Archive for January, 2010

I’m On SportsTalkCleveland This Morning

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

(For recap of last night’s Lakers-Cavs game, scroll down)

Hey folks. Just when you think things can’t get any better, you can hear my sonorous (read: mumbly) voice on Harry Petsanis’ show on SportsTalkCleveland this morning discussing the Cavs. The plan is for me to call in at 11 AM ET/8 AM PT, so take an early lunch break and tune in. It should be fun, so hopefully you guys will have a listen.

Recap: Cavs 93, Lakers 87 (Or, Kobe Breaks Finger, Cavs Catch a Break)

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Overview: The Cavaliers beat the Lakers 93-87 to sweep the season series. The Cavs outscored the Lakers 26-22 in the final quarter, and Pau Gasol missed game-tying free throws with 24 seconds remaining in the game.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

This one feels pretty good. Let’s Memento this game and start with the stretch run:

-Bad omens aplenty early in the fourth quarter, but the Cavs were able to make enough outside shots to overcome the Lakers’ initial burst.

-Delonte hits his first field goal of the game, an absolutely beautiful catch-and-shoot three off an Anderson Varejo feed to put the Cavs up three. 29% three-point shooter Lamar Odom hits a contested three off the bounce to tie the game back up.

-The Cavs get a tip-in from Varejao and a layup from Shaq. Up four, the Cavs again look ready to pull away. But 34% three-point shooter Shannon Brown hits a contested 26-footer to cut the lead to one.

-LeBron checks into the game. He’s shot 3-13 on jumpers up to this point, but promptly splashes a 21-footer to put the Cavs up three. Jordan Farmar hits a contested three off the dribble to answer.

-LeBron his first three of the night on his seventh attempt. Kobe gets forced into taking an impossible fadeaway, and LeBron hits another 20-footer to put the Cavs up five. Artest misses a three, LeBron tries an inexplicable hero three after running down the clock. Then the Cavs play a perfect defensive possession, forcing Kobe into a 27-foot heave at the end of the shot clock.

-LeBron sets Z up with a perfect three-point look from his favorite spot, but it rims out. Fortunately, Varejao draws the loose-ball foul, LeBron hits one more jumper, and the Cavs are up seven with just under three minutes to play. One more stop, and it’s time to breathe.

-Kobe misses a 16-footer, but Artest gets the offensive rebound and drains an unassisted 26-footer. Uh-oh.

-LeBron again runs down the clock and bricks a hero three, and Kobe comes back down and hits two free throws. Gulp.

-LeBron throws the ball away, his first bad pass in crunch-time all season. Kobe ties the game on a beautiful 19-foot fadeaway. I think I’ve seen this movie before, and I didn’t like it. Remember, the Lakers literally have not lost a close game all year, and the Gaines game was a week ago. Varejao has a rare miss under the basket, and it’s Laker ball.

-Then, something wonderful happened. Not only did the Cavs come up with big plays, but they got lucky. Gasol gets a feed under the basket, keeps his hands up like he’s supposed to, and goes to lay it in…but from out of nowhere, there’s LeBron to block it. Gasol gets it back, but can’t get the finish over Varejao.

-LeBron pulls down the rebound, goes up the floor, acts like he’s about to get the Cavs into their offense, and then woosh. In the blink of an eye, LeBron spotted the tiniest of openings, hit his afterburners, and absolutely flew through the Lakers defense for a lefty layup.

It was one of those plays that only LeBron makes. In game-deciding possessions, we’re used to seeing everything grind to a halt. We’re used to seeing the best guy stare down his man, know that the guy guarding him knows what he’s about to do, rise up for the jumper, and making it anyways. It’s not supposed to be about talent in those situations. It’s supposed to be about determination, grit, concentration, magic, and getting that one extra inch.

On plays like that, LeBron cares not for your one extra inch. He thinks you can take your one extra inch and shove it. Instead of draining the most difficult possible shot, he did something so difficult that it’s not supposed to be possible. It’s one of those plays that makes you hang your jaw in awe while somehow thinking that he made it too easy to be impressive, like he used a cheat code or something. Occasionally, LeBron’s capacity for amazing outstrips our capacity to comprehend it, and that semi-transition layup was one of those times. Pardon me for gushing there.

