Archive for June, 2009

Tuesday is Coming. Did You Bring Your Free Agency Rumors?

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Attack of the Bananas | Drop Dead Gorgeous by Daniela Edburg

A few quick notes:

-Something I forgot to mention in yesterday’s post: get ready for the era of Mickael Pietrus, NBA starter for a championship contender. On paper, he’s got plenty of size for the position, is in his prime, plays great defense, doesn’t need the ball, and can knock down open shots.

It all seems like an easy, natural solution. And it may well work. But as anyone who’s followed Pietrus knows, it will be a journey. The move from Courtney Lee’s basketball IQ to Pietrus’ basketball IQ is not a lateral one. In fact, it barely qualifies as a sheer and terrifying drop. This could be entertaining.

-Speaking of Lee, I’m bummed that his big playoff triumphs won’t come in Orlando, because he had an amazing playoffs as a rookie, has his head on straight, and plays the game the right way. It’s a shame his most memorable moment in a Magic jersey is going to be coming up just short on what would have been an all-time finish in game 2. The series didn’t end up all that close, and Magic fans don’t seem to be making the kid into any sort of a scapegoat, but a part of me definitely would have liked to see Lee’s future triumphs come in Orlando.

-Also bummed about Yao Ming, obviously, the last of the pre-LeBron super-phenoms. One of the guys keeping post play alive, a fascinating guy to watch on and off the court, and by all accounts as nice of a guy who’s ever picked up a basketball. Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of him on the court.

Anyways, today’s rumor is regarding Bucks forward Charlie Villanueva, whom the Bucks allowed to walk on Monday.

My take: High-risk, potentially high reward. Here’s what I imagine we’re looking for out of whoever will end up starting at the 4 alongside Shaq, in order of importance:

1. Ability to stretch the floor for Shaq and LeBron

2. Ability to take Varejao’s defensive assignments, i.e. defend perimeter-oriented bigs and show on pick-and-rolls while rotating back to shut off the lane.

3. Ability to score efficiently.

The good news about Charlie V is that he can certainly stretch the floor from the power forward position. He’s always been comfortable shooting threes, and last season he actually started to make them at a respectable clip. He set career-highs in both threes made and three-point %, hitting 89 threes at a rate of 34.5%.

Most “shooting” big men settle for universally inefficient mid-range jumpers, which makes going to them on spot-up looks a poor play over time. Charlie V’s ability to shoot the three makes him one of the best-shooting bigs in the league; his 46.2% eFG on jumpers means he’s more efficient from outside than Kevin Garnett, LaMarcus Aldridge, Big Z himself, Jeff Green, Udonis Haslem, Lamar Odom, David West, Chris Bosh, Antawn Jamison, the list goes on. Only a few starting big men are better outside shooters than Villenueva, and most of them are well-known three-point assassins: Rashard Lewis, Troy Murphy, Dirk Nowitzki, et al. So the ability to stretch the floor would definitely be the biggest point in Charlie V’s favor.

Defensively, Villanueva is a question mark-he’s got the length and athleticism to be the defender Mike Brown wants, but so far in his career he hasn’t shown a lot of ability on that end. His opponent PER last year was an ugly 19.8, well above the league average. Even worse, the Bucks, a league-average defensive team, were a full 4.7 points per 100 possessions worse defensively when Villanueva was on the floor.

Now, I do realize that neither of those statistics is damning to Villanueva’s defensive prowess. A power forward’s main defensive responsibility is often to give help to the other four guys on the floor rather than try to shut his own man down, so opponent PER can often be misleading for power forwards. Defensive +/- is generally more reliable, but Villanueva’s backup this season was defensive maven Luc Rashard Mbah a Moute, who already looks like one of the best defensive “rovers” in the league. Mbah a Moute’s defensive +/- was a positive 4.9, almost a direct mirror of Villanueva’s negative 4.7. In other words, Villanueva’s poor mark is as much a testament to Mbah a Moute’s defensive prowess as Charlie V’s lack thereof.

But the bottom line here is that playing power forward for the Cavs means taking on a massive amount of defensive responsibility on a nightly basis. I’d much rather have that spot filled by someone whose defense would best be described as “good” than someone whose defense would best be described as “bad, but with a valid excuse.”

There are also some causes for concern within Villanueva’s offensive game. Villanueva led the Bucks in PER this season, but that’s mainly because of his ridiculously high usage rate. Only Dirk Nowitzki had a higher usage rate as a power forward, which is not really a point in Villanueva’s favor. In fact, here’s a side-by-side comparison:

Player A: 52.9% TS, 9.3 Assist Ratio, 9.4 Turnover Rate, 26.0 Usage Rate

Player B:  53.1% TS, 8.6 Assist Ratio, 9.5 Turnover Rate, 25.7 Usage Rate

I’m not cherry-picking here: those are all the offensive by-possession metrics tracked on the Hollinger Stats Page.

Player A is Charlie V.

Player B is Zach Randolph.

Now, Villanueva is more versatile than Randolph, and more capable of adapting his offensive game to a different situation than Randolph. But if the fact that Charlie V’s best offensive year looks exactly the same on paper as Zach Randolph’s year doesn’t creep the hell out of you, I don’t know what would. If we’re looking at this guy to be the last piece of an almost-finished puzzle offensively, we’re taking a huge risk.

And Charlie isn’t a relatively low-efficiency player because of shot selection alone-he’s a terrible finisher inside for a big man, converting only 53.4% of his attempts from inside, and only shooting 48.7% on “inside” shots that weren’t dunks. Just to be clear, that would be a terrible mark for a guard. He makes up for his low foul drawing rate with a  >80 free throw percentage, and his good jumper makes up for his relatively high proportion of shots that come from the outside, but ultimately Charlie V will never be an efficient scorer in this league unless he learns to finish inside.

Bottom line: Charlie V has the athletic ability and shooting stroke to be the missing piece of the starting lineup. However, he brings a ton of baggage with his overall defensive and offensive game that may or may not be cleared up by going from a fringe playoff team to a championship contender. Until tomorrow, campers.

Update: Wow, Zach Lowe of Celtics Hub made a post about Charlie V last night that makes many of the exact same points that this post did. I promise I did not see that post before writing this one-great minds think alike, and I guess me and Zach do as well.

The Cavs: Hopefully making your monday less bleak.

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Some thoughts on the VC trade:

-The trade Lee/Battie/Skip for VC is a steal. When you’re a contending team, the objective is always to come away with the best player in the deal. Also, there’s no such thing as a team with championship talent that shouldn’t be in win-now mode in the NBA. Windows are small in the NBA, no matter who you are. If it’s not guys getting old, it’s injuries or contracts running out, or just the wrong group of role players going out or in around the core. There is no next year if a team is good enough to win a championship.

Lee’s going to be a solid shooting guard for almost a decade, Battie is what he is, and Rafer can acquit himself nicely as a guard. But with Rafer not starting, this was a no-brainer for the Magic talent-wise.

The real question becomes this: is the de facto trade of Carter for Turkoglu a good one for the Magic? (Now, I’m not close to the situation and have no idea if the Magic would have been able to retain Hedo if they had not traded for Vince, or even if they still can. I’m not trying to figure out if the Magic front office screwed up; I’m trying to figure out if the Magic will be better or worse with VC filling Turkoglu’s role next season.)

-Unfortunately, there are more questions than answers with this trade.

-Question #1: Did Hedo make the Magic offense go to a much, much greater degree than his numbers suggest?

During the Magic’s series with the Cavaliers, Hedo certainly seemed like the head of the snake for the Magic offensively. He was the guy running the pick-and-rolls, making the entry passes, getting the ball in ISO when the offense broke down.

In Arnovitz’s ClipperBlog post today, he gets into one of the fundamental issues of modern basketball, and one of the two or three main issues that makes APBRmetrics so much murkier than sabermetrics. Simply put, some guys create shots and plays offensively while other guys finish them.

