Archive for the ‘5 on 5’ Category

1 through 5: Chris Grant’s Legacy

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Five Cavs questions for the writers – all in one place.

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1.) How would you describe Chris Grant’s approach to team (re)building?

Tom: Chris Grant seemed determined to avoid the challenging circumstances that the Danny Ferry-era front office encountered.  Ferry ran out of draft picks and cap space and was stuck trying to shuffle overpaid role players in and out according to the Cavs matchup needs.  (Take a moment to remember that the 2010 Cavs failed because LeBron choked, not because of any team building failure.) Chris Grant, conversely, stockpiled draft picks, refused to commit long-term resources to role players, and hoped his core, if given ample opportunity, would blossom into a big-3 at just the right time to make a splashy acquisition.  Filling in the role-player blanks seems like it was a “cross that bridge when we get there” afterthought.

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3 on 3: Cavs:The Blog Pickup

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

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1. What is your biggest Cavs related takeaway from the first quarter of the season?

Kevin: I’ll answer on a positive note, and mention the impact of Mike Brown on the team’s defense. As of right now, the Cavs rank in the top half of the league for defensive rating (15th). That is almost unimaginable when comparing to the last few seasons. If they maintain that level, this season should still be a success, as the offense will continue to improve. One reason for that is that Kyrie has to improve from his first 20 games, right? At least Tuesday was a great start towards that. Take a look at Jarrett Jack’s seasonal splits sometime, too…he has routinely been a poor November / December player, so hopefully he continues looking better as the season goes on. Tristan and Dion should continue to look better, too.

Nate: The biggest takeaway? It’s hard to take away much from a team that is clearly drinking from the firehose when it comes to ingesting Mike Brown’s offense, defense, and style. But the biggest thing that is apparent is that Anthony Bennett is struggling, and it’s looking a lot like the Cavs made the mistake drafting him. The biggest mistake the Cavs made was not drafting an injured tweener who let himself get woefully out of shape. It was underestimating the pressure of being a number one pick, and drafting a player clearly not ready to handle that pressure.

Tom: My biggest takeaway is that Cavs are attempting to transition from a collection of discrete talents to a basketball team. It hasn’t been a smooth process, with a new coaching staff and lots of roster turnover, but it seems, at least on the defensive end, that they are beginning to learn how to play together.

2. Can Kyrie salvage the second quarter of the season and salvage another All-Star game appearance?

Kevin: The bright side for Kyrie is that there isn’t a lot of competition in the Eastern Conference. Looking at PER, the top six point guards in the League are in the Western Conference. In the East, Kyrie is 4th right now behind John Wall, Michael Carter-Williams and Jeff Teague. For the 2014 Eastern Conference All-Star point guards, the smart money appears to be on Wall and Irving.

Nate: Well, judging by yesterday’s all-star voting count, Kyrie’s going to be starting in his second all-star game in February. The East is pretty devoid of all-star guards with Rose’s and D-Will’s injuries. Dwayne Wade, Kyrie Irving, and John Wall are probably going to be the all-stars ahead of the deserving DeMarr DeRozen and Aaron Afflalo. As for salvaging the second quarter of the season, Irving will be fine as long as he keeps the ball moving, engages defensively, and stops over-dribbling. His decreasing turnover numbers have coincided with the Cavs recent success.

Tom: I dunno is Uncle Drew famous in China? Personally, I’d like Kyrie to miss the all-star game and feel “slighted”. Anyone notice as soon as he “arrived” last season he started playing like crap?

3. Care to offer an updated wins prediction for the season? Why?

Kevin: I will slightly downgrade my preseason prediction, and say 41 wins. So 33 wins and 28 losses for the remainder of the year. As noted in a prior answer, the offense should improve, and the defense looks fortified. The one caveat is that the team had very good health to date. Hopefully that stays reasonably true.

Nate: Nope. I picked 39 wins, and that seems about right to me, given the improvement we’ve seen of late. I’d hope the could kick it up, and maybe make the 4th or 5th seed in the East, but that won’t happen unless they trade for a quality starting small forward.

Tom: I predicted Mike Brown would continue his streak of making the playoffs, and I stand by that, despite the disastrous start to the season. I’ll put the Cavs at 38 wins, and this is under the assumption that a significant injury befalls them.

4. Are the Cavs establishing an identity? Do you notice characteristic differences between the Cavs under Brown and under Byron Scott?

Kevin: The offense still tends towards supreme dysfunction, with limited off-ball movement. The play sets rarely create easy looks. Watching other teams generate easy buckets continually makes me ask, “Why don’t the Cavs have plays that work”? There are so many variations of the pick & roll that teams run, certainly Cleveland has the personnel to accomplish one or two of those. Relatively complex plays involving more than two players have not been successfully implemented by Coach Scott or Brown teams. Little individual things, like diving to the corner when a guard drives, maybe off a back-screen, or noticing the moment that their defender loses focus and cutting hard to the basket…whether it’s the teachers or the students, the team still needs work in those regards. Heading into the season, I anticipated Dion making strides cutting when he doesn’t have the ball, but not much success there yet. Anyways, the short answer to the question is “Defense and Rebounding”.

Nate: The Cavs are establishing an identity. Early on, the book on the Cavs was: be physical early and they’ll fold. Now, they’re starting to be the physical ones. The Cavs’ identity centers around their ability to out-rebound anyone on the offensive and defensive glass. If they can be patient on offense, and keep from turning the ball over, they can compete most nights.

Tom: Absolutely. The Cavs have been a fierce defensive team at home this season. They are also starting to run an offense through Andrew Bynum and more recently, trying to establish early offense in the 1st quarter. Byron Scott wasn’t able to imprint his identity (whatever it is) on the team, as they showed minimal growth as a unit during his tenure and always seemed to be less than the sum of their parts. Mike Brown may be facing the same issues on offense, but at least defensively, the team is competing. Also, Kyrie Irving, C.J. Miles, and Jarrett Jack have all seemed, at least at times, to be capable defenders. This would have been unthinkable last season.

5. Latest thoughts on #1 pick Anthony Bennett? Is it too early to count him out of rookie of the year discussions? The second part of this question is a joke.

Kevin: I hope that the Cavs are not so thoroughly mismanaging the first few months of Anthony Bennett’s career that they have forever lowered his ceiling. He is not this bad. I don’t know if the D-League is being considered as an option, but it should be. Send him to Canton and assign a positional coach fully to him for a month. Get him in shape, get his shot right, and rebuild some confidence. The small forward thing is not going to work right now; Jamal Crawford preyed off Bennett in the Clippers game. At this point in time, I don’t know how anyone thought that was going to work. Someone, please, save Anthony Bennett!!

Nate: See answer 1. Recently in the comments section, we decided it’s much more fun to think of Bennett as a giant Care Bear playing basketball. It makes watching him so much more fun. The question becomes, if he’s a care bear, what Care Bear would he be? I chose “Oopsy Bear,” but commenter, Ross came up with a better answer: Gum Drop Bear. The Cavs should make the gum-drop shaped Bennett a special Care Bear-style jersey with three gumdrops in the center, in place of the usual team name and number.

Tom: The Cavs shouldn’t feel obligated to play Bennett at all if he’s not contributing to winning. He could get 40 minutes a night for the Canton Charge if they feel like he needs more burn. If they are going to insist on playing him, he needs to change his approach. He’s supposed to by a pole vaulting big man that gets out in transition. That’s what he did in college! He has re-invented himself as a useless pick and pop big that can’t shoot a lick. Here’s what really stuns me – he can’t dribble – at all. Every single time he tries to put the ball on the floor he looks like me when I don’t play pickup for 18 months and then throw on the rec specs and try to go out and bang with the YMCA wonders.  He has no control over his dribble. You know what I do when I’m playing pickup and have no confidence in my dribbling? Yep, I stand in the corner space the floor.  Bennett needs to learn how to dribble again and stop shooting perimeter jumpers.  It’s embarrassing watching him force garbage time buckets like he’s going to shoot himself out of whatever hypnosis he’s in.  Watch the DraftExpress video below, they point out his strengths as being one of the most offensively versatile players in college.  Right now he looks like Robert Tractor Traylor (RIP) minus the defense, rebounding, and pick-setting.  The Cavs should be working to extract as much defensive value they can out him and his 7’1″ wingspan.  I do take solace in the fact that anyone can find himself mired in a nasty slump, especially coming off an injury.  Example: C.J. Miles looks like a completely different player this year than he did to start last season.

A Pu Pu Platter of Lack: A C:TB Roundtable

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

mike-brown-kyrie-irving-cleveland

Question 1: What’s the most surprising thing about the Cavaliers’ season thus far?

Tom: Everything about the Andrew Bynum experience has surprised me.  I’m surprised he’s already playing, surprised at how depressed he seems despite playing (and being on track for all his contract incentives), surprised at how serious he seems (I thought he was going to be goofy in a Manny Ramirez kinda way), and I’m surprised how little his presence is moving the needle for the Cavs. (more…)

5 on 5: Cavs’ Draft

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

There are just less than three weeks remaining till the 2013 draft. Are we really going to have enough time to talk about all these picks? That’s only 14 more posts! We’re running out of time to plot wins shares per high top fade hairstyles versus low fades with respect to #1 overall draft picks, adjusting for position and age! What about projected NBA PER for players whose surnames start with J who were born in monsoon season during the year of the rat?  These are questions that need answering!

Screw it. Let’s just pick now. Here are the CtB staffers with their votes for the #1, #19, #31, and #33 picks, and a draft day trade they’d like to see.

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1 through 5: Coaching Critique

Friday, April 12th, 2013

Five Cavs questions for the writers – all in one place.


Question 1: How would you grade Byron Scott and the coaching staff on in-game execution?

Colin: No snark: are they trying to lose games? I want to know. Surely, the roster was constructed to fail. When Varejao was healthy, the Cavs actually had a nice starting lineup, but then the bench would come in and relinquish whatever advantage the starters had accrued. I think this was by design: let the front end of the roster jell; let the back end of the roster kill the team’s chance to win. But even after the bench-solving Grizz trade (which, we’ll find out this offseason based on who the Cavs keep, may have been almost completely about a mid-first round draft pick), Scott has been, if not trying to lose, vomiting all over himself with wacky substitution patterns that undermine the team’s momentum or by keeping good players off the floor for curiously long stretches. As a tank job, it’s been masterful, but if Byron Scott actually thinks his substitutions are helping the team win, he’s dead wrong and should be fired. I have a feeling I’m going to be doing a lot of hemming and hawing over the course of these questions because I think evaluating coaching is almost impossible–even when you’re right about a coach being good/bad, you can still be totally wrong about what makes them good/bad–but I know one thing just from watching this team from an outsider’s perspective: the way it rotates its players in and out of games is stupid. Anyway, I give the coaching staff 8.2 basketballs out of 17.

Mallory: C-.  Byron’s rotations have been pretty decent since the trade, so there’s a nice plus there.   He did a nice job of creating a second unit that plays well together, and generally knows when to sub guys in and out.  Although it should be noted that he often leaves stars sitting too long and is known to put a weird lineup out there once and a while. I give Byron a deservedly hard time for his end of game coaching.  He’s easily one of the worst end-of-game coaches in the NBA. Out of timeouts the players never have a set play, and often fall apart or turn the ball over.  That’s just not acceptable.  Timeouts are generally used, at the end of a game, specifically for making sure everyone knows their role for the next possession.  Instead, what unfolds is usually a mess.  In addition, the Cavs are horrible at going for two-for-ones, another fault that should be largely placed on the shoulders of their leader, Byron.  Finally, when all falls apart, BS is usually seen detached instead of engaging his players – maybe he’s more engaged after games, but when a problem presents itself repeatedly, it’s the coach’s job  to make sure his players IMMEDIATELY know what they did wrong, particularly when it’s clear the status quo isn’t working. For a perfect example, see the end of Wed’s Pistons game.

