Archive for the ‘Conversations’ Category

The Summer of Rationality

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Hi! I’m Patrick Redford, new staff writer here at C:TB. Here is Part 3 of my discussion with Nate and Tom.

Most teams exit through out door of the offseason hopeful about their future, if not their present as well. However, it’s dark inside that ride and the sun tends to blind with contrast once you’re outside. Reality will knock a lot of teams on their butts. Prospects will stall out, contracts will go unearned, and promised successes will turn into lottery slots. This is the rule of the offseason, and the zero-sum nature of the NBA obviously prevents every team from improving this year. I have a lot of expertise in this area, having also followed the Kings for years. The last few summers featured the Maloof ship actively sinking, and as it was taking on more and more water we were told, “Don’t worry! John Salmons has come back to save us!”

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The NBA Draft Prospect Media Availability Chamber of Doom…

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Some notes, quotes and observations from the 2013 NBA Draft Media Availability Day at the Westin Hotel Times Square in NYC…

Nerlens Noel

Nerlens Noel entered favoring his surgically repaired knee slightly. Though, honestly, I would not have noticed it if I hadn’t been looking for it. And he absolutely looks as skinny as advertised. He repeated that his recovery was “ahead of schedule,” but didn’t put a definite time table on when he would be able to play. He was soft-spoken and compared how he would approach the adjustment from college to the NBA the same way he dealt with his transition from high school to Kentucky, on “defense first… rebound and block shots” and then contribute more offensively as time goes on. A lot has been made of how other potential top pick, Alex Len, dominated Noel in Noel’s first game of the season. But Noel continued to develop in the months leading up to the game where he tore his ACL to the point where, if the injury had not occurred, we might not be having this “there’s no clear top pick” discussion. Noel also narrowly edged Ben McLemore for my inaugural Media Availability Day Best Dressed Award. The kid can sure rock a pocket square…

Alex Len

Alex Len confirmed that his own recovery is going well. Coming back from a stress fracture in his ankle, Len is off crutches and expects to be out of the walking boot that caused his own slight limp in three weeks. He stressed that he would, in fact, be ready for the start of training camp. When asked what his case for going first overall was, Len replied “I don’t care where I go. It’s all about fit. I think Cleveland is a great fit for me too. They have really good guards and I think it would be a great fit for me.”

(on what type of player the team who drafts him will get) “They’re gonna get a tremendous work ethic from me. I’m just gonna work my tail off. I can contribute on the defensive [end of the] floor right away and as time goes on I can be a force on the offensive end of the floor.”

CtB: “When you met with Cleveland did you get to talk to Vitaly Potapenko at all?”

AL: “Yep, definitely. Him and Ilgauskas. They both speak Russian, so it was fun.”

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The Pain of this City Drives Me

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Welcome Back, Coach. Z's your boss now.

Lots of content today – and it’s all worth reading/listening.  Please read Colin’s piece and listen to our podcast.

I was fortunate to tune into the Cavs press conference and I wanted to highlight some things.  There is no real format here, I just want to sit down in a comfortable arm-chair, sip some coffee, and let you know how I received this press conference welcoming Mike Brown back into the organization.  Here is the Plain Dealer breakdown.

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The Curious Case of Anderson Varejao

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

After dominating the Nets last night, Anderson Varejao is once again on the trading block.  Well not exactly, but there has been and continues to be a sizable collection of Cavs fans that wish it were so.  All arguments go something like this: “Varejao isn’t getting any younger, he’s reckless and injury prone and is going to be a shell of his former self in 1-2 years when Kyrie/Dion/TT and company will be getting SERIOUS buckets (and please God some stops), @CavsDan will be emptying his wallet, and AC/Fred and crew will be back to calling playoff games.  The future UncleDrew Army has no room for a grizzly ol veteran like Varejao and therefore the Cavs should trade him now while he’s playing like a top 3 center in the NBA and get something back.” yes, endquote

There are many that oppose this line of thinking, and some that follow the logic but just can’t bear to see a Cavs team without the Wild Thing and would rather he finish his career where he started it – maybe even with a large wig enshrined in the rafters.  There’s a twitter poll up right now and the popular vote is almost as close as that nauseating election we somehow lived through.  I guess that makes me a SuperPac.  Time to move the needle.  Let’s start with some “ fact-checking” since that’s all the rage.  Or maybe a better phrase would be “exposing some myths”.

