Overview: After opening the game with a 46-20 quarter fueled by an NBA-record tying 11 threes, the Cavs were able to cruise to an easy 114-89 victory. LeBron James led all scorers with 32 points, and six Cavaliers scored in double digits. The Cavs have now won eight straight games since the Sundiata Gaines game, and have not lost a game by more than three points since December 20th.
I thought the Cavs’ first quarter against Indiana was pretty darn impressive. This was insane. Let’s break it down:
-The Cavs started off the game attacking the basket. They got their first nine points on a JJ Hickson free throw, two layups by LeBron, a layup by Shaq, and a wide-open reverse dunk by LeBron courtesy of a beautiful outlet pass by Shaq.
-After that, they tossed the ball to Shaq in the post. Eric Gordon came over to double-team, the Clippers failed to rotate, and Parker knocked down a wide-open three when Shaq gave it up. On the next possession, Gordon again came down to double on Shaq, this time leaving Daniel Gibson wide-open from beyond the arc. The threes had begun to fall.
-On the Cavs’ next possession, it became apparent that something big was in progress. JJ Hickson had his shot blocked at the rim, and the ball began to roll towards the corner. LeBron went to chase the ball down, and snatched it just before it went out of bounds.
There was plenty of time left on the shot clock to set up a play. LeBron had enough space around him to set his feet and gauge a shot. LeBron did neither of those things. Instead, LeBron grabbed the ball and fired an off-balance turnaround three in one motion. When LeBron shot it, I started to scream, but just after the ball left his hand, I realized something: he’s going to make that.
I don’t know why I felt this, but I did. It’s a feeling I recognize. When LeBron takes a shot that difficult for no apparent reason whatsoever, I think my brain reasons that LeBron’s taking the shot because he’s absolutely positive he’s going to make it. And make it he did. From that point, the barrage was on.
-The next time down the floor, LeBron set Daniel Gibson up with a wide-open three in transition, which Boobie made. After that, LeBron just started going off. He made an off-balance three, and followed that up by sticking a three in transition. The next time down the floor, he caught a pass from JJ Hickson 30 feet away from the basket, and without a moment’s hesitation rose up and drained it. At this point, the score was 30-11, and the Cavs had scored 18 points in just over three minutes.
The Cavs settled down for a few possessions after LeBron finally missed a heat-check three, but then the bench started getting involved. Jawad Williams buried a catch-and-shoot three off of a setup by LeBron. Jamario Moon drained two wide-open threes from the short corner. As the clock wound down, LeBron drained a contested pull-up three from another county, tying the NBA team record for threes in a quarter with 11. The Cavs now held a 46-20 lead, and the game was effectively over.
-The Cavs didn’t play with much intensity for the rest of the game, which is understandable. They were especially lackluster in the third quarter, and allowed the Clippers to cut the lead to 12 early in the fourth before LeBron put them away.
LeBron scored or assisted on 14 Cavalier points in just under 9 minutes during the fourth quarter. That, along with Shaq’s eight points in the period, was enough to kill any thoughts of a miracle comeback by the Clippers. Not the best 48 minutes of basketball the Cavs have ever played, but that incredible first quarter kept the Clippers from ever seriously contending in this one.
-LeBron on Sunday, by location:
4-5 at the rim
1-9 from midrange
5-6 from three
LeBron was definitely rocking the extreme skew in this one. On the one hand, his (relative) struggles from midrange do help explain why LeBron doesn’t turn a 23-point quarter into one of those 50 or 60 point games. On the other hand, I’m not sure if LeBron’s the type of player who looks to get 50 or 60 point games.
-LeBron’s performance as the de facto point guard continues to amaze me. Of LeBron’s 11 assists tonight, 6 led to layups or dunks, and 4 led to threes. Once again, he was making great passes from everywhere on the floor. I was particularly impressed by his ability to make passes from the mid-post area; sets that start with LeBron backing his man down are really tough to defend. Also, LeBron only turned the ball over once.
-I thought Shaq tried to force his way through a few double-teams after his wonderful passing display early in the game, but he still finished the game shooting 7-12 from the field. That’s a great sign for him.
-Andy was able to find some space on his cuts tonight. He shot 5-6 from the floor, and made some beautiful finishes late in the game.
-Not only was Daniel Gibson 4-5 from beyond the arc, but he recorded a season-high six assists. He gets a shirt.
-Other than Z and Hickson, no Cavalier had a TS lower than 62.1% on Sunday nights. Whoa.
-You hate to see Danny Green take a fall like that in garbage time. I don’t think Thornton had bad intentions, though. It looks like he reflexively tried to stop Green, but missed the ball and ended up getting him on the head. Even still, at that point in the game he probably should’ve just let the rookie have his dunk.
Bullets of Randomness:
-Did not expect to see Eric Gordon end up 5-16 from the field. If he can’t be a consistent force, there will be major trouble in Clipperland.
-Baron Davis played a wonderful game, although when he plays like this it’s natural to wonder why he can’t do it more often.