What made the Magic so special in the ECF was that they had 4 guys surrounding Howard who were ready to create a play or finish a play at any given time given the circumstances. But in that Magic lineup, Hedo was really the only true creator-Lewis is really a shooter, Lee is a guy who can finish inside if there’s an open lane or make a spot-up shot, Howard is obviously a finisher, and Rafer’s a scoring guard.

As has been discussed endlessly on this blog, the Magic were not bracket-busters tossing up a ton of contested threes and hoping enough would fall. The Magic were doing something pretty special offensively in terms of how well they were moving the ball, spacing the floor, and punishing late rotations. A big part of that was that the Cavs couldn’t cover Howard straight-up, no doubt.  But the movement on the perimeter to punish the double-teams is what really killed the Cavs, and that movement was due in large part to how well the Magic played off of Hedo’s wonky point-forward rhythms, like the Rolling Stones playing off of Keith Richards’ timing rather than the drummer’s.

In the playoffs, Hedo was the guy putting together double-digit assist games, and only a third of his shots were assisted by somebody else. On paper, Hedo’s production seems very replaceable, both in terms of output and in efficiency. But like Baron Davis with the Warriors, when that team was at its best Hedo was the one making them go. I could be over-thinking this one, but my worry is that the Magic may have tried to tinker with a very delicate and intricate offensive chemistry by removing Hedo.

Question #2: Does Jameer coming back make losing Hedo’s playmaking a moot point?

Short answer: I have no idea. Jameer was a perfectly serviceable starting point guard until last season, when he suddenly became an absolute scoring beast, the best outside shooter in basketball, as well as a freaky late-game assassin. Then he had a major bicep injury and played limited minutes in the finals. Will he be all the way healthy? Will he be more of a scorer than a playmaker? Will his playmaking from the 1 spot work as well as Hedo’s did from the 3 spot? I have nothing approximating a clue.

(Sidebar: reading back over that testicle dance piece, I decided to give this 82games “last shot” piece yet another read. Paul Pierce was the best assist man in “last shot” situations in the regular season by a significant margin. That came into play in these playoffs, huh?)

Question #3: Who is Vince Carter, really?

He’s been the savior of basketball, a go-to scorer with scary, scary athletic ability and a competent outside shot, a soft me-first player who didn’t really care and settled for jumpers, Jason Kidd’s competent running mate who ran the floor, cut for open lanes, and took open jumpers, and then played essentially the same role with Devin Harris for the last year and a half.

On paper, he’s no worse of a playmaker than Hedo was, but the last time Vince was a featured playmaker he was flying over and around people in Canada. And to compound things, he hasn’t been on a legitimate NBA contender since the day he graduated from college. I think Vince can handle a tough crowd, but it’s been a while since he’s had the car keys on a deep poised to make a deep playoff run.

Here is, I suppose, my bottom line on this: The Magic are/were amazing because they have the most consistently amazing offensive and defensive system in the league. If the system makes the players, than this was a great trade, as there are almost no areas where Hedo out-performs Vince on paper. But if Hedo somehow played an integral part in making that system works and the Magic lose what made them special against the Cavs because of his loss, than they may have serious problems.

Cavs Draft 2009: Did I Mention We Traded For Shaq?

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Well, that happened. This draft was about expectations management. Remember that the consensus is that this is one of the worst drafts in recent memory, and the Cavs held the last pick. They came away with one player who I’d expect to join the rotation next year. That’s not too bad.

That said, if you look at the TrueHoop Network live-blog music festival or whatever, you can see that I was distraught at several points in this draft. Here’s a breakdown of the scenarios where things could theoretically have gone a different way:

Question #1: Why didn’t the Cavs Buy Up In the Middle of The Draft?

From Windhorst’s reports, there were three guys in the middle of the first round the Cavs were said to be considering trading up for: Earl Clark, Ty Lawson, and Sam Young. Clark went in the lottery, and would appear to be a guy they see as a part of their core as they go into rebuiding mode. So no Earl.

Lawson went 17th in a pick the T-Wolves were clearly planning to move, and for a second I was stoked. And so it is tonight that I end my years-long pimping of Tywon Lawson on the Cavs. It began when I saw this YouTube Video (it’s mainly a Durant video, but Lawson’s awesome in there-check out his string of plays beginning at 1:04 of the video), intensified last year when he slid due to his DUI, and became an all-out frenzy when he somehow slid this year despite absolutely dominating for a national championship team. One last time:

1. Lawson is a pure point guard, which the Cavaliers could still desperately use, if only for a change of pace.

2. Lawson’s better in transition than anyone in this draft by a wide margin-the Cavs would hugely benefit from having a guy who can push the ball for fast-break baskets.

3. Lawson had the best statistical year of any player in the NCAA, according to the Hollinger draft rater. Statistically, he was maybe the best pure point in college. Then add in the fact that he scored 16.5 points a game as a freaking 183 shooter, with “only” an 80% free throw percentage. Absolutely amazing.

4. And it’s not just about the box score. Since the hand-check rules, no one type of player has been as consistently valuable on the offensive end as ultra-fast point guards who can score efficiently and play pick-and-roll. I’m telling you, regardless of need, I think Lawson is the safest player in this draft outside of Blake Griffin. And even when you do potential+production, I only have him behind Griffin and maybe Rubio. This guy is an absolute monster.

5. He did all of this playing for the NCAA champions.

So that crushed me a little bit inside. I’m not sure the Cavs could have gotten the pick-a #1 from the Bobcats next year is better than any pick the Cavs could have offered, and I can’t see why the Wolves would want anything other than a pick.

The only other guy the Cavs were rumored to want to buy up for is Sam Young, and…

Question #2: Why didn’t the Cavs pick up Sam Young?

The answer here seems to be that the Cavs felt that they’d rather have Danny Green on the cheap than pay the full rookie scale for Sam Young. And there is a little bit of sense in that. I don’t think there’s room for both players in the rotation, as both would/will be coming in to replace the minutes Wally Z will be playing, and they’re more the same than different as players.

-Both have long wingspans and are billed as lock-down perimeter defenders, which fills a need, although Young is a little bigger and supposedly more physical. Green, however, is a little faster.

-Green is the slightly better shooter, with a better free throw percentage and 3-point mark, and seems to be the better player in open catch-and-shoot situations. That’s what he’ll mostly be getting in the lineup he’ll be playing in, so that should work.

-Green is more of a swingman, while Young is more of a tweener forward-that means more of LeBron at the 4, which is good.

-Green seems to be the smarter offensive player-he averaged twice as many assists and less turnovers than Young, and has a better understanding of how to be effective without the ball in his hands. Young is better inside and more capable of creating his own shot.

-Green has the experience of being on a championship program, which the front office has to like.

Question #3: Okay. But Christian Eyenga? Why? Dear and Sweet Lord, Why?

The reason they drafted Eyenga is because they didn’t feel like there was anybody at 30 worth paying the rookie scale to. It’s that simple. Considering the Lakers straight-up sold the pick right before the Cavaliers’, this doesn’t seem like the craziest thing in the world to wrap my mind around. Eyenga is apparently very athletic, and the party line is that he could develop in a few years and become an impact player. But he wasn’t in the rotation for a Jayvee-level Spanish team. The only safe assumption here is that he’ll never play in a Cavalier game in his natural life.

The rookie scale is real money, so it’s not ridiculous that a team as far over the luxury tax as the Cavs wouldn’t want to pay it. Here’s what the 30th pick could have theoretically yielded them:

-Sam Young or Chase Budinger as an insurance policy for Danny Green. That’s a lot of money for rotation-player insurance, and maybe the Cavs didn’t want to mess with Green’s confidence by entering him into a battle for minutes. And a lot of times you see front offices try to “take guys out of the hands” of the team’s coach: sometimes a coach will play a guy who’s doing better in practice or seems slightly more established over a player with higher potential who the front office would like to see developed.

And remember, the Cavs still have Cavs: The Blog favorite Tarence Kinsey.

