was lamenting the DeMarre Caroll long 2s that were falling in the 2nd quarter. Unlike the first quarter featuring a heavy dose of Randy Foye and Jamaal Tinsley, this quarter featured nothing but bigs: Favors, Carroll, Kanter, Millsap, Jefferson. They all scored on multiple possessions and the Cavs more or less played the Jazz to a stalemate. Kyrie Irving couldn’t find the net and Tristan Thompson had less success trying to overpower his foes down low. C.J. Miles cooled down quicker than lead solder, and the Cavs went into the half trailing 53-48.
2nd Quarter Live-blog Notes:
Waiters with a MONSTER jam. Goes right back on the attack on next possession. Good sign.
Waiters draws 2 fouls in a matter of seconds. Brings Cavs back within 5.
Waiters breakaway dunk. Been all Dion Waiters this quarter.
3J Miles with a nice pull.
Waiters goes right back to the rack!
Out of timeout – Cavs back to back turnovers lead to runouts. Suddenly Cavs down 7.
Away from ball foul gives Livingston 2 FT (Thanks, Dion!)
Kyrie block, Kyrie 3. Tie game.
Tristan tried to out-muscle Millsap – didn’t work out.
3rd Quarter Overview: The Cavs effectively lost the game in the first part of the 3rd quarter. They came out lackadaisical, and Jamaal Tinsley decided he’d rather take it right to Kyrie Irving rather than retire. The Cavs almost exclusively took deep jumpers to start the 3rd, and Utah was obliged to push the tempo on the long rebounds leading to a few passes and a wide open shot as the Cavs scrambled to get set. The low point of the game came with about 5 minutes to play in the 3rd. Kyrie drove in for a layup and was blocked by Paul Millsap. Instead of sprinting back he decided to have a debate with the nearest referee while Jamaal Tinsley streaked up court, went behind his back, and then threw a dart into the right corner where Marvin Williams calmly drained a 3, putting the Jazz up 15. Fortunately, Dion Waiters picked up right where he left off in the 2nd quarter. He was RELENTLESS attacking the basket tonight. On multiple occasions he was in a situation where he’d normally just fire away an off-balance 2 – and he refused. He scored or made plays that directly lead to 7 straight points. And they were all from slick drives to the basket. Shaun Livingston had 2 free throw attempts to cut the Cavs deficit to 10 with about a minute and a half remaining. He made 1, and the Jazz scored 5 quick points to finish the quarter. The game effectively seemed over as the Cavs could not get it below double digits.
3rd Quarter Live-Blog Notes:
Cavs sluggish to start 3rd. Quickly down 10.
Cavs collapsing in the paint leading to open 3s for Foye. Gotta know the situation. Tristan usually doesn’t need help.
Low energy to start the 3rd for the Cavs at both ends. Misses leading to fast offense for Jazz.
Kyrie having a very poor quarter. Whining for fouls, not getting back, missing shots.
Dion comes in and starts attacking the basket. Repeatedly. Unfortunately, Cavs can’t get a stop.
Jazz just methodically killing the Cavs. Ball goes down low, Cavs double, kick out for 3. Cavs miss, Jamaal Tinsley pushes tempo, Cavs transition D very poor – Jazz score.