-Cavs up two. 26 seconds to play. Gasol gets it under the hoop, and draws a foul. And the Cavs get, of all things, lucky again. Gasol misses both free throws.

-A week  ago, the Cavs’ free-throw closer fouled out when the Cavs needed free throws, the Cavs need free throws to seal the game. In this game, the Cavs’ free-throw closer had been ruled unable to play hours before the Cavs needed free throws to seal the game.

-LeBron goes to the line. One free throw helps. Two wins the game. LeBron hits the first and misses the second. I’m seeing Kobe run up the court and drill a three, and a few more months of hearing how LeBron chokes. But the Cavs get lucky again. Varejao grabs the rebound, gets fouled, and ends the game. A team that’s had terrible luck down the stretch of games pulls out a close win over a team that’s been untouchable in tight games this year.

It was a win not just for Cavs fans, but for people that believe a coin that comes up heads four straight times has a 50-50 chance of coming up heads the next time it’s flipped. For one night, at least, the basketball universe is ruled by cold, unyielding, arbitrary randomness, and I couldn’t be happier about that.

Onto the rest:

Really nice game from LeBron in this one. He’s had trouble getting to the rim against the Lakers in the recent past, and it’s hampered him. In this one, LeBron went to the rim with confidence from different angles, made all six of his shots at the basket, got to the line, and went 10-13 from the stripe once he got there. He’s been tentative about taking the ball right at the Laker bigs in the past and forced into some slop shots around the basket, but didn’t miss a layup or take a shot from the <10 foot range tonight.

And when he got trapped, the Cavs did a great job giving LeBron angles. Of LeBron’s nine assists on Thursday, seven led to layups or dunks and two led to three-pointers.

As for the jumpers, they didn’t work until they did. It’s never fun to look at a box score and see that a player who can get to the basket at will went 1-9 from outside of the arc. But I actually didn’t mind the threes so much. Artest was going under screens and giving LeBron space. He went straight up and down on most of the threes, and showed good balance. And a lot of them just rimmed out. Two or three more of those go in, and it’s not such a bad performance from deep. Other than the hero shots at the end of the game, I was fine with the threes, because they’re such a better statistical play than deep twos.

That said, LeBron hitting six of his 10 deep twos was very nice. Especially with three of them coming in the fourth quarter and all of them coming off the dribble.

-I don’t think the Cavs could’ve done a much better job defending Kobe than they did. The finger will be a story, and I obviously can’t say how much it did or didn’t impact Kobe’s shot. But Kobe actually shot tremendously well, given the shots he was forced to take. (Of course, that could be due to the back injury.) Kobe shot 57.1% from 10-15 feet, 42% from 16-23, and 2-6 from three. Those are good percentages for someone with six healthy fingers. The key was that Kobe only got one shot at the rim, which he missed, and only got five points from the line. He wasn’t able to get his teammates involved, either, with four assists against three turnovers.

With Kobe, the best thing you can hope to do is make him a volume shooter from the outside, and the Cavs were able to do that. Sometimes, Kobe will hit everything he looks at and go for 55 even if he’s played perfectly, because he’s Kobe. But the Cavs played the percentages beautifully, and got away with it on Thursday.

-Hicksomania! A day after I got done absolutely burying the guy, he goes ahead and has his best game in a Cavs uniform. 4-6 from the field with some nice finishes at the rim, 3-4 from the line, and an insane 14 rebounds. And wouldn’t you know that he tied for the game high with a +6. Wonderful game for JJ. I hope the Wizards brass was watching.

-Delonte’s first start this season was a mixed bag. Offensively, he didn’t do much at all, and had a hard time establishing anything. In Delonte’s defense, he was being guarded by Kobe, as the Lakers were able to hide Fisher on Anthony Parker. On the bright side, Delonte played wonderful defense and made some absolutely crucial defensive plays late in the fourth, despite the fact he played 43 minutes. The man does not sweat. It’s as simple as that. And his three in the fourth quarter was huge. Hopefully the finger injury he suffered isn’t serious.

