Archive for April, 2009

Pre-Playoff Ennui: Where “Amazing” Happens

Friday, April 17th, 2009

 

 

As it so happens, the NBA has decided to make “Amazing” by Kanye West their playoff anthem that they are going to absolutely run into the ground over the next 40 nights. 

I’m extremely happy about this for a number of reasons:

1. I am a massive Kanye West apologist, and pretty much love everything he does.

2. This is a much, much, much better song than previous choices.

3. Instead of being merely listenable, it fits in tone and message with what the NBA wants the playoffs to be-a hard, mournful, conflicted journey that never produces what most want, but is amazing nonetheless. And it goes with “Where Amazing Happens,” the best league-wide promotional campaign in my memory.

But more importantly, it gives me some sort of valid excuse to make this post. I kid you not, I’ve had this post on the back burner for at least a week and was planning to put it up, but things like games and basketball kept getting in the way. But now I get to unveil it: the complete ClipperBlog-style breakdown of Kanye West’s fantastic, unique, and bat-poop crazy live performance of “Amazing” on VH1’s “Storytellers.”

First off, a sidebar: I absolutely love Kanye West’s “Storytellers.” It’s an absolutely fantastic made-for-TV live performance. It adds a ton to that album and strips it back to what it is; a soulful plea and attempt to make sense of life and fame from an artist entering a mid-career crisis. Up close, everything he wanted to do with that album comes together in ways it couldn’t possibly in recorded form, and his performance is anything but manicured, allowing us to get a better sense of Kanye than any of the fragmented and bipolar looks at him we’ve gotten have been in the past. If Nirvana’s “Unplugged” is the Jordan of made-for-TV concerts, Kanye’s “Storytellers” is late-90s Vince Carter; you know it’s not actually on the same level, but you can’t help but have the comparison flash in front of your eyes. 

Without further ado, here’s the actual video:

 

  • [1st verse, 0:10] What makes this mini-meltdown awesome is that “Amazing” could well be Kanye’s best work, lyrically. For all his unparallelled skills as a producer and solid rapping, Kanye’s lyrics have always lagged a little behind; he’s best when speaking directly from experience and playing it straight with his lyrics. When he tries to get fancy, his lyrics usually veer more towards “cute” than punch-line worthy or powerful. On “Amazing,” he displays a lyrical depth and ambiguity almost completely absent in his canon, displaying his trademark contradictions with a subtlety and contemplative streak. The first instance of this is in one of the first lyrics of the song, “It’s Amazing…I’m the reason…that y’all fired up this evening.” Here, he acknowledges that the ability to give joy to listeners and connect through art is what is truly amazing about his work, while making sure to give himself credit for doing it. 
  • [1st verse, 0:21] On the second important line “no matter what, you’ll never take that from me…my reign is as far as your eyes can see” notice not only how he uses the backup singers to create a far more powerful arrangement than he would be able to with only his auto-tuner, but the flipping of the line is important here too. “My reign is as far as your eyes can see,” ostensibly meaning he rules only himself, is at once a justification and apology for a narcissist.
  • [2nd verse, 1:29] Here is perhaps my favorite line in the song: “I’m a monster…I’m a Maven…I know this world is changing.” The juxtaposition of “Monster” and “Maven” is as good as you’ll find in modern music. Not only does the use of a Yiddish word for “intense gatherers of information and impressions” in a rap song automatically make it more awesome and bring a completely new element to the song, but it introduces a very important idea. The idea that a monster is one with a lack of information and knowledge, acting only out of impulse, is an accepted one. Here, West introduces that the thesis that the two are not mutually exclusive, and, in fact, an acceptance of the fact that Kanye’s “monstrous” activities have come not from acting out of impulse or with limited capacity, but rather because he has believed he knows more than anyone else and has attempted to bring an air of superiority and an over-abundance of knowledge to all the things he does instead of simply accepting humility. In AA, a popular phrase is “your best thinking got you here,” i.e. trying to outsmart the simple rules of The Program ultimately leads to failure. Here, Kanye may be acknowledging that his refusal to stick to to the accepted cliches of “humility,” because he believed himself above them, may ultimately have hurt him and made him into a “monster.” And after introducing his paradox of knowledge, his admission that “[he] knows this world is changing” could be taken a number of ways-does the fact he knows help him at all? This is really the line that holds the most thematic weight out of the whole song-the idea that a belief in self, or a belief in superiority of knowledge, can ultimately lead to downfall in the world around, but he chooses sovergnity over self rather than integration with the world.
  • Why have I waxed “I’m trying to convince myself I didn’t waste three semesters of my life being an English major” about Kanye West? Because the complexity of this song makes what comes next all the better.
  • [Between Verses, 4:25] Kanye is speaking at this point, and says, in a voice slowly creeping towards psychosis, “Now I know I do not always state…popular opinion.” This ties into the theme of the song, stated above.
  • [Between Verses, 4:31] “Michael Jackson, Amazing.” What I’m taking away; despite his fall into insanity and probably pedophilia, Michael Jackson’s acheivements as a pop star are still amazing.
  • [Between Verses, 4:39] “Michael Phelps, Amazing.” Despite his weed controversy, Michael Phelps’ olympic acheivements are amazing.
  • [Between Verses, 4:44] “OJ Simpson…Amazing. Is he not? What he did…when he did…when he did…was he not amazing, though?” Okay, this is where I get a little confused. The pattern of the previous two would suggest that what Kanye is saying that OJ Simpson, despite the fact he killed two people in cold blood, is still amazing for what he accomplished as a football player. But does that make sense? Kanye was born 4 years after OJ rushed for 2,000 yards in a season. Does he really know him as a football player, and doesn’t his notoriety far outstrip whatever fame he had? And if we’re not talking about football, what are we talking about? Killing two people? Getting away with it? Becoming a symbol for African-Americans getting the “system” back? Playing golf and maintaining his innocence? Writing a book called “If I did it?” Robbing a memorabilia dealer at gunpoint and going to jail after all? WHAT WERE YOU REFERRING TO? WHICH PART IS THE AMAZING PART? I’M JUST CONFUSED. And if you think Kanye is going to clear things up, there’s just more crazy.
  • [Between Verses, 5:01] “I get my quotes from movies, because I don’t read.” Kanye as self-depricating. Okay.
  • [Between Verses, 5:06] “Or from, (sarcastic) you know, like, real life, or something, like, live real life, talk to real people, get information…ask people?” Wait, did he turn that around into condecending to people who read? Only Kanye. Only Kanye.
  • [Between Verses, 5:22] “And it was something about, you either die a hero, or you live long enough to become a villian.” That’s from Batman. EVERYBODY ON THE PLANET SAW THAT MOVIE THIS SUMMER. THERE IS NOT A LESS IMAGINATIVE MOVIE QUOTE YOU COULD HAVE GONE WITH THAN A STILTED, SELF-AGGRANDIZING, OVERTLY MORAL LINE FROM A BLOCKBUSTER ABSOLUTELY EVERYBODY SAW. THAT WAS LITERALLY THE LEAST DEEP THING YOU COULD HAVE SAID. How does Kanye advance this line, which attempted to give a moral justification to his existance as an artist and a man?
  • [Between Verses, 5:30] “I’m Chilllin’.” Rhymes with Villian.
  • [Between Verese, 5:35] Inexplicable bird noises. 