Nate: The letter grade would be D+.  That’s a barely passing grade, and only in a non-major subject.  As has been noted, the defense is awful at playing the pick and roll.  Offensively, they’ve done a good job of incorporating different sets and getting into them, but despite all that, until late in the game, the Cavs play below average.  According to teamrankings.com, they are 18th in 1st quarter point differential, 16th in 2nd, 27th in 3rd, and dead last in the 4th quarter, at -1.7 points per game.  This is all despite (or perhaps because of) having one of the best 4th quarter scorers in the league, Kyrie Irving. Kyrie has 141 points in 33 games this year in the last 5 minutes with the score +/- 5, according to stats.nba.com.  But overall, the Cavs are -13 in those situations.  Winning close games comes down to execution.  The Cavs have one late game offensive play: guard isolation.  That play happens whether it’s Dion, Kyrie, Miles, Livingston, or Ellington handling the ball.  It looks slightly different depending on who’s running it: Miles and Ellington pull up, Kyrie and Dion can get to the rack and draw fouls or pull up, and Livingston turns it into a backdown.  They routinely lose to good teams because those teams know it’s coming and trap it.  None of those players are great at passing quickly out of high double teams, with a possible exception of Livingston who’s big enough to see over them.  The Cavs are -30 in the last two minutes of close games, and -40 in the last five minutes.  They are also terrible in late game defensive situations.  The person guarding the in-bounds pass in last second situations is routinely worthless.

Kevin: I grade him as: questionable.  This topic is fairly well exhausted; rotations, use of timeouts, lack of an apparent offensive or defensive system…these are complaints filed throughout the season.  Approaching the completion of a third season, the Cavs are 64 and 162.  I understand reasons for this: youth, injuries, low payroll / lack of talent.  But at what point is it unacceptable for the coach to turn lemons into lemon wedges?  In December, I wrote about Reasons and Excuses, and the slippery slope between them; as it relates to Byron Scott, Cavs fans are definitely teetering at the precipice between the two.

Tom: The Cavaliers execution is poor at the defensive end, and rudimentary at the offensive end.  They don’t seem to make in-game adjustments when they start getting worked. All season long they have had trouble with in-bounds plays, situational awareness, and finishing quarters/games.  The offensive schemes seems to be individual creativity from the starters, and 2-man games when Walton and Livingston check in.  I’m not a paid scout, but I’d award the coaches a D here.

Question 2: How would you grade them on preparedness/scouting?

Colin: I’m probably going off-message here: how does this team still neglect wide open perimeter shooters? I guess you can file this under the heading of “preparedness,” but it’s mostly just a thing that drives my Thunderbird habit. I get that creating turnovers is a primary goal of Byron Scott’s defensive approach, but you can’t double-team and trap other NBA teams like you’re the UNC Tar Heels facing the Virgin Islands A&M Sun Dollops. If you run two great athletes at college kids, most of them will do something dumb; if you run two great athletes at NBA players, most of them will hit the open man and call you dumb beneath their breath. Yet, for whatever reason, Scott insists that this team collapse on driving guards and frantically overhelp on big men underneath, which results in a bunch of open jumpers for the other team’s shooters while Irving or Gee defeatedly close out on them a second-and-a-half too late. Don’t get me wrong: this team is terrible at stopping opponents because it’s composed chiefly of young guys (Irving, Waiters) and bad defenders (Miles, Walton), but the scheme doesn’t help. What were we evaluating? Mark it down: forty-five seconds of your life you’d like to get back out of a life composed chiefly of seconds you’d like to get back.

Mallory: C+.  Generally speaking, the Cavs rarely come out completely flat and rarely fall crazy behind early in games (the Brooklyn game withstanding).  That being said, the lack of any real defense certainly falls on the coach and his inability to create a defensive scheme that works for given situations.

Nate: D-.  The guards routinely don’t know which players to go over the pick on and which players to go under.  They also don’t seem to know who to cover and who to leave out at the line.  The Cavs are very bad at dealing with stretch 4s like Ryan Anderson, as the Cavs bigs are reluctant to step out.  Cavs guards also routinely close out on the wrong side, and don’t know who to send to the right side and who to send to the left, which is directly out of the scouting report.  Offensively, they’re better, and tend to know who they can exploit in isolation or in the post, but Kyrie seems routinely blindsided when teams trap him late (which good teams do), a measure of preparedness.

Kevin: How about a grade of: fair.  The team starts well often enough; early in the season, the starters looked great, now the team thrives at building big leads.  In-game adjustments, exhibited through the frequent third quarter malaise and the blown leads seem to be the bigger issue.

Tom: If I noticed patterns I’d offer a better critique. I’m not sure if lack of variety counts as lack of preparation but the Cavs don’t seem to mix it up too much at the defensive end. Bang-a-Drummond and the zone defense which were both implemented in the last week are the first signs I’ve seen of changing it up based on the scouting report. C-

Question 3: How would you grade them on player development?

Colin: “Player development” entails a lot, and it’s hard to say where Thompson and Waiters will end up–the job is far from complete, is what I mean–but they’ve both shown remarkable progress over their brief Cavalier tenures. TT’s got a nascent offensive game and is developing into a nice post defender, and Dion takes a lot fewer 18-foot stepbacks than he did a few months ago, and now finishes around the rim with a craftiness beyond his years. The only mark against the staff is that Irving is a marginally better defender than when he came in the league, which is to say he’s cheese clothish. Tyler Zeller sort of is what he is. I don’t know what they can do with him other than work on his 15-footer and encourage him to eat a protein-rich diet. 27 adorable baby elephants for Byron and his associates.

Mallory: B+.  As Tom and I discussed on yesterday’s podcast the impact the head coach has on player development is questionable.  Is Byron working on Tristan’s FT shooting with him every day?  Is he the one who taught Dion how to attack the rim?  What about Kyrie’s D?  Is he the one teaching him how to be a lock-down defender?  (That last one was a joke)  I’d wager that the assistant coaches and nature ultimately have more to do with development than Byron.  But there’s no denying there’s been development.  How much is nature, how much is Byron, and how much is the rest of the staff, though, is the big question – one that is ultimately unanswerable for anyone not in the locker room.

Nate: B-.  The Cavs have done a good job of bringing players along.  TT, Zeller, Miles, Gee, and Walton are all much better than they were, at least offensively, at season’s beginning.  TT, especially, keeps growing on offense.  Kyrie Irving has developed some bad habits, though.  He routinely just doesn’t even try on defense, and though his points and steals are up, his assists, and rebounds are down, though so are his turnovers.  But they haven’t turned individual improvement into wins.

Kevin: Regarding the would-be stars: solid.  Regarding would-be role players: poor.  Thompson took huge steps this year; over a 33-game stretch, Waiters average 20 ppg36 with league-average true shooting; Zeller has at a minimum greatly improved his scoring efficiency.  Regarding the bench auditioners though, did you know that Jon Leuer’s PER is up to 18 in Memphis?  The other youngsters with a chance to potentially grow over the last three years are either posting career-low PER’s, never improved from their rookie season, or are out of the league (Gee, Casspi, Samuels, Eyenga, etc).  Certainly, it is more important that the franchise “get it right” with the high draft picks, so no need to complain too much.

Tom: Irving was not deemed a sure-thing out of college and Thompson and Waiters were both considered reaches at #4. There was a point early this season when many analysts wondered aloud whether the Cavs had missed on Thompson and Waiters. People don’t wonder that anymore. I’m not going to withhold credit from Byron Scott and the coaching staff for noticeable improvements those two guys have made. I also think C.J. Miles and Alonzo Gee have been put in situations to succeed and have made the most of their talent under Byron Scott. The big misses are Hickson and Casspi, but you can’t win em all. A-.

Question 4: Go back in time to July 2012 – keep everything identical except coaching: who would you choose and how many more wins would the Cavs have with your dream coaching scenario?

Colin: That we’re using our time machine to go back to July of 2012 so we can restaff the head coaching position of a team that’s probably still going to be pretty bad anyway and not, like, finessing Hitler’s art school application or telling Martin Luther King to maybe avoid balconies for a while seems irresponsible.  Journalist-God Brian Windhorst mentioned this a couple weeks ago, but it’s worth pointing out: there aren’t a lot of coaching free agents more impressive than Scott. I have an affinity for Nate McMillan, but that’s really just because I like defense-first coaches and still have a lingering crush on those healthy Brandon Roy era Blazers teams. It’s not like Nate McMillan has ever been a miracle worker. We’d all like to play with the fabric of reality and have Gregg Popovich coaching our favorite team, but the reality is you’re always either a.) picking someone off the scrap heap, or b.) hoping an assistant coach who’s never been fully in charge a team before can prove himself. Not that those sorts of things never work out. Rick Carlisle has been on the scrap heap multiple times during his career, and the Bulls are flying relatively high without Derrick Rose because Tom Thibodeau, it turns out, is more than a terrific assistant. But I can’t argue that if the Cavs rolled with my boy McMillan they’d be three games out of eighth place in the East. Can I still keep giving out stupid scores? 89 flapjacks out of 89 flapjacks. Flawless flapjack achievement unlocked.

Mallory: This is a hard question because it really takes too many issues into consideration.  Does another coach install a defense, or, as Tom mentioned on yesterday’s podcast, is D a more natural talent than we’re all willing to admit?  Would another coach have realized the freakishly awesome passing skills of Luke Walton pair brilliantly with Livingston?  Would another coach get through Kyrie’s thick skull that you ALWAYS go 2-for-1 when you have the chance?  Would another coach call a timeout at the right moment to prevent hemorrhaging leads?  Would a head coach bring me ice cream after Cavs losses? Byron isn’t a very good NBA coach, at least not in ways that we as viewers can pinpoint.  He’s quiet, pensive, and rarely gets in his player’s faces.  The defense is horrible and the offense often looks disjointed, particularly when it matters most.  He’s bad at calling timeouts and bad at making in game adjustments. I do think another coach might tread those waters more carefully, but who knows.  I wouldn’t want a big name coach, at this point.  The obviously choice would be Brian Shaw, who I think would be a good guy to give his first shot as a head coach.  Maybe he’d manage things correctly, and if so, maybe a few of those coin-flip games fall heads up instead of tails.  I’d predict an extra 5-7 wins.  Not much, but certainly an improvement, and maybe enough to create some moral victories in an otherwise dour season.

Nate: I probably wouldn’t change it.  I mean as much as I love Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, they would have gotten the Cavs to pointless mediocrity.  Would I like to have had someone who could have taught the team to play defense and to bring the effort every night?  Yes.  Taught the team what to do in close game situations?  Yes.  They might’ve edged out Milwaukee for the last playoff spot and taught some intensity, but that’s if they pushed every button perfectly.  Perhaps the point of Byron Scott is to show Kyrie Irving how the other half lives.  Maybe Kyrie needs to learn to appreciate a coach who makes good offense/defense substitutions or won’t play Luke Walton against Al Horford, or won’t pettily bury a 6’9″ small forward who was leading the NBA in three point percentage.  Byron ran his course.  It’s time to bring someone else in.  I don’t think the timing would have been right in July 2012.  Byron brought a modicum of dignity and calmness, though some might call it ambivalence, to the post LeBrocalypse.  Now the Cavs need someone between stoic Byron and losing-his-voice insane Stan Van Gundy to helm the ship for the next few years.  Scratch that.  Thibs would’ve made Kyrie play defense.  I wish we could have had him.

