Archive for July, 2009

The Haze Is Beginning To Clear Up

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Quick Note: I got selected to serve on a jury today, so I might have a little less time for this stuff. By the way, still can’t drink legally. What a country.

Alright, this stuff is a big deal. A really, really big deal. In fact, the Cavs pretty much just finished up their major moves for the off-season, assuming they get Channing Frye with the remainder of their mid-level, and I now believe I have a vague idea of what this team’s plan post-Shaq deal is.

Big Point #1: Yes, Varejao was indeed indispensible.

At some level, Varejao is a paradox. He’s a role player, but he plays core minutes and he’s getting core money.

I’m trying to sum this up as cleanly as I can, and this is about the best I can do: I believe that Antawn Jamison is a significantly better player than Anderson Varejao. If I had one game to win tomorrow and didn’t know who the rest of my players were, I would pick Jamison. However, if you replaced Anderson Varejao with Jamison last year, the team would have won 5-10 less games. It goes beyond “ability” vs. “fit”-the things Anderson does not do well, which are myriad, are replaceable. The things he does do extremely well are not. Those things are, in order:

1. Team Defense

Mike Brown’s defensive scheme, which might be the best in the NBA, relies on a few keys: shut down the three-pointer, close off the paint. There’s not a lot of ball-pressure, there’s not much gambling in the passing lanes, and it’s not built around big shot-blockers patrolling the paint. All it is is hands in the face of shooters on the perimeter and bodies in between the dribbler and the basket.

You can see this when the Cavs defend screen-rolls, the bread-and-butter of almost every offense. While most teams’ big man switches or hedges on the screen, Cavalier big men show hard and chase the dribbler all the way out to half-court before rotating back to the paint to shut off driving lanes. Nobody on the team does this anywhere near as well as Andy; in the entire league, maybe only a healthy KG does it better. Andy’s long arms, incredible pace, quick feet, amazing defensive IQ, and his abilty to get the charge (yes, I realize he sells them with vigor, but his feet are almost always in position) make him uniquely qualified to do the most important job for this defense, which is the cornerstone of the team.

2. Finishing at the Basket

The bread-and-butter of our offense is LeBron driving to the basket, obviously. To make that work, you need a guy who the defense must respect to keep them from using two guys to wall off LeBron going to the hoop. A pick-and-pop guy just isn’t going to do it; good-shooting bigs shoot the midrange J at 40-45%, and LeBron at the rim is a 70% proposition. The math just doesn’t work. That’s why you need a guy like Andy, who can use off-ball movement and dives to find the weak spots in a cheating defense and finish at the basket at 67%.

If you leave Andy free, he’s going to get a layup, which no defense can allow. He’s not going to get 20 points a game, but he’s going to force his man to stick, and the points come from LeBron having freedom to drive. In crunch-time, when the offense goes to heavy pick-and-roll action, nobody makes the roll better than Andy.

On both ends, it’s other guys, particularly LeBron, making the spectacular plays, but it’s often Andy who allows those plays to happen. He’s a piece of this core, he’s consistently been the best big man in the LeBron era, and I’m glad that got recognized.

Big Point #2: Anthony Parker was a big get.

Okay guys, here are the facts:

Player A: 8.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.7 SPG, 46% FG, 71% FT, 32% 3-PT

Player B: 10.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.2 SPG, 43% FG, 83% FT, 39% 3-PT

Player A is Trevor Ariza. Player B is Anthony Parker. Both have stalwart defensive reputations, and play similar offensive games based around catch-and-shoot threes and open-court and broken-floor drives to the basket. And Ariza’s 3-PT % was easily his career high; Parker’s 3-PT % was his career-low by 4%. He’s older and has less upside, but he comes much cheaper and this is a win-now team.

