Overview: Spurred on by Delonte West’s triumphant return and Mo Williams’ continued return to form, the Cavs comfortably put away the offensively-challenged Bobcats.
Keeping it short because it’s Halloween:
-Mo gets the first bullet tonight. Looking fantastic tonight, putting down his signature three from the left corner behind a screen, a corner dive behind a Varejao back-screen, drives to the hoop, everything. The lane was a little clogged when he drove and tried to create, but Mo is shooting. And by the way, I’ve always been a little skeptical of the “Godfather” music for Mo. But tonight, he set a screen on Gerald Wallace, injured his hip, then comfortably drained a three as Wallace was writhing in pain. That’s a bucket that warrants some Nino Rota music right there. By the way, “injure Gerald Wallace and score a 4-on-5 bucket” is something that could be in a playbook.
-LeBron was extremely passive, but had an efficient night anyways and managed to set the tone.
-DELONTE’S BACK, BABY. An open three from the corner, pushing on the break, getting gritty steals, some beautiful step-back jumpers, hustle plays to free up the team, and everyone benefited. Beyond good to see him back on the floor.
-However, AP made a strong case for his starting spot, hitting every open jumper available to him.
-Also, Z throwing down off the bench. Love it. 5 blocks? 5 blocks. On another world defensively than Shaq.
-Speaking of Shaq’s D, of the 14 points Charlotte got against the Cavs’ starting 5, 8 were a direct result of Shaq getting abused on the PnR: 3 easy Felton jumpers and 1 Chandler alley-oop when Shaq tried to show. Ugh.
-Andy all over the place, and looking like the guy we gave the big contract to. This team has looked great, although the teams they’ve played have been terrible. But it’s good to be at .500, I’ll tell you that.
Bullets of Randomness:
In lieu of describing the Bobcats, let’s go through my top 3 Halloween costume ideas for this year.
#1: This is what I ended up going with: a cardboard box around the waist duct-taped to my shirt, and 3 mylar balloons clipped to my belt. Balloon Boy FTW. Pictures available upon request.
#2: Spiked hair, Ed Hardy shirt, tight jeans, and a piece of paper on the chest that says “-9.” Jon minus 9.
#3: Crazy hair, stutter shades. Go with friends. When asked about costumes, make sure one of your friends goes first, then interrupt and say “You’ve got a great costume and I’ma let you finish, but (either say I or Beyonce) has one of the best costumes of ALL TIME!
Alright, campers, Happy Halloween. See you next week.
Overview: In a commanding performance from start to finish, the Cavaliers cruised to their first win of the year over the Timberwolves, with 5 Cavs finishing in double-digits and LeBron James and Mo Williams getting 24 and 20 points.
I mean, whoa. This team just looked completely different in every possible way. The ball movement and spacing tonight was absolutely unbelievable-Shaq drew a double-team and found LeBron cutting down the middle for a crushing slam, Mo was getting into the paint and finding people, LeBron was dropping look-away lasers, and on a few possessions the Cavs flat-out looked like the globetrotters. This is the team I signed up for-I get that I’m going to end up in cardiac arrest sometime in June (hopefully), but I expected a nice, leisurely cruise through the regular season. And that’s what happened tonight. The ball was moving, the passes were audacious, the threes were raining, no-looks led to dunks, and the team just looked like it was having fun.
LeBron definitely set the tone early by raining down buckets in the first quarter, but almost all of them were within the offense. He let the jumper fly when the defense went under the screen, he got the aforementioned dunk on a nice cut to the hoop when Shaq was posting up, he got out on the fast-break, and took the seam when it presented itself. His jumper was on, his passes were crisp and audacious, and he got it to the hoop when he needed to. His final line of 24/9/6 doesn’t seem all that gaudy by LeBron standards, but everything was in the offense and pretty. He wasn’t ISOing up in the middle of the floor and trying to force a drive or contact, which his three free throws show. He was setting the pace and controlling the game without ever having to go into overdrive, and it was wonderful to see.
Shaq looked good tonight. We got to see some of that vaunted passing from the low-post, he was able to get baskets off of others, and just looked far more comfortable in the team game than he had before, even playing very good D on a still-hobbled Al Jefferson. The caveat is that Minnesota runs screen-roll less than just about any other team in the league and tries to start its offense with post-ups, which of course plays right into Shaq’s defensive game. And the fact he only played 17 minutes sure didn’t seem to hurt-at this point, I’m a proponent of Shaq in small doses.
A lot more of the original Z/Andy frontcourt tonight, and it worked wonders.
Also: Mo Williams! We knew you’d show up! Raining threes when someone else made the play, driving and finding teammates when he had to do it himself. That he managed to have an extremely solid night without his midrange game working is a hugely promising sign-he just looked like he had so much more space and confidence out there tonight.
The fact people continue to bite on Andy’s pump-fakes is going to be the most hilarious running storyline of this season. It’s not that people fear his jumper, it’s just that they’re absolutely positive they’re going to get a block. Nobody has a clue Andy knows how to pump-fake. We’ll see how long it stays that way. Andy rounding back into form tonight as well.
Continuing the trend, Z looked very comfortable and was raining in some jumpers, although he’s still a step or two further out than he should be on those-needing 14 shots to get 15 points isn’t much to write home about as a big man.
BOOBIE. Two games in a row going 4-8 from beyond the arc, and he didn’t turn the ball over or attempt a two-pointer. This is sufficient grounds for the first awarding of the shirt this season.
Huzzah on this grand occasion.
Under the bad news file, the unit that starts the 2nd quarter still does not have Shaq in it and promptly blew the lead. Shaq got in there fairly quick, but this kills momentum every single night. In the fourth, Shaq came out while LeBron sat, and the bench unit actually extended the lead. Funny how that works.
Anthony Parker: little things good, bad mid-range jumpers not. Still, he wasn’t stopping the ball or hurting the team made some nice defensive plays, and did finish with a +23.
