Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

The Summer of Adjusted Expectations…

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

"I wish I could've gone to Cleveland, Steph."

Part II of a series of exchanges between CtB writers: Nate Smith, Tom Pestak, and Patrick Redford.

Nate: can you remember a milder summer?  I love it.  And no fair!  I drive the Danny Ferry bandwagon.  Yes, I really like what the Hawks did.  The setup is slightly similar to what befell the Nuggets a few years back – when Melo’s days were coming to an end (except he was a douche about it).  Anyway I suspect the Hawks will end up surprising people much like the Nuggets did and will surpass the team that landed their “star” (The Pistons).  Millsap is a baller and will be a Josh Smith foil.  He lacks the elite athleticism and overwhelming moments – but he won’t shoot the Hawks out of games and is an underrated defender.  And yes, the 2012-2013 RAPM (Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus) ratings of Atlanta’s free agent acquisitions were very strong.  I’m impressed that they were presented a big red button and decided not to scuttle the ship.  They reloaded, on the verge of a loaded draft class.  We should respect that. (more…)

The Summer That Was…

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

As Kevin noted yesterday, this is the time of year when we hoop geeks emerge from our blacktop pickup games, our bike treks, our summer league sojourns, and/or our hammock hibernations, and start thinking about NBA basketball again.  Though Kevin looked to the coming year, Tom Pestak and I will be joined by newly minted Cavs the Blogger, Patrick Redford, for a general discussion of the summer’s events and the season ahead.

Tom and Patrick: how was your summer?  I have to admit that I spent a little too much time obsessing over the Cavs.  As we rolled from a thrilling playoffs to a lackluster draft, to a very interesting, if perplexing, free agency period, I spent far too much time thinking about what could have been for Cleveland.  But we’ll get to that.  First, I’d like to know how you thought the off season went around the NBA.  Who were the winners?  Who were the losers?  What really surprised you?

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Uncle Strange-Drew (or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Kyrie Irving)

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

The NBA off-season isn’t really all that long. It just feels that way. As there are fewer and fewer actual events for basketball chatter to revolve around, inevitably something comes along to fill the void. This summer, tempering the tempered post-Bynum cautious optimism of Cavaliers fans everywhere was CBS Sports Radio’s Brandon Tierney citing “someone in the know” that Kyrie Irving “is not long for Cleveland.”

Irving took to Twitter to retort “Rumors are rumors” and John Telich of Fox 8 Sports in Cleveland added “Source close to Kyrie ‘He loves Clev and wants to win… [I]f there’s extension w/ alot of guaranteed $ Kyrie signs’” at which point Tierney backpedaled and said that, of course, Irving’s contract does not allow him to leave of his own volition for, at least, the next couple years. By “not long for Cleveland,” Tierney clarified, he was talking “long term.” Long term not long, is what Tierney meant to say. Ah, of course. Got it!

Then while in Las Vegas for the Team USA trials, he said “I’m a Cavalier right now. I’m happy to be a Cavalier.”

Great, right? Case closed. The Cavaliers and their fan base will not get sucked into anticipating another Doomsday scenario with their franchise guy.

But who really sees this story going away? Regardless of the team’s success, “Cavs’ ability to keep Kyrie happy” and “LeBron’s return” likely remain the media’s 2013-14 dueling banjos when it comes to talking about the Cavaliers (edging out the inevitable “Tristan Thompson’s a 20-20 guy” story … cough, cough…). (more…)

2013 Free Agency Paralysis: It’s All About Next Summer

Friday, July 5th, 2013

One week or so into the 2013 NBA free agency madness and one thing is eminently clear: the Cavs are playing this for next summer.  The wisdom of handicapping the team’s effectiveness in 2013 for the chance to get LeBron James in 2014 can be debated ad naseum, but it’s becoming increasingly evident that this is the plan.  Don’t kill the messenger.