Myth1: Anderson Varejao is old.  This should really read “Anderson Varejao is quickly becoming too old to be an effective NBA basketball player.” I rate this claim as Mostly False. Yes, there are studies showing that around age 30 basketball players start to head off into the sunset.  And Andy just celebrated his 30th bday.  But there are many interesting bits of information about Anderson Varejao that suggest he will buck this trend.  Let’s start with the basics.  Age matters, but so does mileage.  So here’s your first trivia question.  Which of the following players has logged the least NBA minutes? Anderson Varejao, Rudy Gay, Rajon Rondo, or Kevin Durant?  Well if I created the question, you should be able to figure out the answer.  So just let that sink in.  Here’s the proof:

That was about as cut and dry objective as it gets.  Easy stuff.  So let’s wade into some murky waters.  I’m no NBA scout – but even a dedicated fan can make basic observations about the game.  What diminishes with age that would hurt an NBA player’s production?  Quickness, leaping ability, stamina, and the body’s resiliency.  A relatively recent obsession for “outside the box” training and nutrition have somewhat improved upon the resiliency problem.  Stamina is managed with minutes, practice-waivers, and rest (Spurs have this perfected).  So the main diminishing traits brought on by Father Time are loss of quickness and no more dunk contests.  A lot of Cavs fans feel like they remember watching Shawn Kemp’s career die in front of them.  It’s true in some ways, he was a shell of his Seattle self, but a 30-year old Kemp was still a warm body.  Check out 31-year-old Kemp that the Trail Blazers inherited.  http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/k/kempsh01/gamelog/2001/ But contrast that high-flying style, totally dependent on elite quickness and dominant athleticism, with Varejao’s game…

It’s mostly highly-skilled below-the-rim finishes around the hoop, an arsenal of off-balance hooks and up and under moves, and the occasional wide-open 15-foot jumper.  Almost all of his baskets are assisted or off offensive rebounds meaning he doesn’t need to blow by a defender to create space for a shot.  As a big man, he doesn’t grind away on the block in the low-post, it’s all backdoor cuts and constant movement.  On the defensive end he makes a living outworking the competition, and it helps that he has good defensive instincts, a 7-foot wingspan, and there is no one better in the league at defensive position for taking charges, contesting, or boxing out.  It’s pretty obvious that his success is rooted in skill (particularly his touch), will, size, and a very high bball IQ.  None of these are going anywhere.  There’s another player from another era with the same description, and wouldn’t you know it, he’s the first guy on this list!  That’s right, Dennis Rodman.  Comparing The Worm and the Wild Thing is pretty fascinating.  Here’s a nice little career-comparing chart.

Rodman turned 30 in 91-92.   That’s 3 whole years before he was the starting PF on the 2nd 3-peat Bulls.  Food for thought.  While we’re weighing the likelihood that Andy is moments away from slowing down and falling off the NBA’s age cliff, let’s take a look at a few Andy-specific trends.  Here’s a chart showing his FT% as a function of age.

He’s gradually improved almost every year.  This means a lot.  He’s worked on his game to eliminate a liability.  Not available in chart form is that he’s become a devastating pick and roll partner which is exactly what someone like Kyrie Irving needs.  What I found most interesting, however, was that as his usage has increased, so has his efficiency.  He spent many years living the backup role and it may have been easy to cast him as an “energy guy”.  He’s spent the last 2 years playing starters minutes against starters and the results have been nothing short of all-star worthy recognition.  Here’s a chart showing seasons sorted by usage and the accompanying player efficiency.

There’s really nothing to suggest that he’s about to start trending downward.  If anything, his role has increased, he has a devastating PnR partner feeding him the ball in good position, and he’s making a living off of putting some fancy english on below-the-rim finishes.  As of yesterday, he was 5th in the entire NBA in estimated wins added – he’s not even pumping the brakes.  Now’s a good time to remind everyone that mostly-offensive stats like PER really do not capture all of Varejao’s value at the defensive end.