Bullets of Randomness:
I’m on the Jonny Flynn bandwagon. He took some bad jumpers and forced some plays, but he’s got the tools and he’s fearless. Very excited about the young crop of point guards this season; between Flynn, Evans, and Jennings, you’ve got some leaders in the making, and that’s even before you get to Curry and Lawson. Tyreke might actually need to tone it down a peg-he took a horrible three and forced a hopeless drive on two crucial end-of-game possessions tonight. You love the moxie, but dude might want to chill the beat a little bit. And Jennings’ near triple-double just made the NCAA gulp. He wasn’t even good in Italy.
Heck, I liked what I saw from Wayne Ellington, and he went 1-8. He just looked like he belonged. Sorry if that sounds to sportswriter-y. From now on, we’ll call me liking a player for shaky objective reasons “giving Kinsey points.” Ellington got some Kinsey points tonight.
Was it just me, or was Pavs looking for some revenge tonight? He looked amped up. And yes, he outscored Shaq.
Good to see Corey Brewer start to figure it out-I really liked his game in college.
Alright, that’s all for tonight. I gotta get to Halloween weekend-my costume is Balloon Boy. I am excited about this. Hopefully the good times continue to roll tomorrow.
Alright, so we’re not yet a week into the “I am seriously worried about this Shaq thing working” out period of the season. Others from around the league have done little to assuage me-remember how I said last time that Jamario Moon is like a crazy chick who all your friends shoot knowing glances to each other about? Well, Shaq seems to be treated like the evil ex-wife who eventually took their money and left them bitter and miserable. So yeah, I’m still worried about this. But here are a few quick thoughts before I give the reigns over to my colleague Michael Schwartz from Valley of The Suns, who I asked to help me figure out how to make a pick-and-roll based offense work while integrating Shaq, which Phoenix, for all its defensive woes, did do last year.
-Remember this: that Suns offense was ridiculously good at the end of last season.
-That said, they played significantly worse defense with Shaq on the floor. And this was a horrifyingly bad defensive team.
-Offensively, Shaq’s best lineup had Matt Barnes at the four, not Amare. Considering how amazing of an offensive player Amare is, that should tell us something about how important having shooters around Shaq is, especially since Amare has become a pretty good mid-range shooter; a guy who can truly stretch the D to the 3-point line is a major asset. (By the way, I feel majorly uneasy about talking myself and the 4 readers who take my opinions seriously into Jamario Moon over Matt Barnes. I am reserving the right to flip-flop on this. Not doing it yet, but reserving the right.)
-Right now, I’m of the opinion that Shaq will grow into the offense and vice versa, but still have major misgivings about whether the Cavs can remain an elite defensive team with Shaq holding down the center position, but this is what MB does best and there is a long way to go.
-Alright without further ado here’s Michael’s e-mail, which of course I sincerely thank him for. I’m hoping this will be less of a piece judging Shaq one way or another and more of the beginning of an open exchange between all of us on how to use Shaq correctly on a team that want to win a championship, and I don’t expect we’ll know these answers for a while. Here’s Michael:
The Suns’ offense was a mess the first couple months of the season. Steve Nash wasn’t Steve Nash anymore, and you can find a quote in the archives from our own Kevin Arnovitz comparing him to “a hummingbird trapped inside a paper bag.” Nash lost much of his freedom, as Shaq became more of a focal point. As the season went on, Porter loosened the reins a bit, and then under Gentry they went balls out fast and then if that wasn’t there they slowed it down and pounded it down low to the Big Fella quite often. Before I go on, I’d like to give you a quote from Suns assistant GM of basketball ops David Griffin (found here -http://valleyofthesuns.com/2009/10/24/griffin-explains-it-all/):
At one point I almost felt like the Suns would be better off staggering their rotations and having Nash and Shaq play together as little as possible. Their games couldn’t be further apart, and I thought it would do the team well to have Nash play his pace when he was in there and then Shaq’s when he was in there. As you might have imagined, Shaq’s presence affected Amare Stoudemire quite a bit as well. Shaq had to be down low, so that left Amare out on the perimeter shooting jumpers quite a bit more, whereas he’s most effective on the block, From what I’ve read, your bigs are having similar issues.
I would say not to freak out too much about two games since it’s such a small sample size, but Cleveland fans better get used to Shaq saying, “I’ve shot 60 percent down there since I was in eighth grade,” and “I’ve been doing that for 17 years,” every time he has a big game. He still thinks he’s that guy. From observing him closely, I don’t think he’s come to terms with the fact that he’s getting older and he’s not The Most Dominant Ever anymore. He thirsts for the spotlight, and I can’t wait to see how that dynamic plays out with LeBron. He’s almost like Michael Scott, rushing in to take kudos whenever one of his teammates does something great.
I would say this as well: think about the trade. The Cavs got this guy for free, as the Suns’ didn’t receive a single basketball asset in this deal. I know Sarver’s cheap, but do you think the Suns do this if it weren’t a case of addition by subtraction on top of the cash? There seemed to be a sense of relief at Suns Media Day that he’s now in Cleveland.
Overview: The Cavs were unable to recover from a 57-39 1st-half drubbing, shooting 35% from the floor and losing 101-91 to the Raptors.
It is so not time to panic. It is very far from being a time to panic. If the Cavs were 2-0, it’s not like everybody would be celebrating. That said, it is time for a good deal of concern. Onward and upward:
-LeBron James put up another monster line, putting up 23/11/12 for his first triple-double of the year, but this wasn’t nearly as strong as a performance as he had last night. In terms of his scoring game, this is what a bad LeBron games performance looks like. Only 2-11 from outside of the paint on Wednesday, and even his performance from the free throw line (8-14) was less than thrilling. When LeBron can’t get his outside shot going or find a groove working off the ball, what you get are some awkward forced drives where he’s basically looking to draw contact. And while he did get 14 free throws tonight, his shaky FT stroke meant even that wasn’t the best of plays. He did some nice work in the middle of the floor and was able to find his shooters for 12 assists, but overall LeBron was forcing it more than he was feeling it on Wednesday. A bravura LBJ performance probably means the Cavs win this game. At the end of the day, that’s one thing you know will be there more often than not.