Yes, I know, Dan Gilbert promised us improvement.  Nick Gilbert said he didn’t want to be on the lottery podium next year.  Mr. Gilbert is as impulsive as they come.  When the season ended, his internal thought bubbles probably read in comic sans, “I can’t watch the Cavs lose anymore. I can’t watch Byron Scott with his arms folded any more. We’ve got to make the playoffs next year.” I admire Gilbert’s passion.  But as the weeks after the lottery passed, I think Chris Grant wore him down.  In classic Rick Pitino fashion, Grant said, “Dwight Howard’s not walking through that door, Dan.  Chris Paul’s not walking through that door.  Josh Smith’s not walking through that door.  Mr Gilbert…  We can’t get Marco freaking Belinelli to walk through that door.  We have to rethink this.”

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A loooong look at the just completed draft and the upcoming free agency…

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

This post will be a dumping ground of thoughts on: the Cavs draft; other team’s selections; and free agency, which starts Monday.  By the end, you may confuse me with Tom or Nate, as this post approaches 4000 words.  But hey, I need to summarize my thoughts about a few critical formative weeks in franchise history.

Also in the next 24 hours, Robert will provide some pictures and final thoughts from his visit to the Barclays Center last Thursday, and Mallory has another podcast en route.  So come back often; maybe take the day off work.  Eh, Thursday’s a holiday…better call-in sick for the week.

Time to get started, with one man’s thoughts on the Cavs’ draft…

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So What’s This All Mean? Pt. 1

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Here’s just the first of what I’m sure will be many articles about how the draft has reshaped the Cavaliers’ roster.

First off, I don’t mean to neglect the Cavs’ selection of 6’6″ guard Carrick Felix out of Arizona State University with the 33rd pick. As you might have guessed, I was pulling for Jamaal Franklin at 33 (and at 31!), so I was a little thrown by this unfamiliar name. You can read all about Felix here. I know I will be.

That being said, the video montage ESPN played following the selection leads me to say this: good size, an athletic player with some explosiveness, good catch-and-shoot guy (37.4% from three). I’ll take that with the 33rd pick (even if I’d rather have Jamaal Franklin). I was convinced Chris Grant would draft someone he could stash overseas. With Felix, he might have drafted a guy he can stash in Canton, at least for next season.

Okay, on to Anthony Bennett. We all probably had something verging on Bill Simmons’ reaction, but within ten seconds it was pretty easy to talk yourself into the pick. Bennett was one of the two most talented players in this draft. It was him and Ben McLemore. They both had the most talent, the highest upside… however you want to phrase it. In that respect, it doesn’t matter that the Cavs already have Tristan Thompson — just as it wouldn’t have mattered that they already had Dion Waiter had the Cavs picked McLemore or Victor Oladipo. They now have the guy they feel was the most talented of the bunch of available guys this year.

The “glass half empty” view is that Bennett and Thompson are redundant, both undersized power forwards, so Chris Grant must have wasted one pick to get another right. There is that…

The “glass half full” view, though, is that all we’re dealing with is a similar redundancy to what we got when Grant drafted Dion Waiters, a creative, ball-handling scoring guard to pair with … well, you know, another creative, ball-handling scoring guard in Kyrie Irving. That happened and we saw the benefits of it. “Redundancy” became “flexibility” with Waiters able to handle the ball (more than) capably while Kyrie sat as well as score it while the two ran side-by-side.

That’s where Bennett’s listing of Carmelo Anthony as his favorite player during interviews yesterday was interesting to me. Anthony “found himself” in many way this past season playing the four for stretches, but has long made his home at the three. Likewise, Larry Johnson, the player who Bennett said his college coaches most compared his game with, was a burly, undersized, athletic, player who played both the three and the four during his career.

I think the Cavs embrace Bennett as a hybrid forward, while insisting that he be in good enough shape to be effective against threes on the defensive end. Bennett already brings more explosiveness and shot-making ability than any of the small forwards currently on the Cavs roster at the beginning of the night. Should he be able to play half of his minutes alongside Thompson, a front court of Bennett, a continually improving Thompson and the usually pin-balling Varejao is something to consider. It’s got size, strength, athleticism and the ability to generate baskets in a lot of different ways.

But Bennett can also slide down to the four spot and run in line-ups with the likes of Dion Waiters, Sergey Karasev, Alonzo Gee and Tyler Zeller. I don’t mind that group a bit either.