(Sidebar: To clear the air, this blog’s official statement on Kinsey’s DUI: DUI is not cool at all. It’s not “boys being boys,” it’s not something you roll your eyes at and say “these wacky athletes,” it’s not something that everyone does from time to time with only a few getting caught. It’s how innocent people get killed, and it’s inexcuseable behavior. Most of us personally know people who have been killed by instances of drunk driving. At USC we saw how devistating a DUI, which in that case turned into a hit-and-run, can be on an entire community this past year.

That said, Tarence knows what he did, he will be punished, he’ll do what he needs to do under the eyes of the law to pay back his debt, and that’s between him and the court. If the team wants to suspend him, that’s between him and the team. Those are the entities that should judge Tarence right now, and if both of them see fit to give him a second chance then hopefully this fanbase can allow him the chance to learn from his mistake and go about re-gaining his credibility and the trust of his fans. Just my two cents. I’ll get off my soapbox now.)

-The Cavs also could have gotten Patrick Mills. Mills is a guy who hasn’t shown the ability to put his game together in terms of being able to make plays or score efficiently at the college level but has tremendous upside. Clearly, a lot of teams didn’t think too highly of Mills either, and with Shaq coming to an already slow-paced team it’s understandable that the Cavs wouldn’t feel the need to take a guy whose primary strength is his ability to play in transition.

-The Cavs could’ve gotten an “asset” pick who they didn’t plan on using (e.g. DeJuan Blair) and looked to move him later in the moves that probably will happen later this summer to attempt to accomodate Shaq a little more. It confuses me a little that they didn’t at least do this, but considering the picks surrounding 30 couldn’t fetch much more than cupons it’s understandable that the Cavs felt financial flexibility would help them make moves more than the player they would’ve gotten with the 30th pick.

Does the financial strategy behind saving money a first-round pick after getting Shaq seem kind of like buying a Bentley and deciding to save your change when you park, hoping the meter maid won’t come while you go in to rent a movie? Kinda. But Gilbert did just spend A LOT of money on this team, and in the last two days we’ve added Shaq and a rotation player while maintaining financial flexibility in 2010 and saving a few million bucks in the first round. Not a bad few days.

Oh, and the Cavs also bought Emir Preldzic in the second, who scored 7.3 points on 36% shooting in Turkey last season, and whose “best-case” on DX is Theodoros Papaloukas. I’m going to hold off on buying his jersey for now. According to Windhorst, he’s more accomplished than our first-round pick. Did I mention we traded no rotation players for Shaq yesterday? Until next time.

Heads-Up: TrueHoop Network Massive Live-Chat Festival Starts at 5 ET

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

FOR SHAQ TRADE, SCROLL DOWN.

Anyways, almost the entire TrueHoop Network is going to live-blog the draft this year, which should be a lot of fun in an insane way. The party starts right here at 5 PM EST, so come, comment, and have fun.

Well, Here Comes Shaq.

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Um, the piece on ,draft “safety” picks is now cancelled. I apologize.

Important Thought #1: This is a gift horse.

The first thing to note here is that the Cavaliers gave up absolutely nothing in terms of basketball talent. Don’t get me wrong-Sasha still has the potential to be an effective wing in this league, and a change of scenery, along with a lifting of expectations, might do him good. And Ben, for all of his flaws, was an effective player for this team when he was healthy. (Ben will get a send-off post sometime this week.)

But realistically, the likelihood that either one would have played any sort of significant playoff minutes for this team next year is extremely slim. Shaq’s definitely going to make an impact, so in terms of basketball talent this deal was a no-brainer.

In fact, with Shaq’s deal expiring, this wasn’t even a salary dump-it was a straight-up slam dunk from a short-term and long-term basketball perspective.

The only reason Phoenix did this deal was so that Dan Gilbert would have to pay a bill that Robert Sarver was originally going to have to foot. Because Gilbert has money to burn and is willing to spend it on this team, the Cavs just got a hall-of-famer coming off of a bounce-back year with an expiring contract for free. Not to mention there’s still hope Gilbert will buy up in the draft tomorrow. As a group, I would say Cavs fans now love rich people almost as much as Vanity Fair loves rich people.

Point #2: This Was a Short-Term Move With An Eye On The Long-Term

As for the allegation that Ferry made a premature move instead of waiting to see if any bigger fish became available, I don’t think that there’s going to be a blockbuster talent available the summer before 2010. The Cavs weren’t going to get a younger superstar who could be part of the long-term core with this batch of expiring contracts. They could’ve gone all-in with a solid starter and risked that roster being set in stone past 2010, or they could’ve made this move.

My one gripe is that I was holding out hope that the Cavs would make a play for Lamar Odom or Jason Kidd in free agency this summer, two guys who I believe could shore up this team’s weaknesses the way Shaq will without jeopardizing some of this team’s strengths the way Shaq will.

But both Odom and Kidd would likely demand long-term contracts, and that means that’s your team going forward in 2010. And if that team doesn’t win a title, LeBron walking would, one would assume, come into play. And that’s the scenario that obviously must be avoided at all costs.

Also, the chances of Odom or Kidd coming here were slim to begin with, and I suppose you take a bird in the hand.

What’s going to shape the future of the Cavs for at least the next half-decade is going to be whether or not they can win a championship in the 2010 season and/or add a legitimate core piece with youth and all-star ability in the summer of 2010. This move, in terms of overall talent level and financial flexibility, just increased the Cavs’ likelihood to do both. For this reason, I’m going to give a spoiler and say my overall feelings about the trade are that it’s a qualified success.

Important Thing #3: This is the First Move That I Can Remember the Cavs Making That Wasn’t 100% LeBron-Centric. That’s Good.

Ever since the Cavs got LeBron, they’ve been obsessed with getting guys who will be good at “playing off of him” or benefiting from his strengths. We’ve gotten loads and loads of role players who don’t need the ball in their hands to be effective, spot-up shooters and big men who are comfortable playing pick-and-roll ball and finishing when LeBron finds them. The one time the Cavs took a risk on a true slasher, they got Larry Hughes, and that didn’t work out.

(Of course, Hughes was overrated coming in and had serious injuries that destroyed his ability to play his style of basketball shortly after joining the team. But for many, Hughes served as proof that LeBron needs spot-up shooters around him rather than guys who like the ball in their hands.)

But as good as LeBron is, he can’t create every play, and at some point the offense is going to need to be able to create good looks using players other than LeBron. Mike Brown has taken a lot of criticism for not being able to give opposing defenses any threatening looks without LeBron driving to the basket or playing pick-and-roll, but the fact is the Cavs never had a player other than LeBron who was able to take a defense out of its normal rotations on a regular basis.

But now, for the first time, the Cavs have a guy other than LeBron who they can dump the ball to and will get a basket more often than not if the other team doesn’t bring a second defender. Defenses are going to have a much tougher time dealing with this team than ever before-now the Cavs have two guys who are all but unstoppable when they only have to deal with one defender.

Before, when teams decided to create a wall on LeBron, the Cavs were forced to hit jumpers to break the defense, which often led to prolonged slumps. Now they can dump the ball down. With Shaq in the post, it’s going to be much harder to load up the strong-side against LeBron when he has the ball. Likewise, Shaq’s going to see a lot of single-coverage because teams are afraid to leave LeBron on the weak side. With Shaq’s passing, you might see sets where LeBron gets the ball rotated to him on the weak side out of double-coverage, and the defense is going to be forced to try and stop his drives without being able to set up help.

For all that didn’t work during Shaq’s tenure in Phoenix, the Suns were one of the most offensively efficient teams ever after the J-Rich trade last season. Shaq, when healthy, is still an absolute offensive force, a guy who can both create opportunities for himself and others and converts his opportunities as well as anybody in the league.