The FINAL QUARTER Overview:
Dion broke his streak of attacking the basket very late in the 3rd and started off the fourth firing away again. It’s really Jekyll and Hyde with him sometimes. The Cavs had a 16 point deficit to start the third so it’s not exactly something you chip away at. The Cavs came out aggressive, but they had trouble getting stops when they really needed them. With 7:22 left in the game, Enes Kanter checked in for the Jazz (the Jazz have quite an ensemble of big men) and it was pretty much Enes making sure the game never hung in the balance. And the Cavs never cut it to single digits. But you can’t fault Dion Waiters for not trying. After getting 3 or 4 bad shots out of his system, he went right back to attacking. He scored 8 points quickly, including a much-needed 3 to cut the Jazz lead to 11. Here’s what happened next:
|4:05||89-100||Derrick Favors misses 8-foot two point shot|
|4:03||89-100||Enes Kanter offensive rebound|
|4:01||89-102||Enes Kanter makes layup|
|3:45||89-102||Gordon Hayward shooting foul (Dion Waiters draws the foul)|
|3:45||Dion Waiters makes free throw 1 of 2||90-102|
|3:45||Dion Waiters makes free throw 2 of 2||91-102|
|3:30||91-102||Derrick Favors misses two point shot|
|3:28||91-102||DeMarre Carroll offensive rebound|
|3:17||91-102||Derrick Favors misses 6-foot jumper|
|3:16||91-102||DeMarre Carroll offensive rebound|
|3:08||91-104||Enes Kanter makes two point shot (Gordon Hayward assists)|
It was the final nail in the coffin. And it was pretty much a microcosm of the entire game. Anytime the Cavs would start looking like a mild threat, the Jazz would do whatever they needed to do to push ahead. Kanter was really beating up Zeller in the post in the 4th quarter. He may have knocked Tyler in the face and stolen a rebound, or it might have been a superflop – I couldn’t tell, but Kanter looked bigger/faster/stronger and he just wanted it more in the 4th. After the Kanter bucket I declared the game over and hoped for a Leuer sighting. But wouldn’t you know it, TT fumbled a pass, recovered, and made a nice move for an and-1 and he hit the free throw. Overcoming a 10 point deficit with a little over 2 minutes is tough, but it’s not clear-your-benches tough. Few stops, few buckets, two possession game with under a minute? Why not? Here’s what happened next.
|2:39||Tristan Thompson makes free throw 1 of 1||94-104|
|2:16||94-104||Derrick Favors misses 17-foot jumper|
|2:15||94-104||Earl Watson offensive rebound|
|2:00||94-104||DeMarre Carroll misses 23-foot jumper|
|1:58||94-104||Gordon Hayward offensive rebound|
|1:45||94-106||Gordon Hayward makes jumper (Enes Kanter assists)|
Eerily familiar. And that was the ballgame. The Jazz are a better team, they are a bigger team (especially with Varejao missing) and they exposed the Cavaliers defensive rebounding fundamentals tonight (contesting paint shots without putting a body on people afterwards). Six Jazz players scored in double figures. If you didn’t see any of the game, here are the 3 stats that would tell a lot of the tale:
Fast Break Points: Jazz 21, Cavs 5
Points in the Paint: Jazz 46, Cavs 36
FG%: Jazz 50%, Cavs 41%
Credit the Cavs (mostly Dion) for attacking tonight. They shot 30 free throws to Utah’s 17. Unfortunately Cavs fans can’t bask in the warmth of obvious referee bias tonight. Dion definitely bounced back from his last outing and in some ways tonight was his most impressive game (at least to me) because of his decision making. With the exception of a few bad shots, he used his elite 1st step to get into the teeth of the defense where he looked to draw contact. He hit his free throws as well. 23 points on 14 shots is a very nice game.
Tyler Zeller did some nice things offensively, but his team low -17 (despite a robust statline) was a function of the Jazz bigs having their way with him. Many of the Jazz offensive boards came because he did not put a body on people. It’s alarming how spaced out he seems when the shots go up. Hopefully, this is just a rookie thing.
Alonzo Gee is the hardest person for me to evaluate. Expectations are admittedly low for him, yet he often seems to kill a mini-rally with a poor turnover or bad shot. I wish I could say there is an identifiable thing that Alonzo does exceptionally well that he could leverage to add value. He does have quick hands and forces some turnovers, and he occasionally plays good man defense on wing players. Every now and then he’ll hit some shots off the dribble or make a spot up 3. But it’s hard to really count on it and the Cavs do not look for him when the game is in the balance. He had a poor night tonight.
Luke Walton had another solid game (calm down). Luke is limited athletically and he’s not a great shooter, but the offense always looks better when he’s playing. He can be frustrating because his bad is very bad looking (Eric Snow was this way) but he moves well without the ball, he sets and receives picks very well and he has very good court vision. If he could have more “3-5 from the field” games, like tonight, I think Cavs fans would come to appreciate him.
C.J. Miles looked like he was going to have one of his crazy good games, and then he barely grazed the rim on a few open shots and became ordinary.
