Archive for November, 2009

Links To The Present: November 30th, 2009

Monday, November 30th, 2009

-Articles on Delonte’s “return” by Bill Livingston and Bob Finnan.

-I’m late on this, but Kelly Dwyer on the FreeDarko podcast is absolutely spellbinding. Absolutely worth a listen, especially for anyone who wants to actually try to do this thing.

-As some of you may know, I’m prone to liking certain players in this league completely irrationally. (Tarence Kinsey would be an example.) Sergio Rodriguez is at the top of that list, and I’m just beyond thrilled he had a huge night tonight. He’s on my list of “guys available for a song I’d love to see with LeBron on a 2nd unit someday.”

-Speaking of the Kings, here’s Cavs: The Blog favorite Tom Ziller on the Cavs’ struggle to fit Shaq into their offense. Most of the lineup data has been discussed in this space, and the Hickson-Shaq lineup was working before Shaq’s injury, but it’s an interesting read.

-Windhorst on LeBron’s improved shooting.

Recap: Cavs 111, Dallas 95 (Or, DELONTE! Also, Other Things!)

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

Overview: The Cavaliers were able to overcome Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki’s combined 52 points thanks to a lights-out shooting night from Mo Williams and a combined 22 assists from LeBron James and Delonte West.

Belated Charlotte Mini-Recap:

Sorry guys, I had Thanksgiving weekend stuff with my family that prevented me from recapping that game in a timely fashion. Here’s the thing about that game. It wasn’t about the Cavs not having energy, or getting in a trap game, or a Thanksgiving hangover, or anything like that. That stuff may have played a factor, but the bottom line is that Charlotte is a great defensive team. In fact, they’ve been the best defensive team in the league thus far.

There are two ways to overcome a defense that good. You can confuse them by having multiple points of attack and initiating offense from a wide variety of players and sets, or one of your best guys can go into SuperBeast mode. As for the former option, the Cavs have four players on their roster who can create offense for themselves and others. Four. One of those players had an off night, and one played for two minutes. So that pretty much ruled out plan #1. As for Plan #2, LeBron and Mo took half of the team’s shots, but ran into a defensive wall, and LeBron wasn’t able to get to the line or really impose his will. So the Cavs got stuffed on offense. After that, a great night from Gerald Wallace and a good night from Stephen Jackson was all the Bobcats needed to take the game. Also a factor is that previous Cavalier teams have thrived in these type of defensive struggles, but this year’s squad doesn’t seem to have the same type of defensive mentality.

Cavs-Related Bullets About The Dallas Game:

Full disclosure: I had to watch this game on tape-delay, because I was at the UCLA-USC game all day Saturday. When I looked over the box score before watching the replay, my thought process could be summed up as follows:

“Okay, LeBron had a solid night from the floor and logged 12 assists. Man, Mo was lights-out, that’s a big deal. Moon and Varejao had great nights off the bench, and Shaq…OMG DELONTE WEST PLAYED 28 MINUTES AND HAD 10 ASSISTS YES YES YES.”

-First bullet, thus, goes to Delonte. The Cavaliers saw two players this weekend who would solve their needs perfectly. Both are physical guards who are phenomenal passers in the half-court. Both love to create plays by backing down smaller guards and punishing them in the post. Both love to drive to their left and are good finishers at the basket. Neither is a pure shooter, but both are more than capable of knocking down open shots and have three-point range. Both love to play defense, and can match up with a variety of different players on the defensive end.

The first one of those guys is Stephen Jackson. Assuming the Bobcats would be willing to trade him, the Cavs would have to give up their starting center from last season to get him, would have zero cap flexibility for the next several years, and take huge chemistry risks both in adding Jackson and subtracting Big Z, making Shaq the only option at starting center.

The second one of those guys is Delonte West, who’s been sitting on the Cavs’ bench all along.

Now, I recognize that there are circumstances regarding Delonte that are beyond my comprehension, and I recognize that his playing time has to fluctuate for reasons that can only be understood by people in the Cavalier locker room. But when the buzzer starts and everybody is on the floor, the benefits of Delonte West are obvious and immense. I don’t know if Delonte took a significant step forward mentally between Friday and Saturday night, or even if something happened during halftime of Friday’s game that justified benching him for the vast majority of the third quarter. But from a basketball standpoint, it’s clear that if Delonte is in uniform and ready to play, he should be getting significant minutes.