In the file of Good Things: Small-ball. MB went with Mo/Boobie/Parker/LBJ/Varejao to start the third quarter, and the result was some beautiful basketball and a 32-21 quarter for the Cavaliers, who had just looked god-awful up to that point. LeBron had space in the middle of the floor, Mo immediately made his signature dive to the corner for an open three, Parker was banging in open threes, and even Boobie was having a good time. It looked like real basketball for a little while there.
-And let’s have some kudos for Boobie, who had a fabulous little game tonight. His scoring inside the arc remains consistently atrocious, failing to make a 2-point FG in 34 minutes tonight. But he knew where to be, had 3 assists (good for 2nd on the team, horrifyingly), and was looking like his own self from deep, going to the spots and catch-and-shooting to the tune of 4-8 from beyond the arc. A +12 for Boobie in 34 minutes tonight. (For those of you keeping score at home, this means the Cavs gave up 22 points in the 14 minutes Boobie sat. Yipes.)
More fun with +/-; The Cavs gave up 12 points during the 8 minutes LeBron was on the bench.
Less fun with +/-; The Cavs were -25 in Shaq’s 25 minutes on the floor. Now, it’s understandable that there are going to be some Shaq-related growing pains. Mo was able to come in right away because he addressed a lot of serious weaknesses on the team and didn’t bring any particular weak points to the table. Shaq is different. This is a player with some very serious strengths and equally glaring weaknesses, and trying to integrate that into an existing and successful formula is not going to happen overnight.
That said, Shaq tonight was miserable. Offensively, Shaq just looks awful running pick-and-roll sets. A lot of what the Cavs like to do early in the game is initiate the offense with Mo getting a ball-screen, and with Shaq’s lazy picks and lack of range the “show” man was absolutely smothering Mo, chasing him out to half-court, and putting the offense in a tremendous bind. Shaq’s gotta be close to the rim offensively to be effective. Not rocket science, but not a concept the Cavs have grasped at this point. And since Andy can’t do much on the perimeter, there doesn’t appear to be an easy fix with the existing starting lineup. And if Shaq’s going to be anything less than devastating when he gets 1-on-1 coverage in the post, things are not going to be good offensively.
Defensively, the news was even worse. Shaq just looks absolutely miserable defending the pick-and-roll. Again, not new news. But watching the Cavs desperately rotating on defense and trying to play catch-up on Shaq’s man was like watching the Magic series all over again. To borrow a saying from Arnovitz, it might be time to truth-squad this one a little bit. Shaq absolutely murdered Phoenix’s defensive efficiency last season, and it’s been a few years since he played on a defense that wasn’t atrocious. Again, the hope is that MB can turn his around-the-rim defense into an asset like he did with Z, but it sure hasn’t materialized yet. There’s obviously a lot of time here, and there will be some growth and gelling over the coming months, but I’d prefer proactive solutions instead of continuing to bang heads into the wall playing Shaq in his current rotations.
And speaking of banging heads into the wall, Shaq and Andy together just doesn’t work offensively. It doesn’t work on paper, and it has failed spectacularly on the court so far. Shaq needs a power forward who can shoot. It’s that simple. There are a few solutions to this problem:
1. Play LeBron next to Shaq at the four. This happened tonight, and did seem to work. However, I’d really like to see Shaq work in non-LeBron lineups, considering how glaring of a weakness those have been and continue to be. So on that track, the options become:
2. Take your chances with Jamario Moon at the 4. Defensively, there are mismatch issues, but I’m generally willing to take my chances with a mismatch on a 2nd unit, where the players generally aren’t good enough to light teams up on their own. More on Moon later.
3. Take a leap of faith with JJ Hickson next to Shaq. JJ isn’t a lights-out shooter by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s got enough of a stroke from 18 that defenses at least have to guard him out there, and it’s conceivable that it could become Joe Smith-passable with confidence and practice. And he’s such a good athlete that he’s dangerous with a hard drive and jam catching on the weak side.
4. Find someone in a trade. I imagine this is why the SJax-to-Cleveland rumors appear to remain hot.
You know what’s not a solution? PLAYING SHAQ AND Z TOGETHER. I understand that Z can stretch the floor as a big, but really, are we having serious time right now? This killed the Cavs’ comeback chances in the fourth tonight. There’s just no chance that pair can keep up with any frontcourt in the league, let alone guys with Bosh and Bargnani’s speed. And it’s not like Z’s post game is good enough to truly punish a size mismatch on the other end. I’m a fairly staunch Mike Brown apologist for a lot of reasons, but man, every now and then he’ll make you scratch your head. When the Good Lord was ladling out common sense, the big spoon must’ve been dirty during Mike Brown’s turn.
-Andy also had some real struggles tonight, failing to make a field goal. He seems to have worked on his post game, and does catch people off guard with fakes, but his bread-and-butter is still diving to the basket with the floor spaced well around him, and that wasn’t happening tonight. Hey, maybe him and Z should be playing together! That’s so crazy, it might just get the Cavs 66 wins! Wait, that already happened.
-In the “mitigating factors” department: The offensive dropoff from Delonte to Anthony Parker is pretty severe. He’s wonderful as a spot-up shooter, but when he gets chased off the line his game isn’t much. Delonte was fantastic at making a hard drive or getting the ball to the weak side of the floor when he got chased off the line. In contrast, Anthony keeps the ball on his side of the court and seems to be in love with an array of off-balance jumpers, which don’t go in all that often. That’s a significant issue when it comes to jumpers.