-Big Z only made one shot, but one of them was a big three from the short-corner. If he wants to stay on the court, he should go to that much more regularly. I think the sample size is just big enough to say that shot is a legitimate weapon for Z and not just a gimmick play.

-Boobie came on, immediately drained one hand-in-the face three to make a statement, and didn’t take another shot.

-Haven’t even gotten to Shaq yet. He was amazing. The Cavs outscored the Lakers 42-26 in the paint, and the Big Fella was the biggest reason why. Great defense on the Laker bigs, and he was able to score inside to keep the offense from going stagnant.

-Let’s not talk about Ultimate Jawad. This is a happy recap.

-I definitely thought the Lakers should’ve gone to Pau more, especially against Hickson. His field goal % doesn’t look good, and he sure did choke down the stretch, but he should be a nightly focus of the Laker offense. He’s too good to be allowed to disappear.

Alright, guys. That’s all for tonight. A game to feel good about, and peace. Maybe it’ll last for the rest of the regular season, maybe it’ll never end, maybe it’ll end by the next game. But tonight, it’s a good time to be a Cavs fan. Until next time, everyone.

Lakers-Cavs 2: Electric Preview

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Relevant Statistics:

Pace: Lakers 96.7 (7th) vs. Cavs 93.4 (28th)

Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 105.7 (12th) vs. Cavs 108.2 (5th)

Defensive Efficiency: Lakers 98.4 (2nd) vs. Cavs 100.4 (4th)

Notes:

-It might not be in the Cavs’ best interest to let this one go down to the wire. The Lakers are undefeated in close games this season, while the Cavs have struggled somewhat in those situations.

-A few games ago, Mike Trudell relayed that the Lakers have not lost a game this season when they’ve held a lead at any point in the fourth quarter. What makes that stat even more interesting is that the Lakers have been a pretty average fourth-quarter team this season. They are a -0.1 overall in the fourth quarter, only the 19th-best team in the league in that regard. Basically, the 09-10 Lakers have been the Tiger Woods of basketball. (Tiger Woods as a golfer, people.)

-Basically, the Lakers will wilt if they get down big but have pulled out just about every game that’s come down to the wire. The Cavs need to blitz them early and keep the pressure on if they want to win.

-Of course, the early blitz could be tricky for the Cavs, as the Lakers are the best 1st-quarter team in the league by a full point. The Cavs can’t get too cute with leaving Hickson out there, or they could find themselves in an early hole.

-This is Delonte’s time to shine. Not only is he replacing the injured Mo Williams, but he’s going up against Derek Fisher, easily the weak link in the Lakers’ defense. Delonte has to be aggressive.

-We’ll see if the Cavs bigs can be as effective against the Laker bigs defensively as they were last time. With Kobe seemingly still not 100%, that’s the key to the game when the Lakers have the ball.

Recommended Reading:

Forum Blue and Gold

ESPN Los Angeles Land O’ Lakers Blog

LA Times Lakers Blog

Mo Williams to Miss 4-6 Weeks With Shoulder Sprain

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Via Windhorst, the news is in and it’s not good. The projected time is 4-6 weeks. And even when he comes back, who knows how long it’ll take Mo to regain his shooting rhythm. Almost every contender has dealt with injuries to key players this season. Now its the Cavs’ turn.

The only silver linings I can see are that Delonte West and Boobie are going to get much more playing time, and both of them deserve much more playing time than they’ve gotten in this crowded rotation.

Also, for all you stat geeks out there, Mo actually has a poor +/- this season. The Cavs are good with Mo on the floor, but they’ve been amazing when he’s sat, outscoring their opponents by 11.3 points per 100 possessions when Mo’s on the bench. Now, that’s probably because Mo plays so many minutes with the sub-par starting lineup. (The Cavs play 12.2 points per 100 possessions than their opponents when Hickson sits.) Also, Mo gets lots of minutes when LeBron sits, which hurts his +/-. And it’s a small sample size. But even still, case study! Okay, this still sucks. Get well soon, Mo.