Everything just looked so much better with Delonte on the floor. He’s in superhuman condition and brings an amazing energy level on both ends whenever he touches the floor, but even more than that, it’s his versatility and energy level that makes him a special player in this lineup. He was punishing the undersized Dallas guards in the post and opening up the floor that way. He was making lightning-fast decisions passing the ball, identifying the open man and correct play before he touched the ball and opening up the offense that way. When he didn’t have the ball, he was flying to the open spot on the floor and cutting furiously to make an aggressive drive, and opening up the floor that way. And this is all without his outside shot being back yet, which is yet another way Delonte West opens up the floor. Offensively, Anthony Parker and Boobie Gibson do not approach the level of impact Delonte West makes.

And while Delonte’s defense didn’t make a huge impact tonight (Terry was ON), his activity, hunger for every loose ball, and desire to push the ball at every opportunity certainly did. He was creating extra plays all over the place, and it’s no coincidence that the energy level of the entire team looked as high as it’s looked all season this game. Mike Brown says playing Delonte (and DNP-CDing Z) was a reaction to Dallas going small. Let’s hope that Mike Brown knows a serendipity when he has one. And from the “little moments I love file,” how about Marion trying to punish Delonte in the post, only to have Delonte not give him a single inch?

-Speaking of energy, Anderson Varejao was just rolling tonight. His +18 in 32 minutes was tied for the best mark in the game, he was perfect from the floor in scoring 15 points, and his energy level was just insane, with 5 offensive boards, a steal, and a number of loose-ball fouls drawn. The energy stuff is just an upgraded version of par for the course from Andy, but there’s something else, too. I’ve been noticing this all season, but on Saturday night I’m starting to believe that it’s legitimate: Anderson Varejao has become a legitimately skilled basketball player.

Now, Andy’s always had a lot more skill than he gets credit for. He’s a very smart player at both ends of the court, is a great rebounder, and finishes in traffic beautifully. But whenever he tries to do something traditionally associated with “skill,” like make a post move, put the ball on the floor, or take an outside shot, my response has generally been to scream loudly, and shrug my shoulders and chuckle if he actually did make it. He tried to do a lot of this stuff in his post-holdout season (something I dubbed “FeganBall” at the time), and it contributed to easily the worst year of his career. Last year, he went back to basics, and the results were positive.

But this season, Andy’s gone back to incorporating some diversity into his game, and it’s actually been working. He still can’t shoot from the outside, and is far from a reliable post threat, but he’s got some moves. He’ll surprise his man with a pump fake or an up-and-under move, he’s been able to finish after facing up and taking one or two dribbles, and he’s finishing after his spin moves. I don’t want to jinx this, but Andy does actually appear to be cultivating a bag of tricks.

-Also deserving of praise is Jamario Moon, an Andy clone with a little less intelligence, more hops, and the ability to make spot-up jumpers. That’s a very good thing. 9 boards and a +18 in 31 minutes tonight, and he quietly seems to be proving himself as an impact player off the bench. Although he did do that thing again tonight where he has a three, pump-fakes, takes one dribble to 20 feet, and bricks the jumper. Never mind that Jamario is a terrible shooter off the bounce. I hate that shot so much. That is Larry Hughes’ shot. It never goes in. If I had Synergy Sports and pulled up the data for that shot, I think the computer might start to weep before blowing up its monitor in an attempt to free me from watching a montage of those shots through the sweet release of death. Okay, this isn’t really a legitimate critique of Jamario tonight. I just really hate that shot.

-Shaq looks a little lost trying to return. He’s rushing in the post, and trying to power through double-teams instead of passing out of them. He looks slow defensively, and shoving Jason Terry when he gave a Hack-a-Shaq foul was a clear sign that Shaq is a little frustrated trying to work himself back into the team’s flow. But he did end up helping the team in the end, using his size to punish Dallas with the 2nd unit in the fourth quarter, not only allowing the Cavs to survive LeBron sitting but getting Cleveland in the penalty early.

To block-quote this very excellent new Cavs blog:

“So far in the season, I’ve liked Shaquille O’Neal best when he’s serving as the means to a very specific end. Such as physically engaging Dwight Howard, or physically dominating teams with that play undersized 5’s and making them adjust, or in tonight’s case…making a concerted effort to make use of his size advantage by drawing fouls.”

Yes. Precisely. When the Cavs know what they’re doing with Shaq, he provides a huge advantage. When they just roll the ball out there and say “well, Shaq and LeBron are both really good, they’ll tear it up,” the team ends up suffering. As the season goes on, hopefully MB will start using Shaq with a specific purpose in mind rather than just hope talent carries the day.