For the first time, Cleveland has a legitimate two-pronged attack in terms of guys who can create offense, with Mo Williams utilizing his fantastic knack for scoring when the defense isn’t focused on him to make life much easier on both of Shaq and LeBron. I expect this team to be dangerous offensively for 48 minutes a game when Shaq is in the lineup, which they’ve never really been in the LeBron era.

Important Point #4: On The Other Hand, Did We Just Fix Something That Wasn’t Broken?

Shaq shores up this team’s main weakness-only having one guy who can regularly demand double-coverage offensively. But does he take away from its strengths? Remember, this was a 66-win team that took a fairly amazing effort from the Magic to get knocked out, and even in that series half of the Cavs’ losses were due to spectacular final-possession threes by Rashard Lewis. The 08-09 team was good enough to win the champioship, and now it’s been changed in a major way.

The first question is what happens to the starting frontcourt. Zydrunas Ilguauskas, the longest-tenured Cav and one of the team’s mainstays, is now out of the starting lineup. And Zydrunas is a guy who’s basically only effective playing alongside LeBron. His post game was once unorthodox but effective. Now it’s just abysmal, and obviously he’s not very effective putting the ball on the floor. His offense comes from pick-and-pop jumpers, catches for layups, and tip-ins, all of which come almost exclusively because of defenses collapsing on LeBron. I don’t see how Shaq doesn’t start, I don’t see how Z plays alongside of Shaq, and I don’t see how Z can be effective coming off the bench.

In a vacuum, I don’t have a huge problem with that, but one thing Z did is fit perfectly with Anderson Varejao. The Cavs had one of the three best defenses in basketball, and Varejao was a huge key to that-he’s much more than just a flopper. His quick feet and defensive IQ allowed him to show hard on dribblers and rotate back to the lane to cut off penetration, which was an absolutely crucial aspect of Mike Brown’s fantastic defensive schemes.

Andy and Z are far from perfect players, but they fit together. Defensively, Andy shut down activity out to the perimeter while Zydrunas protected the rim. Offensively, it reversed, with Andy cutting to the basket for layups and Zydrunas stretching the floor for 18-footers.

As good as Anderson has become playing off of LeBron offensively cutting on the weak-side for layups and playing pick-and-roll, he cannot stretch the floor, and I don’t see how an offense is going to have any spacing with Shaq, Anderson, and LeBron all trying to work around the rim.

There’s a serious question at the four-spot going into next season, especially with Anderson being a free agent with a bad negotiation history. Who’s out there who can do the things Anderson does defensively while also providing what’s necessary offensively to make the offense work with Shaq? We’ll all have to keep an eye on how this one plays out; I assume the front office has a plan, maybe even one that will reveal itself tomorrow.

In crunch-time, the offense does generally devolve into LeBron making all the plays, but I still think Shaq can be effective there even though he doesn’t really play pick-and-roll or spot up. (The “LeISO” tactic got criticized a lot, but it does somehow work-the Cavs have been one of the league’s best crunch-time teams over the past two seasons, and offense wasn’t the problem in the Magic series.) Shaq won’t “clog the lane”-he’s a smart player that knows where the open spots under the basket are when the defense collapses on the driving player, and he isn’t exploding off the floor for alley-oops anymore, but he’s still got soft hands and is a terrific finisher around the basket. And hopefully he’ll be able to hold his own in the event of Hack-a-Shaq.

Important Point #5: Is This Deal an Overreaction To Dwight Howard?

It’s true that Howard absolutely murdered the Cavaliers in the Magic series. The funny thing is that Ilgauskas and Varejao was a fantastic defensive frontline: Z was slow but strong, Andy was weak but fast. The only way to beat them was to have a guy who is ridiculously strong and fast, which of course Dwight Howard was.

Shaq’s a quality post defender and should be able to slow down Howard more than the Cavs did, but he doesn’t defend the pick-and-roll at all, which Orlando loves to run, and he’s not all that much faster than Ilgauskas. I’m looking at this trade in terms of what it will bring the team over the entirety of the season, not how it could help the team beat the Magic or Lakers-the Magic might not meet us in the playoffs next year, after all. If you try to make major moves based on trying to play match-ups rather than doing what’s best for the team, a lot of times you end up putting out a fire with gasoline, (possibly Shaq Diesel) and hopefully that’s not what the Cavs did here.

Minor Thoughts:

This was already the loosest, goofiest team in the league-now we’re adding maybe the loosest, goofiest superstar in the history of the league? Wow. If “wacky candid team moments” counted on the scoreboard, this would be the equivalent of the Lakers getting CP3.

If nothing else, this trade means that Cavs: The Blog is finally going to have to give up its vague moral stance against Twitter and give in. Expect little 140-character bursts of inspiration from yours truly throughout next season. I’m embracing the dark side.

Well, that’s all I have to say for now. Shaq’s coming, folks. With luck, we’re a season away from people saying that Kobe’s better than LeBron because Kobe won a championship without Shaq. See you on draft day, campers.

Draftastic: The Intermission

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

“I try to dress like a rapper in a Michel Gondry movie.”

Leading off: I got an electronic mail yesterday from a nice young lad named Vince Pellegrini who works over at myvalleysports.com. He made a breakdown of the Cavs’ draft history, including big draft misses (ouch) and the all-time “drafted by the Cavaliers” team. It’s a quick, fun, informative read, so I recommend checking it out here.

Two reasons why we’re not doing the “safety” picks today:

1. The draft is Thursday, and I’m not sure what draft-related stuff I’d write tomorrow night. One would think that I’d have been able to foresee this issue earlier, but alas.

2. Some trades went down today, and it’s probably best to talk about them before any more happen.

We’ll do the Wizards first-they’re in the Eastern Conference, and they’re our only permanent rival.

To explain: There are rivalries of convenience, where two teams are on a seemingly perpetual collision course with each other as the seasons go on. Eventually, fans of both teams become conditioned to thinking that their road to a championship goes through the other team’s city, and regular-season games between the teams become more important. This describes why the Celtics and Lakers felt like “rivals” of the Cavs this this year, even though there wasn’t genuine animosity between the teams or fanbases. (Don’t try to sell me that non-story where the Celtics made a stink after the Cavs were celebrating during a blowout.)

Then there are true and honest rivalries, where one team’s fanbase truly and honestly hates another team with all of their heart, and desperately wants to see them fail regardless of context. Well, the Wizards hate us. They really, really, really do, and a lot of Cavs fans return the favor. There’s always going to be a little bit extra on the line when the Cavs play the Wizards in the LeBron era. A playoff series against the Wizards would become a war in one fashion or another, even if one team comes in with 25 more wins than the other.

So: did the Wizards make the right move?

I think the Wizards made the same mistake their management has made time and time again over the last few years. They’re overestimating their strength with the Arenas/Caron/Jamison core in place, and making short-term moves and signings to try and make a deep playoff run before time runs out. However, I don’t believe a deep playoff run is a realistic expectation for this team with how thin they are 4-12 on the roster, although with three players as good as Gilbert, Caron, and Jamison anything is possible in a 7-game series.

But I think the play here for the Wizards was to have patience and shake up the status quo. This draft has a number of point guards with a spectacular amount of upside, and I think in the Wizards’ current position the play to make was to gamble on a home run rookie rather than settle for Foye.

Also, the move seems to suggest that the front office is allowing Gilbert Arenas to play the role of 400-pound gorilla, getting a shooting guard rather than risk Arenas’ ire by drafting a point guard. I think that the Wizards’ offense would flow much better with Arenas playing alongside a true point guard, but Arenas wants to play point and the team seems to be okay with letting him.

The same situation might be going on in Golden State with Monta Ellis, and in both cases, if true, it’s a bummer, because both of those offenses are loaded with offensive talent but could use a true point to quarterback all those shooters. Also, both players are making demands after being injured for huge portions of the season and failing to make a real impact. So the takeaway here might be that if you’re dissatisfied with how the higher-ups are treating you, maybe you should start smashing your knee into things.