Kevin: My first preference is Kevin Hetrick; it is a definite pay raise for me.  Unfortunately, Cleveland goes 14 – 68 in that scenario.  Second…Phil Jackson.  The Zen Master melds a second-string front court of Samardo Samuels and Luke Harangody into a 39 win team.  Finally, Luke Walton…player-coach.  In this scenario, the Cavs finish 73 and 9.

Tom: Gregg Popovich is my head coach and teaches offense. Mike Brown is my assistant and he focuses on defense. Mark Price is my shooting coach. Stan Van Gundy is in charge of working with my big men and giving half-time interviews so Pop won’t be bothered. Doc Rivers and Phil Jackson are brought in as consultants when there’s in-fighting or someone needs motivated. And with this team? Add 12 wins. (9th best in the East)  The roster has been in disarray since Byron got here.  As much as I love Gregg Popovich, he’s had a healthy Tim Duncan for 16 of his 17 seasons as HC.  Who has Byron had since he showed up in Cleveland?  Also, the off-season additions of John Kuester and Mo Williams transformed the Cavs from the 20th best offense in the league to the 4th best.  That’s a huge improvement from what seemed like minor changes.  Perhaps the addition of a rim-protector + a healthy Varejao will allow Byron Scott to graft his DNA (whatever it is) onto this team.

Question 5: What expectations or ultimatums do you have for the Cavs coaching staff next season?

Colin: I expect the coaching staff to look different, if not at the absolute top, then in terms of the other dudes in suits sitting next to Byron Scott. They have to get a defensive coordinator of some sort. If Scott’s back with the same staff, we might be in for a long season. It’s tough to lay out other expectations when I’m unsure what the team is going to look like, so I’ll make a meek, blandly general statement: the team needs to stay motivated, and that burden falls on the coaches. I’m sure the inertia of failure and the ever-mounting injuries this year made that task near-impossible, but if we’re to surmise the Cavs will actually make an earnest run at the playoffs next season, the coaches are going to have to keep everyone’s heads on straight, so as to avoid eight-game losing streaks and more than a couple bafflingly uninterested games against bad teams. If the staff can act as a sort of consistency-maintaining mechanism, I’ll rate them three dilapidated burlesque theaters out of five dilapidated burlesque theaters.

Mallory: Next year is it.  40-42 wins is the minimum, meaning a 15 game swing is a MUST.  That’ll be tough, especially if Noel ends up being the guy selected and the front office doesn’t make any major roster improvements.  If Scott is still around, he absolutely must install a defense.  A 20th or better defense is essential to improving the record.  In addition, better in game coaching would be nice – certainly cooling down the opposing team when they get hot with a well-timed TO, as well as better end of game clock management. Ultimately, though, the key is just utilizing what’s on the roster to its absolute peak.  That’s what the best coaches in the NBA do on a nightly basis, and it’s something that Byron has been very mixed at.  If he’s around, he’s got to get better.

Nate: Develop toughness.  Teach the team how to play in late game situations and close out quarters.  Rise to above 20th in opponent FG% (as opposed to the current dead last). Teach a sane and consistent defensive philosophy.  Give opponents some wrinkles.  Teach Dion to play off the ball.  Develop a leadership hierarchy among the players on this team (don’t just hand it to Kyrie).  Most importantly?  Develop a culture of respect, winning, and accountability that will make free agents want to play in Cleveland.  Oh, and have a fun haircut.

Kevin: If Scott is back, it would be with a short leash.  Earlier this season, I took a look at Scott’s career.  The two peaks were guided by hall-of-fame point guards and both situations rapidly unraveled as his teams epically quit on him.  If the team starts 3 and 6 – move on and try some young, fresh, up-and-coming basketball mind.  Brian Shaw from the Pacers, perhaps?  He’s widely regarded as a key-schemer in Indy’s top-notch D.

Tom: No ultimatums from me, although I suspect Dan Gilbert wants some significant improvements at the defensive end. My expectations are that the team learns a few different ways to defend pick and rolls. I’d like to see the bigs hedge and retreat, the guards to anticipate the screener, and the help defenders to know where to rotate. On offense I expect more decisiveness and synergy from the core players, and the ball to swing from side to side. I want the team to start looking more than the sum of their parts. That’s on the coaches.

Commentariat, how would you answer these?

NCAA Tournament Opening Weekend!! Who do you like?

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

We ran a similar article last week, but Cleveland’s season is slowly being decimated by injuries, and hell, it’s March Madness!  Let’s talk about who will make a big impression this weekend in the NCAA tourney…who could be a nice addition with the Cavs next year.

QUESTION 1:  The Midwest Region; looking at the top four seeds, only Marcus Smart, Mason Plumlee and Gorgui Dieng look like first round picks.  You got a no-name that will be household by the end of the weekend?

Nate: Doug McDermott (Creighton).  Who else?  One of my favorite uncles pitched for the Blue Jays in the 80s, so they’re a mid major I always follow.  #4 in the nation in scoring, at 23.1 a game, he’s been all over the board in mock drafts.  Nbadraft.net has him going 18 to Atlanta (a Kyle Korver replacement?) and Draftexpress slots him as the 48th pick…  He’s a a 6’8″ light’s out catch and shoot guy from anywhere on the floor, and a proficient postup threat who moves well without the ball on cuts. This all adds up to a .68 TS%, and the #4 PER in the country at 33.9.  While an adequate rebounder in college, as a pro, he’s a 3/4 tweener who will struggle mightily on defense.  Also, he doesn’t get to the line as much as he should.  McDermott probably needs to model himself as a Korver type, and set himself up as a bench scorer who can play the 3 in the pros.  Despite his deficiencies, he’s an elite shooter who will help a smart team stretch the floor.  The question on McDermott: is he Dino Gallinari or Jon Diebler?

Kevin: I’m veering way into outer-space on this one: Adreian Payne of Michigan State.  He’s a junior and Draftexpress lists him as the 23rd pick in 2014.  I remember him playing spectacular defense against Ohio State last year.  In three years, his free throw shooting increased from 49% to 70% to 83%, while providing an excellent 117 offensive rating with 20% usage.  Combining that with the Big Ten’s second best defensive rebounding presents a promising package.

Tom: I’d like to cheat and say Gorgui Dieng of Louisville, since I don’t think he’s a household name now, and I think he will be by tourney’s end.  But since you rigged the question, I’ll go with Michigan State’s Gary Harris – who I think will still be a relatively no-name guy until draft night when he will be selected in the lottery.  Advanced stat guys like him and his measurables/game is somewhat similar to Dion Waiters – who also surprised some people on draft night.   He’s a better shooter than Waiters but less explosive and doesn’t have the PG-skills.

Mallory: You’ll begin to notice a pattern here with regards to small forwards, especially since the competition at center is pretty difficult to judge on a game-to-game basis during the tourny.  Michigan State’s Brandon Dawson isn’t the best three point shooter, but boy oh boy is he explosive.  Dawson contains one of the best first steps in college basketball and is a good ball handler for his height.  But where the young Spartan really shines is as a defender.  Using his athleticism, quickness, and length, Dawson is a terror to both wings and power forwards.  If he can help MSU go deep into the tourney, look for the light to shine on him.

Dani: Gorgui Dieng, from Lousiville, is the kind of player who could come to the NBA and contribute right away. The combination of rebounding, shot-blocking, and facilitatory abilities add up to a pretty tantalizing end-of-round prospect, even for a guy who’s already 23. You would prefer that a player that old have at less some modicum of scoring ability, but hey- if Dieng could score, he might be a lottery pick.

QUESTION 2:  Ohio State is in the West bracket, playing in Dayton?  Maybe C:tB’s resident Daytonian will go watch his favorite player, Aaron Craft.  Maybe he will talk about someone else in response to this question: Who skyrockets up draft-boards from this group?

Nate: Of the top 200 scorers in the country, only one has a better TS% than McDermott.  Kelly Olynyk (Gonzaga) has shot up the draft boards this year with a blistering .70 TS% and leads the nation in PER at an ungodly 38.1.  A friend of Tristan Thompson’s from team Canada, this fellow Toronto area native is a first team All-American.  A true seven footer, Olynyk actually redshirted last year as a junior to avoid having to play behind Robert Sacre, Elias Harris, and Sam Dower for the Zags.  In that time, he went through a pretty crazy training regimen to develop his neural system.  That regimen is soon going to be copied by every team in college basketball, given its results.  A 17.7 PPG scorer, and a 7.1 RPG rebounder, Olynyk can score on the block, the cut, out of set shots, and can even put it on the floor.  Turnover prone, and not the greatest defender, he is still incredibly coordinated, shoots 36% from three, and will block some shots.  Superb shooting?  Check.  Crazy training routine?  Check.  Do it all 7 footer?  Check.  Long flowing locks?  Check.  Who’s the NBA comparison?  Only Dirk Nowitzki.  Would I love to see Olynyk share the frontcourt with Tristan Thompson?  Double check.  Not even on the national radar when the season began, Kelly’s currently in the early teens on draft boards.  He will be drafted in the top ten.  With a strong tournament?  He could climb all the way to the top pick of the draft.  Oh, Canada.

Cavs:the Blog - Scouring the second-round for hidden gems

Kevin: DeShaun Thomas can score in the NBA as part of a second-unit.  He gets buckets inside and out, and although his efficiency tailed off some this year, his 20 points per game paced the Big Ten.  Perhaps he can turn-around his miserable 17 of 47 shooting from the Big Ten Tourney and creep up draft boards.

Tom: This is the strongest bracket [4 teams in the AP Top 12 including the #1] and it will be difficult for the Buckeyes to emerge.  Aaron Craft is admittedly my favorite college basketball player.  That said, I find it almost impossible to settle on an upper and lower bound for his post-collegiate career.  I feel like he could play 18 NBA seasons and become a hall of famer and we’d all look back and go “well duh – best defensive PG since Gary Payton with court vision to match…” or he could wind up wrestling with ‘Gody for loose balls in the D-League and we’d all look back and go “well duh – unathletic guard that can’t shoot at all…”  I’m throwing my hands up – I have no idea what his future holds – sometimes I watch him and I see Rajon Rondo, other times a guy that wants the ball in his hands but can’t even create his own shot much less make it.  If OSU does make it out, I do say Craft skyrockets up draft boards [so there, Hetrick] – in that he will go from UDFA to early second round pick.

Mallory: The theme today is Big 10, the best conference in college basketball this year.  The guy to watch in the Midwest is none other than Ohio State’s Aaron Craft.  Putting aside the arguments that I’m sure will go on in the comments section, the fact is, in the last few weeks, Craft has been the offensive player he needed to be in order to raise his draft stock.  Craft’s uncanny ability to adjust his shot while slashing to the basket, despite a serious lack of vertical leap, is nothing short of amazing.  His floater is equally impressive, especially since he lacks any semblance of an outside game.  If he shows some signs of a jumper, continues to drive to the basket, and plays the amazing D we all know he’s capable of, Craft will work his way into the draft discussion this year.

Dani: Kendall Williams is a second-round tier point guard for New Mexico that the Cavs would be remiss to ignore in the second round of the draft. He dropped 46 on Colorado State recently, and has the size and scoring ability to be a valuable PG off the bench in the NBA. He’s also got great size (6’4″) for the 1, which bodes well for his future defensive impact.