Alright, that’s all for tonight. Until tomorrow, campers.
(By the way, I’m angry at Vevo for blocking the music video to this song, which involves models playing musical chairs. I believe that models playing musical chairs can and should serve as a metaphor for any possible situation.)
Overview: The Pacers were never able to recover from a 36-18 first-quarter blitz by the Cavaliers, who cruised to a 94-73 victory. LeBron James was one rebound shy of a triple-double, and Shaquille O’Neal scored 22 points on 10 shots.
-Let’s start with that first quarter. What beautiful basketball. LeBron scored on the first possession of the game, and didn’t record his next field goal until the Cavs’ final possession of the first half. He had one of his best offensive quarters of the season anyways, picking the Pacers apart to the tune of nine assists in the first quarter alone.
It was an absolute passing clinic. LeBron’s assists accounted for 22 of the Cavs’ 36 points in the quarter. When you factor in LeBron’s scoring, he was responsible for 26 of the 36 points overall. He was making passes from everywhere. He set Shaq up with an interior pass for a dunk. He pushed in transition and found his three-point shooters trailing the break. He made some absolutely beautiful passes after drawing double-teams in the midpost. He made skip passes to shooters setting up behind back screens. He found JJ Hickson cutting through the lane.
Except for the two times LeBron set up Z with mid-range jumpers, all of his assists in the first quarter led to shots at the rim or three-pointers. It’s obvious to say, but I’ll say it anyways: LeBron completely dominated the game without needing to score. No Cavalier other than LeBron had more than one assist, and the Cavs still recorded five more assists than the Pacers on the night. Amazing. The first quarter was the one that decided the game, and it was all made possible by LeBron’s display of playmaking.
LeBron had a great game on the defensive end as well. He spent lots of time guarding Danny Granger on the ball, and Granger finished 6-23 from the field. In fact, the Pacer swingmen combined to shoot 18-56 from the field, and shot four combined free throws. LeBron was also an absolute monster on the weak side, recording two steals and four absolutely crushing blocks. Danny Granger, you are excluded from chicken cutlet night.
-The good news is that LeBron absolutely dominated the game while having one of his worst scoring nights of the season. The bad news is that LeBron had one of his worst scoring nights of the season. LeBron shot 6-18 from the field, and 2-11 from outside of the paint.
Some nights, asking LeBron to take on this many playmaking duties is going to hamper his ability to score effectively, and Friday was one of those nights. With the defense completely focused on LeBron, he wasn’t able to find the kind of space he wanted to get to the rim or set himself up with easy jumpers. Brandon Rush did a very good job of staying in front of him in the half-court, and was able to force LeBron into a lot of bad jumpers at the end of the shot clock. The offense definitely got stagnant in the third quarter, and LeBron went 2-9 from 19 feet or deeper during the period.
LeBron also missed seven free throws, which is the most free throws he’s missed since the Bradley Center Game last season. LeBron has now missed 19 free throws in his last four games. He missed 24 free throws in all of November, and 31 in all of December. One of the great things about LeBron’s improvement over the years is how much more comfortable I am with him on the line, so let’s hope he shakes this mini-slump from the line off quickly. Even in a blowout, missed free throws drive me absolutely insane, especially from LeBron. They make me physically ill. I mention this to try and jinx whatever bad mojo has been happening when LeBron’s been at the line the last few games.
But lest we lose focus, even though LeBron only had a TS of 42.3% in this game, it was a good an example as any of why LeBron’s the clear-cut favorite for MVP at this point in the year. His all-around game is just that good.
-Shaq was an absolute beast. He caught the ball at or inside the circle, and the Pacers had no answer for him. They fouled him, they tried to double-team him, they prayed. None of it worked. Shaq powered through double-teams, used the glass, pushed defenders out of his way, and put air under his hooks, and the ball kept going through. Shaq finished the night 8-10 from the floor, with only three of his baskets coming off of assists, and drew 10 fouls on the Pacers. On the defensive end, Shaq was able to hold Roy Hibbert to a 2-9 shooting performance before Hibbert fouled out. Absolute dominance on both ends from Shaq.
-Varejao and AP’s offensive games have both fallen off without a point guard to set them up with the shots they like. Varejao only took two shots in 23 minutes, and Parker finished 2-9 from the field.
-Jamario had a rough game, going 1-4 from the field. Jawad, on the other hand, made all three of his three-point attempts and only missed one field goal all night. Apparently it would upset the balance of the universe if both Jawad and Moon played well on the same night.
-Even though there was some garbage time involved, I feel it’s still worth mentioning that the Pacers scored nine points in the fourth quarter.
-The Pacers took 23 more shots than the Cavs in this game, but a lot of that was because of the free throw discrepancy. The Cavs shot 44 free throws. The Pacers shot five. Yipes.
Alright, that’s all for tonight. Have a great weekend, campers.
-LeBron James has been fined $25,000 for kicking a water bottle during the Minnesota game. LeBron was frustrated about a few no-calls on his drives to the hoop, and briefly lost his cool. Even if he was right, there’s not a lot of upside to losing your composure on the court.