Tristan Thompson started off strong, and he showed off some nice touch around the hoop even when he didn’t have great position. He had another double-double but it was a bit of a quiet night for him. He didn’t play poorly by any means, but his size, strength, and rebounding prowess were somewhat neutralized by the Jazz ensemble of bigs. The Jazz bigs took him seriously on offense and denied him good position all night.
Jon Leuer checked in and missed a bunny. Somewhere, Kevin Hetrick is drinking.
Kyrie Irving had 9 assists and I’m struggling to remember more than 2. I’ve studied a few things about Kyrie the last few weeks – most notably, how he uses picks. If you want the short version, he doesn’t use them well at all. It’s partially a function of his reliance on shiftiness and crossovers, but it is difficult for the Cavs bigs to set screens for him. He’s not patient enough to wait for them, he rarely even uses them, and he and his screener have poor chemistry. Kyrie treats many screens like an option. You can see the confusion in the body language of the screener who often doesn’t know whether to roll, pop, or just clear out. Sometimes Kyrie ends up dribbling against a double team in a corner because he attracted the attention of the screener’s defender without any openings created by an actual screen (and this is because Kyrie doesn’t actually use the pick to create separation). This lack of chemistry/patience is even more noticeable when you watch other Cavaliers like Livingston and Waiters receive a pick. TT, Zeller, and Walton don’t seem like a fish flapping out of water when they set screens for other guys. This is something the Cavs, specifically Kyrie, need to iron out. It’s OK to slip screens once in a while, but there really isn’t much point having a screener bring an extra defender if the screen isn’t going to create any advantage at all.
In a few weeks we won’t remember this game. I’m hoping that right now Byron Scott is making a big stinking deal about how awesome Dion Waiters played tonight. For 85% of the night, it almost seemed like Dion had a self-imposed jumper ban. The coaches need to reinforce this. For Dion to reach his potential, he has to attack like he did tonight.
We are midway through the Cavaliers 2012 – 2013 season. These are always only tangentially related to the Cavs, but it is something I like look back on. In 2011, John Krolik “hired” me to write as the Cavs:the Blog draft expert. While probably unqualified, I stepped in with zeal. Obviously, this draft comprised a major chapter in the story of the current incarnation of the Cavs. Cleveland possessed the 1st, 4th, 32nd, and 54th picks. Of course, they traded one pick and stashed a Euro with another. Certainly the day after, I was unimpressed; the aforementioned picks, plus a lottery-project left me underwhelmed. Two days later though, I came around to the start of a new, athletic era. Now as that group of draftees reaches the mid-point of their second season, it is interesting to check in. For a group frequently presented as epically bad, they fare pretty well.
Hopefully after two years of blogging, I have become a slightly better writer and talent evaluator, but let’s see how the class of 2011 is performing, and also how I did (players are listed in draft order. The number in parentheses is where I slotted them leading to the draft. Any statistical ranking included is relative to the 27 players who have played in the NBA this season, as of Wednesday morning).
- Kyrie Irving (1) – With a fabulous start to his career, Kyrie leads the first-rounders in PER and RAPM, while residing third in win shares this season, despite missing eleven games. Kyrie’s scoring efficiency at Duke was sick, and in hindsight, that deserved to be the big story leading to the draft, not his toe injury. (more…)
There has been a lot of talk over the last several weeks over whether the Cavs have been the victim of biased officiating, especially when it comes to foul calls. It is worth looking at the shooting numbers to determine whether this is the case. Hoopdata helps out here. A few numbers jump out immediately.
The Cavs average 21.8 free throw attempts per game for a 25.9% free throw rate, or free throws/field goal attempts. This is tied with three teams for 17th in the league. Not a great number, but certainly not conspiracy theory level.
Breaking down the Cavs’ shooting by shot location tells a different story. Most fouls come at the rim or within 3-9 feet from the basket. If you’re going to get to the line, attacking the basket is the best way to do it (further discussion of this correlation and its relevancy is warranted, but a subject for another article).