QUESTION 3:  So this is where the prospects have been hiding?  Who will separate themselves from the heap in the South bracket?

Don't worry, we are aware of the top-ten picks.

Nate: What a bracket!  Every single first round game but SDSU/Oklahoma features draft prospects.  But I’m interested in Shabazz Muhammed (UCLA).  He was once considered the most can’t-miss prospect of this draft, but he mailed it in this year.  Now people are questioning his athleticism, his defense, and whether he has a position in the NBA.  He may be a victim of the hype machine that pumped him up just to tear him down.  Can he reclaim his mojo?  Can he stop shooting so many threes? (He had a 2-11 game at Washington State two weeks ago).  Can he help UCLA make a run?  He really has to step up his game to avoid falling out of the top 5, and while I was really high on him a year ago, unless I see something different, I don’t want the Cavs to touch him…  Of course he could be one of those guys that’s just better as a pro.  Who was the last guy purported to be like that?  O.J. Mayo?  Whoever it was, UCLA should make for interesting theater.

Kevin: Quick!  What is the lamest answer you can think of?  Well, Eric Murphy, of course.  The Florida senior is currently slotted towards the latter stages of the second round.  Especially if Speights is allowed to leave, Cleveland needs some front-court players with shooting range (please show this next year, Tyler).   Standing 6′ – 10″, Murphy drilled 46% from deep this year.  What, you say that Cleveland needs interior toughness, too?  Oh.  Moving on…

Tom: Well I’d like to say Trey Burke – but Michigan will have to play Kansas and if they upset the Jayhawks they will find Florida waiting.  Both teams are elite defensively – so this tourney probably won’t boost his draft stock unless he leads the Wolverines into the Final 4.  Rather, Ben McLemore will “separate himself from the pack” in the sense that Kansas will continue to be on TV and he’ll do enough things to reinforce the narrative of being a top 3 pick even if he doesn’t take over any games.

Mallory: With the need for a long, athletic SF so glaring on this Cavaliers team, the guy to watch is Wolverine Glenn Robinson III.  Robinson is still very raw, and likely doesn’t get drafted this year, but he’s the kind of player that, with some improvement on both the offensive and defensive end, would be a great addition to most NBA teams.  If he can show signs of a sweet three-point stroke, there’s no doubt the Cavaliers would be taking a serious look at him.

Dani: If the Cavaliers find themselves in position to draft Ben McLemore of Kansas, tough decisions will abound. Chris Grant feels he has his shooting guard of the future in Dion Waiters, but McLemore is an ultra-athletic Ray Allen type who ACTUALLY plays like Ray Allen (as opposed to Bradley Beal). That’s an awfully tough opportunity to pass up. The biggest concern with McLemore is his apparent lack of a killer instinct; watch that over March Madness.

QUESTION 4: Who is the Beast from the East(ern bracket)?

Nate: Anthony Bennett (UNLV).  I think drafting an undersized power forward in the lottery is like drafting a running back in the first round of the NFL draft.  Unless they are once in a generation players, it’s probably a waste of a draft pick.  But… I do want to see what the big deal with Bennett is.  6’7″ 239 pounds of muscle and bone with a 7’1″ wing span, Bennett is another efficient scorer, .531/.387/.696 with a 15.8 PPG average.  He’s a crushing finisher who through January was finishing over 70% around the basket.  He’s tailed off during the second half of the season, but he’s an extremely skilled player with the shooting and ball handling skills to play the 3 and the power to play the 4.  He’s the right kind of tweener.  Unfortunately, he is often described as “disinterested” on defense, and scouts doubt he’ll have the speed or lateral quickness to play on the wing in the pros.  Best case scenario?  Larry Johnson.  Worst case scenario?  This season’s Brandon Bass.

Tom: Anthony Bennett is the beast.  When I messaged Nate and told him that’s the dude I want, his response was: “ARGH!  NO!”  I know he’s undersized, I know he’s one dimensional, I know the Cavs have enough undersized/1-dimensional players, and I agree with Nate’s argument.  But…THIS!  I’m sorry, Nate.  I want a guy that can close out on a shooter like that, run the floor like that, and wants to TEAR. OFF. THE. RIM.  He’s got a 7’1″ wingspan – it’ll all work out I promise.  We’ve made a lot of comments regarding college players – this is the first guy that I am officially endorsing for the Cavs front office to select.  I’ll sink or swim with Bennett.  (Yes, I’ve even got reservations about Noel now.)

Kevin: Averaging 11 points, 11 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, and 2.2 steals, Andre Roberson of Colorado seems bound to carve out a niche in the NBA.  His 27% defensive rebounding rate ranks in the NCAA’s top-ten, and if the Cavs want to substitute another strong defender and rebounder when they sit Tristan, this could be their guy.  He is only a junior, but Draftexpress projects him to be taken in the second round this year.

Mallory: While I’ll give a shout out to Zeller’s baby bro, the guy to watch, without a question, is Cody’s IU teammate, Victor Oladipo.  Like Dawson and Robinson, Oladipo is raw.  Unlike both the aforementioned players, Victor is already incredibly refined on defense and has the ability to stretch defenses with his outside shot.  There’s a high likelihood that, with strong tourny play, Oladipo will boost himself to a top-10, and even top-5 spot in the draft.

Dani: Victor Oladipo is amazing, he will be amazing and I cannot imagine a scenario in which he falls out of the top ten. Oladipo can score, he can jump higher than anyone in college, and he plays hard-nosed defense. He can also play either wing position. Oladipo is a star and the Cavs should do everything possible to draft him.

QUESTION 5:  I know none of our writers knew any of these guys before this article (just kidding), but let’s pretend we’re college basketball experts, and missed someone we really wanted to talk about from the four Regionals.  Who is you wild card to watch?

Nate: My 2013 super sleeper pick: Mike Muscala (Bucknell).  6’11″, 232 pound Muscala is one of college basketball’s best two way players.  He’s currently #3 in the country in rebounding, and #4 in rebound rate, and the only player in the top 30 in rebounding to have a foul rate below 3 per 40 minutes.  (Though this may be because he is going against scrubs in the Patriot League).  He also averages 2.4 blocks per game with a nice wingspan and 2.4 assists with only 1.7 turnovers — fantastic for a center.  Shooting .517/.267/.787, his jump shooting is actually down from the previous three seasons, probably because he scores 19.2 PPG and is the centerpiece of the Bucknell offense.  But he gets to the bucket  and the line more this year, attempting almost 7 freethrows a game, and has learned how to finish proficiently with either hand.  And oh yeah, he’s #2 in the nation in PER at 37.4.  This combination of scoring, defense, rebounding, polish, and motor from a big man is rare.  My bet is that despite being a senior he will move past his borderline first round projection and into the late teens on draft night.  Meanwhile, It will be fun to watch this Patriot league standout take on perennial Nate favorite, Butler, on Thursday in the battle of the Bulldogs and the Bison

Tom: Kelly Olynyk has a super-rare combination of skills.  He’s 7’0″, a legitimate 3 point threat, has Varejao circa 2013 touch around the hoop, plus an actual post game.  He’s also 7’0″ and I’m not sure he can dunk on a 9 foot hoop.  I don’t think he can even jump rope.  Not because he isn’t coordinated, he’s super coordinated, it’s his total lack of leaping ability.  Unless that jump rope is made out of fish line, it’s not getting under Kelly’s shoes.  He’s the only guy I can watch and take the Lord’s name in vain in both a good way and a David Wesley layup way in the same sequence.  Still, college PER doesn’t lie right? [Hides Michael Beasley in nearest closet]  And he’s 7’0″ with 3 point range.  What’s not to like?!  [Hides Bargnani in next-nearest closet].

Kevin: Victor Oladipo from Indiana.  For a guy whose calling card has been defense, his 60 / 44 / 75 shooting, 30 PER, and 123 offensive rating (23 usage) light up the stat-sheet.  I remember watching Indiana games when he was younger, seeing him throw down a monstrous jam, and thinking, “who is that guy?”.  Turning 21 in February, his future appears bright.  Maybe Kyrie, Dion and Victor could co-exist on-court for 8 – 10 minutes per night.

Mallory: Since I’ve spent so much time talking about Aaron Craft, who I still see as a great bench guard for any NBA team, I figured I’d give another Buckeye some love.  While I easily could’ve gone with DeShaun Thomas (whose game I dislike, by the way – I want nothing to do with a volume shooter like that) or Amir Williams (raw, physical center, who definitely wont be drafted this year, but has the tools to someday be a pro) I’ve decided to highlight the most underrated player on OSU’s roster.  Namely, Shannon Scott.  Scott isn’t much of a shooter, although he’s dramatically improved as one from last year to this year, and he’s not an absurd athlete.  Scott is just one of the quietest great defenders you’ll ever watch.  It’s rare he gets beaten, and rare that he misses a rotation.  If he improves his shooting, particularly from the perimeter, he’s a guy to lookout for in the next few years.  Maybe not as a high pick, but certainly as someone with the talent to contribute.

Dani: Shabazz Muhammad is a basketball enigma. No one can agree on his ability to star in the NBA. Some see superstar potential, pointing at his passing and shooting ability, which all comes with an insatiable, infectious hustle after every ball. I personally believe he’s going to be a slow shooting guard on defense. He doesn’t have the height, speed or athleticism to play the 3. Watch out for him.

Five Questions: NCAA Conference Tourney Weekend

Friday, March 15th, 2013

It’s March Madness, and the Cavaliers are lottery bound.  So other than a tough Texas two-step, with games at Dallas and San Antonio, what’s the big story of the weekend?  NCAA Conference Tourneys!  Who are the Cavs:the Bloggers keeping a particularly close eye on?

Question 1: Who ya’ watching in the Big Ten Tourney?  IU, Ohio State, Michigan…there are alot of powerhouses there.

Dani loves Victor Oladipo. The fact that he picked the other guy in this picture is the odds-on upset of the season.

Dani: Tim Hardaway Jr. (Michigan) is a player whom I could see as being very effective in the NBA, especially if he can get a little better at creating his  own shot. At 6’6″ Hardaway has ideal size for a shooting guard in the NBA today. Also, his jumper is pretty. The main fear with Hardaway is that a lot of his effectiveness seems to stem from playing with maybe the best point guard in college hoops, Trey Burke. But then again, the NBA is in the midst of a sort of point guard Pax Romana. Keep an eye on him for the Cavs.

Tom: Aaron Craft (Ohio State).  He shuts down the elite offensive players in college, why not in the pros?  According to draft folks he’s one of the most polarizing players – that means he’s going to play in the NBA.  He’s 6’2”, 190, and is just tenacious on defense.  Every time I watch him play, he seems to get a “clutch steal” when his team needs it most.  He can’t shoot at all outside 15 feet -  if he could he’d probably be a 1st round pick.  His profile bears a striking resemblance to Eric Snow – he of almost 1000 NBA games.  Snow was better around the rim but abjectly horrible outside of 3 feet.  Snow was also a better pure point guard but did not rack up the insane amount of steals that Craft does.

Nate: No, I’m not picking Aaron Craft, the Chris Dudley of point guards; rather, Victor Oladipo (Indiana).  Is there any doubt that Tom Crean is one of the best coaches at any level in basketball?  The guy simply turns good athletes into great basketball players: Dwayne Wade, Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder…  Victor Oladipo is another in a long line of very athletic players whose skill level Crean has helped hone.  Shooting a ridiculous .614/.745/.464 from the field for 13.7 points, Oladipo is currently #3 in the country in effective field goal % at .66.  Additionally he’s one of the nation’s best defenders.  He posts a stellar 2.2 steals per game, and though he doesn’t have the handles of Shabazz, or the length of Otto Porter, he could be the best two way wing in the draft. Oladipo has a chance to sneak into the top three if he has a good run the rest of the season, and could be a better shooting Andre Iguodala in the pros.

