Archive for November, 2009

Recap: Cavs 102, Magic 93 (or, the night everything was perfect except the month)

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Right Place Wrong Time (LP Version)

Overview: In a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals, the Cavs were able to cruise to a victory over the shorthanded Magic behind 64 combined points from LeBron James and Mo Williams.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

-First bullet goes to Mo Williams. Here’s some fun with numbers from this season:

Mo Williams in 3 losses: 11-35 from the field (3-14 from three), 3.6 APG

Mo Williams in 5 wins:   38-72 from the field (15-21 from three), 4.6 APG

So far, when Mo’s played well, the team’s won. When he’s played badly, they’ve lost. It’s insane. Even with this small of a sample size, I can’t remember one non-superstar being this uncanny of a barometer for a basketball team.

And of course, the Cavs’ best performance of the year came on the night Mo had his best game of the year. Mo was absolutely feeling it tonight, plain and simple. Maybe he felt like he had something to prove after his abysmal ECF against the Magic, maybe he’s trying to get more involved, maybe he just wanted to spite John Huizinga. Whatever it was, Mo was absolutely a man possessed in the first half, hitting all 8 of his field goal attempts (including 4 threes) in the first 24 minutes. When the Magic went under the screen, he pulled up from the left side and drained threes over Jameer Nelson. (A note here; Nelson’s defense was a factor in this. With Nelson’s short size and alligator arms, taller points who can flat-out shoot off the dribble like Mo are going to be problems for him.)

And it wasn’t just that Mo was hitting threes-when he got into the teeth of the defense, he was keeping his dribble alive beautifully and making wonderful passes for finishes, finding LeBron when the Cavs used LBJ as a screener in a 1-3 PnR (why do the Cavs not do this a LOT more?), finding the big man when the defense tried to cut off his lane, and finding LeBron twice on weak-side counter-movement (my favorite) for finishes. Mo did start forcing it in the second half, especially at the beginning of the 4th when he was out there without LBJ or Shaq, but this was an absolutely amazing performance from Mo. He is THE X-Factor if the Cavs are to meet the Magic in the playoffs again.

Second, the Cavs’ grand plan to use Shaq to stop the Magic has been revealed. I would sum up this strategy as the “Shaqrificial Lamb” strategy. Shaq wasn’t particularly effective scoring the ball tonight and was exploited on the pick-and-roll by VC and Jameer, but his mission was to get fouls on Dwight and give fouls on Dwight, and he succeeded admirably in this one. Dwight was barely on the floor in the first half due to Shaq taking it right at him and forcing the refs to make calls (many of the ticky-tack variety), and on defense the plan was to hold the line, come with doubles and give fouls, and keep Howard from getting in the groove and killing the team like he did last summer. Tonight, the strategy worked-having two centers and Varejao with fouls to give helped a lot, and Dwight finished with 11 points, 5 fouls, and 0 assists in 32 minutes. It wasn’t pretty, and it won’t be popular in a lot of places, but tonight Shaq did what he was brought in to do. We’ll see if he can do it when the Magic are at full strength and the games count.

LeBron James: 36/8/4. Ho-hum.

Again, the best thing was how well LeBron was playing within the offense. 6 of LeBron’s 13 field goals tonight came at the basket. Here’s the breakdown of those 6 layups or dunks:

One And-1 on a 3-on-2 fast-break where LeBron used a change-of-pace dribble to blow by Matt Barnes and get the easy finish and the foul.

One layup on a cut through the middle to get the feed from Shaq in a double-team.

One layup on an offensive rebound in a fast-break situation.

3 dunks or layups on Mo Williams feeding a cutting LeBron from the weak-side.

LeBron also made 4 other trips to the line, and off the top of my head I can remember that 2 of those trips to the line were a result of LeBron posting up. So LeBron put up 36 points tonight with four points, at most, coming from his bread-and-butter, charging drives to the basket set up by his own dribble.

You don’t want to go completely away from LeBron charging to the basket, because LeBron going pick-and-roll with Varejao or ISOing up with shooters spreading the floor is about as unstoppable of a play as exists in basketball, and the Cavs will need a lot of it to win it all, no matter what the pundits say, and I do worry that Shaq’s presence makes that simple but crushing set less effective. But overall, LeBron having a huge game without having to rely on his old standby is very, very, very good news.

The other element of LeBron’s game was his outside shooting, which remains extremely good in the early going. LeBron made 7 jumpers tonight, with two of them coming from behind the arc, with all of his makes coming off the dribble. He went 7-15 from outside the paint overall, and with the added value from the threes, that’s an eFG% on jumpers over 50%, which is tremendous.

Most of his jumpers are still coming from a bit deeper than I’d like-three of his five midrange makes were from 20 feet or deeper, which isn’t really a midrange shot. And his two jumpers from closer than 20 were even tougher shots, absolutely ridiculous twisting, off-balance fadeaways over the outstretched arms of waiting help defenders. But he looks so smooth and confident when he takes that set-up dribble and rises straight up from deep, so it’s working for him thus far. I’d still like to see him really set up his jumper with a few hard dribbles toward the basket, but if he can keep hitting jumpers like he’s been doing so far this season, watch out. And going 2-3 from deep tonight rose his 3-PT% to 40%, which is right about where it was the last three months of the 08-09 season. Now, about that post game.

In actually bad news, LeBron’s strangely mediocre assist/turnover ratio this season continued tonight, with 4 more turnovers to go with 4 assists.

From the “I could not be more cautious in my optimism about this” file, new starter JJ Hickson led all players with a +13 in his 23 minutes of play. Hickson didn’t appear to be setting the world on fire offensively, making right about one bad play for every nice one, but did seem to know what he was doing defensively. I really thought putting someone who needs to sag on pick-and-rolls with the team’s most confused help defender was going to be a recipe for disaster out there, but Hickson stayed active defensively and didn’t find himself egregiously out of position that I was able to see. That’s all I can ask out of JJ at this point.