• At the rim: Attempts, 26.3 (9th), FG% 57.7 (30th), Assist% 45.3 (30th)
• 3-9 feet: Attempts, 8.3 (21st), FG% 30.3 (30th), Assist% 45.8 (12th)
• 10-15 feet: Attempts, 6 .0 (16th), FG% 41.9 (12th), Assist% 32.6 (25th)
• 16-23 feet: Attempts, 18.4 (15th), FG% 37.2 (17th), Assist% 57.3 (23rd)
• 3 Pointers: Attempts, 21.7 (10th), FG% 35.6 (12th), Assist% 86.4 (8th)
Conclusion: The Cavs are really bad around the basket. Despite being 9th in attempts, they are last in field goal percentage. One might think that perhaps they are getting jobbed by the refs until one looks at their assist% which is dead last in the league. There is a correlation between assist percentage and field goal percentage around the rim. Most of the fact that the Cavs are so bad around the rim is not because they’re not getting foul calls, it’s because they’re not finding open guys near the basket. Furthermore, the Cavs aren’t excessively good at offensive rebounding. They’re 10th in the league with a rate of 29.4. Denver attempts 35 shots per game around the rim, has an offensive rebound rate at 32.47 (best in the league), and still shoots 66.8% at the rim (8th). Yes, there is a thought that the Cavs could be getting fouled, getting offensive rebounds, and then getting fouled again, but I think the more likely culprit is that unassisted forays to the rim are more likely to get blocked (The cavs are 4th worst in the league at getting their shot blocked, at a rate of 7.8%) and less likely to get foul calls.
3-9 feet from the basket paints a similarly rough story. The Cavs’ FG% here is abysmal, even though their assist% is respectable. A lot of blocks are probably coming from here, and the Cavs are really bad at these shots.
10-15 feet seems to be the Cavs sweet spot. They shoot a respectable 41.1% (12th) from here. They are 25th in assist% from here, so obviously this is the result of a lot of pullup jumpers.
Simply put, there’s no overwhelming evidence that the Cavs are getting any more or less calls than anyone else. They’re simply really bad at finishing and passing around the basket.
This leads to an interesting question. Just how bad are the Cavs on offense? Let’s take a look.
• 98.3 Offensive efficiency rating (28th).
• 54.8 Assisted field goal% (27th) . Of the top 10 offenses in the league, only New York has an assist rate below 57%.
• 50.3 True shooting % (28th) the correlation between TS% and efficiency is extremely high.
• 25.9 Free throw rate (17th)
• 74.2 FT% (21st). This is up from 71.6% last year (28th). And has been much better of late. Much of this is due to Tristan Thompson’s much improved free throw shooting.
• 13.88 Turnover rate (16th)
• 7.8 Blocked rate (27th)
• 29.4 Offensive rebound rate (10th)
The Cavs are a very bad shooting and passing team, which leads to them being a very bad offensive team.
• 105.9 Defensive Efficiency (28th)
• 62.2 Opponent Assisted FG% (26th)
• 55.8 Opponent TS (30th)
• 31.7 Opponent free throw rate (29th)
• 14.9 Opponent turnover rate (3rd)
• 3.7 Block rate (30th)
• 72.56 Defensive rebound rate (21st)
Yikes. The Cavs are a team that gambles a lot on defense. This leads to a very high turnover rate for the defense, but a lot of wide open looks and fouls, leading to a dreadful combination of free throws, fouls, and threes. It’s a mess.
The comment was made earlier this week that Chris Grant acquires players based on advanced statistics, but that Byron Scott does not allocate minutes based on advanced statistics. I’ve waxed and waned endlessly over the questions, “Is this by design?” “Are the Cavs trying to lose?” “Or is Byron Scott this incompetent?” The Cavs are bad enough that a minor change at certain positions like playing Omri Casspi more, or Luke Walton less, might help, but those suggestions might just be putting lipstick on a Moondog. I wrote an article earlier this year encouraging everyone to trust the process — that this painting was going to be ugly before it was beautiful. I have to keep telling myself that, because in the moment this team is tough to watch. There may only be a core of only 3-6 players that will be on the Cavs beyond this year. Unfortunately, I fear that those players are developing some very bad habits, as can be evidenced by these stats. They seem to be consistently put in a position to fail. Who bears responsibility for this? I leave it to the commentariat, but I’ll cast my blame on the head coach. As input for a future article, I’d like to know who you’d like to see coaching our favorite team. If it remains Coach Scott, please tell us why.