Kevin: Glenn Robinson (Michigan) – He could be interesting with the Lakers pick.  Although low usage, his offensive rating is an obscenely high 128.  He is a great athlete with size to play small forward, that gets to the line frequently and shows potential as a shooter.  Just turning 19 in January, he needs to bulk up.  He struggled yesterday against Penn State, but his 6 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks, 0 turnovers and 0 fouls helped compensate for a rough shooting night.  With a few big games in March, the middle portion of the first round appears to be in play.

Mallory: I know it’s already been said, but the guy I’m watching is Aaron Craft from Ohio State.  I’ve had the privildge of watching this guy play live many, many times, including his freshman year, and I’ve got to say, he’s one of the most exciting players to watch in person.  Even as a frosh Craft showed a tenacity on D that few guys ever match.  If he can continue his hot scoring, he’s a sure-fire pro.

Question 2: What about the SEC?  Lacking Nerlens Noel limits the luster, but what about the other guys?

Dani: Alex Poythress (Kentucky) is one of the most fascinating NBA prospects in quite a while.  He’s 6’8″, an explosive athlete with a 7’1″ wingspan, and is perhaps the most up and down player in college basketball. He started the season as a top-five pick, but a prolonged slump and positional concerns (where the hell is he going to play on offense?) have dropped him all the way to anywhere from middle of the first round to out of the first round entirely. He reminds me a lot of Perry Jones III, who was absolutely stolen by OKC as the 28th pick. A big tournament from Poythress could do wonders for him.

Alex Poythress dunks against someone not worth watching this weekend.

Nate: This is really a down year for the SEC, with few first round prospects outside of underachieving Kentucky (from which I like no one).  I’m interested in seeing the best prospect on the best team,  Patric Young (Florida).  Young is an enigma, a former McDonalds all American with a chiseled 250 pound, 6’8″ frame, and a 7’1″ wingspan.  An impressive athlete who throws down thunderous dunks, Young is a pedestrian rebounder, but a solid shot blocker and steals man.  He is also trapped on a perimeter oriented team that infrequently sends the ball inside.  As a rare guy who could be a second round pick with upside this summer or next, I’d like to see if he can pick up his game in the next two weeks.

Tom: Nerlens Noel (Kentucky).  I’m interested in his fashion sense.  And if he’s not even on the bench, I’ll watch Kentucky in his absence and compare to how they looked with him.  It’s Nerlens or bust for the Cavs this draft.

Kevin: I’ll say Alex Poythress (Kentucky).  ESPN and Draftexpress currently show him around where the Lakers pick would be.  He’s big, athletic, and potentially a solid set-shooter.  With tantalizing defensive abilities, he could serve as a solid consolation prize if Porter isn’t available in the lottery.  We will see if he can put together a run of high-level March performances.

Mallory: It’s been well documented how badly the Cavs need a center.  Yet I’d contend it’s not really size that’s missing, but more toughness, explosiveness, focus.  These are attributes that Florida’s Patric Young has, particular on the defensive side.  Despite his momentary passiveness in some games, Young continues to be a standout prospect.  He’s long (7’1 wingspan on a 6’9 body!), he’s tough, and he’s great in the post.  He’s the sort of undervalued center who could end up being the gem of the draft.

Question 3: Duke!  North Carolina!  North Carolina State!  Maryland?  Which of these guys should be on Cavs’ fans radar?

At least Tom didn't out-clever himself and actually picked the guy that everyone wants to see

Dani: Erick Green (Virginia Tech) is far from a complete prospect. He’s too skinny, and doesn’t do pretty much anything but score. And score he does. 25.4 points a game, and Green is electrifying when his jumper is falling. Is his ceiling Nick Young? Possibly. But there’s always room for scorers in the NBA, and Erick Green can score.

Nate: Kenny Kadji (Miami).  Who needs Mo Speights?  At 24 years old, Kadji probably has limited upside, but he’s a potent weapon on one of the most surprising teams in college basketball this year.  He’s a true stretch 4/5 who can shoot the ball from anywhere on the court.  He’s an adequate rebounder — though he’s improved from last year — and has good length and will block some shots.  Still, he’s older than Kevin Durant.  But this is another guy who might be a good second round prospect.  Lord knows the Cavs could use a stretch 4 who can actually shoot.

Tom: Alex Len (Maryland).  Cavs are bereft of centers.  Len is 7’1”.  Needs to go on the same training regimen that Kevin Hetrick prescribed for Tyler Zeller.

Kevin: I will give a shout-out to James McAdoo (North Carolina), a player that Scout.com ranked top-five in his high school class, in the rarefied air of Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Austin Rivers, and MKG.  Last year, he popped up in top-ten discussions.  Now, after a sophomore season when he struggled to a 92 offensive rating (27 usage), and woeful rebounding rates, can he salvage the previously elite expectations following him?

Mallory: Looking at the Cavs roster, what’s the biggest hole?  That’d be a resounding SF!  If the front office decides to go big with the top pick, that’ll mean a need to find a SF in the middle or end of the draft.  Enter Reggie Bullock from North Carolina.  A crazy good three point shooter, this Tar Heel would be a PERFECT late-draft compliment to Kyrie and Dion.  In addition, Bullock has a reputation as a great defender.  That’s definitely something I can get on board with.

Question 4: Does anyone else play in the Big East besides Otto Porter?  What is there to see at Madison Square Garden this weekend?

Dani: Who else but Otto Porter (Georgetown)? He’s the all-around, ultra-skilled type of player that general managers everywhere should be drooling over. He’s also shown a propensity for coming up in the clutch (game-winners galore), and is a great defender. I do think Porter’s athleticism (or lack thereof) issues cap his NBA potential somewhat, but not everyone is a superstar. He can and will be a contributor from day one in the NBA.

Cavs fans are really into Otto Porter, probably because he comments frequently at Cavs:the Blog (this has not been verified)

Nate: Another conference with a down year in terms of prospects… Who else am I going to pick?  The only option besides Otto Porter is Michael Carter-Williams (Syracuse), but he’s a lousy shooter.  So I want to check out Porter, just like everyone else on this blog.  He could be playing himself into a top three pick as well.  Last year’s #1 pick, MKG is a very similar comparison: a lock-down defender who can run the floor and who is developing on offense.  Well Porter’s offensive efficiency far surpasses MKG’s, especially behind the three point line.  Porter’s better at getting points, steals, assists, and at limiting turnovers and fouls.  He could be the number one pick in the draft if he leads Georgetown far, especially in the last Big East tournament as we know it.

Tom: Otto Porter would be a good consolation prize if Nerlens cannot be had.  He’s super long and steady – he seems to have an instinctive feel for the game.  Knock on him is he’s not wired to “take over” or whatever.  That’s fine – Cavs have that role filled.

Kevin: I’ll say that the Cavs actually pick a second-rounder, and that we should keep an eye on Gorgui Deng of Louisville.  His defensive rebound rate ranks second in the Big East, with a block rate sitting 51st in the entire NCAA.  He’s already 23, but as a second-round flier for a formidable defensive presence, it’s worth looking out for.

Mallory: I could say the obvious ones here, but I’m going to go with Gorgui Dieng out of Louisville – depending on how things play out with the Lakers/whatever the top pick is, this may be in play for the Cavs.  And really, they could do a lot worse than Dieng.  Huge wingspan?  Check.  Good rebounder?  Check!  Great off the PnR?  CHECK!  Awesome defender?  SIGN ME UP!!!!  Sounds like we have a fit for Kyrie and the Cavs.

Question 5: Last, but not least (well, depending on your East Coast bias), tell me about players you like in the Big Twelve?

Dani: I’m going to avoid talking about Ben McLemore (Kansas). Everyone already knows he’s a stud. Instead, let’s take a look at Jeff Withey (Kansas). He’s unspectacular in most areas of the game: 13.6 points, 8.6 rebounds….eh. And then you spot the block totals, and your eyes widen. Withey is averaging a full four blocks per game. Watch a Kansas game some time, and Withey’s defensive ability jumps out at you. His positioning and timing are flawless. Four blocks a game is nothing to sneeze at, especially from a center without the boundless athleticism of someone like Nerlens Noel.

Ben McLemore, forever altering an opponent's concept of himself.

Nate: Remember when the Big 12 was falling apart?  They’re loaded with basketball talent this year.  Everyone loves McLemore, and why not?  He’s probably the top pick in the draft, and one of the few players with superstar potential.  But I want to see Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State), who is supposedly the best point guard in the country and who inhabits an NFL free safety’s body.  #3 in the country at three steals a game, and a top prospect, Smart is rumored to have wisdom and muscles beyond his years and an ability to control the flow of the game from the point guard spot.  I want to see if he’s quick enough to play in the NBA or whether he gets by on strength alone.

Tom: Isaiah Austin (Baylor).  Dyslexic AI makes Tyler Zeller and Alex Len look like Magnus Samuelsson and The Incredible Hulk, respectively.  Still, if the same guy has been described as “a poor man’s Kevin Durant” on offense and “a poor man’s Kevin Garnett” on defense??  I can glass-half-full the living daylights outta that dude.  And so will NBA GM’s.  He’s gonna be picked sneaky high methinks.  Maybe the Lakers’ pick that the Cavs are gonna get (wooo!).

Kevin: Ben McLemore.  Rightfully, people are excited about the electric, efficient Kansas freshman.  His blistering 51 / 44 / 87 shooting, combined with Kansas being +359 when he plays, compared to -20 when he sits, make for an enticing package.  He is twenty years old though, due to sitting out one year.  Has there ever been a good rationalization for his academic ineligibility, arrest for failing to show up in court, or his dismissal from Oak Hill?  I haven’t been paying enough attention.  This month, he gets an opportunity to put those questions even further behind.

Mallory: I could settle with watching Baylor’s stud center.  But I won’t.  Instead, I’ll keep my eye on Oklahoma State’s SF, LeBryan Nash.  With a crazy upside, Nash is the sort of project a coach dreams about.  Absurdly athletic, Nash hasn’t really been all that efficient in college, but is noted as a guy with the tools to put it all together.  If the Cavs elected to draft a project in the late first or early second, this would probably be the guy.

1 through 5

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Five Cavs questions for the writers – all in one place.


Question 1: Discuss the Kyrie/Dion on-court chemistry and how the Cavs should build an offense around these two.

Mallory: I covered this VERY thoroughly in the podcast but my basic gist is that both need to look to attack.  Ideally, Kyrie would look, off a screen, for a jump shot – if it’s not there, he’d dish to Andy/TT off a PnR or Dion who would attack the rim and either finish or, if the D collapses, dish out to an open wing at the corner, or an open Kyrie driving to the rim (Or, Speights/Zeller for a jumper) – the reason this works so nicely is Waiters is excellent at passing out of a drive.  The only issue here is Kyrie doesn’t move well without the ball in his hands.