Worst news of the night: Delonte West was not in the lineup tonight because of an undisclosed incident with the team before the game. I said in my chat with Ben and Eddy today that the Cavs don’t win the championship without Delonte playing a major role, and I believe it. So hopefully this works out, to say the least.

However, Anthony Parker did acquit himself tonight by playing some nice defense on Vince Carter and taking every one of his shots from behind the three-point line.

Big Z continues to struggle from the floor, missing all 6 of his shots. And this time, they weren’t forced-those were Big Z’s bread-and-butter shots. But he did space the floor, do an excellent job fighting for rebounds, wisely gave his 5 fouls, and once again the Cavs were +11 in his 24 minutes even with Z struggling mightily to score.

Andy Varejao, who’s been the best big man on the team by a wide margin in the early going, was rewarded by getting moved to the bench tonight, and he responded with his worst game of the season so far. Fun. But it’s not like the rotation didn’t work.

Bullets of Randomness:

This just didn’t look like the Magic team the Cavs played last season. The ball stayed on one side of the floor, and 5 of the team’s 9 assists came from Jameer. Considering this team’s greatest offensive strength last season was how many playmakers they could put on the court at once, that’s a major worry.

Rashard Lewis was a huge absence for this team tonight-they were running the pick-and-roll all night and the weak-side man was being left open, but Bass was neither active enough or a good enough shooter to really punish the Cavs. When he gets replaced by Lewis’ dead-eye shooting and ability to create off the dribble, things will change.

When Howard actually did have time to post up, he looked good against Shaq, blowing by him out of a face-up to draw a foul and draining a nice lefty hook over him-if Shaq gets too macho and demands to be left on an island against Howard rather than getting help and giving fouls, there could be more trouble than Shaq and Howard’s history would indicate.

JJ Redick does the little things. That is all.

-Vince is the most frustrating player to analyze ever. The stat sheet says he does the opposite things he appears to do on the court. It’s genuinely bizarre. But tonight, Vince looked like he got baited into trying to be the hero against Shaq’s weak pick-and-roll defense, hoisting jumper after jumper from the wing, many of them early in the clock and off-balance, instead of being patient and looking to probe for weak points. But 82games says that with the Magic so far, Vince takes shots later in the clock, takes less off his shots off the dribble, and passes more intelligently than Hedo did with the Magic. This guy is going to cause a stat geek/scout brawl this season. Tonight, I felt like he shot the Magic out of their offense at times. That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it.

In lineup news, Mike Brown actually had better rotations than another human being tonight. As much as I hate Shaq/Z , SVG trying to match that with Howard/Gortat was just baffling. Gortat was a -19 tonight, and he is a true center, while the tiny bit of success that comes from the Cavs’ big lineup is that Z is a gigantic 4 offensively. Don’t know why SVG didn’t try to counter with some small-ball, which could have carved up the Cavs, although how thing the Magic are right now probably played into this right now. I think SVG is maybe the best coach in the league right now (I have a soft spot for guys who come up with brilliant systems but get unfairly maligned for the occasional over-scrutinized in-game decision), but tonight was not a coaching high point for him.

That said, I have no idea why the Magic look so bad defensively this year. Lewis is an extremely underrated defender, but the Cavs just cut through them like butter tonight, and they’re only 15th in the league in defensive efficiency this season. I can’t tell specifically what’s up with the defense after only watching one or two full games, but it was shocking how badly that team has regressed defensively.

Alright, that’s more than enough for tonight. Good win, hopefully the Cavs can keep it going against Wade and the upstart Heat on TNT tomorrow. Until next time, all.

Magic Preview Chat With Third Quarter Collapse

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Hey folks, just a reminder that the good people at Third Quarter Collapse will be by these parts to talk Cavs/Magic and everything else basketball at 3 PM ET today (Noon Pacific Time), so grab a snack, make yourself comfortable, and come chat with us. It’ll be fun.

Off-day fun: The time I ranted about Kuester

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Before we start: good news. Barring unforseen complications, Ben Q. Rock and Eddy Rivera of Third Quarter Collapse are coming by tomorrow to preview the magic game and talk about the Cavs, Magic and basketball in general. I’m tremendously excited about it, so come by at 3 PM ET (Noon PT) on Wednesday and join us. It’ll be fun, I promise. Now, onto ranting.

I like to think of myself as a blogger/journalist who doesn’t engage in the rant as a form of expression all that often. I also attempt to avoid anything that could be interpreted as one-sided shilling for the Cavalier organization.

With that said, the time has come where I feel it appropriate to rant for the Cavalier organization.

Last season, the Cavs made news by being up-front about the fact they were using assistant coach John Kuester as an “offensive coordinator” instead of giving Mike Brown ultimate control over the offense. At the same time, the Cavs went from a mediocre offensive team to one of the best offensive teams in the league. Last off-season, Kuester left the Cavaliers to become the head coach of the Detroit Pistons, and the Cavaliers have gone right back to being a mediocre offensive team.

Just seeing the general blog/twitter/internet-o-sphere and reading the comments I get when I work the Daily Dime Live, the internet is kind of in love with the idea that the Cavs’ offensive problems this season are a product of Kuester’s departure.

Kuester was a very good offensive assistant coach, but to read what’s been written about him in the Cavalier community, one would think that Kuester is a mix between Tex Winter and Gandalf. The idea that the Cavaliers’ offensive problems are a function of Kuester’s departure are reductive and, frankly, annoying. It’s just NBA cultural posturing at its worst-it’s the assumption that if a fact ins’t known by many, it carries more inherent truth than a fact that’s widely known. It’s “hey, I know this assistant coach and what he did, I know the NBA,” and it’s just not all that cute anymore. There’s rarely talk about what Kuester was doing that current “offensive coordinator” Mike Malone isn’t doing; do the Cavs need more back-pick action? Less curls on the strong side? If someone would say what it is that Kuester provided last season that the Cavaliers lack this season, that would be one thing. But right now, people are just name-dropping to prove their own knowledge, and that is far from my favorite thing.