Myth2: Anderson Varejao is reckless and injury prone. I rate this as partially true, but the “Trade Andy” proponents act like he is some kind of injury outlier.  Every team has injuries, and every player will go through various debilitating injuries throughout his career.  In the case of Varejao, he does have a well-documented injury history.  But the last one was a total fluke.  Nothing about his style of play made someone go Tonya Harding bodyguard on his wrist during a routine rebound.  Guys that are “injury prone” are guys with degenerative bodies.  Think of Brandon Roy, Greg Oden, or even Z before Cleveland doctors fixed him – guys that have constant, nagging issues.  (you might even put Boobie Gibson and all his high-ankle sprains into that group) Varejao’s injuries range from broken wrist to dislocated shoulder to broken cheekbone.  Maybe his style has something to do with it (flying into the stands and diving on the floor) but in some of these cases clearly there is some bad luck involved.  If he was dealing with a nagging knee or back injury every 6 months it’d be different story.  Clearly, these injuries haven’t affected his play at all.  When he’s out he’s out, when he’s in he’s getting better every day, playing more minutes and at a higher usage rate with the only side effect being a spike in PER as it were.  This is not to say he won’t continue to suffer injuries, but what you really want to gauge is how they are affecting his play when he IS playing.  And anyway, if he gets bed-ridden with poison ivy this year or next for a few weeks at the end of the season because of his “style” it’s just good tanking at that point, right?  (Don’t think for one second I haven’t had to deal with that lazy excuse for why paying the Lakers to take Ramon Sessions was “good value”) [Don't respond to that in the comments - it's been covered and we all love future MVP Tyler Zeller, myself included]

Myth3: He’s more valuable as a trade asset than a future asset. PANTS ON FIRE FALSE! Andy is never going to net anything close to equal value in a trade and it’s because of perception, his role on the Cavs, his contract, and his potential suitors.  Let’s just establish a basic common sense principle.  If you own something that is ridiculously UNDERRATED you don’t want to SELL that.  Andy is ridiculously underrated.  In addition, the void he fills on the Cavs is immense.  Marcin Gortat is a lot more valuable on the Suns that he was on the Magic.  Can you even imagine the Cavaliers right now not only without their best player but splitting 96 minutes between Zeller/TT/Samuels?  I’d be orders of magnitude worse than watching the backup PG torch-passing from Ramon Sessions to Donald Sloan.  Here’s another way of thinking about it: if the Cavs adding Chris Paul to their current roster it would add less value than the difference between trading and keeping Varejao.  The Cavs have no one even close to being able to replicate Andy’s skills/role on the team.  Also, there is no real match between teams that need him and teams that can give the Cavs an attractive package.  The Cavs SHOULD want a high round draft pick (top 15) and a legitimate NBA starter AT LEAST.  Not only would zero GMs offer that if they COULD, but there are no good teams with the pick and no bad teams that would give up the young starter.  Then there’s the issue of his contract.  It’s almost a joke when you look at how little Andy makes for an established NBA Center.  Roy Hibbert just landed a max contract.  Varejao makes less than HALF that.  Finally, it seems his reputation is forever stuck in “irritating flopper that lived off LeBron” (which is a total farce and shame) and NBA Coaches/GMs are as subject to irrational narratives as fans.  This would further inhibit anything remotely approaching fair value.

To prove my point, consider two NBA players born just 4 days apart.  Both have had at least 3 seasons where they missed more than 30 games.  Their career player efficiency ratings differ by ½ of 1 point.  Their career Offensive and Defensive Ratings are: [115,102] and [115,101].  Their Win Share per 48min are .153 and .151.  Their career usage ratings are 14.0 and 13.9. (Is this getting crazy?!)  They’ve both played between 1600 and 1700 playoff minutes with Playoff PERs of 13.4 and 13.5.  They’ve both played center with an elite PnR point guard and coincidentally Byron Scott as head coach. (now you got it)  Both players have current contracts that extend until 2015.  One player has a max deal and would never EVER EVER be traded just because his “value is high”, or because he has a history of injuries, or because he was born during the first term of the Reagan presidency.  That player is Tyson Chandler – NBA Champion X-FACTOR and absolutely critical to the New York Knicks playoff aspirations.  And the other guy is (surprise) Anderson Varejao – the most criminally under-appreciated player in the National Basketball Association and a guy many Cavs fans wish management would dangle for little more than a 1st round draft pick!  Grab an extinguisher and put your pants out!

Also, if we could get Peyton Hillis on the cover of Madden we can certainly get Varejao into the All-Star Game. Follow the Leader

Bonus Coverage: CtB Conversation on the Season Tipoff Game

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

It’s been a stormy few days here at CtB.  Sandy has thrown a lot of our schedule into chaos, so last night’s tip-off game was definitely a port in a storm.  As you may or may not know, Mallory Factor is our resident New Yorker, and in exceptional times like these, it seems a little trivial to be caring about something as dumb as sports.  But sport, ingrained into American life as it is, can seem to bring a sense of normalcy to the sneak peaks at the Mayan Apocalypse, complete with Grease themed Sandy music videos.  We here at CtB have a “next man up” philosophy and have been trying to pick up Mallory’s slack.  We all had a lot to say about the game.  Though Kevin beat us all to the punch last night, we figured we’d throw some extra 2012 Cavs Tip Off Extravaganza coverage your way.