Dani: There have been some notable exceptions (there’s at least one nice drive and kick play a game, for example), but overall the on-court chemistry between Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving has been severely lacking. Dion hasn’t really figured out any off-ball moved or cuts yet, and combined with the fact that Kyrie is occasionally a reluctant passer, what often results is a stunted isolation for Kyrie at the end of the shot clock, while Dion sulks thirty feet from the hoop. I would love for Byron Scott to initiate a lot more movement for the Cavaliers in general, and a lot of that should involve the backcourt. For example, a pick and roll starting with Kyrie and Tyler Zeller could be helped immensely if another player set a screen for Dion to dive to the rim. Zeller so often pops outside for a jumper that there should be more space in the paint for a cutting Dion to finish. As for an overall offensive gameplan, I want all Cavs coaches and players to watch extensive tape on the Rockets offense. James Harden and Jeremy Lin pilot one of the best offenses in the NBA, and there’s no reason the Cavs couldn’t reach similar heights in a similar scheme (lots and lots of three-pointers)with Dion and Kyrie.

Kevin: Undoubtedly, it needs work, but they are 20 and 21.  Too many times off the ball, Dion drifts 30 or 40 feet from the basket, which can be maddening.  The team plays four-on-five…or maybe one-on-five, if Kyrie decides to do it himself.  This is definitely in contrast to watching the bench orchestrate a superior team offense with lesser talent.  Dion needs to navigate better away from the ball.  An imaginary line needs drawn 26 feet from the basket, that he can not cross in the half-court.  He needs to learn proper timing to cut when Kyrie drives  Both players need to more frequently dive to the corner when dribble penetration occur.  Ultimately, the team has to start looking like they call and run plays other than pick & roll when the starters are in.  I think Dion should work on some post offense.  Finally, Kyrie must initiate more offense for his teammates; with how skillfully he breaks down defenses, 5 assists a night has to get higher as he matures.

Nate: The Cavs are one of many teams in the NBA that are going long stretches with two guards on the floor at the same time that can initiate the offense: Houston, San Antonio, Charlotte, Brooklyn, Sacramento, Minnesota, etc.  Dion, Kyrie and the brain trust need to sit down and watch how these other teams do it.  One thing that needs to happen is that Dion and the rest of the team need to get better at running fast breaks.  The Cavs consistently waste three on two breaks by leaking Gee or Waiters to the corner instead of filling the lanes on the primary break.  Waiters needs to work on being the finisher on the break and not just the ball handler — Kyrie too.  Finally, movement needs to happen.  Teams have figured out the double-iso I talked about in the Heat game.  Kyrie is drawing so much attention in the fourth quarter that movement out of that set would help immensely.  So I drew up a set Cavaliers could use.  Click here to see it slowed down.

Coach Nate's crunch time set for KI and DW.

Tom: It’s lacking, but I don’t think it’s a talent/skill set issue, and thus, it is correctable.  Kyrie is a generational wunderkind on offense, so I’m not going to put the onus on him to change his stripes, he just needs to be more willing to move without the ball after he gives it up.  Dion is going to have to start playing like Gerald Wallace, though (minus the injuries).  He should be in attack mode at all times.  When Kyrie is vaporizing opponent ligaments, Dion needs to be curling around behind him filling the now-open space or crashing towards the hoop for a weakside bucket.  Dion has shown a lot of growth already, especially in his half-court approach – I have confidence that with solid coaching, they will be devastating together.

Question 2: There was a lot of talk very early about Dion Waiters.  Now that the sample size has grown, how have your perceptions changed on him/his potential?

Mallory: The question was never whether Dion had potential – he always had.  The question was whether or not he could cut down on stupid jumpers/attack the rim more often/stay focused on D.  Recently he’s done all three of those things.  Even more, Waiters has shown a knack for finding open men while making his way to the rim, which has resulted in a LOT of open jumpers for the likes of Ellington/Miles/etc.  Gotta love that!

All that being said, we should still, as always, proceed with caution.  As Kevin alluded to in his of the Toronto game, TT has, after his sudden Jan/Feb improvements, seen a recent drop off of his offensive production/efficiency.  This is likely because 1. He was on a hot streak, 2. Offenses have figured him out.  It’s not like some of us didn’t see either of those things coming, and it’s not as though he’s suddenly bad (he’s still playing well above average, and will likely continue to get better), but it’s worth noting because I could easily see something similar happening to Dion.  Right now he’s feeling it – he’s attacking the rim more, taking better shots, and even hitting some of his sillier ones.  While it’s plausible he’s suddenly found himself, it’s more likely he’s going through his own hot streak and that, eventually, opponents will figure him out.  The key is for him to continue to attack the rim and work on taking smarter shots, and eventually finding a way to co-exist with Kyrie.  If he can do that, he’ll replace any drop off in his streakier production with a more balanced game, leading to even greater improvement. Don’t get me wrong, though.  I love what I’m seeing from him.  A guy who can play fast/shoot/attack the rim/defend/see the court is always welcome on my team.

Dani: I started off the season relatively lukewarm on Dion Waiters. At the time, I felt as if the Cavs had panicked when the Bobcats deal fell apart, and reached for a shooting guard. And when he came to Summer Leauge out of shape, my fears were heightened. Then there was the awful shot selection of the beginning of the season; despite a few hot shooting nights, off balance 20-footers were all too common. He was also awful at the rim. But as of late, Dion has really stepped it up. He’s much more efficient at the rim, drives the ball a LOT more than he did at the beginning of the year, and has mostly stayed away from the wild bouts of fadeaway madness. One thing that has remained constant all year is his passing ability. Waiters is a very talented facilitator when he feels like it, and his kick-outs to the corner are beautiful (thank you, Wayne Ellington!). The only player from this year’s draft who is inarguably more valuable than Dion, in my opinion, is Andre Drummond. Dion Waiters has been a revelation recently. At the beginning of the year, I was thinking Monta Ellis. Now I’m thinking Dwyane Wade.

Kevin: I always liked Dion.  To some extent, my perceptions have not changed, they instead look more realistic.  I do less daily teeth-gnashing certainly.  His February, averaging 20 efficient points with 4 assists per 36 minutes, is what I hope he can do every night in a couple of years.  He needs to stay aggressive on offense, focus on team defense, never dribble aimlessly, and stay engaged in the half-court without the ball.  With his full potential reached, the Cavs will employ one-heck of a backcourt.

Nate: The sky is the limit for Dion.  He obviously has a body, handle, shot, and defensive pursuit to be a very effect hybrid/2 Guard in the NBA.  Additionally, his passing, floor vision, and ability to run an offense, especially in the last two games are a revelation.  His only limitation is his off the ball defense, below average rebounding, and his focus.  He lets the refs and events on the floor take him out of his game too often.  These are rookie mistakes, and.  As long as he can avoid falling in love with 22 footers early in the shot clock, he’ll be fine.  In looking at the early reactions to the draft pick, the buzz was that Waiters and Anthony Davis were the only players in the draft with the ability to be superstars.  Lillard could possibly be added to that list, but I’ve seen nothing that makes me think that analysis is off.  The Cavaliers swung for the fences with Dion Waiters, and it doesn’t look like the wind off Lake Erie is knocking down the deep fly ball yet.

Tom: Of course all I needed was Chad Ford to drop the Wade comparisons a few times and I was sold that Waiters was the guy to take.  Yes, I wanted MKG, but when he was taken I wanted Waiters.  My perceptions of Waiters that have changed the most are about his professionalism.  There were character-related concerns his freshman year at Syracuse and it rubbed me the wrong way that he didn’t work out before the draft and came to camp out-of-shape.  But he has impressed upon me that he uses adversity in a positive way.  When he was benched for poor play (mind-numbing shot selection and trouble finishing) he didn’t sulk.  He came off the bench in attack mode and got to the free throw line.  This approach to the game is the only way he can ever come close to sniffing the Wade comparisons – and he’s embracing it.  As far as his talent – I think he has shown all-star potential.  He plays a little more below-the-rim than I had hoped, but I think this is because he leaves his feet very early when driving to the hoop.  He’s not going to be dunking over people ala Wade, but 2 points is 2 points.  Everyone from Byron Scott down to us lowly writers need to constantly remind Dion:  “REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE” so he can elevate to the proper place in the circle of life the restricted area.

Question 3: The Cavs are winning some games and obviously the bench has been a revelation, but how much credit has the coaching staff earned for the recent success?

Mallory: I think the coaching staff certainly deserves some credit – the obvious improvements from TT and Dion are clearly a major part of the team’s recent success, and couldn’t have been achieved without a patient, smart coaching staff.  But the real winner in the Cavaliers’ improvement is obviously Chris Grant.  Many of us clamored for a better bench, Grant finally brought that in and, surprise surprise, they’re suddenly winning games.  I applaud Scott for using his bench well, especially Luke Walton, who many of us (myself included) thought was a corpse.  But at the same time, using guys like Speights and Ellington was a no brainer over what the team was throwing out there before – really, most anything would’ve been an upgrade.

Dani: Byron Scott certainly deserves a lot of credit for the bench’s success. Initially, we all called for Luke Walton’s head, and complained about his ridiculous (to us) amounts of PT. Fast forward a few months, however, and Scott’s vision of Waltonia has become evident. The 32 year-old has played a huge role in several wins recently, playing hard and showing off outstanding court vision. However, most of the credit for the Herculoids (@Nate)  goes to Chris Grant, for turning Jon Leuer into Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington. Both players have been great, and provided the floor spacing every offensive unit sorely needs. Also, Grant’s Shaun Livingston pickup was one of the savviest front office moves of the year, in all of the NBA. He’s been fantastic as a floor general, and must have one of the best midrange turnaround jumpers in the league.

Kevin: Certainly some of the recent success is due to Tristan’s sterling January and Dion’s fantastic February, and the improvements from them definitely should proffer credit to the coaches.  Clearly, Tristan absorbed lessons-taught about post offense and Dion heeded advice to attack at that end.  The other huge part of the winning is the bench.  In that case, I think much of the credit goes to the players, or Chris Grant.  The bench unit is now all veteran guys that appear to have an intrinsic idea of how to play with each other.  After Livingston, Ellington and Speights came on board early in 2013, everything immediately clicked.  And Luke Walton deserves all the credit for Luke Walton…keep believing in yourself, man.

Nate: I give Byron Scott a lot of credit for sticking with Luke Walton.  I will eat crow and say that I didn’t ever think he could be as effective as he’s been, and I’m super thrilled that his back is healed, and he’s capable of playing at a high level again.  There was a lot of talk that he’d never play again.  Kudos to the coaching staff too.  I was ready to bury them for a while, but they were trying to make chicken salad out of chicken shiitake mushrooms.  They also deserve applause for the way they’ve seamlessly integrated the new additions.  And Chris Grant and Dan Gilbert’s money: great job on bringing in those new additions: smart players with good NBA skill sets.  Now the challenge is to get better at winning and making adjustments in the fourth quarter.

Tom: After being underwhelmed with the in-game coaching, rotations, adjustments, and the general lack of urgency, I am more at ease these days, as I think the Cavs coaching staff is turning the corner.  I’ve started to notice little things: Cavs getting more 2 for 1s, using fouls to give, better inbounding plays, defensive adjustments, and just players approaching each game like they actually paid attention to scouting reports.  Since the all-star break I have noticed the Cavs actively trying things on defense to take away opponent strengths.  It’s not really effective yet, but it’s a necessary first step.  Also, it’s easy to say that the Cavs had huge upgrades in talent, but how honest is that?  When I bring up Greg Oden there are people that immediately freak out and say “He’ll never play again”.  But we all expected Shaun Livingston to be hitting his head on the rim throwing down reverse dunks…and after being cut from the Wizards?  Right.  And my initial reaction to the now herculoidian trade was: “well, the draft pick might be nice, but I really thought we should have played Leuer more…”.  So yeah, I’m gonna give the coaches the benefit of the doubt on this one.  Well done, guys.