“Jamison can help them more short-term, but I like Murphy’s contract better.
“Jamison is better around the basket. He can shoot 3s like Murphy can. But the last year of Jamison’s deal — $15 million when he’ll be 35 — would scare me. So I’d go with Murphy.
“He doesn’t play defense like the Cavs [expect], but he only has one season left after this one [at nearly $12 million]. If I’m the Cavs and I end up losing LeBron, I’m not going to want Jamison on my books in that last year at $15 million.”
-Chad Ford says the Cavs are one of his 10 teams most likely to make a deal at the deadline. The new piece of information is that the Cavs would be willing to give up their first-round pick this season to get a deal done.
Before we resume this endeavor, here’s an email I got on Thursday from a special guest:
Great idea on the rotation players. But I totally disagree that E.Will and Gooden should be in there. Gooden started on a Finals team and Williams helped turn that entire season around.
I’ll give you this. Eight worst players who actually started games with LeBron (Ira Newble doesn’t make my list, he played hard):
Keep up the good work,
That is a brilliant list from Mr. Windhorst. I encourage at you to stare at it for a few moments and reflect on its implications. However, in regards to Brian’s first paragraph, I would like to clarify just what I mean by “ridiculous.” Ridiculous is not just a synonym for “bad.” It just means ridiculous. If a player managed to be effective despite his glaring and hilarious flaws, that actually makes him more likely to appear on this list.
This list is about more than just ragging on terrible players that have played alongside of LeBron. One of the main points of Moneyball was how the Oakland A’s, because of their low budget, were forced to find players who were effective but unorthodox. They had position players who couldn’t field, leadoff hitters who couldn’t run, pitchers who were too short, pitchers who didn’t throw hard enough, first baseman who were supposed to be catchers, designated hitters who were to old, and a reliever with a clubfoot.
The Cavs have always had plenty of financial backing in the LeBron era, but thanks to some of the circumstances I discussed in part one, they’ve been forced to fill their rotation with similarly unorthodox players.
I’ll say this one more time before I continue: ridiculous is not simply a synonym for terrible. Lots of these players were terrible at one thing or another, and that is often what made them ridiculous. But they found ways to be effective despite their flaws, and were parts of some very good Cavalier teams.
One last disclaimer: Like I said, the Eric Williams post was not totally about Eric Williams. Eric Williams was used as an avatar for the Ricky Davis situation, which was definitely ridiculous. I don’t dispute that Eric Williams had a major positive effect on the Cavs in 03-04 despite his bad shooting numbers. What makes it ridiculous is the fact that Ricky Davis had become such a corrosive presence that Eric Williams was able to turn the season around.
As for Drew Gooden, he was indeed an effective rebounder and provided some needed scoring punch. But he was a ridiculous dude.
Without further ado, the rest of the list:
4. Wally Szczerbiak
Makes the list for several reasons. When the Cavs traded for Wally at the 07-08 deadline, he was playing very well for Seattle. After he came to the Cavs, Wally went into a prolonged shooting slump for the rest of the season. He shot 36% from the field and 36.5% from beyond the arc with the Cavs that season, and was considered a major disappointment. LeBron had nothing resembling the kind of chemistry with Wally that he has with Boobie or Mo, and Wally wasn’t effective as a spot-up shooter alongside of LeBron.
This development caused the Cavs coaches to look at one another and ask this question: If Wally wasn’t effective as a spot-up shooter next to LeBron, how were they supposed to make him effective? This led to the advent of Wally Szczerbiak: Gritty Interior Defender and Wally Szcerbiak: Bench Gunner, which were both fascinating experiments. Wally wasn’t naturally suited to either role, but absolutely went 100% in trying to perform them. He became strangely effective in both roles, even if the overall effect was like watching Ichiro dedicating himself to batting .300 while hitting with a saxophone. The technique was always solid, but something always seemed ill-advised about the overall notion.
Wally did actually become a pretty decent defender, particularly if other players tried to bully him. This led to the always classic “Wait, aren’t you Wally Szczerbiak?” look from an opposing player when they tried to get an easy basket on Wally and found that he was actually providing resistance.
Wally’s success as a bench gunner was decidedly more mixed. When Wally put the ball on the floor from the perimeter, it was an adventure every time. This wasn’t like Sasha Pavlovic’s drives. Remember the scene in Memento when Guy Pearce’s memory blanked as he was sprinting away from somebody, and he had to figure out if he was chasing somebody or being chased as there were bullets flying at him? That was Sasha when he drove.
Wally’s drives were different. Wally always seemed like he had a plan, but always overestimated his own ability to execute it. He would be completely under control, but moving so slowly and predictably that the defense was always able to react to whatever he was planning on surprising them with, which led to Wally’s plan breaking down and something horrible happening. If Sasha driving was like watching Memento, then Wally driving was like watching the part at the halfway mark of a Scooby-Doo episode, when the gang comes up with the initial elaborate but ultimately doomed plan to catch the bad guy.