-Also, I’m really worried that I was fooled by Moon. Not to venture into Simmons territory here, but you know how you’ll be at a party, and there’s a cute girl who’s friends with a bunch of your friends, and actually seems pretty cool and nice, but everyone looks at you and sort of shakes their head and laughs? Every discussion I’ve had about Moon with people that know his game has been EXACTLY LIKE THAT. On paper, he just seems so nice. Great finisher, solid shooter, good defensive numbers, great defensive tools-seems like a money role player, right? So why do I find myself cringing every time he launches a jumper, and get nervous every time he tries to lock on defensively?
For anyone who got the Raps broadcast on LP tonight, there was a moment where Moon was guarding Hedo, who should under no circumstances be able to drive by Moon one-on-one. But I got that sinking feeling, and before I knew it he bit on the smallest of up-fakes as Hedo got into the paint and drew contact. After that happened, the Raps broadcaster said “well, we know Jamario will bite on up-fakes,” then shared a knowing, gleeful cackle with the color guy. I cannot impress upon you enough how creepy and unsettling this was. I’m spooked by Moon now. I defended signing you over Matt Barnes, darnit.
Bullets of Randomness:
-The #1 overall picks playing tonight were LeBron, Shaq, and Andrea Bargnani. Who would’ve guessed that the high scorer in that group would be Andrea? He looked flat-out beastly tonight. Playing against Shaq and Z’s glacial butts helped, but he was raining jumpers, making cuts, and blowing by people. A wow performance, maybe even a lightbulb moment. Andy getting him into foul trouble by drawing back-to-back offensive fouls in the 3rd was a huge reason the Cavs were able to stay in the game.
-Less impressive were Bosh and Turk, but they did get the job done.
-DeRozan, on the other hand, is doing the Eric Snow “I can’t shoot threes, but corner jumpers from 20 feet are basically as good” thing. That doesn’t work in the NBA. You want to be an offensive asset as a wing player off the ball, get yourself legit 3-point range.
-Belinelli had a +19 in 19 minutes, and was generally beasting. Can’t believe the Warriors let him go for a song-also can’t believe DeRozan is starting over him at this point in DD’s development.
-Rasho freaking Nesterovic was making our bigs look a step slow by pick-and-popping tonight. RASH-O NES-TER-O-VIC. (You know you just heard Stephen A. say that in your head. Don’t lie.)
-Alright, that’s all for now. Again, let’s nobody panic. There are 80 more of these, and then the real season begins. Hopefully this game will be good in the long run by forcing MB to tackle some of the rotational issues head-on. Not the best week to play 4 games in 5 days, but things will get better. So instead of flipping the panic switch, let’s listen to “Panic Switch.” That bassist is the coolest person ever. (Behind the scenes-I really wanted to post the unplugged version of this song, which is exponentially more awesome, but embedding was disabled. Tonight is just not my night.) Until tomorrow, campers.
After a hot first quarter, the Celtics blitzed the Cavaliers’ second unit in the second quarter and carried the momentum all the way through the game, surviving a 38-point effort from LeBron James en route to a 95-89 victory.
-Starting on a happy note: LeBron seems to be picking up right where he left off last season. An absolutely monstrous game to the tune of 38/4/8 on 68% True Shooting, with 2 steals and 4 absolutely crushing blocks thrown in for good measure. His jumper is the big story-LeBron was 3-5 from midrange and 4-9 from beyond the arc, giving him 18 points on 14 jumpers. That’s a 64% eFG on those shots, which is just monstrous. He looks extremely comfortable with that stroke, which is so good to see, considering how badly he struggled with his jumper out of the gate last season.
The downside is the 5 turnovers-LeBron was definitely forcing a lot of home run passes and seeing them deflected, but a lot of that is a function of what I’ll get to below.
-Pretty much all of the other news is of the unpleasant variety. The 2nd-highest scorer on the Cavaliers had 12 points, and LeBron was the only Cavalier to shoot better than 50% from the floor. That’s not going to get it done against a team as good as the Celtics.
-First of all: there is no excuse to have LeBron and Shaq off the floor at the same time. It’s absolutely ridiculous. There are two players on this team who can consistently get their own shots efficiently and/or command a double-team, and their offensive strengths don’t even play off each other that well. The second unit has always been stagnant offensively, and prone to miserable scoring droughts if the outside shot isn’t falling. Now the Cavs have a guy who can change that, and he’s watching from the bench. I am livid about this.
-And after a hot start thanks to a couple of nice post-up baskets, Shaq really wasn’t helping the first team offense all that much. The lane looked extremely cluttered with him and Andy down there, he wasn’t opening much up passing from the low-post or working off the ball off the penetration of others. The worst thing was how disinterested he seemed setting screens and moving away from the basket. He’d just sort of amble over to an area, put his hands over his crotch, and stand there doing nothing as the man he was supposed to be screening went right around him and disrupted the play. If Shaq wants to play with Varejao, he has to make an impact with activity and good screens on the perimeter. Ben Wallace was able to be a part of a very good offensive unit last season doing only these things.
-And defensively, Shaq was regularly being exposed on the pick-and-roll. Pick-and-Roll defense has always been a problem for Shaq, but I was hoping that Mike Brown would be able to turn him into a defensive asset the way he did with Z. That wasn’t the case tonight, as Shaq regularly got caught in no-mans land and got blown by on the defensive end. I’m trying to breathe, seeing as how this was Shaq’s first regular season game with the team and the Celtics have one of the best defenses in the league, but a lot of the nightmares I’ve been having for the past few months came true tonight, so I’m a bit freaked out.
-The other big worry was how quiet Mo Williams was offensively. 3-8 from the field, 3 assists, and 0 threes for Mo. And if I remember correctly, all of his field goals came off the bounce. For a guy who’s most valuable when he’s shooting catch-and-shoot threes, this is a monstrous red flag. He just didn’t have the space to work with or the good off-ball screens he needed to get free on his catches, and he really suffered without guys who could play with him on the perimeter.