This is the guy we wanted. He can allow LeBron to play the four, can guard fast 4s and big 3s, loves the open corner three as much as anyone (in Toronto they call the corners “Parkerville”), and doesn’t need the ball to be effective. Ferry’s coveted this guy since he came back over, and now he finally has him. This guy is the super-Wally we needed to make more small-ball lineups work.

My issue is that he plays the same role as our two cheap, promising young athletes, Tarence Kinsey and Danny Green, but again, this is a win-now team and I get minimizing risk.

Big Point #4: The Power Forward we think works best alongside Shaq is LeBron himself.

I’ve made this point before, but I’ll make it again: Good threes are much, much easier to find than good fours. And LeBron is a phenominal four in limited minutes. He can’t handle the play-in-play out defensive responsibility the 4 requires for 40 minutes, and offensively we need LeBron getting more touches than he can get at the 4, but for spurts it’s going to be devistatingly effective. The plan appears to be to take LeBron at the 4 from change-of-pace gimmick to serious part of our strategy, and I’m completely on board. Speaking of…

Big Point #5: Shaq is a change-of-pace player, not a guy to be plugged in for 40 a night, and he appears to be being treated accordingly.

It’s hard to do, but think of Shaq as a 310-pound J.R. Smith or Ben Gordon. He’s going to provide a lot of offensive pop for 25 minutes, but he doesn’t have the two-way ability, versatility, or conditioning to say “he’s our starting center” and call it a day. The move is fitting Shaq into the existing lineup, not fitting a new rotation around Shaq.

Big Point #6: Our best 5 players are not best served playing on the same lineup.

One more time: the spacing doesn’t make sense with a frontcourt of Shaq, Andy, and LeBron. It might work, but it’ll take away from what all of them do best. We’re not going to have a pretty, sweet-looking, dominant 5-man rotation on paper. And that’s not the end of the world. Shifting lineups and “show” starters are the way of the league. 12 guys play a game, not 5. Crunch-time is still a question, but I’ll get to that later.

For now, here’s what I see as our basic frontcourt rotation plan. (Caveat: I am willing to admit that Mike Brown knows more about how to make this basketball team work than I do. Crazy, right? But this is my best guess as to what everyone’s thinking at this point.)

Unit #1: The Starting Lineup

C: Ilgauskas (total minutes at this point: 8)

PF: Varejao (8)

SF: James (8)

Notes: This lineup works. We all know this. Don’t fix what isn’t broken.

Unit #2: Shaq In, Z out at about 4:00 in the 1st quarter

C: Shaq (4)

PF: LeBron (12)

SF: Parker (4)

Notes: Offensive blitz here to end the quarter-at this point, I think we rest LeBron defensively here, keeping him on the perimeter, while have AP plays the 4 role defensively showing and rotating, and dare a big power-forward to punish us. (Pop quiz: name all the ACTUAL power-forwards in this league-Duncan and Gasol don’t count, because they’re really centers-who are legit post-up threats. Fewer than you’d think.)

Unit #3: LeBron’s 1st Rest

C: Shaq (7)

PF: Frye (3)

SF: Parker (7)

Notes: Defense not great here, but Frye keeps the spacing and Mo and Shaq are an AMAZING luxury as a 2nd-unit offense.

Unit #4: Andy back in

C: Andy (11)

PF: Frye (6)

SF: Kinsey/Green (3)

Notes: Pretty speculative with the younger guys, but Parker gets a blow, and this is a short-time unit.

Unit # 5:  Starters Back

C:  Z (11)

PF: Andy (14)

SF: LeBron (15)

Unit #6: Finish With Shaq

C: Shaq (10)

PF: LeBron (16)

SF: Parker (10)

Again, I stress that this is REALLY rough. Really, really rough. This is more lineups than MB will probably end up using in the actual games, but I went with a lot of lineups to represent the possibilites. And still unanswered is if we can sign Frye (and if he can bounce back to rotation-quality form), if Shaq will consent to coming off the bench, how much Z still has in the tank, etc. The real problem here is that Shaq/Andy doesn’t work offensively and Shaq/Z obviously doesn’t work defensively, and it’s hard to give both of them their minutes.