Wally also really liked taking his man to the block, despite the fact he could never really get deep position, never drew a double-team, and only had one move. All he really had was a turnaround jumper over his man from the 12-18 foot range, and it didn’t go in very often. Despite this, Wally never was shy about calling for the ball and posting up. In terms of desire to post up and ability to be effective from the post, Wally was more or less the exact inverse of LeBron.
In 08-09, Wally got his shot back and settled into a nice role on the team. He spent most of his minutes at the three, which allowed the Cavs to play a small-ball lineup with LeBron at the four. The lineup was extremely effective, and Wally quietly became a valuable contributor. However, there was still one ridiculous thing about Wally, through no fault of his own.
Despite the fact that Wally learned to love mixing it up on both ends and became a serviceable defender (honestly!) every broadcast team other than Fred and AC talked about Wally like he was the absolute epitome of the soft, white, sweet-shooting player. Every time Wally came into the game, the opposing broadcast team would start absolutely begging their team to attack Wally every single time down the floor. They acted like Wally would take the ball and simply lay it in his own basket if anybody had the thought to drive on him. Occasionally, teams would get out of their offensive flow simply because whomever Wally was guarding was so determined to try and score on him.
Two final thoughts on Wally. First of all, Wally’s high-fives and all-around giddiness around his teammates was fantastic to watch. And finally, Wally once wore this.
3. Damon Jones
Oh, Damon Jones. On the court, Damon Jones was certainly ridiculous. Damon Jones managed to be a solid rotation player for many years with literally one NBA-quality skill. He was a very good three-point shooter, hitting at or around the 40% in each of his seasons with the Cavaliers.
In almost literally every other respect, Damon was at the bottom of the heap. He may be the slowest guard I have ever seen play NBA basketball. He would have to change directions three or four times just to get the ball over the half-court line. The only thing he did that approximated a move off the dribble was an odd motion where Damon would lift his lead leg while he dribbled with his back to the defender, like a dog marking its territory. I have no idea what this was supposed to accomplish, but Damon seemed to believe in it.
Damon was a poor finisher around the basket, and while he rarely turned the ball over, he rarely set anybody up with an easy look. His defense was horrifyingly bad.
Just how much of a specialist was Damon Jones? Here are some numbers:
In Jones’ three seasons with the Cavs, 878 of his 1209 field goals were taken from beyond the arc. That’s 73% of his shots.
Additionally, Jones took 122 free throws in his three seasons in the Cavalier rotation. LeBron has shot 157 free throws this January.
(Also, Damon was one of those weird guys who could shoot threes but wasn’t much of a free-throw shooter. Jones’ best mark from the line with the Cavs was 71.4%, and he shot 64% from the line his first year with the team.)
Of course, even Jones’ insanely limited game helped out the Cavs, who were always in need of more players to stretch the floor for LeBron. He didn’t do much, but he knew his role and performed it well. And, of course, there was this.
Of all the players on this list, Damon Jones is probably the one happiest to be on it. Damon Jones loved being Damon Jones. This is a whole separate essay, but Jones’ bravado lapsed into self-parody so often that I often thought that Jones had to be in on the joke, and was actually doing a kind of performance art designed to keep him famous for longer than he knew he deserved to be. In other words, the Cavs had The Situation for a backup point guard. Damon Jones’ dream was always to be part of a three-man booth while actually playing in a game, and more power to him. I could go on about this, or I could put up the Damon Jones’ Coat video.
There was a brief moment where I considered naming this website “Damon Jones’ Coat: The Blog.” Also, after Joe Smith was bought out and signed by the Cavs, Damon Jones was effectively traded straight-up for Mo Williams.
#2: Larry Hughes
Frankly, a lot of the Larry Hughes memories are too difficult to re-hash here. The whole experience has become a mush of disappointment and pull-up 21-foot jumpers in my mind, and I prefer not to think about it too much.
For a myriad of reasons, some of them injury-related, Larry Hughes was never very good at making the ball go in the basket when he wanted it to. What made the Larry Hughes era ridiculous was how hard the Cavs tried to make Larry Hughes effective despite this important issue. Hughes managed to be adequate in a number of roles, but never became anything approaching the impact player he was expected to be. For the purposes of this post, let’s focus on a few of the ways that Cavs fans, myself included, tried to avoid facing the reality of Larry Hughes:
-Larry’s strongest suit is his decision-making! He’s actually a giant point guard! (It isn’t; he’s not.)
-Larry’s hand is finally healthy! Now he’ll be back on track! (Nope.)
-This is the wrong system for Larry! He’s a slasher being forced to shoot! (Not only did Hughes show very little desire to go to the rim during his time with the Cavs, he wasn’t very good when he got there. His best “inside” eFG% with the Cavs was 53%, which is a very low number.)
-He worked with Mark Price! (This story got recycled this past summer with Rajon Rondo, to similar results.)
-He’s a lockdown defender! (He really wasn’t.)