One item I did not mention in yesterday’s recap is something said by the Denver announcing team. During a timeout following their early struggles, George Karl told his team to play off the Cavs and make them shoot…because they can’t.
And he is right; the effective field goal percentage of the current roster, from 15 ft and out is:
- Casspi = 57% (49.5% career)
- Kyrie = 56%
- CJ Miles = 54%
- Gibson = 52%
- Pargo = 46%
- Waiters = 43%
- Leuer = 43% (last year)
- Gee = 42%
- Varejao = 39%
- Walton = 37%
- Zeller = 34%
- Livingston = 33%
- Kevin Jones = 33%
- Tristan Thompson has taken 3 shots outside of 15 feet this season
Notice that four of the top seven are not in the rotation right now. Take out Kyrie and CJ, and the remaining rotation players provide 41% eFG from the perimeter. Last night’s front court combines for 34%. With a big man rotation consisting of no threat to reliably knock down a jumper, opposing coaches will instruct their teams to pack the paint…and scoring may be tough.
The Cavs bench is thin. What can be done? Obviously nothing dramatic, but here are some hopes & ideas:
- Tyler Zeller needs to convert here. From 2003 – 2004 through the end of his career, the Original Z provided 42% eFG shooting from this range. I will hypothesize that this is approximately the rate where opposing teams need to respect the shooter. Tyler’s career success is contingent on providing similar floor spacing. If he does not, it could be difficult building an effective offense around him and Tristan.
- Casspi and Leuer should get some burn. Casspi is the team’s third or fourth best shooter. He’s big, gives effort, and rebounds. Leuer probably possesses the best outside touch of the bigs. I know neither of these guys are all-stars, but they should help open up the paint.
- Gibson needs to return, confined to a role of spot-up shooter.
- No more Walton. Here are some numbers from 2009 – 2010 through 2012 – 2013.
- His annual PER has been 9.7, 5.1, 3.4, and 8.2 (replacement level is defined as approximately 11)
- Win Shares per 48 minutes = 0.047, -0.016, -0.050, 0.004. He has been worth -0.3 win shares over the four seasons.
- RAPM = -1.3, -3.3 (58th worst), -5.4 (5th worst), -4.2 (17th worst). Over the last two seasons, he rates in the bottom 4-percentile of NBA players.
- WARP = -0.1, -1.2, -1.6 (no 2012 – 2013 data). ln 1120 minutes, Walton was worth three wins less than a replacement player.
Each of these metrics say, “Luke Walton is less effective than a player that can be found in the D-League. This has been true for at least three years.”
You know what else has happened during that time? Omri Casspi and Jon Leuer have performed at a higher level than “replacement player”. Why do the Cavs play a guy that is a decade older and produces ineffectively since the Mike Brown era? Casspi and Leuer are 24 and 23, both rebound better than Luke, both shoot better…what is there to lose? I obviously do not anticipate either of these players blowing us away with how amazing they are. They are young enough and proven enough to warrant an opportunity over a guy that the numbers unanimously agree is not an NBA caliber player.
Anyways, if Zeller struggles at this range, and Gee continues draining only 31% of his threes, a few rotation change possibilities exist to help un-congest the lane.
Man, another one of these games. Kyrie was sick, but played anyways. After tonight’s final quarter, we are all probably a little ill.
The first quarter displayed the perfect glimpse-of-the-future that we all hope for. Tristan made possibly the two smoothest plays I have witnessed from him; a drive right from thirty feet, finished with a beautiful lefty lay-up, and then his Kyrie impersonation: he received the ball at half-court, dribbled between his legs twice, started right, spun left, and finished with the left hand. It was pretty. In February, I expect to see him takedown rebounds, go coast-to-coast, and thread behind-the-back passes to streaking trailers. One great sequence included two of our favorite defensive foils: Tyler blocked a Nugget transition attempt, but Denver recovered. Of course, Kyrie poked the ball away for a steal, initiated the break and hit a trailing-Tristan for a two-handed SLAM! Later, Dion canned a three, drove and finished, and completed a fast-break and-one off a Thompson steal!! Tristan scored ten!!! Kyrie had eight points, five assists, and two steals!!!! Zeller blocked two shots and also broke up an alley-oop!!!!! The Nuggets made eight field goals while turning it over nine times!!!!!!