-Wow, this far down and I haven’t even gotten to the Cavs’ two leading scorers. Honestly, what is there to say? Not missing is a good game plan, and Mo was on that tonight. Going 7-7 from beyond the arc is going to swing the game in a major way. If Mo goes a very good 3-7 from deep, he finishes with 13 and the final score goes to 95-99.

-As for LeBron, I may have jinxed his jumper. 0-8 from outside the paint for LeBron tonight. And he finished with a line of 25/5/12 on 54% TS with only 1 turnover. LeBron James is quite good at basketball and basketball-related endeavors.

-JJ only played 14 minutes tonight, but with Moon and Andy playing so well and Dirk being an absolute nightmare matchup for JJ defensively, that’s understandable. Hopefully MB can continue to manage the rotation and use appropriate lineups like this throughout the year.

-Alright, that’s all I have tonight. Let’s everyone get ready for another fun week of Cavalier basketball.

Preview: Cavaliers At Bobcats, 11/27/09

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Relevant Statistics:

Pace: Cleveland 92.5 (20th) vs. Charlotte 89.6 (28th)

Offensive Efficiency: Cleveland 106.8 (13th) vs. Charlotte 96.8 (28th)

Defensive Efficiency: Cleveland 102.6 (11th) vs. Charlotte 97.2 (1st)

Notes:

-Obviously, looking at those efficiency statistics for Charlotte, it’s pretty clear what this game will hinge on. If the Cavs can establish any sort of offense against this team, Charlotte probably won’t have enough scoring punch to keep up .

-Shaq will supposedly return today, which is great news. We’ll see if the starting lineup will be as dangerous offensively with Shaq as it has been with him out of the lineup. But even if that lineup does lose a little bit of punch, having Shaq on the floor later in the game should keep the offense from going through dry spells.

-Defensively, the key for Cleveland is going to be to stop Charlotte from using all three of their playmakers (Felton, S-Jax, Diaw) in tandem with each other and make Charlotte play one-on-one basketball. If they do that, the  Bobcat offense won’t be able to do much.

-Here’s a chance for Cleveland fans to look at what they missed by not getting Stephen Jackson.

Recap: Cavs 98, Pistons 88 (Or, Is that what an easy win feels like?)

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Overview: A 60-42 first half was enough to negate a sloppy second half for the Cavaliers, who held off a shorthanded Pistons team behind 34 points from LeBron James.

Extra-Special Bonus Theory Before The Bullets:

This is one of my key sports theories, and it definitely applies to this Pistons team. In almost every sport, salaries are distributed on a linear scale. Talent, at least in terms of impact on the game, works on an exponential scale. Basically, the gap in impact between the first and fourth best player in the league is a lot greater than the gap between the 31st and 34th best player in the league, but the salaries increase like the gap was relatively similar. With “Max salaries” in the NBA creating an artificial plateau in the salary scale, the benefits of paying for top talent become even more pronounced. Basically, you want to be spending your money on the absolute top-level players as much as possible, because that’s where the gap between the linear scale and the exponential scale becomes the most pronounced, and as little money as possible on marginal players, because on the exponential scale, the difference in impact between a good marginal player and a bad marginal player isn’t all that pronounced. You want to be building on an extreme skew. For an example, overpaying for Rashard Lewis isn’t going to hurt you nearly as badly as overpaying for Brian Cardinal is, even though you’re technically paying less for Cardinal.

The problem with the Pistons right now is that they’re acting like talent is distributed on a linear scale. They’ve spent the vast majority giving very nice contracts to very nice players. It works on paper, but in reality it’s an inefficient way to build a basketball team. I wish I was better with math or excel so I could find a better way to tangibly demonstrate this, but if you look at the image below, which still isn’t perfect, the Pistons are spending a lot of money in the 30-40 range on the X axis, which isn’t nearly as efficient as spending a (relatively) small amount more money for a lot more impact and sacrificing talent down at the lower end of the scale. This can be overcome with a great system and players who fit it perfectly like the Pistons had in their championship season, but right now the Pistons have retained the wrong lesson from those teams (more good players are better than one or two great players), and forgotten the correct one, which is that a good system and players who fit it can trump overall talent level. Alright, onto the bullets.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

-Another good offensive start, and this time the Cavs actually played defense to build themselves a solid lead. They were looking for the fast-break, LeBron was setting guys up nicely, and Boobie provided a great scoring punch off the bench to turn the normal 2nd-quarter lull into a productive period, which was a very big deal. Mo didn’t have his best shooting night, but he did a great job setting people up, and finished with eight assists.