There’s more from there, most notably Kanye’s dual apology/non-apology for “acting like a b***h at award shows,” but most of the good stuff is right in that bridge. This is your spokesperson for the playoffs, and in a way it’s inappropriate-we pretend to know what will happen, but we only know ourselves. We want to be confident, but every game terrifies us as fans. The playoffs aren’t a disney movie. They aren’t scripted. They aren’t neat. They’re a mess. So kudos, NBA, for finally choosing the right artist and song to personify that messy, uncertian, and, yes, amazing, thing that is the best time of the year, the NBA playoffs. I might post a preview for the series at some point.

Recap: Bizarro Day!!!!!

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

 

Overview: In a game that meant exactly nothing to the Cavaliers but was necessary for the 76ers to avoid the Celtics, the Cavaliers’ bench was able to take the 6ers to overtime on a clutch Boobie Gibson bomb before coming a point short in OT. The Cavaliers missed tying the record for best home record of all time by one game. 

Cavs-Related Bullets:

Bizarro day! Day is night, down is up, purple is Stromile Swift! 

With LeBron, Mo, Joe Smith, and Z sitting, some weird juju went down in the Q. 

Sidebar: I support that decision. The 40-1 would have been nice, especially since with a better win margin and our loss being to a better team, we would have had legitimate claim to being the best home team of all time. But who really cares? Ask the Patriots how pulling out that 16th regular season game felt in terms of their legacy. We won the games we needed to give us the best possible chance at a championship. And seeing LeBron or even Joe go down in an entirely meaningless game is literally my worst nightmare. Actually, legitimate question: what is your worst-case scenario?

1. LeBron and Cavs lose in game 7 of finals to Lakers, with LeBron having a terrible game and missing would-be clinching free throws in final seconds before Kobe hits impossible game-winning three.

2. Same scenario, Eastern Conference finals, against the Wizards, with DeShawn Stevenson hitting game-winning three.

3. LeBron tears ACL in meaningless game, Cavs lose in first round.

Yes, being the favorite going into the playoffs has made me paranoid and slightly insane. I am not going to live through this playoff run. 

But anyways, back to the weird crap. Andre Iguodala is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. So if I were to tell you the best player on our side of the floor went for 21,8,8 on 80% TS, you’d say that LeBron had a pretty strong game, right? Wally Szczerbiak did that. Of course. I imagine that this game must have been like Wally Christmas, even before it started. Wait, coach Brown, you’re telling me I can shoot as much as I want and still be able to slap everyone’s butt? This was Wally’s game 7. 

Sasha was the one bench player who had a good game without looking like a completely different player; he was just normal Sasha taken to its logical conclusion, trying to take the entire team off the dribble and making crazy, spinning forays into the paint with no real plan, and finished with 20 points on 19 attempts, 5 turnovers, 6 fouls, and an air-ball from the free-throw line. If someone makes a line graph of Sasha’s by-month production since 05-06, it would be the funniest thing ever. 

It’s cool to see Jawad Williams hit a three; seeing him open and knowing he was going to hit the second one before it even went in was absolute bliss. 

And of course, Tarence sucked, as did Delonte. I attribute this to the wormhole this game was played in. 

Honestly, I’m surprised Elton Brand didn’t just get up and drop 40 this game. Maybe he cured mesothelioma or something. Someone check that man’s Twitter.

Boobie-all season, his strange aversion to being a spot-up shooter and pathetic attempts at slashing and playmaking have seen him make a massive regression as a player. Tonight, he went for 28 points and 7 assists, including going 8-14 from inside the arc. How? Why? Where? And the game-tying bomb he hit was just pure. Hopefully, this can get his confidence going, but again I’m more willing to attribute this to God playing a prank on everyone. 

Seriously good: D-Block. He’s hitting the deep jumper, he’s running the floor, he’s sealing and finishing at the rim, he’s snatching rebounds. I’m going to say he looks Powe-like. I’m going to go there. I have no idea how he looked that bad early in the year.

And of course, we did the two things we never do: we lost a tight game and we lost at home. And we got tough breaks from the refs: I haven’t legitimately been able to say that the refs cost us a game this year, but not only did we have some questionable calls at the end of the game, the overall free throw disparity was 43-12 in favor of the Sixers. Now, they’re a physical team, we weren’t stopping penetration, and we weren’t spending all that much time getting to the rack, but 31 free throws is odd. Again, this is NOT a microcosm that shows how the league hates us, or wants to keep us from tying a record nobody really cares about. Everything about tonight was weird. See you guys in the playoffs. How weird was tonight? BECK WEIRD.

Pre-Playoff Ennui: The Case for LeBron James as the (almost) DPOY

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

 

The MVP vote is all but official, and by all accounts it appears that LeBron James, in his third season of being the best player in the NBA, is going to win his first MVP award at age 24. For some reason, I’m almost strangely unfufilled by this. I think this is because the award has been completely tainted by the past few horrible selections; almost every MVP has come with a caveat-here are mine in the LeBron era:

1. Steve Nash, part one: I really thought this should have been Shaq at the time, although revisionist history tells us we were really underestimating Wade. Then again, if you’re the best player on a team as good as the Suns this year and can’t crack the playoffs, you probably never deserved an MVP.

2. Steve Nash, part deux: Maybe the worst MVP vote in history. Somehow people only talk about how Kobe got robbed this year when LeBron had better all-around numbers, more wins, similarly terrible teammates, and more actual MVP votes.

3. Dirk Nowitzki: This was a pretty meh year for individual performances overall, so they just went with the best player on the best team. Ironically, if Nash hadn’t won an MVP before this was probably the year he deserved one. 

4. Kobe Bryant: James had the best all-around numbers of anyone and carried a god-awful team, Paul had better numbers than Kobe and carried a clearly inferior team right to the top of the West, but Kobe’s one extra win was the excuse voters needed to give him a lifetime achievement award.

And yet the books will show LeBron’s season as being equal to everyone else’s. I dream of a unanimous vote, (although there will always be, ahem, complications) or at least an asterisk in the books that says “was actually the best player in the league.”

Basically, I’ve become so used to arguing passionately that LeBron was the best player in the league this time of year I have leftover righteous anger now that LeBron has had a good enough year to just power right through all the circular logic and political crap that has kept him from winning the award before.

So I’m going to use my righteous anger to make the case that LeBron deserves very, very serious consideration for the defensive player of the year award like no player since Duncan took home the award.

 

1. Clause one:  The politics of being a “great defender”

The statistics that track defense, like in all sports, are nowhere near as good as the statistics that track offense, for the simple reason offensive players are measured by doing things and defensive players should be measured by their ability to keep things from happening. So defenders, especially on the perimeter, end up getting judged by reputation rather than actual merit, especially great offensive players. On the flip side, a bad defensive reputation can dog a player for years. 