When you look at the Cavs you see a team of fluid positions. Waiters can play the two or he can handle the ball. Karasev can play the two or the three. Bennett (we’re being told) can play the three or the four. And then all of our other post players — Varejao, Thompson and Zeller — can play either the four or five, depending on the situation.

This makes for a more potent, surprising offense than if the Cavs had gone with either of the centers, Alex Len or Nerlens Noel.

So, no, I don’t think the Cavs have soured on Thompson just because they drafted Bennett. What it does make more clear, however, is that no one is especially safe until (or even after) this team starts winning. When the draft rolls around, Grant will take who he feels is best.

Too much of the best, after all, can only be good going forward.

Frequent Flyer: Cavs Draft Karasev at #19

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Sergey Karasev already knows what he can do to help the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Cleveland need shooters,” Karasev said. “And I think I’m the guy who can shoot the ball.”

He does, in fact, seem to be that guy. Karasev, the son of the coach of his Russian team, BC Triumph, and top scorer in Russia’s top league, the PBL, at 15.3 points per game, is praised for his proclivity as a shooter and his high basket ball IQ. While evaluating Karasev during this year’s Nike Hoops Summit, Matt Kamalsky of draftexpress.com said, “Shooting the ball with great range and effortless mechanics with his feet set, Karasev impressed scouts with his prolific perimeter shooting both in drills and game action to the point that it was surprising to see him miss at times. Making 38% of his 3-pointers this season, Karasev’s numbers belie his consistency from the perimeter given the defensive pressure he regularly faces.”

With Cleveland, he joins a team with a glaring offensive hole at the three and an overall lack of knock-down shooters (outside of Kyrie Irving) from either the two or three positions.

Karasev is ready to try to fill those needs right away. When asked if he planned to join the team immediately, he responded, “That’s all about them. I’m ready to come next year to play in Cleveland. If they’re going to say I need them, I come straight. I know that. I understand they need shooters. I try to help them and go as hard as possible.”

The biggest knock on Karasev coming into the draft was that he would not be able to defend his position at the NBA level. In fact, both he and top pick Anthony Bennett were considered defensive liabilities to some extent. You can expect coach Mike Brown to use Karasev’s length and intelligence to make up for what is currently a very slight frame.

Attending the draft was very important to Karasev. “Last time I’m going to shake the hand,” he said. “First and last time in my life in the draft.” It was an important stay in the states, but a short one. He arrived earlier this afternoon then left the Barclays Center to catch a return flight home to prepare for “the university games” with his team back in Russia.

“I feel very great,” Karasev said in broken, but passable English. “It’s my dream come true.”

The NBA Draft Prospect Media Availability Chamber of Doom…

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

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

Nerlens Noel

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

Alex Len

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

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

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

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

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Only Happy When It Rains… (Three-Pointers)

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Former Cavaliers’ draft pick Danny Green is having himself quite the fine little Finals. Now the starting two guard for the San Antonio Spurs, Green is averaging close to 19 points, while shooting nearly 70% from three – all of which has led Cavs fans to suggest the obvious: shouldn’t someone capable of numbers like those, even if only for stretches, still be doing it for the team that drafted him?

Watching who the Spurs pick up off the NBA thrift rack and wind up turning into highly functioning NBA role/rotation players has become a rite of every NBA season. Equally regular, are the complaints from Fan Base X about how Team Y could have been so stupid as to let Player Z go.

For Cavs fans, the easiest thing to say is “Danny Green never would have developed into the player he is now if he had stayed with the Cavs.” It’s easiest to say this because it is mostly 100% true.

But it’s the why that eats at you. When you see players who, once upon a time, you considered investing time and interest in become, instead, the darlings of some other fan base it’s no easy pill. Why would Danny Green never have developed the same way in Cleveland? And whose fault is it? Did Green need to fail in Cleveland in order to succeed as a pro elsewhere? Or are the Cavs to blame? Specifically, is GM Chris Grant who chose undrafted Manny Harris over the Danny Ferry selected Green to blame? Or was it the one-two developmentally deadening punch of Mike Brown and Bryon Scott?

The answer, of course, is “Yeah… kinda… all that.”