The Cavs led 30 – 23. As far as the youngsters all putting it together at one time, this quarter may have exceeded all others this season. It was fun.
The second quarter was an extension of the first, albeit slightly less superb. Waiters scored six points early in the second, and the back-ups maintained the lead. Kyrie entered at the midway point and made things happen, including a sweet little righty drive with a lefty floater finish. The half ended with the Cavs up 56 – 45; Kyrie finished with 12 points, 7 assists, and 0 turnovers; Dion scored 14 on 6 of 9 shooting; Tristan netted 10 on 5 of 8; the team notched nine steals for the half.
The third quarter started reasonably well, before a typical pattern emerged. Tristan hit a righty push-shot and slammed home a follow-up; the Cavs lead 62 – 50. Then, the third quarter blues emerged. Denver started running and beating the Cavs before the defense was set; as Cleveland’s twelve-point lead unravelled, Denver had twelve possessions following a Cavalier miss or turnover – they scored eighteen points. Ty Lawson found Kosta Koufas for two bunnies, Danilo Gallinari was left alone for an open trey and later beat Dion for an and-one; suddenly the lead dropped to one. In a pivotal momentum preserver, on consecutive possessions, Kyrie drilled a three, then tipped a pass to force a turnover, before finding twine on a pull-up…lead regained. Javale McGee missed a few dunks, and Cleveland headed to the fourth with a 76 to 72 lead.
The Cavs started the fourth quarter struggling, so much so that Kyrie actually checked back in with nine minutes remaining. Dani must have been very happy; Kyrie immediately responded by scoring seven points in 1.5 minutes, including a looooong three. Cleveland lead 85 to 80 with seven minutes left. They were outscored 18 to 6 the rest of the way. Gee missed two critical free throws, and twice Tyler ended up guarding Ty Lawson on the perimeter, which ended badly. A-Gee and TT miscommunicated a defensive assignment, leaving Gallinari wide-open for a back-breaking three that gave Denver a 94 to 89 lead with thirty seconds left.
To me, the big story of the final stanza was the team’s continued reliance on the one-man game. Kyrie took and missed four shots in the last several minutes. None was an assisted look. Others were also guilty. A small red-flag went up for me in the first half, when I noticed that Cleveland had 9 assists on 24 made field goals. The second half featured 3 assists on 13 baskets. Not good, and the team needs to institute something that vaguely resembles an offense.
A few bullets:
- Cleveland took the wrong end of the officiating tonight. The Nuggets shot twice as many free throws. Tristan picked up three fouls in the first two minutes of the second half.
- There were a few nice individual efforts. Kyrie finished with 28 points, 7 assists, and 5 steals. His defense has looked appreciably better. Notice that all his assists came in the first half though. Dion was aggressive and scored 18 points on 59% true shooting. Tristan finished with 16 & 7, but despite twelve field goal attempts in the paint, he never shot a free throw.
- Tyler Zeller drew two charges, keeping himself firmly entrenched in the NBA’s top-ten for that stat.
- Alonzo Gee’s defense early against Danilo Gallinari was pretty bad. He also finished with only 2 points and 2 rebounds.
- Three weeks ago on Saturday, I asked for four wins by the end of this weekend. The Cavs obliged, thanks in part to their double-digit wins over Milwaukee and Atlanta.
- Dion has a tendency to start aggressive and if it goes well, then he seems to think “I’ve earned some jumpers”. Tonight, three of his five first quarter shots were at the rim. Zero of his eight field goal attempts after that were (he did get fouled once in the paint and made both freebies). He needs to keep attacking, dribble a little less, and shoot fewer long twos.
- Cleveland was horribly outrebounded: 56 to 35.
- Denver assisted on 24 of their 36 field goals.
- Luke Walton played 23 minutes.