Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A Look Down the Bench at… Igor Kokoskov

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

The Cavaliers organization took a lot of flack for the speed at which they hired Mike Brown. After firing Byron Scott, the team wasted no time (okay, they wasted 10 days) in bringing Brown back into the fold. At the time, many criticized the unsexiness of the move, even suggesting that it reeked of panic.

If Dan Gilbert and Chris Grant are fools for rushing in, however, the same cannot be said for Brown who has been methodically assembling his staff of assistant coaches since re-boarding the Cavalier boat.

The names we all expected to see – mainly former Pistons head coach, John Kuester, an assistant under Mike Brown in both Cleveland and Los Angeles – despite being heavily rumored, never surfaced. Instead, Brown trended “developmental” by retaining Tristan Thompson god-maker, Jamahl Mosely, from Byron Scott’s staff, adding former Lakers player development coach, Phil Handy, and, most recently, adding former-Cavs Vitaly Potapenko in a player development role.

Lost among all this development, might be the most significant one: Brown’s hiring of long-time Phoenix Suns assistant coach, Igor Kokoskov. Kokoskov has been an NBA assistant for 13 years, working for Alvin Gentry (Clippers and Suns), Larry Brown (Pistons – including their 2004 championship season), and briefly both Terry Porter and Lindsey Hunter (Suns). For Hunter’s brief stint with the Suns last season, Kokoskov was considered the team’s offensive coordinator, while Hunter ran the defense, a situation that is likely to repeat itself with the Cavs.

Most of the information we’ve been given about Kokoskov is exceedingly positive. Gentry has called him “one of the brightest minds as there is in the game” and former player, Earl Boykins gushed about Kokoskov’s point guard-focused offense.

But none of that has given Cavs fans any real sense of what a Kokoskov-run offense will look like. So, I talked to someone who has actually watched a little Kokoskov-run offense: Ryan Weisert* from Valley of the Suns.

(more…)

Cavs: The Podcast 0030 – Welcome Back!

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Holy calamity, what a way to kick off the off-season!  Who could’ve possibly seen this coming?  I have a sneaking suspicion this is just the beginning of what should be a very, very exciting off-season.

With such huge news breaking everyone at C:tB had a lot to say on the subject of the new/old Cavs coach.  Colin, Tom, Nate, and I hopped on the line and discussed the Cavs’ decision to rehire Mike Brown and what that means for the Cavaliers.  As you’d expect, opinions were all over the place on this one.

As always, we’re on SoundCloud at: https://soundcloud.com/cavstheblog/0030-welcome-back

And on iTunes at:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/cavs-the-podcast/id528149843?mt=2

Draft & Coach-Search Talk

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

First, a quick note regarding the coaching search.  While Mike Brown is a fine coach, I hope the climax of this endeavor is not him returning.  I have crossed-my-fingers hoping for a top-name in assistant coaching; once upon a time, Greg Popovich and Phil Jackson received their big break, right?  We recently witnessed a Byron Scott-coached team repeat a miniature cycle similar to his prior two stints: All-Star point guard; quick rise to prominence; equally rapid plummet accompanied by whispers of locker-room dissent.  Well Mike Brown, while also a former coach-of-the-year and NBA Finalist, lists on his resume two experiences of being run-out-of-town to appease a superstar.  If hiring Brown, do we witness history repeat itself five years from now, with the Cavs panic-hiring an ex-Laker B.S. (Brian Shaw) in order to placate a potentially evasive superstar? A lot of hypothetical there, but I don’t care to explore that parallel universe.  I’ve seen the prequel.   So, hire Mike Malone, Brian Shaw, etc; I have cast my vote. 

(Edit: According to ESPN, the Sunday night dinner meeting between Dan Gilbert, Mike Brown and Chris Grant “went well…(Brown) is the only coach they are currently pursuing.”  So, that’s interesting.

This guy looks familiar to me, but I can't put my finger on where I've seen him before.

The other big storyline of the spring is the upcoming draft.  Cleveland looks towards June 27th with the third-best lottery odds, as well as the 19th, 31st and 33rd picks.  As an intro to the upcoming ten weeks, a perusal of their options is in order.  Starting with the lottery pick…

Cleveland’s odds stack-up to a 96% chance of picking in the top-five, 47% likelihood of selecting top-three, with 16% of choosing at the top.  There are basically only two options here, right?

  1. Pick a top prospect.  My current “big board” goes: Noel, Porter, Oladipo, Bennett, McLemore.  Hitting the fifty-fifty proposition of a first-three pick would be awesome.
  2. Trade for Al Horford.  David Zavac discussed this last month at Fear the Sword.  I thought his offer was steep, but if Atlanta wants to tear down and tank for a few years, Cleveland could package the fourth pick, Varejao and spare draft picks for the Hawks’ Center.  Atlanta could parlay one top-five pick in 2013 and a high-lottery choice in the hugely-touted 2014 draft towards an exciting future.  The Cavs pick up a 27-year old All-Star with a reasonable 3 years, $36 million on his contract.