What’s happening with Kuester right now is some hard-core inductive reasoning. Really, the significance Cavalier fans have given Kuester isn’t much better than attributing success to a lucky belt buckle. There’s a causation/correlation thing happening here, and I’d like to see a bit less of it.

Thing #1: The Things Kuester Did Well are Still Being Done Well.

Kuester’s genius was using big men on the weak side to free up guard play for drive-and-kick basketball-he even managed to make Ben Wallace a major offensive asset when he was healthy, which is something that will get its own post in the near future. The Cavaliers have tried to do this with Shaquille O’Neal, and failed miserably-Shaq just isn’t active or quick enough on the weak side to free up guards with his screens, and trying to use Shaq like Kuester used the Cavalier bigs resulted in some major offensive issues early in the season. Fortunately, Mike Brown has realized that Shaq isn’t going to be useful out on the perimeter, and we’re starting to see him used in a more productive manner. But there was no way Shaq was going to be effective doing the things Kuester had the bigs do.

Furthermore, when non-Shaq units have been on the floor, the Cavs have been just as good offensively as they were last season, if not better. Kuester’s best offensive units had an offensive rating of around 1.14 according to 82games.com. This season, only the starting unit, two non-LeBron units, and the Gibson/Williams/Parker/James/O’Neal unit have come in below that mark offensively, and most of the lineups that include the Cavs’ starters from last season have had an offensive rating around 1.30.

The issue has been incorporating Shaq, not the loss of Kuester’s sets. The argument for Kuester would be that he was such an all-around offensive genius that he would be able to solve the issue of the lack of weak-side movement when Shaq’s on the floor, despite the fact Kuester’s offense revolved around bigs on the perimeter and drive-and-kick basketball during his Cleveland campaign. Which brings us to…

Thing #2: There’s no such thing as a coach good enough to overcome personnel, and that coach certainly isn’t John Kuester.

Let’s go straight to maybe the best offensive basketball mind of all time, Tex Winter. He invented the triangle offense, and in recent years the Gasol/Kobe Lakers have been some of the best offensive teams of all time, not just in terms of results but to look at-the ball movement was beautiful, the sets perfectly executed, everything clicked. But this season, with Gasol out and the Lakers still incorporating a healthy Bynum and Ron Artest into the triangle, the Lakers’ offensive efficiency has fallen to 14th in the league, despite Kobe playing out of his mind. Furthermore, the offense just hasn’t been that pretty-it’s Kobe vs. The World, with most crunch-time sets revolving around giving the ball in the mid-post and watching him go to work-Kobe currently leads the league in usage. (I also offer this as a counterpoint to all who say the Cavalier offense revolves way too much around LeBron going “1 on 5″ this season.)

And look at Kuester himself-he was never regarded as an offensive genius before coming to Cleveland, and his Pistons are currently 20th in the league in offensive efficiency, just behind the Cavaliers. Mike D’Antoni’s Knicks are currently 24th in offensive efficiency. Flip Saunders, one of the finest half-court offensive minds I’ve ever seen, coaches the 22nd-best offensive team in the league. None of this is to say that Winter, Saunders, Kuester, or D’Antoni are bad offensive coaches. But to think that they’re brilliant enough to make great offenses out of bad offensive players is just foolish.

When Kuester came in, the Cavs went from a starting backcourt of Eric Snow (or Boobie)/Larry Hughes in 07-08 to a starting backcourt of Mo Williams/Delonte West in 08-09. A mildly intelligent panda could have improved the offensive spacing and ball movement with those upgrades. Kuester was in the right place at the right time. Not to go all Gladwell on you, but John Kuester, offensive genius is much more a reflection of fortunate timing and circumstances than it is a showcase of his undeniable genius, although he certainly knows how to coach an offense. But context must be considered.

Remember when Tiger was in a slump because he blew out his knee,changed swing coaches, and who knows what else, and all anybody wanted to talk about was that his driving accuracy had gone down because he switched from a Titleist driver to a Nike driver? It wasn’t the correct explanation, but it was the tangible one, and one that showed knowledge of the game and what Tiger was doing. He switched back to the driver, and it didn’t do much good. The issues that make athletes and teams lose “it” are often complicated, and hard-core fans don’t like not understanding things, so they assign impossible qualities to what they can understand. Right now, John Kuester is the Cavaliers’ Titleist driver. As a community, Cavs fans and journalists can do better when evaluating the 09-10 team’s offensive woes than name-dropping.


Links To The Present: November 10th, 2009

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

A couple of quick off-day links to keep everybody sane:

The Cavs were 9th overall in ESPN.com’s “future power rankings” (insider required) today. The Cavs got most of their points in the “players” category, thanks to LeBron; they were 4th overall in that category. (They finished behind the Magic, Blazers, and Lakers in the “players” category, and I do call a wee bit of shenanigans on the Blazers-Roy is a star and they are very young, but a few more of those prospects have to show they’re for real.)

-According to TMZ (via Cleveland.com), Shaquille O’Neal and his wife have filed for legal separation. Best wishes to their family going forward.

-LeBron says that he doesn’t need a max deal in 2010, which does open up a slew of interesting possibilities. I’d be extremely surprised if LeBron ended up signing for significantly less than the max, if only because it’s so completely unprecedented in basketball. We’ll see how this plays out.

-A lot of LeBron 2010 stuff this week, as expected. All I’ll say is that any scenario built around a trade or sign-and-trade of LeBron is not all that realistic. First of all, there is no chance this franchise ever trades LeBron, just from a PR standpoint. None. It would be like if Art Modell tried to stay in the city. Again, there’s just no chance this would happen.

Second, trading LeBron makes no sense from a basketball standpoint. The “get SOMETHING for him instead of letting him walk and getting nothing” doesn’t work-if LeBron leaves, the Cavaliers have the financial room to give out a max contract in the most loaded free agency season of all time. Nothing they can get in a trade will be more valuable than that. So when I read that a 2010 possibility is contingent on a trade or sign-and-trade, I stop reading. But I’ve been wrong before.