-Offensively, the team took a step backward tonight. This was a drive-and-kick team who could go to high-post action, players catch-and-shooting behind back picks, curl plays coming off the sidelines, weak-side motion off screen-rolls, everything. It was a lot of jumpers, and only LeBron could really be counted on in crunch-time, but there was great movement, great spacing, and could run smoothly for the entire first quarter without LeBron initiating any plays from the perimeter. Tonight, it was a big, ugly cluster looking for a post set, not swinging the ball from side to side, having guys smothered out on the perimeter, trying to force passes in a cluttered lane, and ultimately saying “screw it” and having LeBron go ISO. The ball was just not moving.
-Delonte’s absence hurt. Anthony Parker actually looked pretty good, although I don’t love him shooting fadeaway jumpers off a pin-down early in the shot clock. But he was solid as a spot-up shooter, and was generally comfortable making good passes when the opportunity presented himself. But he was never really a threat to get to the rim, and the team definitely missed Delonte’s playmaking-he takes the ball from side-to-side as well as any other Cavalier, which was definitely missing tonight. And a big part of the 2nd unit fiasco had to do with Boobie having to fill in at shooting guard, where he was just completely overmatched.
-Varejao didn’t have anyone stretching the floor up top and letting him dive low for pick-and-roll finishes, and ended up going 3-9 from the field, although he did have a surprising amount of success with shot fakes.
-Zydrunas continues to look like a terrible fit on the bench, forcing some deep jumpers, not getting any offensive boards, and finishing 1-4 from the field.
-Defensively, the speed wasn’t there to slow down Boston’s drive-and-kick game, and the result was the Celtics making nearly half of their threes.
Alright, that’s all I can really say about this game. Although I will say I have a perverse sense of relief about losing home game #1 this early in the season-it does take some pressure off the team in the regular season, and I do feel like the Cavs’ “we’re invincible at home” mentality came around to bite them when they lost game 1 of the ECF last season. Right now, I’m really not sold on starting two guys who can’t shoot, and I remain more convinced than ever that Shaq should be coming off the bench. But it’s the first game, and this is a heck of a team to play with two brand-new starters. It’s not time to be Chicken Little, not even Liz Phair’s crazy, threatening, and vaguely awesome version of Chicken Little. There needs to be more movement. There needs to be high-to-low post action. The bigs need to be active freeing up the guards on the perimeter. LeBron can’t be in bailout mode for 45 minutes. Hopefully these things will come. The good news is that the Cavs get to play the Raptors tomorrow, so hopefully they’ll look like the team they’ll need to look like. Until tomorrow.
(Editor’s Note: The Following Is My Piece For the “League-Wide” Section of the TrueHoop 2009-10 Season Preview, so it is not Cavs-centric. I still think it’s worth reading and you guys are still my favorites, so here it is in all of its glory. Again, any slip-ups in formatting are from the transfer of the piece from the PDF-based and great-looking book to my very plain HTML blog. Also, the picture is not something included in the book at all-it is a web-exclusive feature. Hooray, or something. So anyways, enjoy.)
Ask most NBA historians for a list of the best NBA power forwards of all time,
and you’ll probably get one that looks something like this, in no particular order: Bob Pettit, Karl Malone, Tim Duncan, Elvin Hayes, Kevin Garnett, Kevin McHale,Charles Barkley. Leaving out Barkley, all the names on that list have made a combined 317 3-pointers over the duration of their NBA careers.
Rashard Lewis, the starting power forward on the Eastern Conference Champion Orlando Magic, made 220 3-pointers in the 2008-09 regular season alone, which led the entire league. With his lanky frame, quick-trigger slingshot release, and lack of post moves, Lewis’ game bears more resemblance to Michael Redd’s than it does to Kevin McHale’s. For much of his career, he had been considered a small forward, and not a particularly bruising one at that. And yet by the end of the season, the notion of anyone else playing power forward for the Magic seemed completely absurd.
Lewis’ opponent at power forward in the NBA finals, Lamar Odom, was equally removed from the classic power forward archetype. A superb ball handler with a Gumby-like build and an affinity for leading fast breaks after getting a defensive rebound, Odom does most of his work off the dribble from the perimeter and prefers making a serpentine drive or a graceful assist to backing his man down or owning the paint with physical play.
As odd as it may seem that Odom and Lewis were the starting power forwards
on the league’s conference champions, their success is indicative of a wider trend throughout the league. The increasing amount of big men with “little-man” skills, the increased athleticism of perimeter players, and most of all the advent of the hand-check rules, have transformed the game. As more offenses rely on drive-and-kick and pick-and-roll schemes, it’s more advantageous for power forwards to stretch the floor, thereby freeing up valuable real estate around the basket for the guards.
And the revelation of the stretch four hasn’t affected just the 4s themselves. As power forwards have become more perimeter-oriented, more and more starting centers are short-range specialists. To gauge which teams have embraced the increased separation in the roles of the power forward and the center, I used data from 82games.com to examine shooting numbers from the players who got the largest amounts of minutes at the two positions last season. I then added together the percentage of shots the center took from the “inside” (dunks, layups, close post shots, and tip-ins) and the percentage of shots the power forward took that 82games defined as “jump shots.” Those percentages added together, with the maximum possible being 200, became a number I call “stretch factor.” By looking at this simple number, we can get a sense of how dif-
ferent teams get production out of their front courts.
Please note: This metric does not separate 3s from mid-range jump shots, which is an important caveat — Rashard Lewis shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc would be the equivalent of an Antonio McDyess-type player shooting 60 percent from midrange.
“Stretch Factor”= ( percent of center’s shots taken from “inside”+ percent of
power forwards shot’s taken as jumpers.)