-The second half was significantly uglier. Loyal readers know I don’t play this card very often, but there was simply way too much LeBron vs. the World in the second half. At one point, it does become a perpetual motion machine. Mo couldn’t get where he wanted to go in the second half, and that meant that only LeBron was going to be able to make plays off the bounce. You can run as many screens and cuts as you want, but when you’ve got two playmakers on the floor and one of them is getting neutralized, the offense is not going to hum along.

-LeBron didn’t help matters much with his shot selection in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter. You know how I just said that LeBron’s jumper has been really pure this season, and that he should trust it a little more late in games? Well, tonight was a fairly good rebuttal to my little idea. LeBron was 1-6 from outside the paint in the fourth quarter and 5-16 on jumpers overall, and was stopping the ball a good deal as the game came down the stretch. Fortunately, the Cavalier defense was good enough not to get taken apart by a bad offensive team without their best scorer, but the offense was not doing good things in the second half. And to disclaimer, you know LeBron’s pretty good when I’m essentially calling him out for his play in a game where he went for an efficient 34 points with 8 rebounds and 7 assists, although he did have 5 of those stupid turnovers that have been plaguing him this season.

-The threes: A big deal. 9-17 from beyond the arc for the Cavs, compared to 5-14 for the Pistons. That’s 12 extra points on three more attempts, and in a 10-point game that matters a good bit.

-Not JJ Hickson’s best offensive game (B. Wallace was giving him some trouble inside), but his activity level was fantastic, he only blew one or two rotations on Charlie V, and he finished with four offensive boards and a team-high +12. That’s all effort right there.

-Jamario Moon continues to be quite solid, with 11 points on 5 field goal attempts, 0 turnovers, and 2 blocks.

-Boobie’s shot in the arm early in that second quarter was pretty crucial. Overall, he had 13 points on 7 shots, and made all three of his three-point attempts. Someone’s getting a shirt.

boobie shirt

-Anthony Parker was quite solid, and his two threes to start the third quarter gave the Cavs some much-needed cushioning against the Pistons’ late push.

Bullets of Randomness:

-Rodney Stuckey scored nicely, with 25 points on 16 shots and some gritty drives down the stretch to keep the Pistons in the game, but had 0 assists in 40 minutes. Rodney Stuckey is a point guard. Meanwhile, Will Bynum led the Pistons in assists with 5, but shot 1-13 from the field. Cavs may have dodged a bullet with him shooting so badly.

-Charlie V’s a nice player. He really is. But even tonight, when he was hitting his threes, he needed 17 attempts to get 19 points. That’s not an ideal level of efficiency for a power forward.

-By the way, caught the Detroit feed on League Pass tonight. They want to be our rivals, too. Who doesn’t these days? Until tomorrow, everyone. Happy Thanksgiving, campers.

Preview: Cavs at Pistons, November 25th

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Relevant Stats:

Pace: Cavs 94.2 (21st) vs. Pistons 90.1 (30th)

Offensive Efficiency: Cleveland 105.7 (9th) vs. Pistons 101.8 (21st)

Defensive Efficiency: Cleveland 100.5 (9th) vs. Pistons 104.4 (18th)

Notes:

The Pistons are a team with a lot of nice players, but no real superstars. The way teams like that usually try to win is to try and play crazy lineups to exploit mismatches or try and form a crushing defense, since defense doesn’t require a superstar to be played well. Since they’re the slowest team in the league, Detroit appears to be trying for the latter, but outside of Ben Wallace Detroit just doesn’t have that much defensive talent.

A big reason for Detroit’s early struggles has been the abysmal offensive play of Rodney Stuckey, who was supposed to be the future of the franchise not all that long ago. Stuckey’s been shooting the ball terribly, hasn’t finished at the rim, and has never been a true point guard. All of that has been at the core of a disappointing season thus far for Detroit, although the play of the objectively awesome Will Bynum off the bench has been a welcome diversion.

Villanueva is yet another stretch four to test out Hickson. Hopefully JJ can get a lot of help from whoever is marking Ben Wallace at the defensive end.

The X factor is Ben Gordon-cue up another round of “I wish Delonte West was going to be chasing this guy around for 40 minutes.” He can go off on you. However, the Pistons’ relatively anemic offense and dawdling pace should make them just what the doctor ordered for the Cavs’ defense. We’ll see how it goes.

Reading List:

Detroit Bad Boys

Piston Powered

Need4Sheed

Chat During The Game Over At:

Daily Dime Live. I’ll be there, but you should come anyways.