-The SJax-to-Cleveland rumors: still alive. I’m still against it because that contract is too bad. Also, I would completely rebel against a Z-for-SJax swap, because the team’s still yet to show it can play great basketball with Shaq as the starting center, and it’s been a while since Shaq was on an elite team at all. The Cavs know the team can operate at an extremely high level with Ilgauskas, and so far this year they’ve operated at a high level with Z on the floor despite his severe shooting struggles.

Any other trade possibilities would probably have to include Boobie for financial reasons-I don’t see how the Warriors would possibly want Boobie with all the guards they have, and I’d frankly even have reservations about trading Boobie with how well he’s played and how thin the Cavalier backcourt is currently. This trade would be a massive overreaction to problems with much simpler and less risky fixes. In short, this would be shaving an ugly mustache with a chainsaw.

-Great article by Brown Recluse, Esq. over on FreeDarko on Jennings, Jeremy Tyler, and the choices now present to 18-year old NBA prospects with Europe becoming a real option. As someone who’s always hated the 19-year old age limit, I love stuff like this, although it wouldn’t break my heart of Tyler got a dose of humility.

Alright, that’s all for now.

Off-Day Fun: The initial 82games.com report

Monday, November 9th, 2009

So today, basketball dork Mecca 82games.com came out with its initial reports for this season. All of the following comes from a very small sample size, and almost all of it is likely to normalize as the season goes on, but there are still a few interesting things that we can glean from these early results. Without further ado:

-First off, the first unit. Williams/Parker/LeBron/Varejao/O’Neal have played 88 minutes together, and the results have not been all that good. The starting unit is at +0 after all those minutes together, which isn’t promising for a team that has played this unit far more than any other and sees itself as being much better than a .500 team.

-The 2nd-most played unit is Williams/West/LeBron/Varejao/Ilgauskas. You may recognize this unit from such campaigns as “The team that won 66 games last season” or “The starting unit throughout the playoffs.” And wouldn’t you know it, this unit has been +18 in 19 minutes, with an offensive rating of 1.31 (as compared to the starting unit’s rating of 0.98) and a defensive rating of 0.87 (as compared to the starting unit’s rating of 0.99).

Simply put, this unit has been killing it, while the starters have struggled mightily. And it’s not like this is some unit that’s played 15 minutes in garbage time and looked amazing for some random reason: THIS IS THE STARTING UNIT OF AN ELITE TEAM LAST SEASON. So we’ve got a mediocre team starting and not doing all that well while an elite team watches them from the bench. This is one of the most frustrating things I have ever experienced as a sports fan. Period.

-When Delonte West is on the floor, the Cavs are a +15.9 per 100 possessions. That’s the highest mark of any player on the team, including LeBron. Delonte needs more minutes. I get the off-court issues, but I still fail to see how bringing Delonte off the bench is worse for his mental health than starting him. However, I can definitely see how starting Delonte would make the Cavaliers play better basketball.

-When Shaq is on the floor, the Cavaliers are -0.5 points per 100 possessions. When Shaq is off the floor, the Cavaliers are +10.3 points per 100 possessions. This has become ridiculous. Shaq is not working in his current role. It’s that simple.

-JJ Hickson, whose potential I love, has been a gigantic bundle of fail thus far. His PER is -0.6. Yes, that’s possible. His opponent PER is 27.5, which is right around MVP level. Even worse, the Cavaliers are -29.7 points per 100 possessions with Hickson on the floor and +11.0 points per 100 with Hickson off the floor. Hickson has a lot of talent, but this season he’s done everything but burn down the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on the court. Of course, his move into the starting lineup is what’s going to fix the starting unit. I’m skeptical.

-Onto good news: Anderson Varejao is a freaking beast. His +/- is 31.0 right now, which is freaking ridiculous. And that’s with him being a part of the grand quagmire that is the O’Neal/Varejao starting frontcourt. When Varejao and someone who can shoot are on the court together, tremendously good things happen. He’s definitely the Cavaliers’ best big man right now.

-Good news with LeBron: his jumper has been pure thus far, with an amazingly high 48.8% eFG on jump shots, which means he’s picking up right where he left off in last year’s playoffs. Considering he’s been around 40% eFG on jumpers throughout his career, that’s impressive stuff. Caveat: his amazing jump shooting in MSG is probably skewing that right now.

The bad news: LBJ is relying much more on his jumper much more than he did last season, with a full 68% of his field goal attempts being jumpers. Hopefully he’ll get more aggressive soon. Also, LeBron is only averaging 2.8 assists per bad pass, which is very bad for him. He’s trying way too many home run passes, and his turnover rate is suffering noticeably.

Good news for Z: the Cavs are +3.6 points better with Z on the floor. The bd news: his jumper’s been way off, with Z only making 31.4% of his jumpers. A lot of that is because Z’s been taking deeper jumpers coming off the bench, but he’s gotta settle in a bit.

-Jamario: -27 points per 100 possessions so far. Yipes.

-From the “oddity” files: Boobie’s eFG% is 66.3% on jumpers and 25.0% from “inside.” And Anthony Parker has a 50.9% eFG on jumpers and a 28.6% eFG on “inside” shots. Even early in the season, I can’t remember ever seeing a split like that in the NBA; now there are two players on one team almost twice as efficient shooting jumpers as they are trying to take it to the hole. Crazy.

-From the “I’m glad I’m wrong” file: The Gigantic Lineup of Doom has actually worked thus far, with the Z/Shaq frontcourt going +4 overall in 10 minutes with excellent offensive and defensive ratings, due in no small part to the fact that lineup takes 65% of their shots from inside. We’ll see if this continues.

-Alright, that’s all I have for tonight. Crunch the numbers and see if you see anything different. Until tomorrow, campers.