Here’s something to chew on: LeBron James was a really, really, really, really good defender last year. In the past two playoffs, Cleveland has overacheived their record because of its ability to play absolutely stifling defense, and a lot of that is because LeBron gets unleashed at the defensive end. Last year in the playoffs, Cleveland defended as well as any team in the league, and LeBron absolutely shut down Paul Pierce for six out of seven games before Pierce went on to light up the Lakers for a Finals MVP award. And yet it was Kobe who taught LeBron how to play defense this off-season. Of course. Never forget how much we in the media love a good storyline. 

LeBron didn’t have a magical epiphany. We replaced Larry Hughes’ miserable and overrated perimeter defense with Delonte West’s great on-ball defense, freeing up LeBron to roam and recover for the first three quarters. We were good enough offensively so that LeBron could expend more energy at that end. Andy and Ben showed up healthy and in-shape, allowing LeBron to trust his help more. Nate McMillan, coach of the 14th-best defensive team in the league, did not show LeBron a magic light. But of course, if we say that, there’s a more poetic reason to give LeBron the MVP this year than the fact he has much better teammates, which people just hate to acknowledge.

Part 2: The Numbers

But LeBron’s DPOY campaign is a lot more than reputation or storylines. There’s a solid case to be made based on numbers, numbers that don’t care what LeBron’s name is. Unlike some great all-around players who coast on their reputations for 35 minutes a night, play some tough D for the final 5 minutes of the game, and occasionally make flashy defensive plays and get rewarded with all-defense selections, LeBron’s defensive accomplishments show up in metrics that, while far from perfect, have none of the bias you’d expect when you’re talking about a nebulous quality from one of the game’s biggest names. So we’re going to get nitty-gritty and break this thing down. Here are my candidates, both real contenders and “control” names who are in the race on reputation, for defensive player of the year:

Dwight Howard

Kevin Garnett (hurt for too much time to actually recieve award) 

LeBron James

Kobe Bryant

Wade

Shane Battier (see note regarding Garnett)

Now here, in decending order, are the factors I put into trying to determine a DPOY:

1. Team Defense (Measured In Defensive Efficiency)

Oddly, the idea of “best player on the best defensive team” being the DPOY is much less accepted than the “best player on the best team” being the MVP, even though it’s much, much easier to attain team-independent value with statistics than it is to attain team-independent defensive value with statistics. Basically, all the statistics after this one can flat-out tell a false story much more easily than offensive statistics can be similarly manipulated, but you can’t fake having a great defensive team. I use pace-independent efficiency per 100 possessions instead of raw points or opponent’s field goal percentage, which actually hurts LeBron since the Cavs play at an extremely slow pace. Here are those rankings:

1. Howard (ORL): 99.1 (1st overall)

2. Garnett (BOS): 99.1 (2nd)

3. James (CLE): 99.2 (3rd)

4. Battier (HOU): 101.4 (4th)

5. Bryant (LAL): 101.7 (5th)

6. Wade (MIA): 104.8 (13th)

Note how there’s essentially a three-way tie for first place among the league’s three defensive teams and then a fairly significant gap; with KG missing significant time, I see this as essentially a two-way race between Howard and James. Also notice how bad Wade’s team is defensively for him to be in this discussion; with all the intangibles involved in playing defense, Wade’s in this discussion despite a middling defensive team, and his supporting cast isn’t nearly as miserable defensively as they are offensively. Moon/Marion are a composite good defender, Chalmers has defended well at the point, Haslem isn’t a liability, and JON is solid on the back-line. As comical as the Wade for MVP argument is/was, the Wade for DPOY or even all-defensive 1st time argument is exponentially more ridiculous.

I love all the logical backflips that have been made to stick Wade in the “best player” discussion with nobody mentioning the one credential that really puts him in it: in the biggest games of his life, he had maybe the best NBA finals ever and absolutely carried an overmatched team to a ring. However, the “big-game player” caveat is reserved for Bryant, whose best resume mark in that regard is being the second-best player on a juggernaut championship team 7 years ago. Please, media, stop making me dislike Wade. 

2. Defensive +/- Rating

Again, this is far from perfect and has a lurking variable in the “bad backup” caveat, but it comes as close to any individual number to capturing all the intangible things that go into playing defense. When we use it for players who play on good defensive teams, we can get good ideas of who’s doing what-that the Grizzlies go from horrible to almost decent defensively when Hakim Warrick replaced Rudy Gay doesn’t mean much for Warrick, but if a guy has a high +/- on a great defensive team, that means something.

1. LeBron James: -7.3 (the Cavs gave up 7.3 less points per 100 possessions with James on the court)

2. Kevin Garnett: -6.3

3. Dwyane Wade: -3.8

4. Shane Battier: -1.9

5. Dwight Howard: -1.5

6. Kobe Bryant: +.9

Garnett and James sticking out so far in this category is explainable on one level: their backups are primarily Wally Sczerbiak and Leon Powe/Glen Davis, none of whom are very strong defensively. Still, the facts that two of the three best defensive teams in the league go from the bottom half of the league defensively to the top of the league when they’re on and off the floor is a huge point in their favor, and is a reason I still belive KG is the league’s best defensive player when going 100%.

Battier and Bryant’s relatively low scores can be explained by the opposit phenomenon: they generally split time with Ron Artest and Trevor Ariza, two absolutely phenominal defenders. Still, in the case of Bryant, it’s hard to argue for him as an all-defensive player when he hasn’t the best perimeter defender on his own team on a night in/night out basis. Howard’s relatively low score is somewhat of a mystery to me, but one I ultimately attribute to noise considering how high he scores on other metrics. 

3. Opponent’s PER

This one is more significant for perimeter players, and has a huge caveat to it as well: good defenders will often as not draw tougher assignments than bad defenders, and hence will have higher opponent PERs than they rightfully should. Still, when used in conjuction with defensive +/- and the next metric I’ll use, it can be very valuable. (League-Average PER is 15, single-digit players should not be in a rotation)

1. LeBron James: 10.3 (Opponent PER)

2. Dwyane Wade: 12.2 

3. Shane Battier: 12.6 

4. Kevin Garnett: 13.5

5. Dwight Howard: 13.9

6. Kobe Bryant: 14.0

It’s apples and oranges to compare this rating for perimeter players and big men, as big men are mainly responsible for help defense rather than locking one man down. Another thing you look for when comparing in perimeter players if if there’s a “leak” in the other perimeter defender on the team.

To explain: generally, small forwards and shooting guards are more or less interchangeable defensively, so often instead of defending “by position” they divide it up among which player is more talented. If one swingman has a low opponent’s PER and his partner has an abnormally high one, as often as not the player with a low opponent’s PER is guarding an inferior player and leaving his partner on an island as he goes around and gambles. For LeBron, Kobe, and Artest their swingman partners (West, Artest, and Odom/Ariza) have opp. PERs lower than 15; for Wade, both Marion and Moon, good defenders, have opp. PERs higher than 17, which support’s my thesis that there’s a “leak” in Wade’s low opponent’s PER. 