-His knees are back! Here comes Larry! (Never happened.)
By the time www.heylarryhughespleasestoptakingsomanybadshots.com came about, everyone was ready to face the facts. The pain of watching Larry Hughes take bad jumpers was not a necessary sacrifice that needed to be made to allow Larry’s all-around game to flourish. It was just an overpaid swingman taking bad jumpers.
Larry Hughes endured some tough circumstances both on and off the court during his time with the Cavs, was part of a finals team, and always seemed to be trying his best to contribute. But those jumpers took a year off my life.
#1 Eric Snow
I have never been as conflicted about a player as I am about Eric Snow. On the one hand, Eric Snow is a guy any coach would want on his team. He played smart, he played tough, he loved playing defense, and he was pretty darn good at it. He was a leader on and off the court, and lots of folks think he’s got a coaching job somewhere in his future. He never tried to do too much, always made the correct play if it was there, and always tried to make up for his limitations with hustle. On one level, if a team with a below-average amount of overall talent wants to succeed, it needs players like Eric Snow.
On the other hand, it is almost unfathomable that a player of Eric Snow’s offensive ineptitude was the point guard for successful teams that featured LeBron James. Eric Snow was not simply a bad offensive player, or a player with a terrible offensive game. Eric Snow was literally incapable of being an effective offensive player in the NBA. An all-powerful basketball God could plot out each and every one of Eric Snow’s offensive decisions for maximum possible benefit, and he still would not have helped an offense. How many successful rotation players can you say that about in this league, let alone starters?
Eric Snow could finish at the basket. That was his lone offensive skill. He was not fast, couldn’t get dribble penetration, couldn’t make home-run passes, and was one of the worst shooters I have ever seen play in an NBA backcourt. Teams would leave him wide-open from 18 feet and he wouldn’t come close to hitting the net. It was like seeing a normal guard try to shoot a medicine ball.
Teams would double off of Eric Snow and trap LeBron, and there wouldn’t be much the Cavs could do about it. It was the kind of defensive strategy that rarely works against the likes of Ben Wallace, and Snow was a point guard. That Mike Brown developed a reputation (which stuck) as a poor offensive coach while the Cavs were almost literally going four-on-five on that end is an injustice.
One stat for perspective: Mo Williams made 43.6% of his threes last season. When you factor in the added value of the shot, his eFG% on threes was 65.4%. In 2006-07, Mo Williams played in all 82 games for the Cavs, and started 45 of them. That season, Snow shot 63.7% on free throws.
Eric Snow was the epitome of a Mike Brown player. He helped instill a defensive mentality that’s served as the backbone for the Cavs’ success. He was a great presence on and off the court. He played a crucial role in molding the Cavs into what they are today. He accomplished all of this despite being a point guard who couldn’t beat anyone off the dribble or make an open shot to save his life, and would routinely get ignored on the offensive end. And yet he was the guy running the point as one of the great offensive talents the league has ever seen was first leading teams deep into the playoffs. If that’s not ridiculous, I don’t know what is.
Well, that’s more than enough of that for the time being. Let me know what you guys think, but remember that I wasn’t interested in players who just happened to be very bad at basketball and employed by the Cavaliers. Also, this video was considered.
Oh, David Wesley. 949 games, 10,023 shots, and that’s the first thing that comes up when someone searches for you on YouTube.
-Shaq on JJ Hickson’s career-high night: “You could be Cedric Ceballos.” Interesting.
-Stat guru Jon Nichols, writing for the New York Times, points out that LeBron’s stats decrease across the board when Shaq is in the game, particularly his foul drawing rate. There are some lurking variables in there, and the Cavs seem to be getting better and better with Shaq on the floor. Still worth a look, though.
-Yahoo! Sports has an early look at the all-star reserves. No Cavs, which is about what I thought.
Overview: After a surprisingly competitive first quarter, the Cavaliers outscored the Timberwolves 58-40 over the course of the 2nd and 3rd quarters en route to an easy 109-95 win. LeBron James scored only 12 points, but was one of six Cavaliers who scored in double figures. JJ Hickson set a career-high in scoring with 23 points.
-This game was exactly what the doctor ordered. After a few gut-wrenching games, the Cavs were able to sit LeBron for the entire fourth quarter. More importantly, after two games that featured some absolutely terrible offensive execution because of the Cavs’ current lack of a point guard, the Cavs were able to move the ball beautifully.
Here are some numbers:
Of the Cavs’ 109 points, only 25 of them came on shots outside of 10 feet.
The Cavs made 25 of their 32 shots at the rim, converting at a 78.2%. Basically, that means the entire team finished at the rim as well as LeBron James normally does.
If you count every two free throws as one shot at the rim (a rough metric, but much more true than not), than the Cavs shot 35-46 on total attempts at the rim. If you factor out the Cavs’ two and-1s, that number goes to the equivalent of 35-45. Basically, the Cavs got 70 of their points at the rim, and converted 78% of their opportunities at the rim.