In the second half, I’d expect to see huge stretches of Shaq/LeBron/Parker or Andy/Z/LeBron, and in crunch-time if offense is needed it’s probably Shaq/LeBron/Parker or Andy/LeBron/Parker as a defensive lineup (provided the other team doesn’t have a 7-foot low-post threat they’re comfortable throwing it down to in crunch-time.)

I’m having a tough time making the math work when Z, Shaq, and Andy all need minutes, but it’ll be fun to see this team figure it out-too much talent is a good problem to have. And I’ve just realized that I completely left JJ Hickson, who I’m really high on, out of the discussion: if he can play with Shaq, lives get a lot easier.

Cavs: The Blog: The Twitter is now a reality

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Yes indeed, folks. I am officially the last blogger in America to set up a Twitter.


Cavs: The Blog: The Twitter! In all its glory! Mine might not be the only Twitter on the NBA blogosphere, but I’m reasonably sure it’s the only Twitter with a name that rips off a joke from The Weekenders.

I used to have moral-type obligations against Twitter, and still harbor some deep down inside, but have decided to pull a full-on Garcetti on the issue for two main reasons:

1. Shaq is on the Cavs now.

2. Nobody cares about my fight against Twitter.

3. Screw it.

So there it is-we’ll see how all of this works out. Don’t expect obsessive tweeting as I don’t have a BlackBerry or anything like that (In fact, half of the screen is broken on my normal phone, so every text message is kind of an adventure), but hopefully I can be on top of news a little better, get to you guys a little faster, and communicate those little ripostes that just won’t fit in a post. So join me, campers, and let’s figure this thing out together.

Just A Few Things

Monday, July 6th, 2009

-Ultra-Ultra Quick:

-Obviously, I’m as excited as everyone else about the thing with LeBron telling Ariza he’s staying past 2010. But it’s not time for a gloating, all-caps AAH SUCK ON IT EVIL MEDIA I HATE THE MEDIA THEY’RE A BIG FACELESS ENTITY AND THERE SHOULD BE MORE GOOD WRRITURS AND LESS MEDIA CUZ I KNOW LEBRON AND HE’D NEVER GO U MUST BE MEDIA IF YOU THINK THAT quite yet.

Right now, all indications point to LeBron staying, as they have for some time with his public statements. For Cavs fans, I don’t think anyone’s ever really fully wrapped their head around a scenario where LeBron would actually leave, so the status quo feels pretty much the same for me. But an alleged promise isn’t a contract. A contract is a contract. I don’t know LeBron personally. I don’t know Ariza personally. I don’t know this alleged “source.” I’m not a mind reader. When he decides, he’ll decide. Until the ink is dry, let’s chill on this.

-Meanwhile, we were ready to throw core money at Ariza? He’s kind of a taller Delonte clone with more size and less playmaking and shooting, isn’t he? He’s either a show starter at 2 and pushes Delonte to the bench or becomes an uber-Wally off the bench himself. 55 million dollars, or even the full-mid level it looks like the Cavs were willing to throw down, is not uber-Wally money. I’m confused by the logic on that one-this worries me we’re going to spend money to spend it this off-season. Shaq’s expiring, so he’s harmless, but we’ve got one big signing left for the forseeable future. Let’s make sure it’s the right guy.

Speaking of, now that Toronto is COMPLETELY capped out and has an alpha-dog like offensive guy in Hedo, aren’t they playing 2010 for Chris Bosh? I don’t really forsee a realistic scenario in which he comes to Cleveland and becomes LBJ’s Gasol (I think Miami is more likely), but the possibility just went way up.

Rasheed Wallace getting Big Baby’s minutes is going to be really, really good for the Celtics. He’s a perfect fit. Freaking Celtics. Although Rasheed has now officially earned his spot in the Carlos Boozer Memorial Shrine of  Hate, deserved or not.