For the other first-rounder, options appear to be:

  1. If the likely first scenario from above is taken, my preference is to not bring-on another rookie for next season.  The team needs to keep bolstering the young talent pool, but a combined push towards adding experience is also in order.  A Euro could be picked as a draft-and-stash.
  2. If the lottery-pick is traded, then selecting a 2013 – 2014 newcomer at #19 is a solid option.  As a Euro looking to come to the NBA next season, I can envision talking myself into Sergey Karasev of Russia.  A 19-year old small forward with sweet scoring and passing skills and an accomplished start to his teenaged Euro-career, he is vaguely reminiscent of Evan Fournier.  Last year, I declared Fournier a late lottery pick, and based on early returns, that looks pretty solid.
  3. Trade the pick.  In 2011, San Antonio looked to get younger, more athletic, and less expensive.  Indiana possessed cap-space to burn and needed to get a tad more battle-tested.  George Hill and Kawhi Leonard crossed paths and both teams met their goals.  Last week, I mentioned OKC as potentially willing to roll-the-dice swapping a $4 million role player for a $1.5 million first-rounder, provided there is someone they really like.  Over the course of this season, on a few occassions, I mentioned Portland as a team that should look to make a trade.  They:  are not a playoff team; have $45 million in annual salary commitments for the next two seasons; and dealt away a future first rounder.  Of the ten Western Conference teams finishing ahead of them, six have definitely or arguably better young cores at their disposal.  Is this incarnation of the Trail Blazers maxed-out as future first-round playoff fodder?  Perhaps they should trade Wes Matthews & LaMarcus Aldridge, keep Damian Lillard and Nic Batum, tank for the 2014 draft and start building a contender for 2019.  The Cavs are way under the cap and could take Matthews off their hands.
  4. Trade the lottery pick and nineteen to move up a slot or two.

Finally, the second rounders.  Obviously combining picks and trading up, or Euro-stashing remain options, but my early preference with those picks is take two players, and let them hover between the D-League and end-of-the-bench (depending on injuries) for 2013 – 2014.  Even while trading second rounders in 2011 and 2012, the team brought in a bevy of undrafted rookies.  As of today, my preference is draft the lottery pick, trade #19, sign four reliable, veteran free-agents to fill roster spots one through twelve, and go into next season with the 13th, 14th, and 15th men as Kevin Jones, and the thirty-first and thirty-third picks.  Of name’s currently slotted towards the early part of draftexpress’s mock second-round, I am interested in Erick Green, B.J. Young, Mike Muscala, Nate Wolters or Adreian Payne.

Well, there is some kick-off to the draft coverage.  Last year, I was writing heavily about prospects throughout the season; right now, I am late to that game.  Rectifying that serves as a high priority over the next two months, so check back often for in-depth coverage leading to draft day.

–Updated– 2013 Cavaliers Coaching Search Almanac

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Note, the almanac has been updated to add profiles for Michael Curry, David Fizdale, and Mark Price in sections 1, 2, and 4, respectively. Dan Gilbert and Mike Brown may make it all moot though..

By the time you read this, Byron Scott may or may not be has been fired.  I’m really irritated that I didn’t post this a week ago, since there’s 30 of these lists up on the internet right now.  Anyway, I thought I’d give you an exhaustive a rundown on my top coaching candidates in the NBA, with a focus on experience, toughness, player development, defense, and recruiting ability.

Group 1: The Usual Suspects (AKA retreads). You’ve heard these names before, and you’ll hear them a lot more in the coming weeks.  All these guys have coached before to varying degrees of success as head coaches in the NBA.  Can they teach Kyrie Irving to guard a pick and roll?  That remains to be seen, but many of them could tell him what James Naismith was like in real life.

(more…)

Losers

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

After probably the longest sports season I’ve ever experienced (compounded by years of bottom feeding), it’s come to this.  The supposed fork in the road has finally arrived.  For all intents and purposes, the last three years will be decided in the next twelve months.  Chris Grant’s talent evaluation abilities, the supposed ceilings of Kyrie, Tristan, Tyler, and Dion, and even Byron’s coaching ability (despite the fact that he may not even be around at that point) will all be judged and weighed against serious expectations.

The last three years haven’t been easy.  As a fan, it’s heartbreaking to watch a team you love lose night in and night out, especially, like last night, to an equally bad Bobcats team.  As a writer, examining every facet of the team, it’s taxing.  If you need proof, see the comments section, where arguments over the big picture become heated and even, at times, cruel.  I’ve seen friends and family who formerly watched the Cavs, unwavering in their dedication even in the pre-Lebron years, slowly but surely lose all interest.  Not even the emergence of Kyrie could rope them back in.  The hope is whatever is coming will.

I’ve made my views on Byron abundantly clear – last night only strengths my beliefs.  Even if Byron could’ve been the man for the job, there has to be a signifier – to the fans, to the players, and to the organization, that things are about to change.  There are only so many options available – boot Grant, dump one of the young players, or nix the coach.  It’s sad that Byron will likely be the one with the onus squarely on his shoulders, but that comes with the territory of agreeing to coach a rebuild. (Don’t feel too bad – the man made one million dollars for every 4.7 wins)  Going forward, the players have to realize it’s win or get off the pot.