Foye’s a nice player, but I think is upside is more limited than his athleticism would suggest. He’s quick, can make a few plays, and is an underrated shooter, but he isn’t an impact slasher at all. The ability to finish inside is massively important for guards, and it’s a skill few people figure out after they get into the NBA. His eFG% on “inside” shots was an abysmal 46.1%, which was barely above his jump shot eFG% of 45.3%. He doesn’t get to the line much, 75% of his shots are jumpers, and he’s not a big-time playmaker.

This wasn’t a terrible move by the Wizards; Foye is solid and does have upside left, and there’s a chance getting away from Al Jefferson and playing a more open-court game will be what allows him to thrive. And in a lot of ways, the Arenas-Foye combination of two combo guards, one a scorer and the other a bulldog, mirrors our own backcourt. But I ultimately feel like this deal lowered the Wizards’ celing, and that patience would’ve served them well.

PS: I have no idea what to make of Mike Miller. He’s as good of a pure shooter as you’ll find, is actually a phenominal finisher around the basket, and is a decent playmaker, but he ran around last year thinking he was a point guard and basically refusing to shoot threes, rendering his talents basically ineffective. Also, he shot free throws at 73%. Mike Miller is a confusing player.

PPS: I would also like to see the Wizards be patient and give a bit more of a chance to JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche, two deeply flawed but shockingly talented young big men-the two of them can do as many things as any big in the league, even though they still have no idea how to play. My desire to see them more may be a product of me liking to see talented players try to find their way than an actual suggestion on how to make the Wizards a better team.

As for the Spurs, another extremely solid move. Like the Cavs, the franchise that was built in their image, a large part of the Spurs’ downfall was their lack of playmakers-it was Duncan and TP going to work, and everyone else’s job was basically to spread the floor. If Ginobili comes back, their crunch-time lineup has twice as many playmakers next season as it did in these playoffs. And any time there’s a team who can can put 4 guys on the floor who are all capable of scoring 20 a game and making plays,  it’s a team to be reckoned with.

That’s all for now, campers-safety picks tomorrow and then the DRAFT!

Draftastic, Part 3: The 50-50 shots

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

“We’re going to get so much pussy tonight, you guys!”

Sidebar: I just found this website (name of website majorly unsafe for work) today. This is probably the greatest website ever made; like 60% of the pictures this summer may be from it. Just a heads-up.

Assuming the Cavs can’t buy up or trade up in this draft and nothing crazy happens, this next group is probably who they’ll be looking at with the 30th pick. With a pick that low, the central dilemma is this: do you look at a guy who definitely has NBA talent but might not be able to put their game together and become effective in the league, or a guy who knows how to play his game at the college/international level but might not have the talent to implement his game when the talent level rises?

There are tons of examples of both kinds of player working out or failing, so the best you can really do is look at the situation on a case-by-case basis and hope for the best with the guy you choose. Here are the guys that are predicted to go at (or close) to the 30th pick that I think could help out the Cavs:

(By the way, full disclosure/disclaimer for the draft: the draft is not really my thing. I had legitimately never heard of JJ Hickson last year, and was hard-core on the CDR bandwagon. In my defense, this was before the Mo trade, but you can see some of my dismay in the live-blog I did with FreeDarko last year.)

Patrick Mills, PG, Saint Mary’s

Probably the easiest guy at 30 to get legitimately excited about. If you saw the Australia vs. USA game this summer and saw Mills holding his own and sometimes looking like the best player on the floor against the best players in the world, you know this guy has a lot more game than you normally see at 30. (Just like Carlos Arroyo! Wait, that’s bad. Although I always liked Arroyo.)

He’s insanely fast with the ball, which I love, and has a clean stroke and is comfortable pulling up and creating his own shot-he’ll go for 30 once or twice after he gets drafted, although it might only be in the summer league. (Guarantee: Patrick Mills will be a summer league stud.)

This kid is a scoring guard off the bench, plain and simple. He’s going to come in, pressure the defense, and get his shots up, and every now and again he’s going to trigger a one-man run when the opposing team least expects it. And the upside is considerable; in the right situation, he might mature his game around better players and become a passable playmaker, maybe become a sort of poor man’s JET. Or maybe getting more open shots will turn him into a truly deadly scorer instead of just a shot-creator and he’ll be a poor man’s Ben Gordon. As much as anyone at 30, he clearly has the pure talent to play in the NBA.

But there are some serious problems. Like I said yesterday about Lawson, the difference between the fast point guards that become beasts and the ones that flame out isn’t their outside shots-more often than not, it’s about their ability to finish at the basket when they get there. And Mills hasn’t shown that he can finish at the basket at all or draw fouls. For a Cavs example, Boobie’s probably quicker with the ball than Delonte, but he hasn’t been able to parlay that skill into conversions at the rim the way Delonte has.

And when LeBron sits, Mo generally does a lot of shot-creation and many possessions consist of Mo firing jumpers off of the dribble, like Mills likely would.

What I like about Mills is how much he loves to push the ball, something I keep mentioning I would love to see this team do more, and there is the chance playing on a weak St. Mary’s team made him into more of a chucker than he would be with real talent around him.

But he didn’t produce at a high enough efficiency level to crack this rotation when he was in college, so it’s hard to be totally sold on his ability to do it at the NBA level.

Chase Budinger, SG/SF, Arizona

This is the guy who people really seem to dislike in this draft, and it’s pretty easy to see why: he was a highly regarded prospect coming out of high school, and most thought he’d be one-and-done to the lottery, but he showed very little desire at Arizona. He pretty much fits the “soft” stereotype to a T: lots of athleticism, doesn’t use it, mostly shoots jumpers, doesn’t want to be a go-to-scorer, doesn’t play much D. (Being white does not help him here.)

As I’ve mentioned before, a realistic expectation in this draft is to replace Wally’s minutes with a more competent backup swingman. And for better or for worse, Chase would give you a lot of what Wally did; good shooter who can stretch the floor, deceptively good finisher inside, a guy comfortable playing without the ball, a guy who can play in control in the half court.

He’s a pure shooter, a guy who can make catch-and-shoot threes playing with LeBron and do some damage off pin-down screens when he’s forced to create for himself, and he can even make plays if the defense crowds him. Say what you will, but 18 a game on 48%/40%/80% are pretty legitimate scoring chops at the 30 spot. And with his athleticism, he might be able to add the X-factor of filling the wing in transition or catching teams backdoor for finishes, although he’s pretty clearly not a slasher. Think dead-broke man’s Jason Richardson.

Defensively, he’s a far cry from a stopper, but if you’re going to get minutes on this team, you’re going to go 100% on the defensive end, and with his athleticism he should be able to acquit himself somewhat on that end, although his lack of lateral quickness will come into play.

He’s not going to add any new dimensions to the Cavs on either ends of the floor, but he seems very capable of being a highly effective role player.

Rodrigue Beaubois, PG, France

The mystery man of the draft. There are two things to get excited about with this guy; he’s got a government-experiment body, and he can finish inside like few guards can. At a cut 6’2, Beaubois did as well in his agility drills and sprints as any of the fastest point guards in the class, earning him the (somewhat dubious) distinction of this year’s Combine Darling. But what really turned heads is his wingspan, which measured at 6′ 10. Wowzers.

With that wingspan and that athleticism, Rodrigue projects as a legit backcourt stopper at the NBA level, which is always a nice thing to have, especially since the Cavs don’t really have a guy who can check faster point guards. (In fairness, few teams do with the hand-check rules as they are.)

The other exciting thing about Beaubois is his ability to finish inside-he loves to push the ball in transition and has a great handle, and converts two-pointers at a 63.3% clip, which would have been the best mark in the NBA this year. That’s absolutely insane. This guy is a French Rondo.

There are two big downsides. First off, he’s not a shooter at all. He shoots some threes and actually clears 30%, but his Snow-like 58.3% FT percentage would suggest he’s a terrible natural shooter. Cavs fans now how much teams sagging off of Snow with impunity stalled the offense for the years he was here.