Recap: Cavs 100, Knicks 91 (Or, The Knicks Are Just relaxing)

Friday, November 6th, 2009

Overview: After a dominant 40-21 first quarter, the Cavaliers cruised to a victory in a game much less competitive than the final score would indicate.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

Well, that was easy. I don’t know what it is about The Garden, but LeBron came out and put the Knicks away right out of the gate. I don’t think LeBron has taken as many bad shots combined over the rest of the season as he did tonight, but he was making absolutely everything. It was freakish. And when he wasn’t hitting a jumper, he was making a beautiful home-run pass. Normally, LeBron going for jumpers early in the game kills the offensive flow, even when he’s making them, but tonight he was so dominant in the first quarter the rest of the game hardly mattered.

After the first quarter, the game was over, and the Cavs played like it. Too many bad shots, very few well-executed sets, lots of sloppy play leading to turnovers. Didn’t really matter. It still hasn’t fully sunk in that the Cavs were playing an NBA team tonight. This Knicks team is one of the worst teams I’ve ever seen play in the NBA. It’s hard to even give out praise in this one-it honestly felt like a Globetrotter game.

+19 for Zydrunas Ilgauskas and +15 for Delonte West, despite the fact neither of them had great shooting nights-the lineup that won 66 games works. Who would’ve thunk it?

Hickson as a show starter-interesting. He had some nice plays, and Andy sure did look fantastic coming off the bench. We’ll see if MB plans to stick with this plan against a real defense and evaluate it then.

Only 19 minutes for Shaq, and no “twin towers” tonight. MB playing matchups. Again, was this rocket science?

That’s honestly all I really have for now. In all seriousness, this Knicks team is so bad it’s hard to draw real conclusions. The Cavs weren’t even running real sets, and they had their easiest game of the year. Happy weekend, all.

Recap: Bulls 86, Cavaliers 85 (Or, there shall be worrying where there is no spacing)

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

epic fail pictures

Overview: After a close, ugly game, the Cavaliers lost their 2nd home game of the year when a LeBron James was stuffed with the Cavaliers trailing by a point.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

First things first, and by that I mean the first quarter. Last year, the Cavs’ opening unit absolutely destroyed people and set the tone, whether it was Wallace or Varejao in the starting lineup. The Cavaliers were the best 1st-quarter team in the league by a huge margin, and it was a huge reason they were able to cruise to so many victories. And it wasn’t just that they got results-that first unit played some of the prettiest basketball I’ve ever seen the Cavs play. They worked from the high post, cut from the weak side, utilized LeBron off the ball, moved the ball from side to side, freed up shooters on the weak-side with screens, worked cutters from the top of the floor, and played egalitarian basketball wonderfully as LeBron set up teammates and worked on the weak side.

This season, the starting lineup has gotten off to one sluggish start after another, with the exception of the Boston game, which was more about the Cavs hitting shots than good offensive sets. The energy isn’t there, and with the poor Shaq/Andy spacing, the starters are trying to force-feed the ball into the post and watch Shaq or LeBron go to work rather than playing 5-man basketball and working the entire floor. Shaq can still punish teams when they single-cover him, but the team has looked incoherent and confused during the opening stretch instead of controlling the flow of the game.

Thursday night, in the first quarter, the Cavs scored 12 points in the 8 minutes Shaq and Anthony Parker were on the floor and 15 points in the 4 minutes the Cavs played their starters from last season. The current starting unit is just too much about one-on-one basketball to get the team into the kind of flow it wants to be in out of the gate. This has to change, and soon.

More fun with completely baffling rotations: twice in the game, Mike Brown went to the “giant” lineup, which is the one that makes me start throwing things. This lineup does not work. This is not a state secret. And the Bulls have nobody in their frontcourt that can score down low. Eventually, MB did figure out that going small was a good idea, and by “eventually” I mean “with 2:50 to play in a tight game.” The Cavs then scored 7 points in three possessions, and set up a wide-open Mo Williams three in transition on the next one. Mo bricked the go-ahead three, then compounded the problem with a horrible floater the next time down. Not a good finish, but the small-ball works a whole lot better than the Day Of The Lineup.

Z is not good off the bench. This is his first season playing there, and it just doesn’t work. He went 0-9 tonight, and 1 of those shots was from Z’s comfort zone. The rest were forced shots that he didn’t take when he was in the starting lineup and could count on being set up. I know Shaq’s feelings would get hurt on the bench, but Z gets a lot worse at basketball when he comes off the bench. Priorities, I suppose.

Shaq is not making the other 4 players better right now, so when he needs 13 shots to get 14 points, he’s not helping much. He worked in the fourth, when he was out there in a non-LeBron lineup (WHICH IS WHAT BENCH PLAYERS DO), but he needs to hit his shots to be effective.

Just to finish my daily gripes, Anthony Parker is fantastic at hitting open threes and did move the ball better tonight, but his scoring game inside the arc is hot garbage. His 1-6 performance from inside the arc tonight brings him to 17-54 on twos this season. This is the thing that is not good. And Windy touched on this tonight, but how does Parker get 35 minutes while the still-immolating Boobie only get 17, during which time he scored 8 points?

Alright, onto the good: Andy was the Cavs’ best big on the floor tonight. He was everywhere (boy, that’s something you say about Andy a lot), showing on pick-and-rolls, fighting for every rebound, slashing from the top of the key for some tough finishes, and was a game-high +11 in his 35 minutes. That means the Cavs leaked 12 points in the 13 minutes he sat. But hey, he’s no Zydrunas Ilgauskas at the four.

Of course, JJ Hickson went ahead and played like he’d been lit on fire, forcing 4 shots in 3 minutes and blowing some defensive rotations for good measure. Yipes. At this point, I’m willing to volunteer any ligaments Leon Powe may need from me to get him back on the floor as soon as possible.

Also, no Jemario Moon at all when the Cavs should have been going small-ball aggressively. That’s just peachy.