I’m not going to speculate on the moves that Grant will make this off season, largely because we’ve all done enough of that as the season has progressed.  There has to be something.  Drafting Noel will not be enough, nor will adding a rookie small forward.  The team’s personality, which has been entirely absent these three years, must take shape.  That starts from the top down.  Likewise, role players have to be signed and secured as part of the future.  I don’t advocate blowing too much cap room, but stalling another year would be a massive mistake.

We’re all tired – three years and 166 losses will do that to a person.  Three years ago, after the day that shall live in infamy, this moment seemed beyond comprehension.  But sure enough, it has arrived.  The Cavaliers have youth and talent, but something is missing.  I hope, as I’m sure you all do, that whatever is lost will soon be found.  I don’t know the answer to the question of what the next few years hold.  All I know is that we’re finally at the fork – lord help us all.  We are – for hopefully the last off season – dreaming of what will be instead of what is.  The future has arrived, and boy is it scary.

And fade to black…

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

I enjoyed Colin’s Monday missive, metaphorically comparing the soon-finished season to unassembled clips of a movie.  I appreciated that sentiment even more while contemplating what to say myself about the year past.

Perhaps Moondog can play in Wednesday's game against Charlotte. That may be the only hope for an interesting outcome.

What did this season mean?  On the first day of winter, when Cleveland lost to Indiana, a third straight double-digit defeat, things looked bleak: Five wins and twenty-three losses; Varejao injured; Tristan struggling at the rim and Dion not driving there; a sad bench and questionable line-up decisions; Luke Walton stumbling around as the depressing and incapable back-up power forward.  We took solace in the reasons of the compressed schedule, clustered with road tilts, and Kyrie’s early injury.  By December 21st though, with a holiday break upcoming, and an easing schedule, it was time to find a few more wins; I asked for twenty. (if they win Wednesday, the team reaches that threshhold…not exactly as contemplated though.)

And then the next night, they won, and the day after Christmas, another present for the fans.  Victories started trickling in; Kyrie with 33 and Tristan with 11 & 14 against Atlanta; the same duo combining for 50 points and 17 rebounds against Portland; and eventually Irving scoring 107 points during a late-January three-game winning streak.  And things were just starting to get fun.  Tristan’s basket of tricks suddenly overflowed: running righty hooks, push shots, fancy dribble drives…in January, he averaged 15 & 11 with 53% shooting and 68% from the line.  Combined with his standard defensive effort, it was a revelation.

A trade with Memphis brought a revitalized bench, and over one five-week stretch, the team won 10 of 16 games.  The Herculoids were birthed, as Luke Walton averaged an assist every four minutes, joining Shaun Livingston, Wayne Ellington, CJ Miles and Marreese Speights for a frolicking good time.  They were an offensive force, orchestrating pretty two-man games, cutting and passing with aplomb.

Another three game winning streak ensued, first with Kyrie netting 35 against title-contending Oklahoma City, before he, Dion and Tristan tag-teamed towards 114 points on 70% true shooting over two games.  And the train kept-a-rolling, with the bench destroying all-comers, Dion averaging reasonably efficient 20 points per 36  minutes for ten weeks, and Tristan bullying opposing front-lines.  Over a thirty game stretch, the youngsters and their reinvigorated veteran brethren played glorious five-hundred basketball.

And there was Kyrie.  In January & February, he posted 24 points per night, shooting a sublime 47 / 44 / 91.  For a first-timer, he owned all-star weekend.  Breaking ankles in the Shooting Stars game, destroying scrubs in the three-point contest, and scoring fifteen with the Big Boys on Sunday.  Of course, this all occurred before his 21st birthday.

Things looked good at the Q, but then Kyrie got hurt, followed by Dion…then OH NO!!  Luke Walton!!  They were roughed up by Indiana, then lost an absolutely epic short-handed battle versus Miami.  Things unravelled quickly; a forty-point destruction at the hands of Houston; three double-digit losses to fellow-lottery teams; a historic blown-lead at Indiana; and finally a near-Norris Cole triple-double on Fan Appreciation Night.  Add it up, and the computation sums to two wins in a month, and a season ending in spectacular implosion.  To some extent, it all serves as microcosm for Byron Scott’s other head coaching stints: a rapid rise behind an elite point guard, followed by an equally accelerated and historic collapse, infused with reports of player discontent and exasperating lack of effort.

What does it all mean?  I don’t know.  We are all amateur documentarians.  I’ll still explore some preferences.  Letting Coach Scott go sounds imminent and seems right.  Moving through the next seven months with a universally acknowledged short-leash imparts detrimental effects all-around.  Find a replacement, let him start gaining the core’s confidence, and let that young group start immersing themselves in new offensive and defensive wrinkles.

For personnel, I am fine with staying the course.  Draft Noel, Oladipo, Porter…whoever the front-office likes at their top-five pick.  Maybe trade the 16th pick for a suitable bench player; shoot, Indiana got George Hill for the 15th pick in the last “weak” draft.  Oklahoma City is near the luxury tax, and would maybe consider taking the Spurs-route; 16th pick for three-and-D ace Thabo Sefolosha?  Maybe that’s not the right move, but adding experience and defense should take priority over additional rookies.  Maybe with the 2nd rounders, take a flier on a point guard & a young-big, and send them to the D-League for a year; perhaps an in-house back-up for Kyrie can be groomed.