Cavs Mid-Season Report: The New-Look Bookends

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

trash compactor

The 2008-09 Cavaliers finished last season with a 66-16 record. The 2009-10 Cavaliers currently hold a 32-11 record, and their final record is currently projected to be 60-22. Four of the team’s five starters from last season have returned, along with five of the team’s top six minute-getters.

However, the 09-10 Cavaliers feel like a very different team from the 08-09 Cavaliers. A lot of this has to do with how the Cavs no longer start and finish games the way they did last season.

In 2008-09, the Cavs’ starting five was an absolute engine of destruction. The Ilgauskas/B. Wallace/James/West/Williams starting lineup went up and down the countryside, took out any defenses, burned down the buildings, and salted the earth so that no crops could ever grow there again. It was something to behold.

For all his flaws as a player, Ben Wallace was a revelation in the Cavs’ starting lineup last season. He had tons of energy and played all-NBA quality defense; he showed hard on every screen and then recovered to shut down the paint. The ball generally moves more in the first quarter than it does in subsequent quarters, at least for the Cavaliers. Wallace took advantage of this fact, and used his passing ability, smart screens, and acumen for cutting to the hoop to be effective in the starting lineup. Since the Cavs rarely got bogged down in one-on-one play, Wallace’s historic shortcomings as a one-on-one offensive player and scorer rarely held the offense back.

LeBron would come out setting up his teammates and moving without the ball, confident that he would get it back later in the possession if he had a better shot. With the excellent playmaking and shooting that surrounded him in the starting lineup, he was correct more often than not.

To repeat myself: this lineup destroyed teams at the beginning of games. A few numbers to support this:

-The Ilgauskas/Wallace/James/West/Williams lineup was the second-best lineup of the regular season last year in terms of raw +/-, despite the fact it was only used in 30 games.

-The Cavs outscored their opponents by 4.4 points in first quarters last season. The next-best team in the first quarter was Orlando, with an average margin of +2.4 in the first quarter. The gap between the Cavs and the Magic in this regard was the size of the gap between the Magic and the Raptors, the 14th-best first-quarter team last season. The best margin of any other team in any other quarter last season belonged to the Lakers, who outscored teams by 3.1 points in third quarters in 2008-09.

(By the way, the Cavs’ starting lineup was not quite as effective when Anderson Varejao replaced Ben Wallace due to Wallace’s injury, but they were still extremely effective. Also, most of the unit’s organizing principles stayed the same.)

This season, Mike Brown is going with a different strategy to start games. Replacing Anderson Varejao with JJ Hickson in the starting lineup briefly seemed like a legitimate solution. JJ had some great offensive performances, and seemed to be able to provide the offensive spacing that Varejao could not. Hickson has since revealed himself as easily the worst player in the Cavs’ regular rotation. Hickson’s hands are atrocious, he makes perplexing decisions with the ball, he rarely hits jumpers, and his defensive fundamentals are absolutely terrible.

However, Anderson Varejao is having a career year coming off the bench and Mike Brown has few other options to start at the power forward spot. This has led to the bizarre reality of the Cavaliers starting one of their worst lineups. This is almost unprecedented among contending teams, but the Cavs seem to be making it work. The Cavaliers have so much success in the first quarter after one or two of their “starters” come out that they are still the second-best first quarter team in the league this season. They’re not the opening-frame juggernauts they were last season, but their first-quarter margin of 2.8 trails only the Lakers’.

There are two other major factors in the Cavs’ relative ineffectiveness at the beginning of games. The first one is that the Cavs spent a lot of time trying to “establish” Shaq at the beginning of games earlier this season. In principle, this was a good idea, but in practice it meant awkwardly and predictably tossing the ball to Shaq 10 feet away from the hoop. If that was successful, Shaq would often awkwardly and predictably toss up a flat running hook. As the year has gone on, the Cavs have learned how to properly establish Shaq early in games, moving the ball, getting Shaq moving, and tossing him the ball where he has an easy conversion under the rim. Even still, the Cavs’ growing pains with Shaq have had an effect on the overall first-quarter margins.