Links to The Present: November 25th, 2009

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Just a few quick links because I’ve got a paper tonight:

-A quick tour of my awesomely functional new template;

-I can now post headlines with capital letters in them. This was not a stylistic decision. The blog made all capital letters into lowercase ones and I could never figure out why. So there’s a win right there.

-There is now a retweet button. Use it liberally, please.

-Again, no more hidden malicious code. Whoever infected my blog, I hate you a lot. That is all.

-Commenting is much more clean and the template no longer appears to mysteriously swallow comments-a bunch of comments on older posts got freed this morning, so comment away, please.

-It’s still early in the season, but “Kobe works with The Dream” appears to be absolutely destroying “Rondo works with Mark Price” in the “training camp stories that make fans drool” race.

-I am genuinely happy that the Wizards got a win for Abe Pollin tonight. RIP to one of the game’s class acts and great owners.

-50 best dunks list. LeBron’s highest appearance is his flush over Damon Jones at number 16. With Shaq over Chris Dudley at number 9, LeBron isn’t even the highest-ranking Cav. Wade’s flush over Andy comes in at number 6. Not trying to hate, and these lists are obviously subjective, but when the 12th-best dunk makes me think “Man, Amare doesn’t have the hops he used to,” there might be an issue.

-Shaq is reportedly hoping to come back to the lineup on Wednesday.

-Very interesting article by Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard about why LeBron should take the minimum salary next season. Not going to happen, but interesting.

-Cavs get to face John Kuester and Ben Wallace tomorrow night! I honestly have missed pre-injury Ben Wallace at both ends of the floor this season. Full post on this possible, but I’m really happy that Ben is continuing to have success in Detroit.

-Another one of those things I went and forgot I’m supposed to care about: the LeBron mural controversy. My thing is that I just don’t like that whole reptile-skin thing or whatever it is. Hated that Adrian Peterson ad, don’t like it on a mural. Makes LeBron look like a character from V. If there’s going to be a mural, let’s have it be for a cooler ad campaign.

-From the “I completely and totally agree with Brian Windhorst” files:

“One problem that is clear right now, though, is West and it has nothing to do with off court issues. There isn’t a place for him in Brown’s rotation at the moment. The coach is facing the matter of whether to reduce others’ playing time to integrate West back in or move on without him because he can’t be trusted to be there.

This is a tough one. In my opinion, the Cavs are going to need West near his old self to get where they need to go. He’s too important defensively and to versatile to think he’s only a part-time player. But how do you even consider getting him back to that level without committing to playing him at least 25 minutes. It isn’t fair otherwise.”

I mean, all of that is absolutely and completely correct.

-It’s not looking good for LBJ’s public image in terms of the “I want to retire MJ’s number and wear Bill Russell’s” thing. My best argument is that MJ is identified by his number more than any other pro athlete, and certainly more so than Russell, but it’s tough to make a particularly compelling argument as to why his is the only jersey that should be retired. #99 in hockey is a decent precedent, but #42 in baseball is a much better one, in my opinion.

-Steph Curry won the game for a short-handed Warrior team down the stretch tonight. Is it wrong that I already think of him as the poor man’s Brandon Jennings?

-Alright, that’s all for tonight. Game tomorrow, get excited.

Off-Day Fun of all kinds: November 23rd, 2009

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

-First and foremost: As you may have noticed, the place looks a little different nowadays. I’ve been looking to class up the look of this site ever since I signed up for the network with a free WordPress theme. Recently, a huge wave of malicious adware hit my blog and forced my hand, which is honestly probably for the best in the long-term. Spencer Hall is the man, and generously cleaned up the malicious code that’s been infesting the blog and put a new template on. From what I understand, the new template may still change, but I already feel like the site looks a lot cleaner and is closer to looking like the kind of site that this Cavalier team deserves.

-New 82games.com data is in. Here’s what stands out to me:

-It’s still early, but LeBron’s jump shot has been really, really, really good. His eFG% on jump shots is at 47.7% so far, which would be a huge upgrade over his jump shooting numbers in previous years. Not only that, but his jump shooting efficiency has been better than Durant’s, Wade’s, Roy’s, Dirk’s, Carmelo’s, Ray Allen’s, and just about any other high-usage wing who generally takes outside shots with the ball in his hands. The fact that only 12% of LeBron’s jump shots have been assisted makes this even more impressive. And now, of course, all anybody wants to talk about is how he doesn’t use the post enough.