With an added lottery pick, next year’s roster is Kyrie, Dion, Tristan, Zeller, Varejao, Miles, Gee, and top-five rookie.  Stir in some random youngsters teetering between the end of the bench and the D-League, and a minimum of four legitimate NBA bench players need added.  My preference is keeping Ellington and Livingston and finding a cheap, new big…maybe Gustavo Ayon?  And finally, as a twelfth man, another point guard…I suggested A.J. Price last year for the minimum; for today, let’s roll with that.  There still may not be enough shooting, but ironing out a lineup for next year is not what we’re here to talk about today.

With only one major shake-up, I’m very hopeful for the 2013 – 2014.  With the following things happening, I think a leap is in order next year:

  1. Kyrie plays at least 70 games and resumes his starward trajectory, and we all forget about his April shooting percentages of 35 / 28 / 90 (hey, it’s Dion Waiters from December!)  In all likelihood, if good health, offensive mastery, and defensive commitment don’t come from Kyrie, this incarnation of the Cavs never reaches the NBA pinnacle.  How is that for lofty expectations?
  2. We get 2013 Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters for a full season, and the 2012 versions disappear like shadows at night. 
  3. Alonzo Gee cannot rank second on the team in minutes for a third straight season.  I don’t know if it’s Ellington, Miles, the lottery pick, or a 3-and-D free agent, but Gee needs reigned-in towards 15 – 20 minutes per game.  The player between Waiters and Tristan must be a knock-down shooter.
  4. Over the last seven seasons Anderson Varejao averaged 1500 minutes.  Through controlling his minutes and games played, he needs to reach that threshold next year.
  5. With a lottery selection and picking-up Miles’ option, there are eight players under contract next year.  The off-season free agent haul should include four-ish players and needs to eclipse last year’s crew of Miles, Kevin Jones, Leuer, Pargo, Harangody, and Micheal Eric (those last four guys plus Manny Harris started for Miami on Monday night, right?)  I’m not advocating for a splashy move, but dole-out $10 – $12 annually to four guys on relatively short contracts (1 – 3 years).   Just make sure that the twelve guys sitting on the bench on opening night are trusted when called upon, and that they bring maturity (and some shooting and / or passing and / or defense).
  6. Find a new coach.  Next year the team starts fresh.

Personally, that relatively minimal level of improvements drive the team towards the post-season.  But maybe a huge personnel move will happen between now and October.  We’ll wait and see.  For now, thankfully 2012 – 2013 is nearly complete.  Next week, we can all dive fully into the draft.

Oh No-be Kobe!

Friday, April 12th, 2013

In what is probably the worst possible Cavs news left in the remaining days of this season, Kobe Bryant appears to be done for the year with what is likely a torn achilles tendon.  For those not keeping score at home, the Lakers remain one game up on Utah with only a few contests left.

As much as it pains me to say this – pray for Kobe.

On Tanking

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Does a team always have an obligation to play its best players on any given night?  At what point does a team decide that playing it’s younger players in order to build experience for the future trumps its need to win the game that evening? What if a team is made up of barely qualified NBA players who probably have no long term future with the team for which they’re playing?  The Cavaliers were built that way at the end of the season last year.  Is not fielding a team that has any chance of being competitive a violation of sporting ethics?

The NBA has become a place where losing is rewarded.  As a team loses its odds of getting a lower draft pick become higher.  To prevent teams from losing on purpose to better their draft position, the NBA instituted a lottery.  Starting in 1985, the first three picks of the draft were determined randomly, first by drawing envelopes out of a hopper, and then starting in 1990, according to a number of ping pong balls.  After 1993, when Orlando had a 41-41 record and still won the lottery, the rules were changed to favor bad teams even more.

The problem with the draft lottery is that it provides incentives to fail.  It can be argued that these incentives are are antithetical to the concept of competition, fair play, and trying one’s hardest.  The term “tanking” has been coined to describe the process where “competitor deliberately loses without gambling being involved.”  Why is tanking so different from point shaving, which is one step better than fixing a game?  I imagine that the giant of American baseball, commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis would have had something to say about tanking, or even the appearance of tanking.

Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player that throws a ball game; no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ball game; no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing ball games are planned and discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball. Of course, I don’t know that any of these men will apply for reinstatement, but if they do, the above are at least a few of the rules that will be enforced. Just keep in mind that, regardless of the verdict of juries, baseball is competent to protect itself against crooks, both inside and outside the game.

