Archive for the ‘5 on 5’ Category

5 on 5: Summer Pickup

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

We’re getting into the dog days of summer here. You know, when you’re dripping sweat and gasping for breath during that pickup game at the park with nine other crazy souls.  With David Griffin and Co. in an apparent holding pattern until August 23rd, you and your fellow Cavs fans will have just a few subjects to discuss between games. So here’s five questions for you, answered by five CtB bloggers. Enjoy the run.

1.) A Kevin Love for Andrew Wiggins+Anthony Bennett trade adds (subtracts?) how many wins to next season’s team?  How about the playoff picture?

Tom: Love’s SWAgR was about 12, meaning he produced about 12 wins himself.  Anthony Bennett’s SWAgR was negative.  I’ll assume that Bennett would produce about a win this season and Wiggins about two (grabbing Kawhi Lenoard’s rookie season as my comp).  The Cavs go +9 regular season wins with this trade.  Putting them from mid 50s to mid 60s.  Usually I would never assume that things would work out seamlessly for the Cavs, but Love and LeBron are outlandishly better passers than the Cavs have had during the rebuild trade-asset-accumulation-process (or TAAP).  The playoffs are murkier because, as we’ve seen in the past, PEDs match-ups can be game-changers.  But the talent alone will take them to the Conference Finals.  And if they’re healthy and firing on all cylinders, the Finals.  I wouldn’t predict that without Love.

(more…)

6 Deep: Coming into Focus

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

Cleveland-Cavaliers-3D

1.) Your favorite NBA finals moment was?

Tom: Ginobili’s dunk on Bosh.  Had I been in San Antonio I would have rushed the court.  Before security could get to me I’d have run up to Bosh to say “good job, good effort!”  I’d do LeBron’s push-up dance as I was being hauled off.  Maybe sneak an elbow to the nuts on Ray Ray in revenge for Varejao.  #neverforget

Ben: Manu’s leap-back 3 (steps don’t cover 8 feet) with the crowd already delirious from his Throwback-Throwdown. As I was still bouncing around from the dunk, I just started giggling when I saw him gather his footwork. There are some shots that you just know are going in.

(more…)

5 on 5: the NBA Finals and the Off-Season Conundrums

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

Cleveland enters it’s most important off-season since 2009. The team has a litany of questions, story-lines, and unknowns… AND the NBA Finals are in the offing. With so much to talk about, we took it to our panel of bloggers to answer some important questions.

1.Who’s your pick for the finals? How many games? What’s going to be the biggest factor?

Ben Werth: Spurs in seven. We could rightfully go into great depth about the Spurs increased athleticism and lineup flexibility. We would be wise to consider Boris Diaw’s uncanny ability to check LeBron. We certainly should marvel at Kawhi Leonard’s destructive on-ball defense and growing offensive aggression.  But I must pick the Spurs because they swing the rock. There are games where we have seen them look old and baffled by suffocating length and blitzing defense. Those games are usually followed by basketball poetry. Even when Parker is dribbling for much of the clock, the other players are constantly moving to the appropriate new spot in their system. It is floor balance at its finest. The Spurs had the better team last year and lost to a great set of individual performances by Heat players. This year, the Spurs are fresher, even smarter, and playing a Heat team that has a false sense of Eastern Conference security. The shock the Heat will have after playing the ball-sticking Pacers will be severe. I must note that I have yet to predict the Heat to win the Finals. I’m look forward to evening my record to 2-2.

(more…)

5 on 5: The “Season of Huh?”

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

This week, we’re looking back on this bizarre Cavs season, and looking forward to the future.  Five of our writers sat down for some serious pondering on five critical questions.

1. In a word, what’s your attitude regarding the Cavs now that this season’s over?

David Wood: Ambiguous. Some nights the ball is flying around, Dion and Kyrie are trying to include each other, and players are running around without the ball. Other nights, there are four guys watching Kyrie or Dion, and Matty D runs more than the whole team combined in just a few plays. Who are the Cavs?

(more…)

1 through 5: Chris Grant’s Legacy

Monday, February 10th, 2014

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

Chris_Grant_590x397

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.

(more…)

3 on 3: Cavs:The Blog Pickup

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

Kyrie-title

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.

(more…)

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.