Second, the biggest reason Rondo can overcome his lack of an outside touch is that he’s a phenominal playmaker, and can pressure teams with the ball in his hands by using his teammates as, in effect, his outside options. Rodrigue isn’t much of a playmaker at all. He recorded a 2.3/1.9 AST/TO ratio, which isn’t going to get it done.

I have no idea how to project Rodrigue. He’s got skills that rival any guard in the NBA, particularly that insane ability to convert on two-pointers, that make me think he’s way, way too talented to pass up on. On the other hand, I really cannot project how a point guard who can’t shoot or pass can be effective in the NBA. He facinates me, but I think I’d rather see how the Beaubois experiment works out on another team for the sake of my developing ulcer.

Omri Casspi, SF/PF, Israel:

Ugh. No thanks. He’s a poor man’s Yi. If we draft him, I will be mad. I am trying not to envision the possibility right now. Although I did say Brook Lopez was a guaranteed bust last year, so take my opinion with a large handful of salt.

Until next time, campers. Tomorrow, the safety picks.

Draftastic: Part 2-The Reaches

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

My little brother’s on a college trip right now, which brings back horrifying, horrifying memories of when I was applying to colleges back in 2006-07.

(True story that is a complete tangent: me and the basketball coach always used to have long talks about basketball, much of which centered around me being a Cavs fan and the coach being a die-hard Pistons fan-we went back and forth for years. Game 5 happened literally 3 days after graduation. Basically the only thing that stirred up anything approaching bad feelings about that game.)

In any case, the upshot here is that my college counselor had me list out all of my schools and numbered them a 1, a 2, or a 3, with threes being “safety” schools, twos being “50-50 shots”, and ones glibly being called “reaches,” which is college counselor-ian for “Oh, I bet you wish you’d studied harder now, you little twerp. Only way you’re getting in there is with a janitor’s uniform on.”

Throughout the draft and the off-season, we’re going to hear names of possible picks, signings, or trade targets, and like everything else in life, they will fall into three basic categories: safety, 50-50 shot, reach. When discussing off-season matters here at Cavs: The Blog, we’ll try to categorize the topic into the appropriate category. Just a heads-up for the future.

As it’s draft week around my little slice of the internet, we’re going to start things off by looking at some of the guys who would be “reaches” for the Cavs-guys who haven’t been around at 30 in any of the reputable mock drafts, but who the Cavs have allegedly had their eyes on and would be good fits for the team.

There are two reasons why profiling these guys might not be a total waste of time: first, the draft can and will surprise you, and a lot can happen in 29 picks-a team gets euro-happy, a string of teams with a position filled comes along and lets a guy slide, mid-first round promises come into play, and guys can end up slipping a long way. Look at Rashard Lewis getting invited into the Green Room and falling all the way out of the first round, triggering a chain of events that eventually led to him getting sold in a fire sale sign-and-trade due to a planned franchise tank, ending up in Orlando, hitting two game-winning threes, and knocking the Cavs out of the playoffs. (I’ll be fine, eventually. I think.)

Second, there’s the rumor that the Cavs are looking to take advantage of Dan Gilbert’s deep pockets and other teams’ dire financial situation to buy a pick in the mid-to-late teens, like the Celtics did to get Rondo. This rumor has existed basically every draft since Gilbert took over, and seems to be borne more out of wishful thinking than anything else. However, with the financial collapse and the perceived weakness of this draft, this would be the year it would happen, so it’s certainly a possibility.

Here are the main guys, via Windhorst, that the Cavs are allegedly looking to move up to get:

Sam Young, SF/PF, Pittsburgh

This is definitely one of the safest picks that the Cavs could make. Sam Young could step in tomorrow, take Wally’s minutes, and that unit would instantly and noticeably improve. It was actually an effective unit with Wally playing because of just how effective LeBron was at the 4 spot for limited stretches and the fact the “small-ball” unit often caught other team’s benches unprepared.

Young is smart with the ball (although his 1:2.4 ast/TO ratio is troubling), comfortable with the catch-and-shoot, is experienced and has played at a high level, always brings energy on both ends, and perhaps most importantly is a lock-down defender with an insane 6-11 wingspan, replacing the defensive liability that Wally often was.

(Although Wally was underrated defensively this year. I know that basically means he was alive, but he gave a lot of effort on that end and held his ground surprisingly well when guys tried to outmuscle him. He was pretty bad, and worthless against playoff-quality wings, but he tried and made improvements on that end, as teams saw when they tried to exploit him. Although I will miss every opposing broadcaster on League Pass begging their team to take the ball at Wally whenever he was in. I digress.)

With Young, not only can we put LeBron at the 4 in stretches without ruining our defense, but we can keep tabs on the other team’s best perimeter player at all times without gassing LeBron even when Delonte sits. And in the playoffs, it can never hurt to have three stud perimeter defenders against the horrors that the league’s top teams will throw at you.

My qualm with the guy is that this team does need more playmakers around LeBron, and Young is just not going to give that to you at all.

(And while I don’t like to structure all of our off-season moves around a theoretical matchup with the Magic, for reasons I promise I’ll explain, this can’t be ignored: with SF speed and a 6-11 wingspan, this guy is a born Rashard-stopper. That might be in the front offices’ heads.)

Earl Clark, PF, Louisville

Risky. Very, very risky. Defensively, at a skinny 6-9, 220, but with a 7-3 wingspan, this is what the future of the power forward position looks like. Odom, Marion, Rashard, Andy Varejao: post-up power forwards are so rare (even Duncan is clearly a center, and Gasol has played all his significant minutes at center for the last two playoff runs) that what you want out of that position is a guy who can bother outside forwards, show hard to stifle pick-and-roll ball, and keep a body between his man and the basket at all times.

I haven’t seen enough of Clark play to make a definitive statement about his defense, especially because so much of front-line defense is about the mental game. (JJ Hickson is the best shot-blocker on the squad and has the quickest feet of any of our bigs, maybe even more so than Andy, but is easily the worst defender on the frontline because of his propensity for blowing assignments.) But on paper, he looks like a fabulous fit for our defensive system, which is the backbone of the team.

Offensively-gulp. A lot of potential, to be sure. He’s got court vision, handles the ball, and can get his own shot. A frontcourt playmaker around LeBron would be phenominal. And with his great hands, explosion, and ability to play the pick-and-roll, it’s easy to salivate about him throwing down dunks and slashing layups on 3/4 pick-and-rolls all season long.

But if there’s one thing I fear, it’s forwards who aren’t true three-point threats and don’t shoot 50%. Shot creation from the backcourt, efficiency from the frontcourt. Mo or Delonte’s efficiency doesn’t jump up getting an open jumper from a Clark pass the way Clark’s would getting a layup opportunity from a guard’s setup. It’s just a fundamental thing, and something I’ve always really appreciated about Andy is his keen understanding of his own limitations.

Scoring efficiency is like OBP% in baseball prospects-theoretically, it could change with simple shifts in habits, but in practice it rarely happens. There’s a chance Clark’s offense could fall into place with LeBron as his Alpha Dog and the discipline that goes with getting thrown onto an elite-level NBA team, but precedent says it’s more likely he’ll be freestyling out on the perimeter launching low-percentage mid-range shots and turning the ball over while occasionally making a solid pass or layup to keep himself on the floor.

And if we get him, the writing on the wall would seem to be that Andy would be out of town, seeing as to how our frontcourt is pretty crowded and JJ Hickson is our current frontcourt “prospect.” And with how important Andy is, I’d have a tough time getting behind replacing him with a guy that’s not a sure thing. (Interestingly, both Clark and Andy share infamous agent Dan Fegan. That will not be the last time that name gets mentioned on this blog this off-season.) But Clark certainly could be a home-run, and if the Cavs go with him then it’s hopefully because they’ve seen what they needed to see to be sure.