3 good games for Mo Williams, 3 wins. 3 bad games for Mo Williams, 3 losses. Tonight, it was just the open threes not going down-he was 3-6 from inside the arc, and had 6 assists against 1 turnover. That’s something you just have to live with from a shooter, although that go-ahead three would have been nice. That forced floater, however, is not something you live with.

As for LeBron, another nice game within the offense, getting a lot points on weak-side cuts (including two off counter-movement plays initiated by Mo and Delonte, which are my favorite thing ever), some transition finishes, and open opportunities. But I would’ve liked to see him grab the reigns a bit more at different points, although with his jumper not working so well that would’ve been tough. Still, it wouldn’t have hurt to establish some LeBron off the pick-and-roll with the floor spread with the offense struggling as badly as it was.

As for the last play, there were 4 seconds left, and he went to his highest-percentage play: damn the torpedoes and make a hard, decisive drive. The real issue was that Noah was there waiting for him because we’d parked 320 pounds of a guy who can’t shoot or screen directly under the rim, and Hinrich made a nice rotation down to cut off that pass. Shaq shouldn’t be out there in those scenarios. Period. And no, there was no foul on that play-Noah was in perfect position, and LeBron tried to crash into him out of desperation. Not a pretty play, but at least it happens on November 5th. Get the bad ones done early, I suppose. Yeah, there’s the ticket.

Good news: defense. The only Bull with more points than true attempts (FG attempts+FT attempts/2) this game was Kirk Hinrich, and he had 9 points on 8 attempts. For the 2nd game in a row, Shaq looked fine defensively, and even had some very nice blocks late in the game. There’s your silver lining.

Bullets of Randomness:

Well, the Bulls’ spacing looked just as crappy as the Cavs’ so there’s that.

Hinrich should be a Delonte West-like starting two, Salmons should be a scorer off the bench. That’s just how it should work.

I always thought Taj Gibson would be a solid NBA player. Good to see him catching on.

Well, that’s all for now. Hopefully we give the Knicks a whoopin’ tomorrow. Because right now, I hate people. But, campers, I like you. See you tomorrow.

Profiles in Profiling: Mo Williams

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Watching Cavalier point guards in the LeBron era was a fun kind of suffering. Jeff McInnis was good enough for a while, until Paul Silas woke up one day and decided “You know what? Screw Jeff McInnis.” After that, McInnis went from nearly competent starting guard into NBA oblivion fairly quickly.

Then came the era of Eric Snow. Now, when I talk about Jeff McInnis being “nearly competent,” I mean just that. He was, objectively speaking, a moderately talented offensive player with an unfortunate predilection for doing extremely stupid things on the court at times. There is no great injustice about Jeff McInnis fading into obscurity. But Eric Snow made Jeff McInnis look like Tiny Archibald sometimes.

Now, for a slow point guard who couldn’t shoot at all, Eric Snow was a fairly nice player. He played good defense, played smart, made the correct pass when it was available, was an excellent leader, and could finish inside when he did get there. But at the end of the day, he was a slow point guard who couldn’t shoot. It is almost impossible to describe the shocking vortex of offensive talent that was Eric Snow.

After Snow got too old, the Cavs had “success” playing Larry Hughes at the point, who was slow, couldn’t shoot, couldn’t finish inside, and couldn’t draw defensive attention. But he had size, played good defense against slower guards, and would occasionally make correct passes in the half-court. Upgrade at the point. Then came Boobie Gibson, who couldn’t pass to save his life, can’t get to the rim or score from inside the arc, can’t create for others, and would regularly get abused defensively. But he could stroke open threes. Massive upgrade at the point.

I know I’m getting on a tangent here, but it cannot be overstressed how shockingly bad the Cavalier point guards were. At one point, after watching an episode of Streetball, which I have known does not feature good basketball players since 6th grade, I looked up Grayson (“The Professor”) Boucher’s stats in whatever independent league he was playing in to see if he was for real. Honestly, it looked like he could shoot and handle the ball. I was willing to go there. These were dark times, point guard-wise.

And it’s a shame, because ever since LeBron started playing for the Cavs, there have been three types of players I’ve absolutely prayed to see him play next to:

1. A devastating, Amare-like big man on the pick-and-roll. If teams absolutely couldn’t trap LBJ on the PnR without giving up a crushing dunk, stuff would get frightening.

2. A bona fide slashing point who can push the ball in transition and get into the paint consistently enough to force the D to collapse. You get LeBron working from the weak side of the floor on counter-action without the D being able to load up, watch out.

3. A lights-out shooter who’s going to punish the D from beyond the arc every time they collapse on LBJ. This one, the Cavs have been looking for for years.

#1 is still a work in progress (Andy does alright), but Mo was able to come in last season and fit in perfectly right off the bat because of how well he filled the last two needs.

First off, Mo as a shooter. It’s hard to ask for a much better shooter than Mo Williams was last season. Mo made 183 shots from deep last season, good for 3rd in the entire league. Even better, Mo shot an unbelievable 43.6% from beyond the arc, which was a considerably better percentage than either of the players above him. In fact, of the top 50 players in three-point makes last season, only Eddie House, Matt Bonner, and Troy Murphy shot a better percentage from beyond the arc than Mo. Again, it doesn’t get much better than Mo from beyond the arc.

And it’s not just that Mo’s a deadly shooter with his feet set. As the Cavs saw with players like Donyell Marshall and Wally Z, being an effective three-point shooter playing next to LeBron takes more than being able to shoot with your feet set. A lot of times, being a shooter when LeBron is driving requires quick feet, the ability to improvise in terms of finding your spot, and a quick release. Since a lot of times LeBron’s improvising out of a simple set when he drives, especially late in the games, standing in a corner and waiting for the ball to come isn’t going to work. Obviously, Mo is a lot faster than most shooters, and his release is as quick as they come, so he was perfect as a shooter next to LeBron.