The second additional factor is Delonte West being replaced in the starting lineup by Anthony Parker. It’s obviously a move Mike Brown was forced to make because of non-basketball factors. And from a basketball point of view, Parker is probably a better fit in the starting lineup, and West a better fit on the bench. I’ll talk about this at length in an upcoming post, but 09-10 Anthony Parker is nowhere near as good as 08-09 Delonte West.

So the Cavs are less effective at the beginning of games this season than they were last season. What might be even worse news is that the Cavs have regressed at the end of games this year. Mike Brown’s lack of offensive imagination at the end of games has long been maligned, and not-so-lovingly dubbed “LeISO” by Cavalier fans. (As far as I can tell, the actual phrase was coined by realcavsfans.com poster “PIP.”) However, I’ve always been a semi-defender of Mike Brown’s basic late-game strategy, because up until recently it’s worked quite well.

The Cavs’ strategy when the game is on the line has never been a state secret. They give the ball to LeBron at the center of the court, put him in an isolation or give him a ball-screen, and let him go to work. They generally spread the floor with shooters in these situations, giving LeBron options to pass off to if the defense clogs the lane to stop his drives.

Last year, the Cavs boasted a fabulous LeISO lineup. They had excellent shooters in Ilgauskas, West, and Williams, all of whom were comfortable catching and shooting. What’s more, all of them were smart enough with the ball to be trusted in late-game situations. They could make a play if it was there or get the ball back to LeBron if it wasn’t, rarely forcing shots or making a poor decision. Anderson Varejao was also invaluable in these situations. He makes great cuts to keep the defense from cheating on LeBron, has the hands and finishing ability to make plays if LeBron fed him with the pass, and in general isn’t the kind of offensive liability that Ben Wallace was.

The results were quite good. The Cavs were +2.0 in fourth quarters, second only to the Blazers. They only lost three games by three points or less all season. And LeBron’s stats were freakish. Here’s how LeBron fared in “clutch” situations last season:

55.9 Points per 48, 61.1 eFG%, 12.6 Assists per 48, 24.2% foul rate, +/- of 44.6 per 48

Those aren’t empty stats, either. Go back to the play-by-play data from close games last year, or read my increasingly incredulous recaps of LeBron takeover after LeBron takeover, particularly in the second half of the season.

This season, the Cavs’ late-game offensive strategy hasn’t evolved much, but the personnel no longer executes the strategy as well. First of all, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Delonte West have both regressed tremendously as outside shooters this season. While their shots have been coming around recently, Mike Brown doesn’t trust them to close out games like he did last season.

This leaves Brown with worse options. Late-game offense is not Shaq’s forte on this team, because he doesn’t space the floor for LeBron or make quick enough cuts to thrive in the drive-and-kick LeISO game. Also, there is always the danger of Shaq getting put on the line late in games. Moon can do some nice things when healthy, but isn’t a great outside shooter, has trouble handling the ball, and isn’t much of a decision-maker. Anthony Parker has certainly shot well in late-game situations, but can’t do much if he’s closed out on, and had a disastrous performance in the clutch against Utah. Jawad Williams is far from proving that he’s a reliable crunch-time option. Perhaps the Cavs’ biggest late-game issue has been the play of Mo Williams, who was an assassin late in games last year but has played poorly in those situations this year.

This has led to a lack of spacing and much more confusion in late-game situations for the Cavs, and LeBron’s crunch-time numbers are consequently now on the charts. The top of the charts, but on the charts:

60.8 Points per 48, 55.2 eFG%, 7.9 Assists per 48, 9.4% Foul Rate, +/- of 30.8 per 48

(Some of that, of course, could simply a regression to something approaching a mean for LeBron in crunch-time situations.)

All of these factors have made the Cavs a less effective team in the fourth quarter. They are currently the NBA’s 12th-best team in the fourth quarter, scoring only 0.6 more points than their opponents in the fourth. They have already lost five games by three points or less. Brian Windhorst has been on this tack for a while, and I am too: something must be done to improve the Cavs’ execution in late-game scenarios.