4. Blocks/Steals

Obvious problems here; as stated, defense is the art of keeping things from happening, so tracking things defensive players make happen is beyond the point. Still, a block often prevents a basket and a steal results in the end of a possession, so it’s foolish to presume they have no merit. I’m no engineer, so I simply added together our candidate’s blocks and steals.

1. Dwight Howard: 304

2. Dwyane Wade: 279

3. LeBron James: 230

4. Kobe Bryant: 155

5. Kevin Garnett: 131

6. Shane Battier: 99

We expected Howard to be the king here, and Wade’s help-side numbers are simply staggering-however, it’s clear a lack of discipline and unwillingness to take tough assignments are leaving holes in that defense, although if there wasn’t that low team metric I’d be more than impressed with how Wade is shaking out here. I’d need to pull an Arnovitz to tell you what’s going on exactly, but there are holes that shouldn’t be there in Wade’s team’s defense. Erik Spolestra has done a wonderful job over there, but in the off-season this team needs to drill some rotations. There’s a pretty clear gap in the guys who are impact weak-side defenders and the guys who aren’t, although KG’s and Battier’s missed time hurts them here as well. 

5. Defensive Rebound Rate

People can argue about if rebounds should go into a DPOY conversation, but in my mind a defensive rebound is necessary to finish a defensive possession. Here, I went by rebound rate and took each player relative to their position, with tiebreakers or close calls going to the bigger men-a good rebounding center is more valuable than a good rebounding guard on the boards.

1. Dwight Howard: 29.4 DRR, 3rd among centers

2. Kevin Garnett: 26.7 DRR, 6th among power forwards

3. LeBron James: 19.0 DRR, 3rd among small forwards

4. Kobe Bryant: 12.8 DRR, 13th among shooting guards

5. Dwyane Wade: 12.3 DRR, 19th among shooting guards

6. Shane Battier: NR among shooting guards (I don’t get insider)

Pretty self-explanatory here; the for-postition adjustment ended up being unnecessary. I gave KG the bump over James because they’re close and LBJ spends time at the 4 while KG does not spend time at the 3. 

6. Defensive Rating and Win Shares

I give these extremely little value because I don’t understand them, and apparently would have to buy a book to have them explained to me. However, they interest me because there are no PER-esque catch-all defensive metrics, and those are reputation-independent. With these, I give a point in favor if they do well on them but don’t take away if they do badly-basically, they’re extra credit. 

Defensive Rating:

1. Dwight Howard: 94.8 (1st overall)

2. Kevin Garnett: 97.3 (2nd overall)

3. LeBron James: 99.0 (3rd overall)

4. Kobe Bryant: 105.0 (NR)

5. Dwyane Wade: 105.0 (NR)

6. Shane Battier: 105.0 (NR, I’m pretty sure this isn’t a mistake that they’re all the same)

Defensive Win Shares:

1. Dwight Howard: 7.5 (1st overall) 

2. LeBron James: 6.4 (2nd overall)

3. Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant: 4.2 (T-17th overall)

4. Kevin Garnett: 4.1 (19th overall)

5. Shane Battier: 2.9 (NR)

Again, I’m not sure what really to make of these; they appear to mainly rely on blocks, steals, team defense, and minutes played ( the latter only for WS.) 

What you should take away from this:

LeBron James is head and shoulders above the other perimeter MVP candidates in nearly every defensive category I had listed, and it’s tough to get away putting him as one of the three best defenders in the NBA-as he is on offense, his all-around game excellence is evident in these metrics.

I probably should have included Paul in here-he’d do well on these.

The toughest judgement call you have is Wade vs. Battier on the defensive end. 

Part 3: Beyond the Statistics

Again, I find it interesting not that LeBron’s not the favorite, but that he’s not in contention for the award, as his arguments for DPOY essentially mirror the “beyond the numbers” type of logical caveats that have kept LeBron from winning the MVP when metrics point his way. 

LeBron, critized for having a “one-dimensional” offensive game, has become the league’s most versatile defensive players. He can, and has, guarded the 1 through the 4 effectively. He’s as good of a help-side defender the league has, and he’s as capable of anyone at locking his man down. His leadership is evident; a center is expected to be a defensive anchor, but LeBron has gone above and beyond to not coast on defense but instill a defensive mentality from the small forward position. His chase-down blocks are the most YouTube-able defensive plays this side of LaPhonso Ellis, and have the kind of asthetic sense of wonder long attributed to Kobe’s picture-perfect twisting fadeaway 24-footers that somehow managed to be insane and textbook at the same time. He’s smarter on that end than Howard, and never gets into foul trouble or bites hard. In crunch-time, where most of the offense is simple ISOs or pick-and-rolls, he’s much more valuable shutting down the other team’s money player than Howard is helping. By non-advanced metrics, the Cavaliers appear easily the best defensive team in the league. It’s interesting that he’s not reaping the benefits of the logic that went against him in MVP/”best player” arguments for years on the defensive side of the coin.

Okay, I just wrote 2,700 words on this. Why?

-Because it’s time someone analyzed the DPOY race with the same detail the MVP award is looked at.

-Because LeBron’s defense goes beyond reputation or storylines.

-Because I’m trying to work off playoff terror and years of MVP arguing has broken my brain. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m made it to the 5th and final book of 2666 and I want to finish that thing.

Recap: Winning Everything, And Yet Nothing at All

Monday, April 13th, 2009

 

Overview: In what easily could have been a trap game against noted giant-killers the Pacers, the Cavaliers clinched the best record in the NBA and home-court advantage through the playoffs behind 37 points from LeBron and 38 combined points from the starting backcourt.

Special Edition Essay:

I’ve always been able to envision a championship happening in the LeBron era before I saw the Cavs get the league’s best record. With the way this team plays defense, the X-factor LeBron brings, and things going the right way, this team has shown it’s perfectly capable of beating any team in a 7-game series. But I never thought there would be enough talent around LeBron to be the league’s best team over 82 games. 

I mean, think about it. Coming into this season, how could you think this was an elite-level team based on the talent on the roster? SLAM Online and Tom Ziller both had lists of the top 50 players in the NBA coming into this year. Only one Cavalier was on either list. On average, a playoff team, let alone a team with championship aspirations, should have 2. Here’s a fun game; go through the top 4 teams in each conference, and, at the beginning of the season, count all the players you would have considered better than Mo Williams.

For my little case study, let’s do the Suns, evening out Nash and James as the best players on each team. You can argue some of these, but before the year I’d say that all of these guys were held in higher regard than Mo:

-Amare

-Shaq

-Richardson

-Barbosa

-(Very arguable, but most, at gunpoint, before the year, would have said) Grant Hill

That’s 5 guys. And the Suns didn’t even make the playoffs. Top-tier NBA teams just have a ridiculous amount of talent on them, period. And at the end of last season, the best player other than LeBron on this team was Delonte West, who was the third-string point guard for the Sonics. So what is that made this roster play so exponentially better than the sum of its parts? 