I suppose that since there is no grift involved against a perspective gambler, tanking is a step above match fixing and point shaving.  Furthermore, it can be impossible to tell if a team is merely losing because of circumstance, because of effort, because of substitutions, or because of holding players out of games when they could be playing.  David Stern was reportedly livid earlier this year when Gregg Popovich sat Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili against Miami, because “the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans.”  But little was made of a game in March, when the Phoenix Suns played the Utah Jazz, and sat out Goran Dragic for “rest.”  Of course Phoenix lost that game 103-88. Why was that game important?  Because Utah, of course, is batting the Lakers for the final playoff spot, and Phoenix receives the Lakers’ first round pick this year, if the Lakers do not make the playoffs.  So Phoenix did its part to help Utah keep the Lakers out of the playoffs by sitting arguably its best player, Goran Dragic.  Of course, this can’t be proved.  It’s a wink wink / nudge nudge situation.  And that’s the whole problem with tanking.  I doubt that Landis would think too highly of Phoenix’s actions.

A further problem with tanking is that it erodes competitive balance.  In theory, every team in the East and West conferences has an equal schedule.  But teams that have more “bad” teams at the end of their schedule have an advantage against teams that have those same teams at the beginning of the season, if those teams are trying to lose.  Is it even possible to tell if teams are tanking?  I have become more sensitive to it in the last few years.  We basketball fans have all become more aware of the issue because of current articles like yesterday’s Plain Dealer which illustrated the draft implications of the Cavs recent two day win streak or yesterday’s SB Nation Draft lottery watch subtitled: Magic threatening to outsuck Bobcats.  Grantland’s Brett Koremenos explored this idea in Grantland last month with his article titled Solving the Real Problem with the NBA’s Tanking Epidemic. Bill Simmons and Malcom Gladwell discussed the topic in a 2009 series of letters, with Gladwell summing up the tanking problem as well as anyone.

You simply cannot have a system that rewards anyone, ever, for losing. Economists worry about this all the time, when they talk about “moral hazard.” Moral hazard is the idea that if you insure someone against risk, you will make risky behavior more likely. So if you always bail out the banks when they take absurd risks and do stupid things, they are going to keep on taking absurd risks and doing stupid things … If you give me a lottery pick for being an atrocious GM, where’s my incentive not to be an atrocious?

Furthermore, when front offices become incentivized to fail, they have a few different ways of doing it.  They could tell the coach to play young players, or to put them in bad positions.  The coach could make baffling decision that were in direct violation of common sense if one wanted to win the game.  I wrote semi-sarcastically of Scott and Tyler Zeller in loss to Boston a couple weeks ago, “[Zeller] finished 5-6 for 11 points and 9 boards in 24 minutes.  In a masterful move Scott left him on the bench for much of the fourth quarter, knowing that his play might turn the game in the Cavs’ favor late.”  The problem compounds itself when the players realize what is going on and stop giving maximum effort.  If Cavs observers are reading the tea leaves, this moment might have come in an awful loss to Brooklyn a few nights later.

But is this fair?  There is an unwritten code in sports: try your hardest.  If Byron Scott and the Cavs organization is not trying their hardest, why should the players?  Is it even a fair observation?  Are we as a society so jaded that we see conspiracies even in our trivial pastimes?  Are we simply confusing fatigue, injury, and normal human behavior (i.e. incompetence) for a conspiracy to lose?  In examining those factors, I decided to do a quick experiment.  My hypothesis was, if tanking has gotten as bad as it seems, then we should be able to see the results of it.  I charted a couple things over the course of the last 26 seasons.  First, team winning percentage.  My hypothesis was that if we’re seeing record tying winning streaks by teams like the Heat, is this partially because of tanking?  If so, then the winning percentage of all the non-playoff teams ought to be going down over the last few seasons.  The results surprised me.

Remember that the Charlotte Bobcats were added to the league in 2005.  Winning percentage of non playoff teams went up that year and the two years after, and then dropped the next three years.  The Raptors and the Grizzlies were added in 1995, causing the number to drop in the 1996 and 1997 seasons.  This is actually counter-intuitive because as the pool of non playoff teams grows, one would expect an “averaging effect” to push the winning percentage of the losing teams up.  The Hornets and the Heat were added in 1988 and the Timberwolves and Magic in 1989.  The winning percentage increase after these years indicates this effect.  But what is clear, is that the last three seasons have seen slightly more competitive non playoff teams than the previous three seasons.  This season is certainly no outlier when it comes to non-playoff team winning percentage.

But winning percentage is certainly not the best barometer of how good a team is.  There’s a lot of noise in it.  Many NBA statisticians have long preferred point differential as a barometer of team quality.  Basketball-reference has a normalized stat called Simple Rating System SRS which takes into account point differential and strength of schedule to come up with a number that is slightly better than point differential as a barometer.  This normalizes the number a bit giving us the ability to compare teams in the two different conferences.

As can be seen, SRS took a big jump in 1998 and 1999 , and then dropped quickly.  The 2008 season was particularly bad for SRS, two years after the the Bobcats joined the league.  But once again, the current season is a slight uptick, and the last few seasons don’t seem like statistical outliers at all.  But if there is tanking going on in the NBA, it was at its worst in 1988, 1994, and 2008, and  then has been around the same level since, on average.  Or there were just a lot of really bad teams those years.