It gets better. Of the Cavs’ 25 field goals at the rim, 19 of them were assisted. In contrast, the Timberwolves had four assisted field goals at the rim in this game. That’s a 30-point gap.
Long two-point shots are generally considered the least efficient shots in basketball. The Cavs took 14 shots from that range. The Timberwolves took 33.
-Everything looked as pretty on the floor as it did on paper. Interior passing, beautiful interior passing, all game long. Shaq would get it in the block, and crisp cuts would be made both on the interior and the perimeter. The correct option would be identified, and the ball worked around for an easy layup or dunk. Four assists for Shaq in only 19 minutes, and three of them led to shots at the rim.
-LeBron James tied his season-low for points with 12, but was making everything work as the playmaker on offense. He pushed the ball, was patient in the half-court, and set up a few plays from the mid-post. 11 assists looks impressive enough on its own. That 10 of LeBron’s 11 assists led to layups or dunks makes you realize that LeBron had an incredible night passing the basketball.
Strange facts file: While the rest of the Cavalier team was running a layup line, LeBron missed all three of his shots at the basket.
-Big Z went for 13 points on 5-8 shooting, and none of his baskets came from outside of the paint. He finished a few easy dunks inside thanks to nice interior passes from his teammates, and even returned to the post and drained two fadeaways. It can be nice when Z remembers that he’s 7 foot 3.
-Of course, the guy who was really making the interior passing game work was none other than JJ Hickson. JJ was flying to the basket from every conceivable angle on Wednesday night. Hickson made all seven of his shots at the rim, and six of those seven baskets came off of assists. He made finishes trailing the play. He snuck behind the defense when they focused on Shaq. He made powerful dunks and soft layups. He was using his energy and athleticism to make plays instead of trying to overthink everything and show off his skills, and the dividends were immediate.
-Also, 0 baskets from outside of 10 feet for JJ tonight, but the good news is that he only attempted two shots from that range. He’s much more effective providing space for Shaq by moving without the ball and cutting towards the rim than he is trying to knock down jumpers. Also, zero turnovers for JJ tonight. After a one-game hiatus, Hicksomania has returned.
-Jawad had one of his worst games. Not only did he miss all six of his shots, but he stopped the ball a few times on offense. He looked like he was pressing out there, which is out of character for Jawad. Hopefully he can get back on track.
-Fortunately, Jamario Moon made a triumphant return to effectiveness against the Wolves. 5-7 from the field, with four of those five baskets coming from outside the paint. I love to see that he’s getting his touch back from beyond the arc, but I will always cringe when Moon fires a step-back jumper. That thing just doesn’t look right. Also, tonight we learned that the “gooseneck” gesture comes from how Jamario’s neck looks when he shoots a three-pointer. I kind of preferred not knowing, personally.
-I love Danny Green’s game. No threes tonight, but every time he gets the ball he knows what he wants to do with it. Quick moves to the hoop, and he’s not afraid to go into the teeth of the defense.
Bullets of Randomness:
-The Wolves only turned the ball over eight times all game and had six more offensive boards than the Cavs. Because of this, the Wolves had 22 more field goal attempts than the Cavs in this game, and still got blown out. Weird stuff.
-My proposed nickname for Damien Wilkins is “The Human.”
-Yes, I like Kevin Love’s game.
-Sasha’s return to the Q: less than triumphant. I remember those bizarre pull-ups that he flung up tonight. I do not remember them fondly.
-I can’t believe Bill Laimbeer can even bring himself to look at a team that plays defense like the Wolves do, let alone coach them. They just have no concept of interior defense.
-I know I already posted one Sea Wolf video today, but I like at least four things about this music video as much as I like anything about any music video ever.
Pace: Timberwolves 98.6 (4th) vs. Cavs 93.1 (28th)
Offensive Efficiency: Timberwolves 97.3 (29th) vs. Cavs 108.0 (5th)
Defensive Efficiency: Timberwolves 108.0 (27th) vs. Cavs 100.7 (6th)
Links To The Present:
Due to time constraints, I had to fold the links into the preview today, and there aren’t many.
-John Hollinger may think Anderson Varejao is the defensive player of the year at the midway point, but he doesn’t think he’s played well enough to be one of his all-star reserves. If Hollinger doesn’t think Varejao belongs, I don’t know who will. Unless Shaq sneaks into the backup center spot, it looks like LeBron might be the Cavs’ only all-star this season.
-In case you missed it yesterday, commenter Tsunami wrote an absolute thesis on the issue of LeBron’s fouls. Very strong opinions, tons and tons of information.
-The Timberwolves feature one of the most prolific low-post scorers in basketball, and also play at one of the fastest paces in the league. They are also terrible at offense. This is very intriguing to me.
-There are going to be a lot of arguments over Kevin Love’s value in the years to come.
-I’ve always liked Corey Brewer’s game, even when he couldn’t hit water from the deck of a boat. If he keeps drilling threes, he’ll be a fantastic player.
-If the Cavs let this one get close for any period of time, I’ll be saddened. My immune system needs a blowout win or two to rebuild.