Tywon Lawson, PG, North Carolina

Okay, I love Lawson. I’ve already stated how badly I’d love to see a high-level true point play alongside LeBron, especially a transition-oriented one like Lawson is, even if it’s just as a bench unit. Assuming Varejao gets resigned, I would put a true backup point as our biggest need in this draft.

And Lawson is also, I think, a top-5 guy in this draft. I know he measured badly, and I don’t know what he’s doing in workouts, but his production was just beastly, and his skill-set makes him invaluable in today’s NBA.

Lawson rated #1 overall in John Hollinger’s draft rater, but you don’t need to go to Hollinger’s lengths to find Lawson’s statistics eye-popping:

Not only did he rank #1 in college basketball in assists per 40 minutes and lead one of the most potent offenses in the NCAA, Lawson was an absolutely amazing scoring guard. He put up 16.6 points a game, but more impressive is that he did it with an INSANE TS% of 67%. The leading TS% among point guards in the NBA this season was 61.5%. Of course the pros are harder, but that’s just for some perspective. That TS% was good for 6th in all of college basketball, at any position.

And it was from all over the floor-Lawson shot 56% from two-point range, 47% from three, and 80% from the line. Open or not, shooting 47% from deep is amazing, and when you’re playing with LeBron the ability to knock down catch-and-shoot baskets is an invaluable skill.

And that’s just the numbers-his skills make him even more valuable than those would suggest. He gets far more of his offense in transition than any other player in the NCAA did, often creating the break himself with a steal or rebound, or even on a made basket, a great skill on a team that struggles to get out on the break as much as the Cavs do.

And since hand-check rules came in, blindingly fast guards who can finish inside have been absolutely dominant. Chris Paul. Derrick Rose. Tony Parker. Devin Harris. Rajon Rondo. The list goes on. The problem with guards like Raymond Felton, Mike Conley, and Bassy Telfair is that they can’t finish inside when they get to the rim. Maybe Lawson won’t at the pro level, but all the evidence so far suggests he can. Lawson might be closer to Kyle Lowry (who I think is very underrated) than any of the names I mentioned above, but I don’t think teams have fully gotten wise to the fact hand-check rules make guys as fast as Lawson almost literally unstoppable if he can finish his drives and keep the defense honest.

I know Lawson doesn’t cross-match, and him and Mo is not a feasible defensive backcourt. I don’t really care. First of all, I don’t like when people get hung up on how one lineup would work-there are 35 minutes a game for Lawson that can be found without necessitating him and Mo sharing a backcourt.

Second, he’s so good I don’t really care. Lawson just has too much potential to pass up in the mid-teens-this is shades of Jameer Nelson slipping to 20. I think he has too much potential to pass up a 7, but that’s just me and I’ve certainly been wrong before. Not only does Lawson bring the most legit starting PG credentials possible to the draft, his skills would make him the perfect fit for what ails this team offensively. I know we’re locked into Mo, but the problem of too much talent is a good one to have after a draft with almost no sure things.

Draftastic, Part 1: Overview

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Alright, so here’s how I see the basic overview of how the draft is going to go down:

-Unless something fantastic happens, we are looking at a bench player. First of all, let’s all pause for a second and think about how fantastic it is we have competent starters at every position. This time last offseason, pre-Mo trade, I would have gladly taken Chris Douglas-Roberts as our starting shooting guard, no questions asked. (And in my own defense, I would still take him over Wally and Sasha.)

Mo and LeBron are obviously not losing their starting jobs anytime soon. Delonte is an above-average starting guard who could get pushed by a big trade, but I don’t see the draft replacing him, especially considering how well he fits with the starting unit. An upgrade is certainly possible with Andy and Z, but there is just no chance in hell you’re getting a starting 4 or 5 at 30-legit 6-10 guys get drafted before 30 even if they’re legally blind.

(The one big man who might possibly be considerable and in our range would be OSU product B.J. Mullens, who was once projected as a #1 pick, has freakish athleticism, and could be a pick-and-roll monster catching oops from LeBron. But he probably won’t be available, and more importantly, for a player who would be the cornerstone of one of the best and most complex defenses in the league, you do not want to see this in a row in his “weaknesses” section on DX:

- Advanced post moves
- Commitment to playing defense
- Defensive awareness
- Defensive fundamentals
- Man to man defense
- Off-ball defense

And don’t forget you have J.J. Hickson and Darnell Jackson still developing. So what is it that we should end up looking for off the bench from this draft? Here’s my list. (A disclaimer here that this is unofficial and purely speculative on my end.)

1. Change-of-pace guard off the bench

I have been asking for this for, like, forever. I have gone so far in this as to openly pine for Sebastian Telfair on the roster. (This was before the Timberwolves decided to give him an actual contract, even though Al Jefferson ensures they’ll never play up-tempo. I’m literally the only person I know who likes Sebastian Telfair as a basketball player, and I don’t think he’s worth actual money.)

Having a point guard capable of pushing fast breaks and get inside the paint would do two things-with the 2nd unit that has LeBron sitting, it would hopefully allow for somebody to get into the defense and at least get it off-balance a little bit, which would allow Mo and Delonte to do what they do best-neither one has elite speed, but they’re fantastic shooters and can make quality drives if the defense can’t set up against that. As it stands now, most of the time that unit gets an ugly post-up for Z or Mo settling for that 20-footer when his defender goes under a screen that he loves. Someone has to pressure the rim when LeBron isn’t in.

And when LeBron is in, just give me 10 minutes of a guy changing the pace and running the fast-break with LeBron James. Do you realize that LeBron James has done everything he’s done in his career without ever having any sort of player or strategy to get him in the open-court, where he might be the most unstoppable player in the history of this league? (Really, the only other guy at his level is Magic. And that’s ever.)

And off-the-ball, LeBron has gotten to be incredible catching and shooting and especially working backdoor plays for dunks and alley-oops-there’s a whole side of LeBron offensively that’s dormant without a true point, freakish as that is.

I realize that the way to get wins is what we’re doing, which is to put defense first and keep the pace slow, which might limit his stats but actually maximizes his net impact on the game. But just give me 10 minutes a night of LeBron running the break and playing off-the-ball with a true point guard. He’s really, really good at it, and we can still dictate our tempo most of the way. There is no way it will ruin our defense as much as JJ or Wally did in similar roles this year.

Guys who fit the bill:

Ty Lawson (I salivate. He would’ve been available to the Cavs last year-if the Cavs had passed on him, which they probably would have, I would have put my face through a wall. I am absolutely in love with Lawson. There are a lot of guys with more potential, but I’m telling you-if I had to bet on one guard in this draft, Rubio included, I’d bet on Lawson. I’m going to do a full profile on him, because I can. I know he won’t be there.)

Jeff Teague

Darren Collison

Eric Maynor

Patrick Mills

A.J. Price (2nd round)

2. A Swingman who can score

Here’s the thing: a rotation big is hard to find. Really hard to find. And even if Andy comes back, this team, as Ben Wallace’s corpse made clear in the ECF, is having trouble filling those minutes, especially considering Joe Smith seemed to be out of the playoff rotation. JJ Hickson is a great prospect, but even he has serious question marks at the defensive ends.

The good news: LeBron James can give you 15 absoultely unbelievable minutes at the 4 on a nightly basis. The numbers were eye-popping (sidebar: probably my greatest challenge as your faithful Cavs Blogger this year has been trying to find synonyms for “freakish” regarding LeBron) this season when he played at the 4: A PER of 38, 39/11/8.5, and 2 blocks per 48 minutes, a higher net +/- per 48 minutes than his minutes at small forward, and he holds his man to less than a league-average PER defensively.

And this is all with Wally Z holding down the three spot and essentially doing nothing and getting exploited defensively. In the playoffs, Wally was simply too much of a liability. With a true rotation-quality swingman, the Cavs could take advantage of LeBron’s ability at the four without leaving a hole, and it’s much, much, much easier to get a rotation-quality swingman than a rotation-quality power forward.