GROUP 1: THE EXTREME STRETCH TEAMS (174-150)
Dallas led all teams in the NBA in “Stretch Factor” last season with a mark of 174. It should probably come as no surprise that the team that has embraced the stretch four as much as anybody employs Dirk Nowitzki as their franchise player. Dirk was the league’s “stretchiest” starting 4 last season, with 85 percent of his shots being jumpers. Dirk revolutionized the position in a lot of ways, but searches for “the next Dirk” have often been spectacular failures because his game is based as much on intelligence, toughness and all-around skill from the high post and above as it is on his height and a feathery shooting touch. At center, Eric Dampier is more than content to be the league’s best-paid garbage man, with a blue-collar game based around dunks, tips and offensive rebounds even though he gets paid like a superstar.
Orlando comes in second with a mark of 164, which is again no surprise, considering that Lewis is the league’s most potent frontcourt 3-point threat and Howard is its most dominant player in the immediate basket area.
New Orleans comes in third at 162, which is no surprise given that 90 percent of their offense comes out of Chris Paul pick-and-rolls; either the pass ended up going to Tyson Chandler at or above the rim or to David West for a kick-out 18-footer.
Portland comes in fourth, thanks to LaMarcus Aldridge’s affinity for his high- release jumper, either in catch-and-shoot situations or as a turnaround from the mid-post. Also notable is the play of Joel Pryzbilla, who took a stunning 93 percent of his shots in the immediate basket area and finished third in the league in True Shooting percentage. While everyone in Portland is waiting for Greg Oden, Pryzbilla’s determination to work down low gave the Blazers extremely solid play at center.
Rounding out the top 5 is Milwakee, with Andrew Bogut determined to stay down low and the departed Charlie Villanueva content to hover on the perimeter.
GROUP 2: A GOOD DEAL OF ELASTICITY (STRETCH FACTOR OF 149-136)
Golden State had a mark of 149, with Andris Biedrins, perhaps the league’s worst shooter, staying as close to the basket as he possibly could and de facto power forward Corey Maggette doing his work off the bounce. Chicago also had a mark of 149; Joakim Noah is a bad shooter and knows it, taking a league-high 94 percent of his shots from the immediate basket area. Tyrus Thomas isn’t as aware of his limitations as a shooter, and 55 percent of his shots were jumpers despite the fact his effective field goal percentage on those shots was only 35 percent.
Boston came in with a mark of 143; Kendrick Perkins is an exquisite garbage man, and Kevin Garnett has slowly evolved from the low-to-mid post dynamo he once was to a player much more comfortable catching and shoot- ing from the 18-foot range. Indiana can thank Troy Murphy’s fine if extremely awkward 3-point shooting touch for its mark of 141.
New Jersey had a mark of 136, with promising young center Brook Lopez working inside and less promising young power forward Yi floating on the perimeter. Mike D’Antoni’s Knicks had a mark of 136, with David Lee dunking and tipping and Al Harrington doing whatever he felt like, which generally meant shooting 3s.
GROUP 3: A BIT OF BEND TO THEM (STRETCH FACTOR OF 129-112)
Oklahoma starts this group off with Jeff Green’s jumpers, giving them a mark of 129. Phoenix comes in next at 127, thanks to Shaq being Shaq down low and Amare Stoudemire’s vastly improved stroke from mid-range. San Antonio also had a mark of 127; tellingly, the Greatest Power Forward Of All Time™ has been playing for center for them the past few seasons, while 3-point specialist Matt Bonner started at the 4 last season. Larry Brown’s embracing of Boris Diaw at power forward gave Charlotte a mark of 122, while Nene’s doggedness inside offset the fundamental unstretchiness of K-Mart to give Denver a factor of 119.
Thaddeus Young’s growth into a perimeter player of sorts gave Philadelphia a 114, and Darrell Arthur and Marc Gasol put Memphis at 112.
GROUP 4: NOT SO STRETCHY AT ALL (STRETCH FACTOR OF 109-94)
The Clippers’ behemoth pair of Zach Randolph and Marcus Camby got them a mark of 109, with both veterans loving to shoot from midrange despite not being all that good at it. The Wizards’ low mark of 109 was mainly because Andray Blatche doesn’t really like playing inside. Houston was able to make twin towers work with a mark of 107, while the Lakers have a surprisingly low number of 105 due to Odom’s refusal to take bad shots on the perimeter.
Miami is at 102 because none of their carousel of centers really wanted to play down low, and Toronto also lacked anyone willing to mix it up inside, earning them a mark of 98. With Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson floating from inside to outside, Sacramento scored a paltry 94.
GROUP 5: NOT ONE BIT OF BEND Al Horford playing as a somewhat undersized center and Josh Smith completely defying the notion of position got Atlanta a 91. Kevin Love being a true bruiser at power forward put Minnesota at 88. In Detroit, starting center Rasheed Wallace took a stunning 89 percent of his shots from outside, which is a higher percentage than Anthony Morrow and killed Detroit’s number, giving them a mark of 86.
GROUP 6: MORE BEND THAN YOU’D THINK
Cleveland and Utah had the lowest “stretch factors” in the league at 76 and 66, respectively, but there’s a valid explanation. On both teams, the power forwards and centers on defense switch roles on offense. In Utah, Paul Milsap bangs in the paint while Okur prefers long jumpers, and in Cleveland, Anderson Varejao dives to the rim while Ilgauskas, a former point guard before a massive growth spurt, has an offensive game built around catch-and-shoot jumpers. When you treat the center as the power forward and vice versa for both teams — which I did in the final scatterplot — Utah actually goes to 13th in stretch factor and Cleveland goes to 17th.