There are certainly a lot of limits to this analysis.  This averages the best and worst teams that didn’t make the playoffs into one group.  An analysis that breaks the non playoff teams into tiers and analyzes those tiers over time would be a more precise way to measure if tanking is going on.  Also, looking at winning percentages post all-star break would be an interesting method as well.  We could even start looking at post all star break injuries and correlating them to average games missed, and seeing if “tanking” teams are holding their players out too long.  I hope to be able to break this down a little more in the future.  And I know there are mathematical implications that come from having a finite number of available wins and losses in a season that I am not nearly bright enough to have contemplated yet.  But what we have shown is that this season is no worse than the last few, and if tanking is going on, it can’t be detected this easily, or it is much more ingrained in NBA culture than we’d like to suspect.

I would like to see the league take steps to eliminate tanking.  I’d like them to redistribute the lottery percentages a little more evenly.  The league overreacted to the Magic in 1994.  I also proposed a system in the past that would disallow a team getting the first pick to get it the next year.  A team that picked in the top three two years in a row would not be able to get there a third.  Similarly, if a team picked in the top give for three years in a row, I’d like to see the best pick they could get the following year to be a number six.  A team that has been in the lottery four years in a row ought not be able to get a pick higher than ten, and a team that has been in the lottery five years in a row ought to have to sit at the end of the lottery for a year.  Of course this is just a framework, and these numbers can be tweaked, but you get the idea.  Don’t over-reward teams for losing.

This season and the Cavs don’t seem any worse than the last few when it comes to tanking.  I don’t like to think that people pick and choose when it is most advantageous to play hard, or when losing might be OK.  And as much as any Cavs fan, the last few seasons have worn on me.  It is a difficult situation to be in when the choices for explaining ten game losing streaks are incompetence, laziness, injuries that may or may not be real, or losing on purpose.  As painful as the Cavs might seem in moments like the Brooklyn loss, those moments are uplifted by jubilant victories over teams like the Clippers, Oklahoma City, Chicago, and Boston.  I hope very soon that I won’t even have to ponder the question of tanking at all.   Such is the hope of fandom, especially in Cleveland.  There’s always next year  — well, unless the Cavs are in a playoff race against a team with a lot of tankers on its schedule.

Kevin’s Pre-season Predictions, a Redux

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

This week, Cleveland reaches the 90% point of the season, and the team quit already, so now serves as good a time as any to review my bold, and likely folly, pre-season predictions. Let’s dive in:

The prediction that I made about Tristan developing several right-handed moves...probably my most accurate. Oh, I didn't say that? Well, his 11 & 9 proved closest for me.