My Jason Kidd pipe dream is officially over. And Kidd’s one of the few guys who can still get real value out of Marion. Oddly sensible moves from Dallas this off-season.

Okay, waking up for work in 6. Until tomorrow, campers.

Checking In, Heading Out

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

Hey guys, just a few things before I head down to UCSB to spend Fourth O’ July weekend with some friends:

Artest on the Lakers: Good on paper, risk involved. Artest is still a bulldog defensively, but he can’t really guard the faster 2s anymore, which of course Kobe can. And on offense, he’s got the passing, strength, and spot-up shooting for the triangle-he’s been hurting teams offensively the last few years by running around and firing up bad shots, but I don’t see that happening in LA. Kobe’s game can, sometimes, keep the guys who play with him from establishing their own offensive flow. (This happened with Lamar early in their time together.) But Kobe’s also not going to let a guy run around and fire up stupid shots while he’s running the offense, and on paper he might be the best guy in the league to save Ron from himself.

I like Ariza on Houston in a vaccuum, but with no Yao who’s making plays? Only Aaron Brooks can create his own shot in a Brooks/Ariza/Battier/Landry/Scola lineup, and he’s not  superstar.

Okay, I honestly gotta be out of the door in like 10 minutes. Happy 4th, everyone.

Well, that’s the worst cavs-related canada day I can remember.

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

(To be fair, this is also the only Canada Day I can remember, period.)

Just a few here-and-there type notes for today:

From the comments, it is clear that not only am I the only person who loves Tarence Kinsey, but it is actually offensive how much I love Tarence Kinsey. I concede. I realize that I am way more excited about Tarence Kinsey than any rational person should be. Yes, he is far from complete and may very well not be in the rotation next year. But God almighty, I’m sick of people on the Cavs just standing on the weakside and waiting for LeBron to give them a three. There are other ways to be effective off-the-ball, and Tarence subcribes to that theory and does the little things. I get excited about these things.

One last clarification: I consider Delonte a “combo guard,” a guy who can play the 1 or the 2, rather than a “swingman,” a guy who can play the 2 or the 3. That’s why I neglected to mention him in discussions of prior and current Cavalier “swingmen.” Accuse me of not loving my country, my family, or my school. But do not accuse me of not loving Delonte West enough.

So Charlie Villanueva will not be a Cavalier next season. (My soon-to-be irrelevant thoughts on Mr. Villanueva can be found here.)Part of me is bummed, but part of me is definitely relieved. 40 million over 5 years is just way too much money for a guy with as many questions surrounding him as Charlie V. I was fine with giving him the mid-level, but I wasn’t ready to go all-in with an under-30 “core” going forward of LeBron, Delonte, and two guys that Bucks thought were expendable in consecutive off-seasons.

However, the downside here is that now Fegan has leverage, the Cavs don’t have a power forward, and there’s just not enough room in the paint for a center and power forward with no outside shot at all, especially not with LeBron looking to drive as much as he does. I’m waiting to see what happens with this. Even when the Cavs sweep the Pistons, they’re a pain in the ass. Although that team is still a mess.

It looks pretty much official that someone else is going to be able to woo away Jason Kidd, who was my biggest off-season pipe dream for months now. That does bum me out, although he was a long shot to begin with and pretty much an impossibility after the Shaq trade.

And the Clippers somehow find a taker for Zach Randolph. Is it a coincidence that Charlie V and Zach end up changing teams on THE SAME DAY after I revealed their freakish similarities in by-possession offensive metrics? Yes.

Keeping it short and sweet tonight, guys. Have a good one, everyone.