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2013 Draft Class Outliers

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

A rare sighting of Stephen F. Austin's Taylor Smith.

Victor Oladipo and Nerlens Noel may be unicorns.  I’ve been playing around with the season finder on sports-reference.com, after a long comments section discussion over their merits.  They both had seasons last year that have never been equaled, at least not since the start of modern stat-keeping 1997.

First, Victor is the only player of significant minutes to average 59% from the field (actually .599), 44% from three, and 2 steals and 2 assists per game.  This doesn’t even take into account the .6 blocks and the 6+ rebounds per game.  At 28 minutes a game, that’s pretty impressive, and unbelievably unique.  He’s a two way player like no other, at least in post-1997 college basketball history. Lest you think I’m completely in the tank for Oladipo (I am), let’s look at Nerlens Noel.

Noel is the only player since 1997 to average over 50% from the field (actually .590), 4 blocks per game, 2 steals per game, and 9 rebounds.  Actually the steals and blocks by themselves are singularities.  The only people to come close to this were all seniors from middling programs.  UMass’s Tony Gaffney (2009), came close with 3.8 blocks.  Anthony Davis is the only player with over 4 blocks per game who gets close to the steals number, and that is at 1.3 per game, well below Noel’s 2.1.

Otto Porter had some pretty unique numbers, right?  Well, there are a handful of people who have duplicated them.  There have been nine players since 1997 to shoot over 48% from the field, over 42% from 3, and get seven boards and 1.8 steals.  The most significant?  Ryan Bowen of Iowa in 1998, and Danny Granger in New Mexico in 2005.  Granger tops the everyone in the group with his off the charts ’05 season.  Per game: 18.8 points, 8.9 boards, 2.4 assists, 2.1 steals, 2.0 blocks, and shooting splits of .424/.433/.755.  Though I fear Granger’s knee condition may irrevocably hobble him, I hope that he comes back as strong as ever.  Supposedly, Wade had the same condition in 2007, and led the league in scoring after successful surgery.

Kelly Olynyk is one of 17 players with a TS% above .674, seven boards, one block, and one assist per game.  Near the top of the curve, but not an outlier…

Mike Muscala is only one of four players to get 11+ rebounds, two assists, two blocks, and shoot 50% from the field in the last 15 years.  In fact, he’s the only player to do it while while shooting over 75% at the line (.789).  Out of this group, Jason Thompson is still in the league, and Marqus Blakely played briefly for Houston in 2011.  All these players came from low-level conferences, which should tell you something about what those numbers mean.

There are a few more outliers in the draft.  Stephen F. Austin’s Taylor Smith is the only player in 15 years to shoot a field goal percentage above 69% (.694), with nine-plus rebounds, and two-plus blocks per game.  This doesn’t even mention his steal and 1.8 assists per game, or the fact that he shot 71% last year.  Of course with a career .426 free throw percentage, there may be a reason he hasn’t gotten a lot of pre-draft buzz.

You want to talk outliers though,  how about Memphis’s D.J. Stephens?  Who as far as raw athletics, might be one of the biggest outliers in NBA history.  Stephens has the highest vertical in the DraftExpress pre-draft database (which goes back to about 2000) at an astounding 46 inches.  He’s also got the highest no step vertical at 40 inches.  He has the fifth fastest 3/4 court sprint time at 2.98 seconds.  The only guy who comes close to all three of these numbers is Nate Robinson who posted 43.5″/35.5″/2.96 seconds, but Robinson couldn’t come close to Stephens’ best feat: topping Shaq’s 12’5″ max vertical reach by a half an inch.  Stephens really is a mythical beast: a 6’5″ power forward with shooting splits of .629/.361/.662.  He only scores 7.6 points per game with 6.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in 23.6 minutes.  He also has a 7′ wingspan.  Fortunately, he has a fairly pedestrian hand width of 8.25″.  What a weirdo.

What do these numbers mean?  Probably nothing, but who knows.  I’m sure in at least one of these cases, we’ll be looking back and wondering how we didn’t see these things coming.  Some of these guys are one of a kind: mutants, gods, or aliens who’ve crept into mortal coils to become rare basketball creatures.