-JJ Hickson is becoming a fantastic offensive player. A full quarter of his shot attempts are dunks, which is a very big deal, as he converts those at an 85% clip. His finishing around the basket has become respectable at 53.3%, although that’s actually a number that could stand to go up. And he’s been converting at a thrilling rate on jumpers, connecting at a 46% rate. That’s about as good as it’ll get for a big man. The sample size is still small, and JJ doesn’t appear to be all that confident in his shot, but his stroke is very pure for a big, and if he can make that mid-range J into a consistent weapon, good things are going to start happening.

-Only two Cavaliers have a positive “Simple Rating,” which combines on/off court data with PER vs. opponent PER. Those players are LeBron James and Anderson Varejao, who quite simply needs more minutes. More on that in a few bullets.

-I wouldn’t be posting this stat if what I’d seen on the court this season didn’t confirm it. You know how you tend to work really hard on the first date, then begin a downward slope in terms of effort once you’re finally in? I’ve long felt that way about the NBA all-defensive team, and LeBron is unfortunately confirming my theory this season. It’s really hard to get a good defensive reputation in any sport, and really hard to lose it once that reputation has been bestowed upon you. (See Jeter, Derek for an inter-sport reference.) LeBron deservedly made his first all-defensive team last season and finished 2nd in the voting for DPOY, and I’m one of the few people who believed his defense was actually underrated by most fans. It went past the spectacular blocks and weak-side steals. LeBron didn’t get burned, ever, in man coverage and his activity and ability to cover ground on the weak-side in the half-court made just as much of an impact as his highlight-reel blocks in the full-court. Look at any advanced defensive statistics from last season-LeBron was absolutely killing it on the defensive ends, and those statistics didn’t care what LeBron’s name or offensive game was.

-This season, the all-around defensive impact hasn’t been there. He’s been caught on some rotations, he’s not putting out the same defensive intensity as he did last year, and he’s even getting burned by his own man more often that he was. I feel like LeBron may feel he’s “proven” his defensive prowess to the world, and is now coasting on that reputation a little bit. LeBron’s defensive plus-minus this season has been a +7.2, which is pretty bad. A lot of that is early-season noise and lineup quirks, but for a guy who was third in the entire league in defensive plus-minus last season, that’s a pretty significant red flag to watch.

-And of course, the defense in general has been the greatest contributor to my ulcer in the early going this season. Nobody’s playing it all that well, save for Andy. (KJ-I admit to making a causation/correlation error with this on Shaq. Let’s be friends again.) Hickson’s spotty rotations replacing Andy in the starting lineup and the de facto loss of Delonte “Hell in Sneakers” West have been big deals, but the fact is that nobody is really going all-out on the defensive end right now. Anthony Parker is giving up a pretty high opponent PER of 18. (Remember how defensive reputations are hard to lose?) In fact, the only Cavs with an opponent PER of under the league-average of 15 are LeBron, Andy, Delonte, and Coby Karl. Since LeBron rarely draws tough defensive assignments, Delonte hasn’t been playing much, and Coby almost literally hasn’t played, that’s not thrilling news. The defensive intensity needs to step up, period. If there’s one thing I trust Mike Brown to do, it’s to establish some defensive intensity, but let’s hope it happens soon.

-Jamario Moon is looking like the player we hoped to get when we signed him. His spot-up shooting has been excellent, with an eFG% of 47.6% on jumpers, and 87% of those jumpers have been off of assists, which is what you want him doing. At the basket, Moon’s eFG% is an insane 83.3%, which has been helped by the fact that he has yet to make an unassisted basket at the rim this season. When he stays within himself and plays off of others, Moon is a heckuva role player.

-Boobie Gibson’s incompetence at the basket is still at legendary status. He’s at a 56.7% eFG on jumpers, but has made 17% of his shots at the basket, with fully half of them being blocked. To make it clear: 17% is legendarily bad ON JUMP SHOTS. We’re talking B. Wallace/Biedrins territory here. And Boobie’s doing that on layups. Amazing. Anthony Parker’s 57.4%/22.2% outside/inside split is also notable. I mean, I’ve never seen anything like this before.

-There are only two players who make the Cavs worse than a .500 team when they sit-LeBron and Andy. The team is a full 12 points better per 100 possessions when Andy’s on the floor. That’s the difference between the Celtics’ D and the Knicks’ D, to provide some reference.

Alright, that’s a 1,000 solid words to chew on. I leave you with this excellent Windhorst article about why LeBron should think long and hard before leaving for a major market. Until tomorrow, campers.