 

1. LeBron James is the Best Player in the NBA. By, like, a shocking amount.

Now, keep in mind that this is explaining the regular season-on their best days and against elite defenses, it’s definitely a lot closer and you could argue for a couple of guys, and LeBron does have a lot of work to do in the playoffs over his career before he can put the “who’s better” debate to bed once and for all. But for this regular season, LeBron was a significant upgrade over any other player in the NBA, and this year saw more truly fantastic individual seasons than any in recent memory. 

Only Wade and Paul shouldered comprable offensive loads to LeBron, and Wade wasn’t nearly as efficient and Paul didn’t take over games to his degree. He put up the best individual numbers in the league for the third time in his six-year career. He tied Michael Jordan’s modern PER rcord. He was a few rested fourth quarters away from his 2nd consecutive scoring title. He is a legitimate #2 on my DPOY ballot, and that’s based on metrics and team success, not reputation or highlight-reel plays. He played to the situation better than any player in the league and was a beast taking over games. I could go on, but there is not one team this year who LeBron James would not have added at least five wins to if you were to replace your best player with LeBron. Not one. Politics will get in the way, but I’d really like to see this be a unanimous MVP vote. It’s legitimately deserved. 

Defense. Defense. Defense.

The Suns, with all their individual talent, just did not have any sort of defensive scheme. And the Cavs, in the LeBron era, have proven that defense is much more about teammwork, coaching, and philosiphy than individual talent. Here’s our starting five for this season:

PG: Mo Williams (coming into the year, thought to be a defensive liability)

SG: Delonte West (never considered a lock-down guy, and absolutely nobody thought he’d be able to defend shooting guards)

SF: LeBron James (been underrated on this end his whole career, but considered a non-factor/liability his first few years and ignored when his defense made a tremedous leap last year)

PF: Ben Wallace/Andy Varejao (Okay, people know they’re really good defensively, but at this stage in Ben’s career neither of them were considered all-defense material)

C: Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Before Mike Brown’s first year, scouting reports on him said he “couldn’t guard a chair.”)

And two of our key bench guys are Wally and Boobie.

But Mike Brown’s always been a defensive savant with his hard show/rotate systems on P+Rs, his commitment to close out on three-point shooters, and (this is a miracle) his ability to turn Z from a slow liabilty into a stalwart guard of the paint by using his schemes to funnel guys into him. And from the top (LeBron) to the bottom, everyone’s bought in, and our calling card has been defense all season long, which is something that just makes a team so much more dangerous than the sum of its parts.

Just like in Boston, where Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo’s defensive excellence, combined with Thibodeau’s brilliant system, allowed Ray Allen and Paul Pierce to go from liabilities to legitimate plus defenders by osmosis, a combination of a few brilliant defenders (LeBron, Ben/Andy, kind of Delonte), a great scheme, and a defensive mentality have turned this team into a defensive juggernaut from top to bottom.

Mo Williams as the perfect fit.

I can’t tell you how long I’ve waited to see what would happen if you ever paired LeBron with a truly fantastic point guard. For a long time, everyone thought that LeBron just needed to be surrounded with shooters, but that doesn’t cover it at all-he needed a guy to make plays for everyone else, to take the pressure off of him with scoring, keep the floor stretched, allow him to work off the ball, and so many other things.

When we got Mo, the question was whether he was quite good enough as a shooter or playmaker to play effectively alongside LeBron-Larry Hughes ended up being neither, and there was a worry that Mo’s game would be in a similar no-man’s land.

Well, he came through on both counts. Not only is he a fantastic shooter, you can make the argument he’s been the best three-point shooter over the course of the season-only Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen made more threes than Mo this season, and they shot it right at 40%, significantly below Mo’s 43.4% clip. 

And it goes far beyond just being a good spot-up shooter to play with LeBron-if that were the case, Boobie Gibson and his 44% from deep last year would have lit the world on fire playing with LeBron. You have to be quick and smart enough to know how to get to the open spot when LeBron’s driving and be there for the kick-out, and have the quick release and confidence to get it up before the defense can react. Mo’s been absolutely perfect at that.

And he’s done wonders as a penetrator, too, initiating the offense for the first three quarters, bringing ball movement to a once-stagnant offense, and allowing LeBron to work off the ball, where he’s as good as they come. Case in point-the two dunks LeBron had after Mo went baseline and found LeBron cutting down the middle from the three-point line and where Mo hypnotized the defense and found LeBron cutting backdoor for a resounding flush. And he’s been absolutely nails about hitting the big shot. He’s even provided a desperately needed scoring punch off the bench.

I admit to underestimating the Pau Gasol trade last year-he’s been an absolutely perfect fit with Kobe-not only can he score from the post and facing up, but he’s as good as a passer and mid-range shooter from the high post as there is, and watching him and Kobe work the triangle has been absolute poetry-everything just works for them.

Mo’s not nearly the player that Pau is, and isn’t the type who could ever be the best player on a playoff team. But as a beta dog, he has been absolutely perfect, even allowing the emergence of: 

Delonte West, upper-eschelon shooting guard.

Coming into the season, it looked like Delonte was expendable as a backup behind Mo, and most thought he’d be a productive backup at both the two and one spots. But as it often does, the idea of playing your best guys regardless of position turned out to be a great one. What Delonte lacks in size defensively he makes up with absolutely everything else, and he’s been the guy drawing the other team’s best scorer on most nights and doing a fantastic job. His once-questionable outside touch has come around, and he’s a 40% shooter from deep. He knows when to move the ball and slash through and look for his own shot. He brings toughness every night. His goofy personality is perfect for the locker room. He’s a testament to post-hand check positions, where it’s not how well you fit into a position but how much game you have that counts.

The Return of Andy.

He’s harassing guys on hard shows. He’s rolling hard to the paint and finishing at the rim. He’s there on every rebound and loose ball. He’s the one doing havoc in the paint and keeping defenses from just kamikaze closing on our bevy of three-point shooters. 

The frontcourt fountain of youth.

This was more the story in the beginning of the year when the Cavs were absolutely destroying everybody, but Z and Ben were both on the absolute top of their games, with Z pouring in mid-range jumpers, rebounding everything and guarding the paint, and running the high/low post offense perfectly, and had he not gotten injured he would have earned an all-star berth. Ben got back to playing like the DPOY he once was and actually made positive contributions with his passing and screening on the offensive end. Injuries and age have slowed them down in the second half of the year, but they’re a huge part of why we have this record. Even Joe Smith has been the consummate garbage man since we got him back. 

Chemistry.

It’s cliche to give this too much credit; I think chemistry follows winning a lot more than winning follows chemistry. Even so, this team has gone above and beyond. The photos, the standing bench, the celebrations, the way they all hang out and love each other, how they always have each other’s back-you don’t play at this high of a level for 82 games unless you know you’ve got 11 guys behind you and spurring you on. Absolutely a joy to watch.