-The Timberwolves give up the exact same amount of points per 100 possessions as the Cavs score per 100 possessions. If the Cavs score 108 points per 100 possessions tonight, I’ll be thrilled in an extremely geeky way.
The other night, with Delonte West and Mo Williams both injured, Danny Green checked into the game for the Cavaliers. Watching Danny Green play, I realized something. Danny Green is pretty good. He makes smart cuts, he knows where his teammates are, and he can knock down threes. He looks like a legitimate NBA rotation player. I would feel comfortable with Danny Green on the floor during an important stretch of an NBA game. Heck, I’d be interested to see what an all-length lineup of Anderson Varejao/LeBron James/Jawad Williams/Danny Green/Delonte West could do, even though four of those players come off the Cavalier bench and two weren’t even in the rotation until recently.
After I realized that Danny Green looks like an NBA rotation player, I realized something else. There are 11 Cavalier players who have gotten more playing time than Danny Green this season. This means that Danny Green occupies the absolute end of the Cavalier rotation, even without Leon Powe playing.There are 11 Cavalier players who have gotten more playing time than Danny Green this season, and that doesn’t even include Leon Powe. This means that Danny Green occupies the absolute back of the Cavalier rotation.
Danny Green is just one example of something most people know by now: The 2009-10 Cavaliers are an incredibly deep basketball team. They seem to have an endless supply of capable rotation players of all shapes and sizes. They can match up with any other team’s style. They can deal with injuries and absences. They can sit somebody if he’s not having a good night. As a Cavs fan, this is a mind-boggling development.
Ever since I can remember, the Cavs have prominently featured players who do not look like they belong in an NBA rotation. In the LeBron era, with the Cavs gaining league-wide respectability and national coverage, this has become even more apparent. While most playoff contenders look like sleek squads of talented professionals who can beat teams in a number of ways, the Cavs have long looked like LeBron and the Island of Misfit Toys.
There is an explanation for this, which is that the Cavs weren’t built like most teams were. Most teams go through rough stretches, accumulate some young, talented players through the draft, and let them mature, eventually forming a “core.” When that happens, they add some pieces, maybe even a major free agent, and then make minor adjustments around their core until those players fade away and it’s time to draft a new core. There are plenty of exceptions to this formula, but most of the time that’s the rough outline of how contenders get built.
After the Cavs won the LeBron lottery, they completely botched their only two chances at a lottery pick. In 2004, they took Luke Jackson, who suffered major injuries and never became an impact player in the NBA. In 2005, the Cavs lost their first-round pick thanks to the Jiri Welsch trade, which took away the lottery protection on the Cavs’ 2005 pick. So the Cavs missed both of their best chances to add a young star through the draft, and the one time they had tons of cap space, they used it on Larry Hughes. Oh, and there was the Boozer thing.
Because of these circumstances and the pressure not to waste years of LeBron James’ prime, the Cavs have been forced to surround LeBron with players who are a bit, well, different. Not all of them have been terrible players, and some of them have even been quite effective. But over the years, I can’t even begin to count the number of times that I’ve thought to myself “Dear God, this man is a rotation player on an NBA playoff team.” Tonight, we celebrate a few of those lovable misfits.
Here are a few of my favorite former Cavs that have taken a few years off of my life, in no particular order:
8. Eric Williams
If you’ll remember, Eric Williams was the most effective one of the three players the Cavaliers acquired in the Ricky Davis trade. The other two were Tony Battie and Kendrick Brown, who both logged significantly less minutes for the 03-04 Cavaliers than Williams did. Despite the fact that Williams shot 36.6% from the field and 25.3% from three-point range with the Cavs, the Cavs played significantly better basketball after his acquisition.
Really, this paragraph isn’t about Eric Williams at all, but how completely strange the Ricky Davis situation was in retrospect. The Cavs traded away an extremely talented young scorer for three players whose chief value was that they were decent human beings who played hard, and they got significantly better. That is how much of a pain in the ass Ricky Davis had become in Cleveland. What makes everything that much more ridiculous is that Davis was being such a pain in the ass because he had a problem with the reins of the team being handed from him to LeBron James. Recent history suggests that Davis was perhaps mistaken in his position on this issue.
On Bill Simmons’ podcast today, he was asked to find the sports equivalent of Angelina leaving the Jersey Shore house on the second episode. She left because of unspecified issues with showing up to work at a store located directly below her home, and in doing so cost herself years of easy money through club appearances and subsequent reality shows. You may think that D-level reality stardom might not be something Angelina aspires to, but this is a woman who described herself as the “Kim Kardashian of Staten Island.” And yet I digress. The point is that I nominate Ricky Davis pouting his way off the 03-04 Cavaliers as the sports world’s answer to Angelina leaving the Jersey Shore house during the second episode.