The best part of being on the staff here has definitely been trading thoughts, ideas, one liners, beer tips, video games strategies, and music playlists with some fellow intelligent, passionate Cavs fans.  And before you ask, the answer is no.  We’re not all bachelors.    And of course when the barley flows, so does the conversation.  After the game, the emails were flying fast and furious.

Nate:

I’d been waiting for this game for six months, so breaking the seal on Dundee Seasonal Variety half rack was certainly in order.  (At $12 it’s currently the best beer value in America).  Early on Hollinger tweeted a particularly caustic comment: “Nothing says ‘tanking in October’ like a Donald Sloan-Luke Walton pick-and-roll.”  But, as Dani replied after an unprintable rebuttal, “the P&R didn’t look half bad.”  Though the lineup was effective in the first half, I think the Wizards bench took offense to the it, and absolutely destroyed Sloan, Gibson, Gee, Walton, & Zeller to make a game of it in the late third and early fourth quarter.  With one rebound to his credit, I hope it’s safe to assume we’ve seen the last of the Luke Walton, power forward, which led to a ridiculous 14-0 run to start the 4th quarter.  Alonzo Gee had a lot to do with this run.  He looked like he was pressing a lot, and tired of being relegated to corner jumpers and offensive rebound plays.

Dion Waiters completely outplayed Bradley Beal.   My favorite things about Dion?  He never smiles, and he already looks 25.

So Dani, since you commented in the preseason podcast that the rumor was that Varejao had lost a step, what did you think of his overall brilliance tonight?  Is there another player in the league who could post a 9/22/9 box score?  I think not.

Dani:

Well, first of all, I have literally no recollection of saying Varejao had lost a step. But I’m willing to work with that. If tonight is any indication, Varejao has lost no steps at all. I think he’ll be great all year, but I also don’t think we should get accustomed to seeing Bill Walton-esque stat lines nightly. Still working with the unconfirmed rumor that I actually said Varejao had lost a step, I believe my point would have been more along the lines of: the man is 30 years old. Andy is going to slow down at some point, and his trade value has never been higher. If the Cavs aren’t in playoff contention at the deadline (and I hope to high heavens we are), I hope Chris Grant has the testicular fortitude to flip him for a few draft picks.

Regardless, back to the game. Dion Waiters is a baller. He hit that huge three near the end to slow down the Wizards’ surge, and played effective man-on-man defense the whole game, which is probably a bigger storyline. Three steals is nothing to laugh at, and I can’t wait to see Dion uncork that signature fast-break dunk a few times a game. Beal actually performed exactly to his draft-day profile. He’s clearly a good shooter, but we didn’t really see him create any shots for himself, and he seemed a little listless to me.

Also, KYRIE FREAKING IRVING. 29 points in 35 minutes. 11-20 shooting from the field. A lot of NBA writers had Kyrie as their breakout star of the year, and it was easy to see why tonight. He might be one of the most effortless scorers in the NBA when he’s on, and he was on tonight. Uncle Drew was draining threes and crossing over A.J. Price like it was a Pepsi commercial.

What’d you think of Tristan Thomspon? Not bad, eh?

Malory:

No power still!  Stupid Sandy!!!!  But I watched the game at a bar and loved every minute of it. Neon Dion looks great driving and his jump shot was falling fine. Andy is back, TT went to the rim with AUTHORITY! And Kyrie is amazing.  PRAY FOR POWER!

Nate:

I just remembered it was Mallory that said that about Varajao, but since he is, to use the words of Bruce Springsteen, “lost in the flood,” you can sub, Dani.  Dion is definitely a baller, and he got to the rack effortlessly.  He missed a lot of point blank shots that I attribute to nerves.  He could’ve easily had a 25 point outing — considering he was absolutely hatchetted and got no calls on a couple drives.  But as you said, his defense was good, and he looked absolutely fearless.  And yes, Kyrie Freaking Irving…  But.  He should be destroying A.J. Price.  The real story in this game was the Washington Generals bench destroying ours. Janerro Pargo and Earl Baron?  This is arguably the most depleted team in the league.  We should’ve won by 30.  Also, why didn’t Casspi play?  According to wages of wins, Casspi played better than anyone not named Luke Harangody in preseason, and he lost minutes to Walton?