  1. 33 wins – Ouch.  If Andy and Kyrie played 75 games, this would have happened.  The good health was wishful thinking.  Please stay on-the-court next year.
  2. Beat an elite team on the road by double digits – Not quite.  Cleveland’s victory in Los Angeles against the Clippers failed to qualify; the Cavs won by seven.
  3. Lose at home to a horrible team by twenty – Also, slightly off, but a loss by 13 to Phoenix nearly hits the mark.  General idea being that the season would be up-and-down.  I wish it was ending as “up” though.
  4. CJ Miles finishes second on the team in scoring at nearly 14 points – Tom consistently noted his friend projecting CJ as a solid contributor on the Wine & Gold, but I was riding that train, too.  Miles currently resides sixth on the team in scoring with 11.3 points per game.
  5. His PER is also 13-ish – Miles is pairing true shooting that exceeds his previous four seasons with career best defensive rebounding; his PER hits 15.  At the beginning of the season, I envisioned Miles receiving more minutes, while scoring frequently, yet inefficiently.
  6. Each of Cleveland’s wings post PER between 13 and 14 – Only Dion Waiters came through here.  Miles exceeded, while Casspi and Gee under-performed.
  7. Boobie’s PER would be 11.2, but with 40% from deep – Gibson is hitting career lows from the field, from deep, and at the free throw line.  Sigh…
  8. He gets traded – Wrong here.  Jon Leuer got sent packing instead.  Best of luck in free agency, Daniel.
  9. Kyrie receives four points in MVP voting – If Irving played 70 games, no doubt this would have happened.
  10. Due to 20 points, 7 assists and 57% true shooting – Kyrie’s TS% is 57%, but his scoring is higher, with lesser distribution.  All things considered, I would have preferred my prediction.
  11. Harangody hits 17 threes – I picked the wrong Luke as my surprise bench player of the year.  Ummmm…Harangody made 23 from deep in the D-League, where he is a career 41% three-point hoister.
  12. Tristan averages 11 & 9 – It’s actually 11.3 and 9.2…I will turn in my prognosticator-card on the way out the door.
  13. With 47% shooting from the field and 57% free throws – Thompson exceeded my guess, posting 48.6 and 61 to date; this small difference is an exciting development for the young big man.
  14. Pargo + Sloan > 800 minutes = disappointment – That duo combined for 704 minutes, prior to being usurped by Shaun Livingston, who was fun to watch.  Disappointment averted.
  15. Dion plays 23 minutes per game, with 9.5 points and 2.6 assists – Per minute, I was in the ballpark; I expected Miles to start and Waiters to serve as the sixth man.
  16. He plays less than 10 minutes several times, due to “doghouse” duty – Pulled several times for poor defense or shot selection, Waiters never went through a spell where he was glued to the bench.  I expected the frustrating play evidenced by the rookie in December, but his leash never got too short, and he appeared to learn some valuable lessons regardless.
  17. Coach Scott never loses sight of Dion’s potential – Undoubtedly true; an odd prediction in hindsight.
  18. Omri Casspi starts 25 games – He met this threshold each of his first three years in the league, obviously he was glued to the bench this year.  I expected a rebound towards his rookie levels, but that did not develop.
  19. He shoots 36+% from three – again an anticipated return to his Sac-town days, but no dice.
  20. Jon Leuer mixes nights of high quality ball, with frustrating displays of wimpi-ness – Actually, I meant to say Tyler Zeller (stupid auto-correct).  Leuer never managed anything productive in Cleveland.  His PER in Memphis is 14.1 though.  That makes his career track record over the last four years: Memphis 14.1; Cleveland 3.3; DLeague 20.1; Milwaukee 15.3; Eurocup 19.4; NCAA 28.7; NCAA 30.2.  A reasonable pattern emerges with one exception…
  21. He will be back in Cleveland in 2013 – 2014 – Not so much.   I intended to say Wayne Ellington will be with the Cavs next season…stupid auto-correct!
  22. This year is Samardo’s final in Cleveland – Yes!  One for Twenty-two.  At roulette, I would be a winner!
  23. Anderson Varejao suits-up 73 times for the Wine & Gold – Yeah, so, I meant, uhhh “wears a suit 73 times for Wine & Gold.”  Next season, play him 20 – 25 minutes per night, and never 4 times in 5 nights.  If he doesn’t stay on the court, then I give up.
  24. He pays $15000 in flopping related fines – I can’t recall any fines for Andy.  In 73 games though; who knows?
  25. Cavs fans quit talking about trading him, as we gear up for the 2014 playoff push – Not sure this happened, but given his current status as “injury prone”, he is almost certainly worth more to Cleveland than other teams.  Limit his minutes next year.
  26. Zeller averages 10 & 6 with 54% True Shooting – Eight and Six with Fifty Percent?  Oops.  In his last 28 games (one-third of a season), the TS increases to 56+%.  I’m holding out hope for a leap next year, TZ!
  27. He makes second team All-Rookie – This could still happen, right?  Tyler ranks 4th of rookies in minutes played, 2nd for total rebounds, 6th for blocks, 1st for personal fouls, 11th for points scored, and 11th for win shares.  Only one of those things is definitely bad, right?
  28. Alonzo Gee makes the ESPN daily top-ten seven times – This was exactly right; I keep a log of these things.
  29. Kyrie is featured twenty-seven times – Also right on the mark…send me a check and I will predict your future.
  30. Cleveland is repeatedly mentioned in rumors as the third team in a big trade, but nothing happens – This was more or less right.
  31. They draft 9, 26, 35 and 39 – There is a lot of wrong here.  Everyone thought the Lakers would be good though, didn’t they?
  32. A draft day trade will occur – This is correct, or at least you can’t disprove it.
  33. Cleveland makes a big free agent signing or trade prior to 2013 – 2014 – Not sure about this one, but betting on what Chris Grant will do is a good way to go broke.  Next year is definitely the time for the master plan to start flourishing.

Pre-season predictions are a fool’s errand, leaving them right up my alley.  As this season spirals into unwatch-ableness, we can start dreaming of the draft and predictions for next year.

Bench Week!

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Really, this is a little late.  With Kyrie and Dion out, the Livingston – Ellington – Miles – Walton – Speights second-unit ceases to exist.  But the success of this group served as one of the more unique stories of the Cavalier season.  And while the story received frequent recap coverage, we at Cavs: the Blog felt a more thorough memorialization was due.  For six weeks, this crew, affectionately dubbed the Herculoids, unexpectedly provided one of the NBA’s better benches.  Consider:

  • None of these guys ever played together prior to January 2nd.
  • Since joining the Cavs, Shaun Livingston’s PER is 15, better than any of his previous ten stints with an NBA team.
  • During his three seasons in Minnesota and early part of this year with Memphis, Wayne Ellington never posted double-digit PER.   In 600 minutes in Cleveland, he soars to a 15.4
  • Same story for Mo Speights, an 18.3 PER exceeds anything done in Philly or Memphis.
  • And of course, C.J. Miles joins in also.  His 15.2 PER in 2012 – 2013 serves as a career-best.
  • Unfortunately, Luke Walton’s PER is only his best since 2008 – 2009.  His assist rate and assists-per-36-minutes easily reach peak levels though.

In his tenth NBA season, did Luke Walton find his calling as a second-string point forward?

Not impressed yet?  How about this then, from January 25th, when Ellington and Speights arrive, through March 10th (Kyrie’s last game)?  The Cavs go 10 – 10 during this time, as:

  • Walton ups his assists per 36 minutes to 8.8.  His previous career-high rate was 5.6…from his rookie season.  His assist to turnover ratio was 50% better than his career average (3.32 compared to 2.15)
  • Livingston’s 6.5 assists per 36 minutes are only bested by his rookie season.  His 3.67 assist to turnover ratio, which would rank 5th in the NBA, dwarfs the remainder of his career (2.22).  Also, as a player with career 51% true shooting, Livingston scorched the nets with 61% during these six weeks.
  • Per 36 minutes, CJ Miles scored 22 points on 63% True Shooting.  Ellington posted 15 and 61% TS, and Speights dished-out 21 and 10 rebounds.  They were killing it.