Guys who fit the bill:

Chase Budinger

Wayne Ellington

Omri Casspi

3. A Perimeter Stopper

It’s just foolish to have LeBron try to lock down the other team’s best scorer 40 minutes a game, 82 games a year. And as good as Delonte is defensively, it’s more about his heart than his size or speed-elite guys can still get past him, and besides he can’t play the whole game either. And past those two, Pavlovic has gone foul-crazy (to the point he nearly cost us game 2 of the ECF), and Gibson, Williams, and Wally are not plus defenders. And at some point, you’re going to see Rondo/Pierce/Allen, Jameer/Turk/Rashard, or Kobe/Bean/Bryant in a playoff series, so it can never hurt to have an extra stopper, especially since playing with LeBron can hide the offensive deficiencies so many stoppers have.

Guys who fit the bill:

Rodrigue Dubois

Sam Young

That’s all for now, campers- prospect profiles coming in the week leading up to draft day.

Profiles in Profiling, #1: Jawad Williams, Kinda

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

To explain: This kicks off our “Profiles in Profiling” series, in which we do a fairly straightforward look at the strengths, weaknessess, status, role and other errata of the 12 guys on the Cavalier order, in reverse order of how important I believe they’ll be to the team next year.

So first up is Jawad Williams, who stands in for whatever 12th man the Cavaliers trotted out this season for the majority of the time, a job done admirably for several years by Dwayne Jones.

I don’t get NBA 12th men. This is a position with literally zero expectations placed on it. There is no chance a 12th man will play meaningful playoff minutes. So why are so many 12th men cookie-cutter decent but undersized and underskilled college bigs with low upside who do nothing? I’m sure there are practice-squad related reasons for this, or something status-quo related.

But this is a position that should be reserved for a high-risk guy who has one ridiculous skill that has a chance to translate into NBA success, or a guy who will be consistently entertaining on the bench. Scott Pollard was a 12th man’s 12th man. My favorite 12th man story of all time is the Rodman Bulls, whose 12th man was a guy brought on in the Rodman trade whose sole purpose on the team was to be Rodman’s friend and keep his craziness in check. Realize that this is one of the most useful 12th men in NBA history.

So here would be my ideas for a possible Cavaliers 12th man, and the ideas for and against them. Quick detour here: props to the Mavericks for giving the ultimate “why don’t we at least give that guy a chance?” player, Gerald Green, a chance. Turns out he’s pretty bad. It was worth a try, as are these players.

James White:

First, the dunking. Holy lord, the dunking. (My favorite part: he’s not even smiling when he’s getting the trophy and unleashing the best dunks in any dunk contest this year.) If he’s not in the dunk contest this year, I’m putting an asterisk on whoever wins it. And that includes LeBron.

(A great subplot to this year’s dunk contest, by the way: The league’s MVP is going to be in the contest. The world’s best dunker wants in. I can see this going a number of ways-nobody signing him in fear of a Stern horse head in the bed, White completely outdunking LeBron and getting screwed by the fan voting, or LeBron and White having one of the most random and yet completely epic showdowns in NBA history.)

Actually, the reason I would be against signing White on the Cavs is that LBJ and White’s impromptu dunk contests, while they would probably be pay-per-viewable, could very possibly lead to LeBron getting some sort of horrifying injury trying to dunk with his knees or do a backflip off the top of the backboard or something.

2nd, there are a lot of actual basketball reasons to sign this guy-going back to the “one-skill” theory, we know athleticism is a skill that correlates well with success, and White may be one of the 10 best athletes playing basketball at any level. Have him play defense, run the floor, and make cuts off the ball, like a Dhantay Jones-type guy, and anything he can give you putting the ball on the floor is a bonus.

And his production in the NBDL is downright freakish-he’s scoring 26 a game on 67% True Shooting, with a 37% clip from beyond the arc, and 5 and 2.5 to go with it. How this guy isn’t in the NBA is a complete mystery to me, to be honest.

Lee Humphries, et al.

Look at the top 3-point shooters, percentage-wise, in the NBA this season. Notice how few of them were first-rounders? How many of them were guys that went undrafted? Whatever NBA front offices think they know about the values of shooters, they’re off a little bit. A lot of this has to do with watching Anthony Morrow this season-that percentage is no fluke. He is a freakish shooter. He is absolutely automatic with his feet set on an open three. I’m serious-in game situations, he’s literally 60-70% on those shots. The stroke is perfect. I’ve seen a lot of great shooters in my time, and he’s the best catch-and-shoot guy with his feet set I’ve ever seen. Bar none.

And every single team in the NBA passed on him twice. You’re telling me there aren’t more Morrows running around Italy and Spain right now?

Of course, none of this is an exact science-the best three-point shooter in college history can’t seem to knock down open ones in the pros, and Wally and Boobie couldn’t even knock down open threes for us this year. Shooters are fickle by nature. But truly great ones are so valuable, and I feel like too few of them get dismissed.

And here’s my real question: If you’ve ever been around a professional shooting coach or bummed around guys who know semi-pro basketball, you know that there are guys on this planet who are absolutely freakish shooters. Scary, scary stuff.

Dave Hopla, who’s now the shooting coach for the Wizards, gave a demonstration at my high school, and it was amazing. For a full hour, he moved and talked to us while shooting the entire time, and missed something like 5 of 700 shots during that time. It was incredible. And he’s not alone.

There are tons of guys younger than coaches, in the 30-40 range, playing overseas or in a fringe league, who don’t quite have the pop it takes to play in the NBA but simply do not miss open shots, ever. Especially not free-throws. How many guys would you venture to guess will simply never miss a statistically significant amount of free throws? 50? 100? 200, maybe?

My point is that there’s more than 30. The Cavs have a free-throw closer, but it astounds me how many teams don’t have a guy they can give it to at the end of games and count on two free throws going in. So why not have a guy on the tail end of a fringe career, the type of guys who generally become shooting coaches, grab him before he’s 40 and still in game shape, and use him as a 12th man who only comes in during must-foul situations?

(It would be trendy to implicate the Magic here, but the truth is Redick fits the bill of one of the guys I’m talking about here-in my opinion, SVG should’ve fouled Fish and trusted Redick to make the free throws. But you see how important it can be to have a free throw shooter in whom you have absolute confidence.)

I realize there are counter-arguments:

-It’s a lot harder to make free throws in a game than it is in practice. This is absolutely true. Pressure, fatigue, all those things-generally those things cost you around 10% on your free throw accuracy. I’m not one of these guys like M. Night Shamalyan who believes it’s possible for anyone to master free throws with sufficient practice. Making free throws in an NBA game is freaking hard. But there are free throw savants out there who are good enough to make them even in that pressure, and I don’t know why every NBA team doesn’t have one.

-The pressure would kill these guys. Most of them have played basketball at a level where a win or a loss is the difference between making a living and not, with crowds that make US crowds look like Wimbledon. I think they could handle it.

-He couldn’t come in cold. I equate it to NFL placekickers, who have tremendous pressure placed on them even in extra point situations and perform at a near-automatic level.

-There’s no guarantee he’d get the ball. True, but it’s a big floor, and if nothing else it makes it effectively impossible to ball-deny your other best free throw shooter.

I may be off about how many truly freakish free throw shooters exist, but there’s no excuse for not at least having a high-80s guy up your sleeve for these situations, especially down the stretch when you’re not developing guys anymore.

Final question, for which I have no answer: If you were decently familiar with both basketball and football, and I asked you to bet your house on how many free throws or extra points you could make, you’d choose the free throws, right? Extra points are certainly a more difficult action than free throws, and the pressure in game situations is even greater- Stefan Fatsis spent months training to be a kicker, and whiffed on both extra points he was given a chance on in scrimmage situations. And yet the league-wide extra point conversion rate is 99.66%, while free throw rates rarely approach that.

I’d imagine once the action becomes routine, the limits of the small hoop against the relatively large goalposts become the factor that matters-is there documentation or nomenclature for this phenomena that anyone knows about?