So now the real work begins. 16 wins to salvation. The pressure’s on-if I live to the end of this playoffs, I’ll be happy. (If a playoff recap isn’t up by the next morning, check the Daily Trojan for bad news.) If the Cavs don’t lose at home, we’re the NBA champs. They’ve worked all season to be able to say that. Now it’s time to go out and do it. Get pumped.

Recap: Big games are better when both teams care, but I’ll take this.

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

 

Overview: In a game where there was nothing at stake for Boston, Cleveland came out with aggression and rained sulfur on a Garnett-less Boston team, absolutely blowing them out for all four quarters.

 

SPECIAL EDITION MEGA-POST ABOUT A BLOWOUT THAT REALLY WASN’T THAT EXCITING!!!!!!! (I suppose I figure this is the last time the Cavs will play truly meaningful basketball for about a month or so, which is why I find myself over-analyzing this game to a ridiculous extent)

The Psychological Component:

This game pretty much showed the difference between being on the winning side and the losing side of a rivalry. Just like we were able to sleep pretty easily at night when the Wizards took advantage of us not giving a crap and won their championship game, Boston’s not the team who has something to prove in this rivalry. 

They have their spot locked in. This game doesn’t matter to them. And they could care less about bragging rights or posturing. They’re wearing the rings, and they’re the champs until someone beats them in a series. 

For us, it’s different. Not only are we still fighting for home-court advantage and the home-court record, but Boston is much more than a game to us at this point. Everyone came out hungry. We want to send a message. We didn’t want to beat them; beating the Celtics without KG on our home-court is what was expected. We wanted to leave no doubt. We wanted to bet them so badly that it went beyond any possible hedging factors. We wanted it to be too much to brush off. 

I can’t say what type of impact this is going to have-I don’t really think it affects how a series shakes out one way or another. If/when these two teams go at it, they’re both going to be confident, prepared, and on top of their games. A regular-season blowout isn’t going to change that dynamic. 

The X-and-O type stuff dynamic, on LeBron and the key to his struggles against elite defenses:

LeBron-simply phenominal. There are games where he just sets a tone right out of the gate and completely imposes his will, and this was one of them. He established his jumper, found seams, and got the team involved by setting everyone up and getting them going. An absolutely flawless quarter of basketball. 

In terms of his scoring, LeBron set a blueprint for how to be successful against the great defensive teams that have always kept his scoring efficiency in the playoffs way too low. 

LeBron is a good long-distance shooter-even very, very good. Taking more of his threes off the dribble than any player in the league except for Steve Nash and Dwyane Wade, LeBron shoots a respectable 34% from deep. What’s really scary is that LeBron started the league in a horrible slump from deep, and has shot over 40% from three since the all-star break. 

I don’t really need to tell you how good LeBron is at getting to and finishing around the basket, but if you need a number he converts 72% of his shots from that area. 

The midrange game is really the one hole in LeBron’s offense-as I’ve gone on and on about on this blog, he’s really not comfortable with any sort of pull-up moves in the 12-18 foot range, prefers to go full speed and attempt to finish every drive instead of balancing and settling for a tear drop or mini-jumper, and doesn’t really have post moves he likes. He shoots 37% on his midrange shots. (That is bad, but not quite as bad as it seems- only Jameer Nelson shot better than 50% on midrange jumpers this season. Kobe Bryant, for example, is at 44%.)

So, just to illustrate what I’m talking about here, here are LeBron’s effective field percentages based on what type of shot he’s taking:

3-point: 34% (51% effectively); post-all star break 40% (60% effectively)

Midrange: 37%, 37% effectively

Layup/Dunk: 72%

So it’s 60%/37%/72%. If you can force LeBron to take shots from midrange, you are literally cutting his effectiveness in half. 

(While not to this degree, this is true on the team level as well; midrange shots are easily the least efficient shots in basketball.)

LeBron’s tendencies towards the “extreme skew” is ultimately a good thing, but there is a tradeoff; it’s very hard for an individual, without an offense running effectively, to get layups/dunks or three-point looks. The midrange game still exists because of this. I’m going to leave this topic as it is because I plan to do a much longer post on this thesis, but for tonight what’s important to note is that every one of LeBron’s field goal attempts tonight were either in the paint or from beyond the three-point line. 

 

This was able to happen because we were at home, winning the entire way through, and in a good rythym, which allowed LeBron to be confident and hit his initial three-pointers. LeBron also got an open three-point look and a resounding dunk thanks to two drive and kicks by Mo Williams. That’s huge. Mo is what we haven’t had in the playoffs before, and if we want to keep LeBron’s offense from getting stalled we’re going to have to establish Mo initiating plays and LeBron moving off the ball early in playoff games. 

What we also got was a lot of rebounds and turnovers that allowed us to get out onto the break. LeBron on the break leads to extremely good things. This we knew. 

And of course, the heat-checks are the heat-checks. If we’re up by 20, by all means make some highlights. Lord only knows how he can hit those shots. 

What we saw tonight from LeBron was 29 points and 7 assists on 90.6% True Shooting. And it happened with maybe one dribble-drive for a layup. The rest was all the jumper falling, getting out on the break, and him moving off the ball. The more we can do that, the more we keep defenses from setting up a wall against LeBron, and that’s when our offense becomes unstoppable.

The Rest of the Stuff

Boobie Gibson’s shot is coming around!

We shot a better percentage from deep tonight than they did on free-throws. That’s a good sign. 

Really, this Celtics team did not come out hungry. No Rondo pick-and-roll magic, Pierce wasn’t doing his chess-game routine and getting to his spots, Allen was coming hard off curls or looking for the pull-ups. It wasn’t the Celtic team we know and hate. 

Steph Marbury passing up a wide-open layup to throw a (not that cool) over-the-head pass to noted punk Bill Walker, who bobbled it and got STUFFED BY WALLY SCZERBIAK, may have been the absolute pinnacle of my life. It just doesn’t possibly get better than that. Interesting: Wally and Ben did not get legit run tonight. With Ben, it’s injury rehab. Why bench Wally as he’s shooting this hot? It worked, but I’m confused. 

Mo Williams: 5-8 from 2-point range and 6 assists tonight, which I love. If we’re going to crack Boston’s defense in the playoffs, he will need to be more than a shooter. 

If Ray Allen doesn’t get suspended for openly elbowing Andy in the junk, I’ll be pretty mad. It doesn’t get more blatant or dirty than that. I am ALWAYS on the side of the players in heat-of-the moment stuff and don’t try to nail guys, but that was way, way, way over the line and can’t be permitted at all. A double technical was not at all appropriate, and hopefully it gets reviewed. 

 

My MVP venting of the night: Wade dropped 55 and 4 assists (63 total points) on a comically bad Knicks defense in a game that means absolutely nothing for that team. It will be made into a big deal tonight. It’s a pretty number. Chris Paul put up 37/9/17 (71 total points created) with 1 turnover and 86% TS in a game that matters to them for playoff positioning. You can’t play better than that. There is not a level above that. That’s maybe the best box-score line of the SEASON. The leads? 