Recap: Cavs 97, 76ers 91 (Or, It’s how you start, and how you finish)

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

Overview: After losing a 23-36 first-quarter lead, the Cavs put away the 76ers with a fourth-quarter comeback, holding Philadelphia to 10 points in the final quarter.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

Another monster first quarter and game for LeBron James. He scored or assisted on 25 of the Cavs’ 36 points in the opening quarter, and once again looked like an all-around monster in the first quarter, setting up his jumper and his teammates while keeping the defense honest with a few monster drives to the rim. 32 points on 70% True Shooting tonight, with 9 assists and 7 boards thrown in for good measure.

The Cavs’ offense gets accused of standing around and watching LeBron too much, but tonight it was the Cavs’ defense that got caught up in the show-they didn’t give the defensive end of the floor enough respect once again, and the 76ers stayed aggressive and was able to abuse the Cavs on defense with fast-break points and drives to the hoop.

The 2nd unit was a big culprit tonight-leaking 11 points in 4 minutes just isn’t acceptable by any stretch of the imagination. My main issue with them tonight was their pace of play-they went through 9 possessions in 4 minutes, which would extrapolate to 108 possessions per 48 minutes. They got caught up in being in a shootout, and were settling for way too many quick jumpers and sloppy drives. The 2nd unit has to understand that the Cavs will, statistically, be at a pretty significant disadvantage when LeBron is off the floor, and have to play smart, control the ball, and try to minimize the impact of what happens when he’s sitting. In the fourth quarter, the 2nd unit was able to get the Cavs back into the game, and that was entirely due to them playing smart and under control rather than thinking they played for the Suns.

JJ Hickson is a monster, and that midrange stroke looked extremely smooth tonight.

Only 1 jumper for LeBron in the 2nd quarter, and none in the second half. On one level, that’s playing the percentages, but with how many sloppy drives he took, I’d like to see him trust that jumper just a little bit more when nothing else is there, considering how good it’s looked when he’s playing a bit looser in the start of games.

Mo and LeBron just love finding Hickson, and his mid-range jumper even looked soft tonight. And boy, can he get to the rim fast from the top of the key-two straight games he’s had jaw-dropping plays just flying to the basket.

Good bounce-back game for Z, going 6-10 from the floor and logging 4 assists for good measure. Shaq’s a better player than Z and does give the Cavs some advantages, but LeBron just loves running wild when Z’s spacing things in that opening unit.

Very big game for Moon, getting timely dunks, knocking down the open three, and putting in very solid work defensively and on the glass.

Rough game for AP from the field, but him, LeBron, Moon, and even Andy on some switches just did a phenomenal job marking Iggy in this one. He struggled all game, and absolutely killed them by shooting them out of the game with horrible shots in the fourth quarter. I can’t remember a player that good being that horrible for an extended stretch in a game-deciding situation. AI missed 6 of his 7 jumpers in the fourth, most of them badly.

Mo Williams was doing work tonight-why was he not on the floor during that disastrous 2nd quarter stretch?

Alright, that’s all I have for tonight, but a lot of good and bad things shown by the Cavs over this 4-in-5 stretch. Hopefully they can keep the offensive flow they’ve shown in the first quarters and the defensive intensity they’ve shown in the fourth quarters. Have a good weekend, everyone.

Recap: Cavs 105, Pacers 95 (Or, there’s enough for a win in a half-full glass)

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

Overview: Despite having some of their worst offensive and defensive quarters of basketball of the season, the Cavs were able to pull off a fourth-quarter comeback win over the Pacers behind a season-high 40 points from LeBron James.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

Boy, that 38-38 first quarter sure was something, wasn’t it? Something completely different than we’re used to seeing from the Cavs on both ends of the floor. Let’s break down what happened:

On the Cavs side of the floor, it was all about LeBron. LeBron scored or assisted on 23 of the Cavs’ 38 points in the quarter, and didn’t miss a shot or turn the ball over while doing it. 5 of LeBron’s 7 field goals in the quarter came on jumpers off the bounce from the 17-22 foot range.

This year’s Chris Jent story was that him and LeBron worked a lot on getting comfortable deploying his shot from different spots on the floor and finding new ways to set it up, and it’s certainly shown early in the year. Not only is LeBron’s eFG% on jumpers up considerably so far this season, but he’s taken a far higher proportion of his jumpers off the bounce. Only 12% of his jumpers have come off of an assist according to the most recent round of 82games.com stats, and he seems really comfortable using that stutter-dribble around the top of the circle to pull up for a clean, balanced jumper. As we’ll see a little later, there are still some lingering issues with LeBron’s shooting game, but this has been a huge semi-new weapon early in the year.