Also, TT was very solid.  He played good to great  defense and was generally active.  Would like to see him get more run with the second unit to work on his post-up game.  Zeller had a couple nice moments, especially in the first half, where he was throwing his body into Okafor.  He’ll be just fine.  The Wizards are so bad, it’s hard to take away a lot from this game other than St. Weirdo was not a wasted draft pick, Irving is an effortless scorer, and Varejao is one of my all time favorite basketball players.

Mallory:

I definitely never said he’d lost a step – just that I’d read that there were concerns about him potentially losing it due to injury.  But that’s obviously not the case!!!

I unfortunately didn’t get to watch the game closely since I was at a bar (side note: literally every bar in my neighborhood is packed post-Sandy.  Huhhhh????) but I can tell you that Kyrie is a baller and so is Neon Dion.  BOOM (goes the dynamite)

Dani:

Well, Nathaniel (can i call you that?), I think a lot of the blame for Washington’s comeback has to fall on the shoulders of Byron Scott. He waited far too long to put the starters back in the game, and let Luke Walton initiate offense (if you can call it that) for what seemed like hours. I understand resting your starters in a game when you’re up by 10 or 15, but once the Wizards came within five, and Donald Sloan was back to losing the game for us in his usual floppy, discombobulated, anti-efficiency mode of offense, Kyrie should have come back. The Wizards are a truly bad basketball team without John Wall and Nene, and obviously the Cavs’ effort was enough tonight. But if Scott hesitates to let his starters play the fourth quarter too often, he’ll find himself losing games.

I have literally no clue why Omri Casspi didn’t play. Doesn’t seem fair at all to me, and it’s not like C.J. Miles was lighting it up out there. On a side note: C.J. Miles should shave his head and ditch the headband. Immediately.

I loved Tristan tonight. He was active on both ends of the floor, which is something we’ve come to expect. But he was also going up with the ball quickly and strongly, something he didn’t do nearly enough last year, and playing legitimate post defense, albeit against  the likes of the Czech Dunking Ninja (Jan Vesely, in case you aren’t familiar with this) and Trevor “I’m Not Very Good At All” Booker.

Varajao: all time favorite basketball player? A little effusive there, no? My all-time favorite player is Kyrie Irving. Already. To each their own, I suppose.

Nate:

Dani, no, you may not call me Nathaniel.  It’s not even my given name. The only person that was ever allowed to call me Nathaniel broke my heart, stole my Basement Tapes CD, ingested my goldfish with a shot of Barenjager, and married my best friend.  (Ok, only two of these things are true).  Anyway, I said AV was ONE of my all time favorite players, the others being Kevin McHale, Zydrunas Ilgauskus, Larry Bird, and Reggie Lewis (I may have a thing for tall, gangly, awkward post men).  I thought your Bill Walton comparison was a good one for him.  But, there may have never been another player like Andy.  He and Pau are currently the best passing big men in the league, and no one plays defense quite like Andy.  How many offensive fouls did he draw that game?  Three?  Four?  I know he took two off of Booker two plays in a row.  Because charges get the ball back 100% of the time, they’re definitely worth more than blocks.  Some advanced statistical analysis of charges drawn versus fouls given that lead to free throws might cast some doubt on that rubric, but I doubt it.  As for trading him, who are you going to trade him for?  He has one of the most underpaid contracts in the league, he’s ridiculously efficient, and he’s a joy to watch.  The only way I trade him is a top 3 (ok, maybe top 5) pick or as a package for a superstar.  But the thing about him is, he only makes sense on a playoff team, and a playoff team isn’t going to give you a superstar or a good draft pick back…  Teams that he makes sense for are limited too.  Portland?  Atlanta?  Phoenix?  Denver?  Would you do it for a Josh Smith package?  Marcin Gortat?  Javale McGee?  Wilson Chandler?  Andre Iguodala?  None of those guys really fits…

As for Scott’s coaching, I don’t blame him at all.  He was doing the Phil Jackson thing where he tries to let the guys play through the problems and learn from it.  Kyrie had the “I got this” look on his face from the moment he came back in.  I don’t think he, AV, and Waiters ever had a doubt.  When Waiters figures out how to finish just a little more consistently, he’s going to be deadly.  Kevin was right that he had some really good passes that led to big men getting sent to the line.  Though I don’t agree with the assertion that he’s a better passer than Kyrie (I think someone had that in the comment board).  But should he be the backup point guard?  I don’t know.  I certainly think that bringing in Miles and Casspi as the first group off the bench and letting Waiters and Gee play a lot of the second unit minutes isn’t a bad idea.  Hey…  Shaun Livingston is available.  And I KNOW he’s a better player than Sloan.