7. Drew Gooden
Gooden was an excellent rebounder, had a decent touch from mid-range, could occasionally score in the post, and could attack off the dribble. On paper, Drew Gooden was and is a very passable NBA power forward. However, Drew was always far worse than his package of skills would suggest he was. He was never a very efficient scorer, wasn’t very tough around the basket, would settle for too many midrange jumpers, and would often start dribbling towards the basket without any sort of plan. Defensively, he never had any clue what was going on, and would regularly miss rotations. He was a tentative finisher around the basket, often pivoting a few times and tossing up an oddly angled hook instead of just catching the ball and dunking.
Despite the fact the Cavs played significantly better with Anderson Varejao at the power forward, Drew started at the power forward for years. Even though he played terrible defense on a team built on defense and wasn’t a very good pick-and-roll player on a team that mainly ran pick-and-rolls, Drew stayed. The team was never really happy with Drew starting at power forwards, shopping him a few times and not offering him a huge contract when he became a free agent, but they never could quite bring themselves to let go of Drew’s rebounding, scoring ability, and all-around semi-acceptability.
Drew was also a bit flighty, and wore a his hair in a duck-tail for most of a season and engaged in a beard-growing contest with DeShawn Stevenson for most of another. Drew truly saw his own head as a canvas.
Around the beginning of my Sophomore year, I realized that the magnetizing strip on my student ID card had worn out. This meant that it wouldn’t work sometimes in some places, and would never work in other places. It was often a hassle, but it would work just often enough so that I didn’t feel the need to replace it. It wasn’t making my life impossible, and I had too many other things to do to worry about replacing the card. You know when I ended up replaced that card? Yesterday. It took me just over a year and a half to get sufficiently fed up with my barely adequate card. That story is how I would explain the Drew Gooden era for the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s hard to realize that something that works needs replacing, even when it doesn’t work very well.
6. Donyell Marshall
Donyell was a “stretch four” whose love of shooting threes was always greater than his ability to make threes. He would set a lazy pick, pop out behind the three-point line, and fire up a three whether or not he was closed out or not. Donyell Marshall was corpulent and taking bad threes on a contending team long before Rasheed Wallace made it cool.
In fact, here are Donyell Marshall’s numbers in his last year in the Cavs’ rotation, 2006-07 against Rasheed Wallace’s current numbers:
Now that’s just fun. Other interesting facts about Donyell Marshall include the time he missed a wide-open short corner three in game one of the Cleveland-Detroit Eastern Conference Finals in 2007, which may have led to LeBron deciding to take a more active role in his takeover of game five. (Interestingly, Rasheed Wallace inexplicably stuck to Marshall like a sponge during James’ entire game five takeover.)
Donyell was eventually traded to Seattle, where he accelerated Kevin Durant’s ascent to greatness by showing Durant a horrifying vision of what he could someday become if he didn’t work hard enough. This story has not been confirmed, but I still think that’s why the Sonics agreed to that trade. I mean, they traded for him after this happened:
5. Sasha Pavlovic
Up until the second half of the 2007 season, Sasha was a garbage-time player. He would come in, play badly, and go back to the bench for a long time. When told to play harder on the defensive end by Mike Brown, Sasha supposedly said “My offense is my defense,” which is such a ridiculous and ballsy thing to say that it’s kind of awesome.
Then, near the end of the 2007 season, Sasha inexplicably became a very solid starting shooting guard. He played fabulous man-to-man defense, could handle the ball and slash to the rim effectively, and could knock down the open three. There was a chunk of time in there where I honestly would have told you that Sasha Pavlovic was the second-best offensive player on the Cavaliers. He never found his offensive game in the playoffs, although he did play some great defense, particularly on Vince Carter.
Then Sasha held out for the beginning of the 2007-08 season, and during his holdout was apparently forced to forget everything he had ever learned about basketball. I’m telling you, in 2007 Sasha Pavlovic was an effective slasher. I saw it. This really happened. But whenever Sasha Pavlovic put the ball on the floor after his holdout, terrible, terrible things would happen. He would crash into defenders, try to go behind his back, have no idea where any of his teammates were, and throw up wild shots in traffic. Sasha could still play solid defense, and would have good stretches shooting the ball. But Sasha’s sheer horrifying ineptitude whenever he tried to make a play kept him from ever making the kind of impact he had in 2007 again.
Alright, this has gone on longer than I thought, so I’ll have to split in into two parts. See you guys tommorrow, and I’ll complete this list as soon as possible.
Nate Smith is an Associate Editor. He grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and moved to NE Ohio in 2000. He adopted the Cavs in 2003 and graduated from Kent State in 2009 with a BA in English. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or @oldseaminer on Twitter.
Tom Pestak is a Staff Writer. He's from the west side of Cleveland and lives and (mostly) dies by the success and (mostly) failures of his beloved teams. You can watch his fanaticism during Cavs games @tompestak.
Robert Attenweiler is a Staff Writer. Originally from OH, he's long made his home in NYC where he writes plays and screenplays (www.disgracedproductions.com) some of which end up being about Ohio, basketball or both. He has also written for The Classical and the blog Raising the Cadavalier. You can contact him at email@example.com or @cadavalier.
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