Question 4: Are you most surprised with the outstanding play of Luke Walton, Shaun Livingston, or Wayne Ellington? How has their play diverged from your expectations if you had any expectations in, say, January.

Mallory: First, let me say, as I have many times, that I’ve irrationally loved Livingston’s game for a while.  If anything, I’ve always overrated the guy, so it’s not surprising to me he’s become a leader.  Now, knowing that, this is still a tough question to answer.  The obvious reply is Walton, because, like I noted above, we all pretty much assumed Walton was broken down.  He’s clearly not, and has, like Livingston, embraced a major leadership role on this team. (Quick aside, I vaguely remember a discussion between myself and a bunch of commenters about how, more than anything, this team needed to trade for some vet leaders.  Who would’ve thought WALTON would turn out to be the answer?)  The problem with quickly saying ‘Walton’ is, in honesty, I had no idea Ellington could play at such a high level.  Tom covered it pretty thoroughly – Ellington is exceeding all expectations on both O and D, and has become a major spark off the bench.  We all knew he was a knock-down three point shooter, and that his ability to do so would be a perfect fit for this team, but who would’ve thought he’d be able to do so much else?  So, while my short answer is Walton, my long answer is BOTH.

Dani: I wrote about Walton and Livingston above, so I’ll focus on Ellington. Coming in from Memphis, Ellington was known as a sort-of effective spot-up shooter, and little else. He played very limited minutes for the Grizzlies. However, he has been very good on the Cavaliers so far, performing at a level he has never even approached in his career, averaging career highs in percentages across the board, and sporting a PER that is his career’s best by a wide mile. Now, that could mean one of two things. Either he has been revitalized by more minutes and increased opportunity in a new team, or he’s simply overachieving, and likely to fall back to Earth any day now. I tend to lean towards the former, if only because I’m a hopeless optimist; I see Ellington as a perfect 3-and-D guy, and a significant piece of the Cavs future.

Kevin: Absolutely, Luke Walton.  There is no denying that he was really, really bad early this season, and probably has been for several years.  Through the early part of this season, his per-36 minute numbers were something like 6, 4 & 4 on 35% shooting.  His defense was sieve-like; he generally looked out-of-place and not athletic enough to complete.  I wrote an article several weeks ago outlining how miserable his performance had been going back to 2008 – 2009.  He piled up 40 assists and 8 turnovers in February, and avoided being a complete defensive liability, for what may have been the NBA’s “Bench of the Month”.  That sounds crazy, but after Wednesday, the Cavs have outscored opponents by 15 points per 100 possessions when Wayne Ellington plays, with a 124 offensive rating.  That is ridiculous.

Nate: Was Luke Skywalker surprised that Vader was his father?  Was America surprised at the end of the Sixth Sense?  Was Karl Rove surprised on the second Tuesday of last November?  Yes.  I am surprised that Luke Walton is a quality NBA basketball player again.  The fact that he’s so effective playing so many minutes as point power forward?  …even more surprising.  But runner up?  I had no idea that Wayne Ellington was this good.  His advanced stats are ridiculous.  A +7.3 simple rating?  That’s borderline elite.  That’s NBA 6th man of the year quality.

Tom: Well, what Walton is doing lately is saving this season from a fan-perspective.  But the thing is, while guys like Nate were trying to throw him birthday parties with triple-digit candles, I’ve thought all season that Walton’s presence on the court was a net positive from the perspective of: “this is how you play the game.”  Actually, at one time I called Walton the anti-Jamison.  He wasn’t talented enough to generate wins (as Jamison certainly was) but his approach to the game was correct and he could rub off on the young guys.  Then he started laying out to tip passes and hitting game winners and developing devastatingly fun 2-man games with every player on the team.  He has a surreal assist to turnover ratio lately, and his play is leading directly to wins – and it’s making this whole season a memorable one.  No one saw it coming.  But the guy whose actual production is just blowing me away is Ellington.  Man I hope he can keep it up.  And for my final magic trick I’ll say that if you’d have described all three scenarios (the play of Walton, Livingston, and Ellington) to me in November (before Walton posted a negative PER) my response would have been “Wait, you mean Shaun Livingston of the youtube video I refuse to watch?  He can walk?  And he still plays sports?  Really.”

Question 5: If you were Chris Grant, name a free agent you would pursue this offseason and justify the contract details.


Mallory: First off, I’d keep this team entirely intact.  I love this bench and think, as long as Ellington is ~$3.5 for a year (which he will be), Livingston is ~$2 mil a year for 2-3 years (which he should be) and Speights is $4.5-5 mil for 3 years or $5-6 mil for 2 years (which  he should be, and don’t say he’s not worth it – the guy is one of the top 10 bench scorers in the East, is a decent post defender, and plays with a crazy mean streak.  Those are ALL qualities a winning team can embrace) and Walton can be had for vet minimum (which, come on, he should be.  The guy just made 8 mil THIS YEAR.)   Throw in a 7th overall pick, and that leaves us with around $44 mil spent (give or take a few mil. – doing quick math here)  The cap is $58 mil, meaning the Cavs have $14 mil to spend/not spend on a player.  Really, there are two directions to go here.

Scenario1: If Cleveland drafts a Center, they need to figure out how to divide the time between TT/Andy/Zeller/Speights/Player X.  Realistically, Speights is probably the odd man out, though it’s a scary proposition to think of throwing him away when he’s so productive.  Zeller is probably the least productive, but also still has upside, so my bet is he sticks around.  Unless TT players 30 minutes, Andy plays 25, Zeller and Speights play 15, and Player X plays 11, which is possible, by the way, there’s just not enough time to go around.  If that happens, I’d really like to see the Cavs go after Andre Iguodala at 12-14 mil a year for 3 years.  I realize many of our readers are banking on the return of LeBron, but the truth is it’s silly to just assume he’ll return.  The man changes his mind on a daily basis – do you really want to stunt team progress for the guy who turned his back on the team and the city of Cleveland just a few years ago?  If it works out, great, but if they can snag Iguodala at what would be a reasonable rate, I’d do it in a heartbeat.  Iggy is a long, strong defender who, though struggling this year, has always been solid on O.  He passes well, rebounds well, does a ton of dirty work, and isn’t the slightest bit selfish.  There’s always a place on my team for a guy like that.  If they can do 15 mil a  year for 2 years with a team option, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

Scenario 2: The Cavs draft a young wing.  If that happens, the team is suddenly pretty evenly distributed, with a minor hole at center.  I know the consensus is that Andy plays better at the 4, but if Cleveland can get away with him playing at the 5, with Zeller backing him up, doesn’t the front court feel complete?  The only guy I’d consider signing is Greg Oden for 2 years guaranteed at 2 mil a year, with a third year team option.  If he blossoms, great, if not, we still have a front court complete for the next 2-3 years.

The thing is, I don’t see either of these scenarios happening.  It’s becoming clearer and clearer that the time has come to go full steam ahead. Cleveland has far too many assets/young guys on the team – we argue over the Speights/Ellingtons/Livingstons of the world, but really 3 years at 5 mil or two years at 3 mil aren’t going to hamper them badly – given the number of small contracts the team has, there’s a lot of flexibility on the roster.  What I would REALLY like to see happen is for Grant to go for a big trade.  Assuming he drafts a SF, Cleveland will have a complete starter-quality roster of Kyrie, Dion, TT, Andy, and player X.  The truth is, beyond Kyrie and to some degree Dion, most of these starters/subs are movable.  We love Tristan, but if you could trade him for Kevin Love, wouldn’t you?  That’s why I’d love to see the Cavs pull a blockbuster deal of Tristan, Zeller, picks (likely this year’s 1st), and some cap filler for Love.  The reason a team gets assets is to have the ability to pull off a trade like this – Tristan is a great young guy, but the likelihood that he turns into a player of Love’s level is doubtful.  That’s why, despite the fact that we love what Cleveland’s young nucleus looks like, it makes the most sense to grab a guy while they still can.  Otherwise the Cavs might, in a few years, be staring at a Harden for Kevin Martin/ec. scenario where, because of lack of money and roster space, they’re getting less value than they’re giving. I could see something similar happening with Dion, though I really like how his game has blossomed, or even with Andy.  But the fact remains that swapping a sum of youth/assets for one big prize makes the most sense to go to the next level.

Dani: Despite what many people have said and argued (well) about Paul Millsap on the Cavs, I don’t see it working out. Tristan Thompson isn’t really big enough to play center, as we all remember from last year. Anderson Varejao is best as a power forward, and Zeller isn’t really ready to start. At all. I also find it unlikely that Andre Iguodola opts out of $16.4 million dollars this year. But if he does, I would love to see the Cavs pick him up. Four years, $44 million? Perfect. If I’m Chris Grant, I actually stay away from Nikola Pekovic. He’s peaking right now, and someone is going to give him way too much money. Samuel Dalembert might be worth a few million dollars- the Cavs don’t have nearly enough centers on the roster. Tiago Splitter is actually my number one target for the Cavs this year, if Iguodola isn’t an option. He’s one of the most effective scoring centers in the league. The Cavs would  probably have to pay a little more than market value (given that this is Cleveland), but I think he’s well worth it.

Kevin: This is boring, but Livingston and Ellington.  Between the five starters, two more rookies, Andy, those two, and CJ Miles; the roster includes eleven players.  Maybe Walton comes back as a twelfth man, but I think “Patience in Free Agency” remains the theme this off-season.  Speaking of Andy, when he comes back next year, the team should limit him to 20 – 25 minutes per game, basically filling Speights’ minutes.  Can you imagine the second-unit, but with Andy instead of Marreese?  The passing and ball-moving raises to an even more exquisite level in that scenario, right?  I’m excited.  With growth from the youngsters, 20 minutes per night of Andy, and another decent draft, the Cavs should be strong next year, without a free agent splash.

Nate: Well, we all know now that the “plan” is to not tie too much money up long term before 2014.  With Tristan as tantalizing as he’s been, I don’t know if I want Cleveland to throw a ton of money at the power forward crop.  Al Jefferson is probably too expensive and too old, and I want to see this bench crew back at reasonable contracts.  So, I give you next year’s free agent: Mike Dunleavy.  Dunleavy can be 2013’s Luke Walton: he’ll be 33, but he is having a fantastic shooting year, with a 14.9 PER, shoots .459/.431/.813, is 6’9″, can play 3 positions, and is a perfect safety valve for Kyrie and Dion.  He will probably want to go to a contender, but overpaying him for 3-4 million a year for a 2 year deal with a team option on the 2nd year?  That would probably price him out of most other teams’ range.  He’s a solid veteran who would have no problem helping this team continue to learn to be pros.  Splashy?  No.  Effective?  Yes.

Tom: Wanted: Defense, athleticism, and effectiveness without the use of inflatable spheres.  Prior Work: NBA Small-Forward or Center.  Pay: 3-6 million per season.  Contract: 2 to 5 years.  Would someone please pass this along to: DeMarre Carroll from Utah (unrestricted) and Al-Farouq Aminu aka Dhalsim from Street Fighter now playing for New Orleans (team option).

I look forward to how you answer #3

Commentariat, how would you answer these?

Five Questions

Friday, February 8th, 2013
  1. The addition of Speights, Ellington, and Livingston has bolstered the bench and helped the team enjoy some recent success.  How many of these players will play for the 2013 – 2014 Cavaliers?

Tyler, we are patiently waiting for you to do more things better. Work on that in the off-season.