Overall, when I put the scatterplot of “Stretch Factor” against each team’s offensive efficiency for last year, there’s a clearly positive correlation between role specialization in the frontcourt and efficient scoring. It certainly isn’t an end-all-be-all, and in fact the league’s best and next-to-worst offenses both had middle-of-the-pack “Strech Factors,” but that kind of upward trend is promising. So while Odom and Lewis may have looked strange starting at power forward in last year’s finals, they won’t look out of place for long.
Editor’s Note: Here’s my Cavs chapter from the soon-to-come TrueHoop Network 09-10 Season Preview. In the book, everything looks much better and shinier, and I definitely recommend checking it out when you get the chance-any formatting ugliness here is a reflection on the arduous cut-and-paste from a PDF, not of the book itself. So anyways, hope you enjoy-there’s some overlap from my SLAM preview, but both are different takes on the fundamental truths about this team (as I see them) from last year to this year. So Enjoy, and get excited for a freaking awesome season here at Cavs: The Blog. Mo Williams preview tonight.
Last Season’s Record: 66-16
Crystal Ball Says:
The Consensus Prediction of the TrueHoop Network Bloggers…and My Own.
Crowd Says: 61-21
Cavs: The Blog Says: 63-19
Yes We Can!
A Preview of What’s To Come From A Cavs-Centric Viewpoint. (Mine.)
The 2008-09 Cleveland Cavaliers were essentially a 66-win team with the overall structure of a 50-win team. When’s the last time you can remember a 60-win team with one top-tier player? In terms of Player Efficiency Rating, no Cavalier other than LeBron James was in the top 10 at their position, and only Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Mo Williams were even among the top 15. Despite the increased win total and fanfare around the improved supporting cast, make no mistake — this was still a one-man team.
John Hollinger’s Estimated Wins Added, a mixture of minutes played and PER, is a rough metric, but it still tells us a few things about LeBron James’ role on the Cavaliers. Only Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul, with EWA totals of 30 and 28, respectively, even approached LeBron’s 32 Estimated Wins Added, and both of them played on extremely thin teams thatneeded their huge contributions just to make the playoffs. The gap between Le-Bron’s EWA total and the No. 4 player, Dwight Howard, was a full 12 wins. If you replaced LeBron’s EWA total with Hedo Turkoglu, the 14th-best small forward in the league last year in terms of EWA, the Cavaliers would have lost an estimated 26 wins, which would have made them a 40-win team.
The thing is, the Cavaliers have managed to build an excellent one-man team. Defense doesn’t require superstars, and Mike Brown is one of the best defen-sive coaches in the league. The Cavs were the third-best team in defensiveefficiency last season. (Although LeBron’s improved defense, good for a No. 2 finish in DPOY voting, also helped in that regard.) Offensively, almost every role player the Cavaliers employed last season was both brilliant in his role and as a complement to LeBron James, either through dead-eye shooting to stretch the floor for James or good enough playmaking to free up James to work off the ball and keep defenses from loading up the strong side against James.
After last season’s playoff heartbreak, Danny Ferry has changed up the equation by bringing in more talent with Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Leon Powe, rookie Danny Green, and Shaq to the roster while losing only Joe Smith, Sasha Pavlovic, and Ben Wallace. However, Shaq could disrupt the delicate offensive and defensive chemistry the Cavaliers rode to 66 wins and the conference finals,despite the fact he will be the best player LeBron has ever played with if he continues to play like he did last season. The big question for the Cavs this season is whether they overreacted to two clutch 3s by Rashard Lewis or made the risk they needed to take to finally get LeBron a ring.
NO YOU WON’T
A Less-Than-Flattering Take on The Cavs From a Beloved Colleague.
“Can you guess the significance of these numbers: 59, 40, 61, 75? No, they’re not the numbers from Lost, they’re the amount of regular games Shaq has played over the last few seasons. Odds are at 37 years of age the Big Twitter will miss a chunk of time, and the Cavs have to hope that it won’t cost them the No. 1 seed or occur during the playoffs. Additionally one of Cleveland’s weaknesses against the Magic was not being able to matchup with their mobile power forwards, something the team failed to address.”
140 characters that cut to the heart of the team’s struggle and the American Dream, or are funny.
Shaq’s Twitter feed as a whole probably wins the award here. I’m going withpossibly the most influential tweet: “To all twitterers , if u c me n public come sayhi, we r not the same we r from twitteronia, we connect”
ON THE RECORD
Single Best Quote Concerning the Team in the Past 12 Months.
“My motto is simple: Win a Ring for the King.”
LAST SEASON’S ALMANAC
The Bare-Bones Numbers From 08-09.
Team Factor Strength(s): Shooting Allowed (2nd), Shooting (4th)
Team Factor Weakness(es): none
Down One Point, One Possession Left, Season on the Line. What’s the Play?
Get the ball to LeBron James, run ISO or pick-and-roll, watch what happens. LeBron in the clutch, despite the fact he doesn’t have a ring, was just freaky lastyear. He averaged 56 points, 14.3 rebounds and 12.6 assists per 48 minutes in what 82games.com defines as “clutch” situations last year.. And it works for the team-the Cavs were one of the best teams in close games ever in 2007-08, and they wouldn’t have won 66 games last year without winning a lot of close ones. The Cavs are predictable in the clutch. So is an Atom Bomb. It still works.
THE PEOPLE’S CHOICE
Someone whose merits are better expressed by his place in the fans’ hearts than his production on the stat sheet so far.
J.J. Hickson, a fabulous athlete who has shown flashes of extreme skill in limited minutes and might be the most offensively talented big LeBron has ever played with (until Shaq comes), but hasn’t shown the defensive acumen to be in Mike Brown’s rotation.
IF YOU’RE WATCHING THE BOTTOM LINE, YOU’RE WATCHING THIS
The Single Biggest Cap-Related Concern About the Team.