“Wade explodes for 55″

“Paul, West give Hornets edge over Mavericks”

Well, that’s all for this one. Definitely enjoyable. 1 game from clinching best record in the league-we could do it tomorrow. See you then.

Recap: In which we clinch the East. Holy Crap.

Friday, April 10th, 2009

 

 

Overview: 

In a fairly unexciting game, the Cavs kept the 76ers from ever seriously threatening by utilizing clean ball movement and a barrage of three-pointers, keeping a hungry and athletic young team from finding a foothold. 

 

Cavs-Related Bullets:

Really exciting first quarter of basketball; even though the Cavs couldn’t get anything to fall, they were getting out and running, moving the ball, working backdoor cuts and fly-throughs, and getting all the looks they wanted. Philly’s bigs did an absolutely amazing job making weak-side recoveries to stop layups and Andy missed some wide, wide, open shots, or else the Cavs would have made this a blowout from the very beginning. Even when the Cavs were behind, you could tell from the way they were running on offense that they were going to be too much for the 76ers tonight.

The other big thing was the threes; when the more talented team goes 12-23 from beyond the arc, they just aren’t going to lose. Seeing Delonte go 3-4 from beyond the arc is absolutely huge, although of course he goes 0-3 on twos. Delonte has so many facets to his game, but on a given night he’ll only have one or two going, even though the effort is always there. It’s awesome and weird. And Delonte must pick off his own man’s passes as much as any player in the NBA.

Gotta love Wally going for 18 points on 112.5% True Shooting. I’ll take that, please.

Andy and Z didn’t have good games from the field, but they were doing their work on doing their jobs and controlling their areas, and Andy actually wasn’t forcing all that much-Philly’s bigs are really, really, really good defensively, and Andy’s shot can be off. And it’s not pretty when that happens. Yipes.

This team was on it defensively, but the Cavs responded by playing some extremely disciplined ball on the offensive end, with LeBron and Mo combining for only one turnover. LeBron was challenged by Iggy all night and the rotating man, so he got gritty and put in more energy, moving off-the-ball like a madman and making determined drives to put himself on the line. He never bailed out the defense by trying to get easy scores by going over the top, and was passing the ball absolutely brilliantly to hot shooters when the defense overloaded.

The best pass of the night was the hockey assist of the year, with LeBron getting his man to follow him out to right about half-court and somehow whipping a 38-foot pass to Wally coming on a backdoor cut, who made the handoff for an easy layup. Absolutely amazing. 

Ben came in and gave good minutes; he looks pretty comfortable out there, which you’d expect. We’re not going to risk injury to a starter to try for best record in the league. 

LeBron got whistled for four fouls in this game. Intriguing. (I’ve got a rebuttal on that article coming when the internets start up again next week-discuss in the comments currently, but before I get my thoughts up I just want to remind everyone that this blog has standards of criticism and discourse and does not make caricatures, personal attacks, sweeping dismissals, or knee-jerk homer reactions against anyone, including members of the media.)

Bullets of Randomness:

There’s a lot to like about this team, but they just desperately need shooters-can someone remind me why dumping Kyle Korver’s salary was a good idea when Willie Green is starting for this team?

Speights was my guy in the draft. I really, really wanted him to float to us, and I feel like it was close. There’s always that little twinge of regret when someone drafted near your team’s slot that you liked becomes a stud, and I think he’s well on his way. Attack mode, offensive boards, midrange game that’s developing, athletically gifted with touch and a tough mentality. He’s got a bit less star potential than JJ, but he’s got less “downside.”  He’ll be a very good power forward for a very long time in this league-I see him as an upgraded Andy-type in the future, which is a lot of value. 

In fact, if I’m talking about guys I want for the next 2 years (2!) I say:

1. Thad Young

2. Speights

3. Brand

I mean, not only has Brand been a bust, but he’s a bust on a team with most of its blossoming talent at his position. Absolute nightmare.

Speaking of guys who went in your area, the player picked one slot ahead of Luke Jackson looked pretty good tonight.

I’m not sure what to make of Iggy at this point; he was amazing tonight. He’s an absolute bulldog and a beast going to the basket and gets his points efficiently; you’re not going to do much better than 26 points on 16 attempts agaist the Cavs’ defense. That’s just a really good scorer, one who can shoot but isn’t taking bad shots. Oh, and he was harassing LeBron for 40 minutes.

At the same time, this game kind of showed his celing. His court vision isn’t good enough to be the centerpiece of a great offense, and he can’t freestyle with the ball enough to quite take over with his scoring. This is his best game, but he really wasn’t imposing his will on the game at any point. But again, I am really impressed by his drive game and ability to get to the hole and finish-he BAPTIZED LeBron at the end of the first half. I’m not sure LeBron has ever been posterized like that. Does anyone else remember a similar punking of LeBron on that end of the floor?

Last note: when I think of Iggy, I think absolute physical marvel, a crazy athlete in the top 2 or 3 percentile in terms of gifted athletes in the NBA. The broadcasters brought up that the size difference between him and LeBron is two inches and 50 pounds. And those are listed differences; it could well be three inches and 60 pounds. Holy Christ, LeBron is a monster. 

 

Lakers just lost. We go two out of the next three, we clinch the best record in the NBA. Wow. Wow. Wow. Just bask in that. 

Two quick notes: Mr. Killer instinct, the guy whose “last-shot prowess” is the one reason why you HAVE to throw out all evidence when comparing him to LeBron, bricked three straight jumpers and threw the ball away on the four biggest possessions of the game down the stretch. LeBron hasn’t laid a crunch-time egg like that ONCE this season. The Cavs have lost two games by three or less; the Crab Dribble game and the double-foul game with Danny Granger. In both, LeBron had been the one who led the team to the tie with runs of baskets that immediately preceded his “chokes” (both of which were actually refree calls against him that, while probably right, could have easily gone the other way.) I know that the playoffs are where this ultimately has to be decided, but it drives me crazy how many people have their heads in the sand when it comes to nights like tonight and just spout platitudes instead of doing their homework. And of course, this happens on a Friday before everything shuts down.

I realize I’m making too much out of this, but I’ve been seeing “Crab Dribble” used in one way or another by Kobe trolls all freaking year and seeing that get blown into ridiculous proportions. You can’t do that and pretend games like Kobe’s tonight didn’t happen. Okay, rant over. I try not to rant. 

Other note: The guy who made two consecutive threes to get the Lakers in the game in the fourth? Shannon freaking Brown. I’ve always thought it couldn’t get worse as a Cavs fan than losing to Kobe in the finals, but if Shannon plays the Kenard/PJ Brown role in that loss, that would be the absolute worst. I wanted him to pan out so badly.

(Going here more out of a love for irony than actual analysis: What if our scouts actually were right and Shannon’s better than Boobie after all? It’s a possibility, right?)

I love that I write a 1,400 word recap on a Friday. I actively am trying to sabatoge my “career.”

I know I’ve put some unsettling pictures up as my leads (they all have varying degrees of reasons to be up there, I assure you. This was the first picture to not make the cut on account of extreme creepyness. Not inappropriate in any way, just really creepy. Instead, I went with an adorable cat picture. I think clinching the East just broke my brain.