Each of these guys are 25-or-older.  What facilitated them playing at peak levels at the exact same time?  I mean, these guys were not highly-regarded NBA players.  Is it luck associated with small sample size, or was something bigger going on?  This week, Nate, Tom and I will explore that question.

Today: I will briefly talk about the things a player can’t control that may decide his success or failure.

Tuesday: Nate will talk about Shaun Livingston’s role on the Cavaliers.  Just how have he and the coaching staff adjusted the offense and defense to enable to Shaun to have the best months of his career?

Wednesday: Tom will talk about the different approaches to the game between the core and the Herculoids and what the core needs to assimilate from their brethren.

Today, I focus primarily on Luke Walton and Wayne Ellington.  Early this season, Walton was horrible, continuing a several year trend. Of Cavs fans, 99% assumed his usefulness ceased to exist.  Of non-Cavs NBA-fans, 100% probably thought he retired.  The slim super-minority supporting him (including Tom) weren’t saying “he is better than you guys think”; it was more like “he teaches the youngsters to play the right way” (which oftentimes meant without athleticism and with extremely errant jumpers). Basically, court-vision & passing serves as his only remaining, apparent skill.

Prior to joining Cleveland, Walton spent his entire career playing alongside Kobe; the offense did not run through Luke very often.  Early this season, playing alongside ball-dominant guards like Jeremy Pargo or Dion Waiters; same story.  And this makes sense – why would you build an offense around Luke Walton?

The Herculoids were perfectly suited for Walton’s skill-set though.  The guards were low usage: one a skilled passer and the other a proficient floor-spacer.  The Center offered a bruising low-post presence that picked up the rebounding-slack and spaced the floor.  Suddenly, Cleveland started running the second-string offense through him, surrounded by solid shooters and smart cutters, and he looked like an offensive maestro.

For four seasons with two teams, did Wayne Ellington simply never get the right opportunity to showcase his skills?

For Ellington, his career began on a horribly dysfunctional 15 -win Timberwolves team, with the minutes and usage leaders being Al Jefferson and Jonny Flynn.  The next season featured Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph, and the assists leaders averaged 5.4 and 3.4 per game; during both seasons, Minnesota ranked bottom-four in the NBA for percentage of assisted field goals.  By his third season, as the Wolves started getting fun, he was an afterthought, seemingly playing out his rookie-contract towards a short career.  According to basketball-reference, the players most similar to him after three years were: Pace Mannion, Chris Corchiani, Gerald Glass, Mike Holton, Harold Ellis, and Franklin Edwards.  Huh?

Then, traded twice in six months, the second as a salary dump, he suits-up for a new team and promptly posts career highs in PER, offensive rating, usage, defensive rebound rate and steal percentage.  In 25 games with Cleveland, he matched his previous career total for Offensive Win Shares, accumulated over 229 games.  Double huh?  Given additional offensive freedom and matched with a pair of excellent passers, he showed enticing ability scoring off-the-dribble, cutting to the hoop, and with his trademark shooting (career 39% from three).

What does it all mean?

Basically, for every Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant, players destined for stardom regardless of circumstance, there are one-hundred players whose NBA career hinges on forces not under their control.   These aspects could include: coaching, system, organizational commitment, or a positional logjam.  Within those, exist subsets; coaching could include the boss’s relationship with or confidence in a player, or the instruction received.  Lack of fit with a system perhaps hinges on the actual play-calls or perhaps a mis-assignment of role within the given plays.  Perhaps items as diverse as the quality of an organizations trainers, strength coaches, nutritionists, or doctors, even give a player advantages over a similar guy.  And sometimes, all that is needed is an opportunity.

Obviously this isn’t an amazing, new idea.  Matter of fact; here is a podcast from last season between Henry Abbott and David Thorpe, talking about Royal Jelly. For this quintet, their recent opportunity in Cleveland possibly changed the remainder of their careers.  In Luke Walton’s case, it may just be another year in the league.  For Ellington, the resultant perhaps comes through contractual security this off-season.

These considerations are also vital as Cleveland hopefully melds myriad youngsters into a contender.  The brief discussion of Russell Westbrook in the “Royal Jelly” podcast made me think of Dion Waiters. In the right situation, the young Cavalier shooting-guard develops into a star; in less suitable circumstances, perhaps he devolves into an inefficient chucker.  The value of opportunity, solid positional coaching, and organizational-confidence in a player already surfaces in young Tristan Thompson.

Anyways, I’ve lost sight of my theme.  Come back the next two days, for an in-depth look into the inner-tickings of the unlikeliest, excellent bench squad the NBA witnessed this season.  Tom and Nate promise to bring their “A” games, backing up this Monday post (and probably finishing +11, compared to my -8).