Profiles In Profiling: Tarence Kinsey

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

First, the daily roundup: Andy V has officially opted out of his deal and will become an unrestricted free agent. Meanwhile, the Cavs’ first target in the free agency market seems to be Charlie Villanueva. Hmm. Three quick hits:

1. Anderson Varejao was an absolutely crucial part of the Cavaliers’ team for the previous couple of seasons. He might have been the most consistently important defensive player on the team, fit wonderfully with LeBron and Z, and pressured the rim offensively. Losing him would leave a much bigger hole than his stats would suggest.

2. There just isn’t a way that Anderson Varejao and Shaquille O’Neal can be effective offensively playing in the same lineup.

3. Shaq gives the Cavs some leverage, Charlie V would give more, and Anderson is much more valuable to the Cavs than he would be to any other team. The Cavs were able to get an amazing deal on Delonte West after the Mo Williams trade last season by using their leverage. Ferry has stood toe-to-toe with Anderson before, and will probably attempt to do the same this off-season.

But Dan Fegan is good at his job, and does not want to be made to look weak by giving in after a high-profile standoff again. Look at Fegan’s client list this season-other than Varejao, which of those players would you say is getting paid anywhere near market value? Jason Richardson, Troy Murphy, Erick Dampier, and Nene are going to make a combined $50 million next year. This is going to be an absolute war.

But let’s try to forget about that unhappy business, because this is the time of the off-season where I get to talk about how much I love Tarence Kinsey. (Except for the DUI)

-Tarence Kinsey is awesome. There’s just no getting around it.

-Tarence Kinsey is one of three players on the Cavs last year who could best be described as “swingmen,” or players who are capable of playing both the shooting guard and the small forward position. (LeBron would technically qualify as well.)

-Here’s the thing about quality swingmen: absolutely every team in the NBA has one, and most have two. Swingmen don’t have to be as insanely skilled as point guards/combo guards or as ludicrously big as big men to be successful in the NBA, so the talent pool for swingmen is relatively large. Most NBA teams can count on their swingmen to do a variety of things, as they’re generally the most athletic guys on the floor; they defend the other team’s best wing players, make open shots, can score in isolation, run the floor, make cuts, do lots of the things that hold teams’ systems together.

-Now, I do realize that the Cavs have LeBron and it is, on one level, completely ridiculous to complain about this, but it is a little bit frustrating how comically inept the Cavs have been at finding a quality swingman in the LeBron era.

-A lot of this is explainable; obviously, the Cavs have always had more pressing needs than the 3 position, and for a long time the 2 was effectively clogged up by Larry Hughes’ reign of misery and evil. And the one time the Cavs attempted to draft a swingman, they got Luke Jackson.

-And so it was that the guys playing the role of “swingman” for this year’s Cavalier squad ended up being Wally Z and Sasha Pavlovic, two guys who I described in my most rhapsodic Kinsey post of the year as “an American who plays like a bad Euro and a Euro who plays like a bad American.”

-Wally had good shooting stretches over the course of the season, but was never the consistent threat from outside he was in his prior NBA stops. And frankly, Wally did not bring a ton to the table other than shooting. Likewise, Pavlovic would occasionally look like an athletic slasher who could knock down threes, but just as often he would lose his shot and play completely lost on both ends.

-So basically, why Tarence Kinsey was only on the court for 7% of the time this season is a complete and total mystery to me.

-The first thing to note about Tarence Kinsey is that he never got a real chance. Almost exactly half of Kinsey’s limited minutes came in garbage-time lineups of Kinsey with some combination Boobie Gibson, Wally Z, Sasha Pavlovic, JJ Hickson, or Darnell Jackson as the other four players. For this reason, his +/- numbers have to be rendered completely irrelevant. Even his exorbitantly high opponent PER of 22 can be partially chalked up to the complete lack of defensive help provided by the frontcourt of Wally/JJ/Darnell.

-Kinsey was effective in the extremely rare stretches he played shooting guard alongside James at small forward and two bigs, and he only played 5 minutes this season at small forward with James playing the 4.