So on LeBron possessions, the Cavs scored 23 points on 11 possessions. (And and-1 and a three offset LeBron’s one missed free throw to make the Cavs 1 point better than “perfect.”

3 more of the Cavs’ points in the period came on technical free throws. So that’s 12 points still unaccounted for. 3 more points came off of JJ Hickson put-backs. (He got one clean tip-in and drew a shooting foul immediately after an offensive rebound.)

So in terms of non-LeBron baskets that weren’t technical free throws or tip-ins, the Cavs offense generated 9 points in the period, and needed 14 possessions to do it. (Caveat: a lot of those misses were clanged big Z jumpers on LeBron assists, so not every LeBron possession was perfect.)

Still, rather than hail the first quarter as a breakthrough of some sort of offensive utopia, let’s realize what’s going on here: LeBron James makes this offense run to a ridiculous degree, and the results can be absolutely astounding.

On the other side of the ball, the Cavalier defense got absolutely abused in a way we’re just not used to seeing happen during Mike Brown’s entire tenure. The culprit here is JJ Hickson’s continuing trial by fire on the defensive end.

The Pacers started the game with the fairly ingenious strategy of “going small” against Hickson, starting Ford/Rush/Granger/D. Jones/Hibbert, which left Hickson matched up against Jones. Jones absolutely abused Hickson in the first quarter-he was able to back him up to get an easy little free-throw line jumper time after time, and even blew by him to keep him honest. Jones got 12 points on 7 possessions in the first quarter, which is a big deal. And since the Cavs aren’t comfortable posting Hickson (his post game isn’t there yet, and the Cavs were having a ton of offensive success) and Hickson isn’t a punishing rebounder, the mismatch came out clearly in Indiana’s favor.

Thankfully, big man coaching philosophies lag behind the reality of play in the NBA, or this is something the Cavs could see a lot more of as the season goes on.

Ford also did some damage in the first quarter, and I’ll talk about what made him effective in the first half in a little bit, but Jones was what turned Indiana’s good offensive quarter into a great one.

But the Cavs defense did settle down over the rest of the game. Hickson got exposed making some poor rotations on T.J. Ford pick-and-rolls, and Mo had a lot of trouble keeping Ford in front of him, but in the second half, and especially the fourth quarter, a lightbulb seemed to go off for Hickson and the defensive intensity picked way up, and the Cavs won by holding the Pacers to 13 in the fourth quarter.

In terms of defensive intensity, the team misses Delonte on that end. A lot. Anthony Parker is a very solid NBA defender, but on defense Delonte his hell in sneakers.

Big Z follows up his best game with his worst one. Eating 11 possessions is not going to work.

Mo has a bad game, BUT THE CAVS WIN! THE CURSE HATH BEEN BROKEN!

LeBron scored or assisted on the Cavs’ final 12 points before Mo’s clinching free-throws. And that three he hit to clinch the game? That’s absurd. He was going for the win right there, it was a crazy shot, it’s one you have to make, and he made it. Amazing. It looked like he had a cheat code turned on.

Alright, see you guys in a few hours.

Preview: Cavs at Pacers, November 20th

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Starting lineups, via Windhorst:

Mo Williams vs. TJ Ford

Anthony Parker vs. Brandon Rush

LeBron James vs. Danny Granger

JJ Hickson vs. Troy Murphy

Zydrunas Ilgauskas vs. Roy Hibbert

A few quick notes before leaving the thread open:

-The key matchup here might be Hickson vs. Murphy on both ends of the court. Murphy is another “stretch four” who will test Hickson’s ability to rotate and recover, but shouldn’t be the nightmare that Jamison was for JJ. Murphy’s a very good three-point shooter, but he needs to have his feet set and gets a lot of his threes trailing the break. If Hickson doesn’t fall asleep and runs Murphy off the line, he should be fine. On the other end, Murphy is a terrible pick-and-roll defender for a power forward, so hopefully Hickson can get back to wreaking havoc on the weak-side like he was in the three games before the Washington debacle.

Pace will be a factor-even with Hibbert and Murphy in the starting lineup, the Bucks play at the second-fastest pace in the NBA, so the Cavs will have to work on keeping the Pacers from getting out into the open court and working their game. Ford’s speed could give Mo some issues on defense, but Mo could get into a groove shooting over Ford on the other end.

Not much to say about Danny Granger-the guy’s awesome and he’ll probably get his scoring-wise. All I’ll say is that he’s on of the best three-point shootersin the NBA among high-volume scoring wings, so the Cavs have to commit to sticking to him 25 feet away.

According to Windy, Varejao should play tonight. See you tonight, guys.