Well, Delonte West’s contract isn’t guaranteed past 2010. Seriously, though, the Cavs have the biggest free agent in history looming over their head. Theremight never have been the kind of pressure on a franchise like there is on the Cavaliers this year. Nobody’s sure what will happen, but the general feeling is that LeBron will likely stay if the Cavs win it all this season and seriously consider walking if they don’t. The consequences of this don’t really need to be described. There’s not much more to say here that hasn’t been said already and will be said a whole lot more over the course of the next season. Gulp.
-So, the preseason ends with a wimper against the Celtics. It’s just the preseason, but here are a few general takeaways:
-LeBron and Mo are going to be badass. No real surprises there.
-Really impressed with Anthony Parker’s offensive game, especially his shot selection and passing, but still worry about his defense against the quicker perimeter players in the league. WFNY summed this up in an excellent post (that quotes my post!), so check that out.
-JJ Hickson: too good to keep off the floor, not quite good enough to feel entirely safe when he’s on it, especially with his Goodenian defensive rotations. Let’s hope this works out.
-I’m becoming more of a believer in Shaq/Andy as the starting frontcourt; both of them appear comfortable getting the ball at the three-point line and making the passes from up there to keep the defense honest, but this is THE thing I’ll have my eye on as the regular season begins.
-Hugely and pleasantly surprised by how comfortable Shaq appears to be as the “roll man” in the pick-and-roll game. That’ll be crucial.
-Really not sold on Z coming off the bench. His shooting efficiency was horrible; hopefully this is a product of a learning curve and not a sign he doesn’t have what it takes to be an offensive focal point anymore. (Something I forgot to mention in my Z profile: his move to the perimeter in recent years could be related to the perimeter-oriented Drew Gooden’s minutes going more and more to Andy and Ben Wallace in the last few years.)
-Andre Barrett, I will miss you. Yes, you were, objectively speaking, not all that good at basketball, but the fact you knew how to pass made you a Cavs: The Blog favorite during our brief time together. You join Tarence Kinsey in the C:TB Hall of Fame as a “player who pretty much only I like.” Go bravely into that good night, Andre.
-Yeah, I really don’t like Boobie as the backup point. His scoring game inside the arc is positively Telfairian. (Two bad players get their own words in today’s Links! Yay?) He can have flashes as a ballhandler or passer, but overall he’s a spot-up shooter who’s lost his identity. I hope I’m wrong on this, but Boobie needs to figure his stuff if he wants to get back to being the productive role player that the Cavs gave that contract to.
-Via RealCavsFans.com, the Cavs are reportedly in discussions with Antonio Daniels, who was recently bought out. I’d be down with this. As discussed above, I’m not really feeling Boobie as a backup point right now, and I’ve always thought of Daniels as the archetypal backup point. However, there is a distinct possibility he’s washed up, so I understand the Cavs brass’ reported hesitation about giving Daniels a guaranteed contract.
-Apparently LeBron has been counseling Terelle Pryor. We’re sure they’re not the same person, right? Like, there are pictures of them together and stuff? This isn’t LeBron living out his football dreams? I’m joking, of course-LeBron can pass. (I kid.) But seriously, my only actual form of football fandom is my blind faith that a true running quarterback will revolutionize the NFL someday, so I’m a huge Pryor fan. Hope he figures it out soon.
-Hey, here’s a short, noncommittal item about LeBron that doesn’t really deliver anything conclusive but will start lots of pointless arguments! Thanks, David Stern!
-UFC 104 thoughts, since I’m an MMA junkie: Shogun is coming off a lackluster win against a miserably washed-up Mark Coleman and a KO of Chuck Lidell, who’s so dangerous Dana has forced him to retire. Not sure how he deserves this title shot, other than people dreaming about PRIDE Shogun. Meanwhile, Machida has looked completely dominant. The only real intrigue that I see here is whether Machida delivers an imposing KO like he has in his last two fight or goes into outpointing mode and gets called “overrated” for another few months. There are no sure things in MMA, but this doesn’t seem like the most compelling of title fights. I think Ben Rothwell has a legit chance to play spoiler to Cain Velasquez and mess up the HW title picture-can Ben Rothwell ever headline a PPV? Hope Rumble can deliver a huge knockout and at least provide a few minutes of intrigue in the WW division, where everyone is just waiting for GSP’s next victim. Excited to see Pat Barry fight another striker on free TV, because he’s badass. Three TKOs by leg kicks in his career already; when you can make somebody who fights for a living and has gone through a 10-week training camp say “Holy crap, my leg is about to fall off, screw this, I’m going home,” you’re worth watching.
-And to stray even further from the point, here’s a gratuitous clip from Glee. It’s come to my attention that Dianna Agron, who sings this, went to the same high school my little brother currently attends. And even still, I like Rachel better. But congrats on making good, Dianna. I’m sure having a large role on a hit network show is almost as impressive back home as being a semi-successful basketball blogger. Since Glee takes place in Ohio, and this is a Cavs blog, the cast probably reads it, right? That’s a thing that could happen? Maybe? I have dreams, sometimes. Not often. Anyways, have an awesome weekend, campers, and get ready for the end of the profiles and the start of the season.
Colin McGowan is the editor in chief of Cavs: The Blog. He has written for Deadspin, The Classical, and ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @cs_mcgowan.
Kevin Hetrick is a contributing editor at Cavs: the Blog. He is a civil engineer who grew up in Northeast Ohio as a fan of the Cavs, Indians, and Browns. He now lives in Indianapolis. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and he's on Twitter at @hetrick46.
Tom Pestak is a staff writer at Cavs: the Blog. He's from the west side of Cleveland and lives and (mostly) dies by the success and (mostly) failures of his beloved teams. You can watch his fanaticism during Cavs games @tompestak.
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Robert Attenweiler is a staff writer at Cavs: The Blog. Originally from OH, he's long made his home in NYC where he writes plays and screenplays (www.disgracedproductions.com) some of which end up being about Ohio, basketball or both. He has also written for The Classical and the blog Raising the Cadavalier. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @cadavalier.
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