-When asked to describe Tarence Kinsey, which actually happens less frequently than you’d think, I generally respond that Kinsey is a slightly worse version of what Larry Hughes was supposed to be when the Cavaliers signed him. He’s athletic, he’s a slasher, he contributes on both ends without needing the ball, and he’s always trying to get the ball moving towards the opposing basket.

-First off; Kinsey is probably the most athletic perimeter player the Cavs have gotten in the LeBron era since LeBron himself. (Hughes had lost a step even before the crippling series of injuries that made his tenure with the Cavs wholly ineffective.) It’s not just raw leaping ability, straight-line speed, or power. (Okay, it’s especially not power.) Kinsey has incredibly light feet on the perimeter, great lateral quickness, accelerates quickly, and has an absolutely amazing second jump, not to mention Energizer-bunny conditioning.

Kinsey won’t wow you with one huge dunk, crushing block, or jaw-droppingly fast move to the bucket, but he constantly operates at just a bit of a faster pace than most everybody on the floor, and always seems to be deploying that extra step or hop.

-Second, Kinsey combines his athleticism with the basketball IQ of a true scrapper to provide all of the “little things” out on the floor. He’s a relentless seeker of turnovers, and always has one eye on the passing lanes for a lazy delivery, pressures the ball, and goes full-bore for every single loose ball and rebound. Had he qualified, he would’ve been a top-15 shooting guard in rebounding rate last season.

And once a turnover or rebound occurs, Kinsey loves the fast-break game as much as any Cavalier on the roster, flying down the court at every opportunity and looking to create numbers for the Cavaliers in the open court.

-Kinsey also knows how to play the game the right way on both ends, which is especially noticeable offensively. Kinsey’s not a volume scorer by any stretch of the imagination, and his playmaking is almost non-existent, but he does things to help the team offensively.

Most perimeter players who play with LeBron like to “stretch the floor” for him by essentially standing on the weak-side when LeBron has the ball and waiting to catch-and-shoot. It does work, but defenses don’t mind guys standing still a skip pass away from the ball as much as you think they would. Kinsey pressures defenses by actually making cuts on the weak-side, making his pass and immediately cutting through, weaving angles, flashing to the strong-side, and then rotating back. He keeps the spacing all the same, makes the defense have to watch another guy, and actually gives LeBron (or Mo) more high-percentage options with the ball.

-And just by the way, Kinsey is more skilled than you think; he can handle the ball, and while he shoots his jumper with a kind of side-to-side movement and doesn’t have much of a pull-up game to speak of, he can finish at the rim and can make shots with his feet set; his eFG% on jumpers last year was an impressive 46.1%, and he actually made 39% of his threes. That’s a very small sample size, and he’s probably not as good as those percentages suggest, but he’s not a guy defenses can completely ignore as a shooter.

-So, the elephant in the room: Why wasn’t Kinsey part of the rotation? A big part of it is that the Cavs didn’t want to fix something that wasn’t broken, and ultimately felt more comfortable in the playoffs with Wally and Boobie’s experience rather than trying out the inexperienced TK. When I asked MB about Kinsey when the Cavs played the Clippers this year, he said that he liked what Boobie was giving him in terms of the little things and didn’t see a need to make a change.

That certainly makes sense on one level-you’re talking about benching a well-paid veteran on a 66-win team to make room for Tarence Kinsey. And in the case of Boobie, the fact that Gibson has a contract that runs until 2013 was probably a consideration.

But this Cavs team could stand to be more dynamic, Wally and Pavs are now gone, and I love the idea of giving Kinsey run at SF with LeBron at the 4 to really pressure teams on both ends of the floor for limited stretches. Danny Green brings many of the same things that Kinsey does, with a better outside shot and less years on him. However, I hope the Cavs don’t forget that they have a player with a lot of talent who could give this team a whole new dimension in terms of perimeter pressure, offensive grit, and full-court capabilities for 15-20 minutes a game sitting right on their bench.