As a pure point guard, Mo was light years ahead of previous Cavalier points, but still far from perfect in that regard. Mo has an extremely good handle, does a great job staying out of traffic, and is quick enough to get past his defender fairly regularly. And when a play presents itself from Mo’s penetration, he can generally make it. He rarely makes home-run passes from the perimeter or threads the needle for a slam, but he does create angles and will reward anyone filling them from the weak-side and will make the correct play if the defense collapses on him.

Williams’ other main strength offensively is his ability to score off the bounce. Mo doesn’t look to get all the way to the rim when he drives, but he’s incredibly methodical with his mid-range game, rarely fading and always squared to his target when he elects to shoot. He doesn’t just huck up the first 20-footer he can get a decent look at, like many bad “combo” guards do. Instead, Mo is always looking to use his dribble to get to his spots on the floor-if the defense goes under a screen, he’ll gladly pull up for the deep jumper, especially from the top left corner of the three-point line. He’ll square up and drain free-throw line jumpers off a pin-down. If the defense gives him space on the drive, he’ll go from the FT line off the bounce. He’s comfortable with a variety of floaters near the basket, as AC gleefully noted last season. Because of this, Mo was the 10th-best 2-point jump shooter in the league last season; what’s more, that represented a step back for Mo, who led the league in 2-point jump shooting in 07-08. Because of the nature of the mid-range game, Mo’s scoring will go through droughts from time to time, and the 2nd unit offense would stall at times last year because of this. But when he’s on, Mo can take over a game like no Cavalier guard before him in the LeBron era.

Going forward for Mo this season, I have two main thoughts. In terms of Mo as a point guard, it helps him tremendously to have Delonte West out there, because Delonte’s above-average ability to create as a shooting guard beautifully masks Mo’s below-average ability to create as a point guard. AP just isn’t a guy who can make plays out there, and a lot of the backcourt synergy the Cavs had has been lost in the early going. Obviously, this is due to circumstances beyond basketball, but Delonte helps out Mo tremendously.

As a shooter, here’s my basic thing: shooters in the NBA are like baseball pitchers. It’s so hard to be accurate with a basketball or baseball from those distances consistently; one messed-up thought or unconscious body movement and everything can go into a funk. So from game to game and year to year, outside shooters aren’t going to be the most consistent of players. (Boobie Gibson, Damon Jones, Wally, and Donyell Marshall come to mind, and that’s just on the Cavs.) The best you can do is get a bunch of good ones and hope enough of them have their mojo together at the right time, but it’s awfully tough to count on an outside shooter to be absolutely consistent from year to year. Hopefully Mo is one of the rare shooters good enough to have that consistency, but plugging him in to repeat his career-high 44% mark might not be realistic.

And of course, with limited opportunities, sometimes your shooters (or pitchers) are going to show up in the playoffs and sometimes they aren’t. There’s no secret formula to knowing which ones will. All you can do is hope. Last year, Mo didn’t show up in the playoffs. This season, he’ll need to. Maybe he can be the CC Sabathia of shooters. (Too soon?) There’s no such thing as a shooter who’s guaranteed to hit the shots when you need him to-the best in the league don’t make it half the time. You get the best one that you can and you let him come through for you or break your heart. Those are kind of the only options.

So that’s Mo-deadly shooter off the ball, fabulous scorer off the dribble, serviceable point guard, late-game sniper, someone who needs to come through in the playoffs this season.

Recap: Cavs 102, Wizards 90 (Or, patience beats anger)

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Overview: The Cavs survived an early 31-17 first-quarter blitz from the Wizards, dominating the final three quarters behind Shaq’s best game as a Cavalier to date.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

First bullet goes to Shaq. I have resigned myself to the reality that I’m going to go back and forth on this trade about 70 or 80 times this season, and won’t really know whether or not it worked until deep in the playoffs. But boy oh boy, did Shaq look good tonight.

Offensively, he was exactly as advertised. Every single time the Wizards tried to single-cover Shaq, the Cavs made the entry pass and Shaq got the score. Power dribble, baby hook, counter-spin, modified baby hook over his right shoulder, the entire limited but effective arsenal was on display. He also got the Wizard bigs in major foul trouble in the 2nd quarter, which really disrupted a lot of the momentum they had going. His passing from the low-post was superb, and the Cavs were playing some wonderful inside-out basketball, rotating the ball for the open three or a cutter finding a seam on the weak side. It looks like MB has figured out that Shaq isn’t Ben Wallace, and has him around the basket offensively full-time instead of trying to have him out on the perimeter trying to free up guards with screens and activity. Yes, let the record show that a human being thought that was a good idea in the year 2009. And 7-10 from the line!

Defensively, I was really worried about Shaq this game. If Raymond Felton was abusing Shaq by pouring in open 18-footers, what was Gilbert Arenas going to do? But Shaq acquitted himself very nicely on the defensive end, not getting stuck in no-man’s land on the pick-and-roll and doing a great job staying home defensively. If Shaq’s good enough defensively so that you don’t notice him on that end, it’s more than worth it to put him out there.

The ball movement has improved every single game, and Shaq seems to fit in a little bit better every game since the debacle in Toronto. Hopefully this trend continues against Chicago on Thursday.

Another day at the office for LBJ: 27/8/6 on 61.3% TS. The four turnovers are still a little high-LeBron did get caught in the air twice that I can remember immediately, and that’s just not a mistake you usually see him make. He’s still adjusting to the new spacing a little bit, but did make some absolutely gorgeous dimes out there tonight.

And for the third game in a row, LeBron was completely within the flow of the offense tonight, which is great to see after the team was forced to revert to LeBron vs. The World so much in the 1st and 2nd game of the year. He wasn’t taking many shots off the dribble, he was running the floor, he was working on the weak-side and finding seams, everything. And he revealed his new post-move, a modified hook over his left shoulder from about 10 feet away. According to AC, this is the move that LeBron’s been working on obsessively with Chris Jent over the off-season. LBJ went 1-2 with the shot tonight, and I do like it as a back-up option. However, I’d like to see LeBron get a little closer so that he could utilize his excellent left hand around the basket. LeBron’s gotta look at Shaq and realize his post game doesn’t have to be fancy to be effective-one or two moves over either shoulder and you’ve got more than enough. LBJ’s just as physically dominant among wings as Shaq is among bigs, so I’d like to see him get a few ugly buckets with his back to ‘/ basket.