Shamless plug: Go check out the recap, when it’s up, at our new Philly TrueHoop blog, whose maiden post echoes some of my questions about Iggy from this one.

Recap: Getting a Crab off of our backs

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

 

Overview: 

In what was a must-win game more so for fans of the team who don’t want to deal with Wizards fans all summer than it was for the team itself, the Cavs comfortably took care of business on their home court. The Cavs are now 4 wins from the best record in the league and two home wins for the best home record of all-time. 

Cavs-Related Bullets:

It’s really, really, really good to have Andy back. Seeing him flying off the ball and cutting for buckets that he finishes around the basket, playing passing lanes and staying in front of his man defensively, and getting into the battle on every rebound is absolute joy.

LeBron was just casually good. He made amazing passes, made several amazing forays to the rim when the defense went to sleep, and toyed around with a mid-range game with mixed results. Absolutely average performance from the MVP, which is to say a pretty impressive one. The last stroke of the masterpiece for him is the midrange game, and I think the game just might be too easy for him right now to seriously develop a B-plan the midrange game functions as; most of his shots from this range have a “hey, I wonder if I can pull this off” feel to them, which is not what you’re looking for, but it’s what you get.

Boobie showing some signs. Knocking on wood.

Ben’s back too; his box score looks a lot better than Ben himself did getting beat by Jamison time after time down the floor; I know quick 4s are the ones who give Big Ben the most trouble, but he looked like he was still getting his legs back tonight. 

 

Bullets of Randomness:

You know how everyone always talks about players who get “the most with the least” and usually talk about great athletes who can’t shoot or dribble? Well, in terms of the player who has the most natural basketball talent in terms of size, athleticism, shooting ability, passing, everything you can’t teach, I think the player who gets the least with the most is Blatche. He can do anything. He’s big. He’s athletic. He can shoot. He can handle. He can pass. He drained beautful jump-hooks tonight. He has every conceivable tool, and he just can’t put anything together. By the way, the player who does the most with the least is Andre Miller. This is a whole other post, but every one of his possessions has a purpose.

Speaking of talented, JaVale McGee. Wow. I know the Cavs loved this guy, and a little bird told me they would have hopped on him if he was available, so I’ll always be rooting against him a little. But wow, talk about talent. When is the last time you remember Z having a JUMPER stuffed back and another one of his shots changed? With length and hops, nobody gets higher than JaVale, right? If I was the Wizards management, I would buy into the talented but incomplete package of McGee/Blatche as my front-line of the future and pray for the best. And probably drink a lot.

Reader Submissions: Diagrams and goodness

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

A general note: I’m writing a lot for SLAM and other stuff, so I have trouble finding time to slap up quality off-day posts like I’d like. The upshot of that? If you send me cool stuff, I’d be more than happy to put it on the blog. Today’s example of this comes from reader Greg. 

Some of you may know that I moonlight over at FreeDarko from time to time; the other day, they put up an absolutely astounding post featuring diagrams from the fantastic Tom Ziller detailing positional responsibilities. Absolutely great stuff. 

In any case, A-plus reader Greg used computer magic to put together a sprawling interpretation of how these diagrams explain the Cavs’ starting lineup, and the result is thus:

Cavs Diagrams
Discuss below. And for reference, here is Ziller’s original positional LeBron graph. 

This is Reader Greg’s Blog, which doesn’t appear to have really gotten going yet writing-wise but is pretty much win in terms of name and look. Thanks again, Reader Greg. We shall speak well of you. 

Recap: back on our swag

Monday, April 6th, 2009

Overview:

In what became a much-needed win on their home court, the Cavs comfortably handled the Spurs by 20 points, both helping them maintain their hold on home-court advantage and showing the importance of the home-court advantage itself. 

Cavs-Related Bullets:

We came out meaning business, and instead of being passive early, LeBron recognized that this was one where we needed to establish our presence with authority straight out of the gate, and ripped off 18 points in the first with his confidence level flying up through the roof, firing in mid-range bankers, fadeaways, post-ups, and everything else they didn’t think he was going to hit them with.

From there, the crowd at the Q was able to propel what we had going through the rest of the game; after LeBron left the game in the 2nd, Mo and Delonte got together and propelled a 12-2 run with LeBron on the bench that put us in the driver’s seat. That run doesn’t happen outside of the Q, I don’t think. 

Good news and Bad News file: Mo, Delonte, and LeBron outscored the Spurs by themselves, scoring 82 points on 55 attempts. (TS%=74.5%)

That does mean that the rest of the team scored 19 points on 27 attempts. (TS%=35%) 

While we do pay LeBron and Mo a lot of money to do stuff exactly like this, a little more balance might be nice, but we did start Darnell Jackson at the four tonight, and it’s understandable that Z might be trying to keep some in the tank at this point in the year.

And of course, if Delonte shows up like this in the playoffs, I don’t see any way we don’t cruise to the finals. Absolutely a huge sign and hopefully a game that can get his confidence up. 

I mean, what do you say about the Gibson/Kinsey situation at this point? It’s ridiculous, but we’re stuck, although I don’t understand how D-Block gets a shot and Tarence doesn’t. You know how I stand on this. 

Happiness is going back to the highlights of LeBron’s dunks tonight and realizing that Drew Gooden is standing outside the point, not rotating, on most of them. Although he was the team’s second-leading scorer tonight, so it’s not like he’s killing them.

holy crap, I forgot to post this at an appropriate time.

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

 

Overview: In their most thorough manhandling of the season, the Cavs got utterly and completely destroyed by the Magic, scoring less points in four quarters than the Magic did in three. 

 

Cavs-Related Bullets:

The Cavaliers were fail. This is something we’re not used to seeing, but the way those teams were playing tonight, the Magic win 100 times out of 100. LeBron had a nice run to end the third after I’d stopped watching the game, but other than that they did a great job sealing the paint and keeping LeBron in n0-man’s land, completely shutting him down. Nobody shot. No movement. We got sailed right through on defense and were getting consistently beat up and down the floor. Absolute and total destruction. 

So what do I say? I mean, this is not a representation of how evenly matched a playoff series is going to look between these two teams, but neither would any other game. It’s a statement game in that the Magic now have “told” the league they’re to be taken seriously as an elite team, but that’s something that fans care about. People in the know already knew it. If the Magic and Cavs meet in the ECF, then both teams are going to know that the Magic are very capable of taking the series coming in. This game doesn’t change that. 

I’d feel better if this was our “free pass” game after a win streak, but we used that one lat night. Wake-up call, whatever.

All in all, we still have the best record in the NBA. Think about that. We’re not playing for all that much. “Momentum” and “getting things clicking,” and all that crap are sexy to talk about, but it’s really just stuff to keep us occupied. When the playoffs start, everything gets wiped clean. As much as we like to think our safety of mind will help once the 1st series starts, it really won’t.

Cherish that we’re at the point where we can have losses that feel embarrassing and important without actually meaning anything. Go be with your families. All will be well.