Tom:
At least Ellington.  They will extend him the 3 million dollar qualifying offer.  I assume Boobie will sign with a contender if he’s not traded before then and they will not extend a qualifying to Casspi.  So it would seem they could use Livingston but he might want not want to play for 1 season which I am assuming is the only contract the Cavs would offer him to maintain the 2014 flexibility.  Speights is under contract and is more valuable right now than his contract so he could actually be moved to a cash strapped team looking to win next year.  I secretly hope Chris Grant makes a long-term offer to Speights similar to the deal Ferry gave Varejao.  But I think Speights is gonna get paid.  So I’ll go with at least 1, and probably not all 3.

Dani: Three. Speights has shown that he really enjoys playing with the Cavs, and playing with Kyrie Irving. He’ll cost around $6 million, but a big man with his offensive skills is well worth it. Ellington has a quick trigger from deep and solid defensive instincts, and he’s cheap as hell. Livingston has been a revelation off the bench. He can defend three positions, and facilitates intelligently from the point. I’m probably his biggest fan. The Cavs should do whatever necessary to hold onto Livingston for the next couple of years, within reason.

Mallory: My hope?  All of them.  My guess?  Livingston for SURE – Livingston has become the leader of the second unit and one of our best defenders.  While he can’t really shoot from long range, he’s great at attacking the rim from both sides and has excellent court vision for pushing the ball.,  (again, well documented that I’m obsessed with him, so I’m biased)  Speights should also almost definitely be resigned – it’s pretty clear he has skills none of our other bigs have, plus an tougher attitude that this team BADLY needs.  I’m not quite as sold on Ellington – spot up shooters are easier to find – but he comes cheap, so why not?

Nate: Speights will exercise his opt out and test the free agency waters.  I’m not sure that he is a player that the Cavaliers should invest a lot of money in.  If they can get him at $4-7 million per year, then he might be a good 3rd big, but if it’s more than that, it’s worth looking at some better players who can play center, like Tiago Splitter, Nikola Pekovic, Zaza Pachulia,  or Al Jefferson.  The advantage of Speights (and also Splitter) is that he can play both big man positions.  If Speights’ price tag goes up around $8+ Mil, he’s not worth the money unless he can prove that his effort will remain consistent from night to night (always his biggest problem) and that he will post a decent field goal percentage.  He ends up somewhere else, IMO – maybe by next week.

Livingston would be a nice fit as a veteran glue guy.  He’s actually the Cavs best small forward right now, but it all comes down to salary.  With his injury history and inability to shoot consistently, he’s a player who shouldn’t make more than $2 million a year.  Given that he got waived twice this year, I think he’ll stick with the Cavs for a couple years.

Ellington is certainly worth a qualifying offer, and seems like a very solid rotation player on a good team due to his high three point shooting percentage and above average defense.  I think he’ll be in Cleveland next year, possibly in lieu of Miles.

Kevin: I think Livingston is around for one more year.  He is cheap, seems to be having fun, is playing well and makes the second unit look much more cohesive…I don’t know how many other teams he makes more sense for than the Cavs.  Ellington and Speights are harder; the former is a restricted free agent, and the latter has a player option.  What is their market value and is it worth it to the Cavs? (Side Bar: I get NBA salary data from hoopshype.  They show Speights as not an option next year.  Any ideas on this?  Website error?)

2.  Any more trades before the deadline?  If not for the Cavs, who else is moving around the League?

Tom: If they can flip Speights into a 2014 top 15 pick they will do it.  I imagine there will be at least 1 more trade where the Cavs are not the primary team, but that 3rd team that helps get the deal done.  Basically playing middleman and reaping a small reward for the price of a bloated contract with 1 more year.

Dani: I think the Cavs already completed their big trade for the year. I know a Speights-for-pick deal has been floated as a possibility, but I’m not a proponent of the idea. Speights is a good fit in Cleveland, and the Cavs own plenty of draft picks this year. As for the rest of the league…Timofey Mozgov is on the way out. Andrea Bargnani is a possibility as well, but I doubt anyone will take him off of Colangelo’s hands. Every contender in the league should be trying to get their hands on J.J. Redick. I think he would make the Grizzlies in particular a serious threat to any team in the playoffs. The Bulls as well, for that matter.

Mallory: I don’t really like to go bonkers thinking about potential trades because it almost NEVER happens the way you’d expect.  That being said, I’d be VERY surprised if the Cavs didn’t make a move.  They have far too many picks/expiring contracts to sit, particularly in a year when a lot of teams seem to be in transition.

Nate: Speights will possibly be moved for a draft pick/young player to a team that needs help in the front court.  Look for Grant to ask for 2014 draft picks for Speights.  Boston, Dallas, Portland, and the Clippers could all use him for a playoff push.  Of course, if they trade him to Portland and  the Blazers beat out the Lakers for the 8th seed , it’s a counterproductive trade. Miles would be an intriguing option for a team that needs shooting.

The big question is, “will Ainge blow up Boston?”  I think no.  KG’s no trade clause will make it tough, and the Clippers or Houston will be the only options.  I’d LOVE to see KG in Houston, and Houston upset the power structure in the West.

There will be a few more minor moves, and there will be more sellers than buyers.  Bad teams with bloated contracts are going to float those players.  Guys like Bargnani will be available for a song.  Also, everyone on Phoenix will be available.  Minnesota will be trying to dump contracts too.

Kevin: Between Boobie’s expiring contract and current non-rotation status and Walton’s big final-year deal, the Cavs could certainly still be players.  I don’t want to prognosticate too much on that though…in Grant I trust.  I still think that Philly and Portland should consider trades, even if they don’t.  Both are outside-looking-in for the playoffs, have large future payroll commitments, have jettisoned upcoming draft picks, etc…a slight change of course seems reasonable.

3.  Cleveland won 6 of their last 9 and has five straight home games.  How many more victories this season, and how many ping-pong balls?

Tom: Start with 32 wins (no significant injuries) and start walking backwards.  I’ll just guess 26 wins good for 5th worst = 88 ping pong balls.

Dani: As many as are needed to make the playoffs. Just kidding, of course. I’m not going to predict exact win totals, but I think the Cavaliers will win enough to land in the 3-5 range.

Mallory: I’m not sure how many games The Cavs have left and against who (alright, they have 34 left).  My guess is they win another 10-12 games.  I’d like to think higher than that, but my gut keeps telling me to check myself, so I’ll go ahead and trust it.  I bet the Cavs end up with the 7th pick in this draft (with one or two teams jumping higher than us in the lottery.)

Nate: 15 more wins to get to 29 for the season, if Speights isn’t traded.  11 more wins if he is traded.  Cleveland will get out of the cellar and finish with a better record than Sacramento, Phoenix, New Orleans, Charlotte, Washington, and Orlando in the lottery just to lower the qualifying offers down the line.  We’ll end up picking 3rd in the draft.

Kevin: I’ll say 18 more wins and 33 for the season.  While likely a best-case scenario, I guessed that many at the beginning of the season – might as well roll with consistency.  Cleveland picks 9th in the draft.

4.  Pick any player on the team and make some random predictions about the rest of their season.

Tom: Tristan Thompson will have a 20-15 game this season.  It will be awesome.  And people will take to twitter and the blogs to ensure that one day he could average 20-15.

Dani: From here on out, Kyrie Irving averages 27 points and 6 assists a game on 50% shooting. He hits two more game-winners and breaks seventeen pairs of ankles. Kyrie ends the season with a PER over 25.00, and the pundits declare him a no-question top-10 player in the NBA.

Mallory: I think Speights ends up averaging 15/8 for the rest of the year, off the bench.  The guy is clearly a baller who was criminally misused on his previous teams – now he’s being given more playing time on a team where he doesn’t really have to worry about sharing shots or minutes.  That’ll bode well for a guy whose career MPG is well under 20.

Nate: Tristan Thompson pushes keeps his FG% up over .500 by till the end of the year, and raises his Free Throw percentage up to 66% (a shocking 11% improvement over last year).  13 and 10 will end up being his final totals.  He’ll push his assists up past his turnovers, too. (Editors Note: After this was written, the Charlotte Game pushed TT up over .500.  Let’s hope he keeps it there).

Kevin: Jon Leuer averages a double-double.

Just kidding.  Dion raises his seasonal PER to 13.3 and his offensive rating to 100 while maintaining 25 usage.

5.  The Cavs recent top-five picks receive a lot of press; what do you think about Tyler Zeller?  What does his future hold?

Tom: I’m underwhelmed by Zeller.  He doesn’t shoot as well as I anticipated and he doesn’t play like a “legit” 7 footer.  If he wants to be a solid rotation player he’s going to have to become a load in the post or automatic from 18 feet.  Right now he’s neither.  He fires lots of long 2s and only makes about a 1/3 of them.

Dani: I’m a little disappointed in Tyler Zeller. The skinny frame and weak defense were expected. But the poor shooting and ridiculous frequency of traveling violations were not. In a few games he has shown real tenacity rebounding the ball, but he shouldn’t be playing as much as he does. Of course, that’s by necessity so I can’t complain much. But do you remember Jae Crowder? He was one of the picks we traded away. Think the Cavs could use him? I do.

Mallory: Zeller is difficult to read.  So far he hasn’t really delivered on any of the skills he was billed as having – he hasn’t run the floor particularly well, he can’t really shoot the midrange, and he hasn’t played with the smarts we’ve really expected.  In addition, he’s generally a liability against bigger, stronger centers (especially since he can’t really stretch the floor on O) and hasn’t really rebounded well.  Still, I actually like a lot of what I’ve seen.  His shot may not be falling, but eventually it will – he was too consistent in college to continue missing wide open jumpers.  He’s never going to be a big time defender, but he’s already shown a penchant for being pesky and getting into opposing centers heads.  Furthermore, he’s a good O rebounder who’s shown flashes of the smarts we’ve expected.  As he continues to adjust to the NBA game I expect to see him greatly improve.  Maybe not to the extent of a great starter, but definitely enough to be considered a good rotation player.

Nate: Zeller has hit the rookie wall.  He can’t get his legs into his shot, and he can’t keep weight on. Developing and using upper and lower body strength, and maintaining that muscle mass will be his biggest NBA challenges.  He’s a smart enough player that he’ll figure this stuff out, but I’m not sure he’ll ever be an NBA starter.  He needs to do a lot of work in the off season, both with a trainer and nutritionist, and with shooting and defensive coaches.  By the second half of next year, I am hopeful his field goal percentage goes over 46% and that he’s a more confident one on one defender.  I hope he can be a quality big man who can play both positions off the bench.

Kevin: I liked Zeller this summer.  Some of the skills that I liked, he has shown; his team defense occasionally shines, exhibited by fairly prodigious charge drawing and a decent blocked shot rate.  Don’t get me wrong, his defense still needs plenty of work, both from a team perspective, but certainly as a man-to-man defender.  He just turned 23 and is a rookie, so I am maintaining hope.

On offense, almost everything needs to go better.  Last year, he posted the fourth-best offensive rebound rate in the ACC; in the NBA, he is well below average for a center and only makes 46% of his field goal attempts once he grabs a board.  Touted for soft touch, he shoots below average inside of ten feet.  Buoyed at North Carolina by frequent and successful transition opportunities, he only has 26 chances this year, and converted only twelve (the team needs to get stops to get transition opportunities).  He’s only had 13 post-up attempts, but hasn’t deserved more anyways, as he made only three.  He misses two-thirds of his jumpers…at least there’s the 77% free throws?

Keep you head up, Tyler.  I know you have some skills to show.