Maybe the best news of the night: The Cavs were +7 in the 12 minutes LeBron was on the bench tonight, including an amazing +10 run in the 4 minutes LeBron sat in the 2nd quarter. And guess who started the 2nd quarter on the floor? Shaq. Was that really rocket science?

Mo Williams also had a great game tonight, and over the first 5 games it has seemed like the team’s ups and downs mirror Mo’s ups and downs. He had another great game passing the ball, made the big basket when he was required to do so, and kept his mistakes at a minimum. And how about that up-and-under on Foye late in the game?

In the bad news column, Anthony Parker. Sorry, but he’s not working in the starting lineup. 2-12 tonight, and while his defense was decent and he bricked a few open threes he’d normally make, his shot selection is not as good as advertised. Could someone tell NBA wings that faking a three, taking one dribble to the side, and pulling up from 20 is one of the worst possible shots in basketball? If you get run off the line as a spot-up shooter, either get to the rim or give the ball up. That pump/dribble/huck move was Larry Hughes’ signature during his time with the Cavs. I can’t go through that. I won’t. Add that to missing a chippy right around the basket and taking some ill-advised off-balance shots, and I am just not a fan of AP as a starter right now.

However, seeing as to how the team’s true starting shooting guard had charges officially filed against him today, I’m not sure how easy of a solution there is. Delonte did come back to Earth today, only going 2-7 from the field, but played the right way, racking up 4 assists and 2 steals. And 2 of those misses are thanks to incredible plays by JaVale McGee. (You had the crushing block, but perhaps more impressive was JaVale bothering Delonte’s corner 3. JaVale was maybe a step outside of the paint when Delonte caught that ball. McGee’s got talent, man.)

However, there is unexpected good news at the 2-guard position: TITS GIBSON IS BACK, BABY. He’s out there drilling those threes again, and was finishing a lot of the sets that a Shaq double-team started. If he’s cold-blooded like he was, it’s a major boost, especially with Delonte’s personal problems and AP’s basketball problems. I got to use this picture legitimately maybe once last year. After 5 games this season, I have now used it twice. (By the way, Boobie’s 09-10 so far: 12-23 from 3-point range, 2-9 from 2-point range. Wow.)

boobie shirt

Defensively, the Cavs were chasing a lot in that miserable first quarter, but a lot of the scoring explosion had to do with Arenas and Butler feeling it on deep 2-point jumpers, which in general you’ll live with from great scorers. Also, the offensive rebounds absolutely killed the Cavs in the opening stretch-at the height of the Wizards’ run, I think the Cavs were snagging defensive boards at about a 50% clip. After the first, Butler and Arenas cooled down, and the team wasn’t really able to get their momentum back-setting up good offense always pays off later in the game. Although I will note how well the Wiz were moving off the ball when Arenas and Butler were forcing shows early. Flip Saunders flat-out knows how to coach offense. A bit of a Peter Principle guy? Maybe. But a team could do a lot worse with a head coach.

25 assists on 36 field goals. Yeah baby.

Bullets of Randomness:

Things that do not make me happy: the Q cheering when Stevenson took a hard foul from Shaq. I understand, I really do. But the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference. Stevenson deserves indifference.

Before I forget: for how talented of a shot-blocker McGee is, he is freaking horrible defensively. I have never seen a center matador with that level of gusto. He plays D like he’s hiding a Fabergé egg on his sternum. Look at Andy-you don’t need to be wide or strong to be effective as an interior defender in this league. You just have to be willing to get wide.

Foye really killed the Wizards in this one-too many ugly 21-foot jumpers off screens, very few tough drives, 1 assist in 20 minutes and a game-deciding mark of -14. Apparently, he has a good game every other night for the Wizards thus far, but if I was a Washington fan I’d be gulping about taking him over all of these fabulous rookie points.

And Mike Miller continues his bizarre protest of shooting, attempting only 3 field goals in 35 minutes.

Should I even say anything about Wizards fans? I mean, more than a third of the Wizards’ points tonight came from the free throw line, and the FT attempts were 41-27 in favor of the Wizards. But on every Wizards blog, all the Wizards fans want to talk about are how the refs fixed the game. Reading these comments, you’d think Mo distracted the refs as Shaq and LeBron beat up Caron without being tagged in. This is a hard game to officiate. If you’re biased towards a team, you’re going to find a number of “bad”calls in every game. Fred and AC sure thought there were some bad calls that went in favor of the Wizards tonight. Let’s all of us maybe get a smidgen of perspective on how objective we are when it comes to evaluating calls. Wizards fans, if you want a rivalry with the Cavs, have a rivalry with the Cavs. Right now, it feels like the Cavs are the middleman in your rivalry with the referees. I get the anxieties, and apologize for game 3 in 2006, but it’s drifting into self-parody. I’d really like to start talking about things like basketball.

Alright, to finish on a happy note, here’s an acoustic version of a collaboration between Weezer and Sara Bareilles, who is on the Baron Davis list of “People this blog forgives for going to UCLA.” The other day, I was talking about the 2nd-album slump phenomena with a friend of mine, and he offered up Pinkerton as an example. I have never had a piece of my childhood crushed so efficiently in my life. Pinkerton was freaking awesome. I refuse to ever believe otherwise. I guess this is what Wizards fans feel like. Anyways, this is an awesome cut. Tonight, we saw the Wizards sink like the Titanic, and it did not make us sad.

Off-Day Fun: Hey, I’m on a podcast!

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

In preparation for tomorrow’s game against the Wizards, the good people of Truth About It and Bullets Forever invited me and RockKing from WFNY on their podcast this weekend. Go check it out-it’s a lot of good talk about the rivalry, how it started and escalated, and what to expect going forward.