Okay, that went on for a bit. And the truth is, there’s almost as many pros to the Cavs’ new approach to lineups as there are cons. However, the pros are much less tangible. Mike Brown doesn’t have starting and finishing lineups that inspire awe this season. What he does have is far more options, many more possible effective permutations, and can match up much better against teams with different styles of play.

Last year, Mike Brown’s most reliable bench options were Varejao, Wally Szczerbiak, Sasha Pavlovic, and Daniel Gibson, and Gibson was enjoying easily the worst season of his career. (Joe Smith provided some help after the Cavs picked him up late in the season, but wasn’t in the rotation much in the playoffs.) After Ben Wallace got hurt, he wasn’t very effective coming off the bench, further limiting Brown’s number of options.

This season, Brown has options galore. He can use Varejao as a center or power forward. He can bring Jawad Williams or Moon off the bench to provide some length and outside shooting on the perimeter. He can use Delonte West as a Swiss Army knife. I discussed yesterday how surprisingly versatile Shaq has been, especially considering he was billed as a productive but one-dimensional player. Some of the Cavs’ depth has been overstated, because they achieve it by starting Hickson, but they’re certainly a much deeper team than last year’s squad.

The Cavs have played a bit worse in the second quarter this season than they have last season, but I expect that number to come up. The reason I believe this is that Shaq only started playing with the LeBron-less second unit recently, and the move has paid immediate dividends. The Shaq/Varejao/Moon/West/Williams lineup is already at a +12 in 44 minutes, and the Cavs haven’t leaked many points during the opening stretch of the second quarter since Shaq started coming on with the second unit. Last season, the Cavs’ most-played second unit was -62 in 122 minutes, so an effective second unit of any kind is a tremendous bonus for the Cavs. (Although, in the interest of full disclosure, that lineup did include J.J. Hickson. He’s proven difficult to hide so far in his young career.)

The quarter that the Cavs have seen the greatest improvement in is the third quarter. The Cavs are almost a full point better in the third this season, outscoring their opponents by 1.5 points in the third as compared to 0.6 points last season. Mike Brown is no longer powerless against other team’s halftime adjustments, and can confidently make changes on the fly if the Cavs’ energy is not high enough coming out of halftime or heading  into the final quarter.

Most importantly, the Cavs no longer get blindsided by bad matchups the way they did last season. They already have road wins against top teams and a win against the Lakers, and they accomplished neither of those goals last season. As I mentioned, they have the ability to play against any style and neutralize another team’s strengths. Since the Cavs don’t have much top talent outside of LeBron, matching up with elite teams has proven to be a more effective strategy than trying to impose their will.

In conclusion, the Cavs might not feel like as much of a juggernaut as they did last season, but their new philosophy has paid dividends where the Cavs have wanted them most. Thursday’s game against the Lakers should be a good measuring stick for whether or not the Cavs’ new outlook is really working. Until then, folks.

Links To The Present: January 20th, 2010

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

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Tons and tons of links to get to today and I have class at one, so let’s get down to it:

-Xs-and-Os whiz and tragic Nets blogger Sebastian Pruiti has two must-read breakdowns involving the Cavs on nbaplaybook.com today. The first one breaks down some successful offensive sets for the Cavs, including my favorite play ever. (Sebastian calls it “Using the Pick & Roll as a Decoy” in his post.) The second one is about how big men who can shoot can hurt the Cavs by preying on Varejao’s tendency to commit to providing help.

-Sports Guy with a column up on LeBron. Good stuff. I’m impressed that by calling the Kobe-LeBron argument “dead” and playing the “LeBron needs a post game and doesn’t want it badly enough” card, he may well have enraged fans on both sides.

-I’m with everyone else on this Shaq dunk contest thing: I like it in principle, but Kobe and Vince? Kobe averages less than a dunk per game, and Vince averages less than half a dunk per game. Those guys do not have the springs to be doing dunk contests anymore.

-The Hawks’ protest has been denied.

-Top ten TrueHoop network posts of the year. I’m on the list, but you should check it out anyways. In all seriousness, it’s definitely an honor to be included with those other bloggers and posts.

-Also on TrueHoop is a great interview with Grizzlies stat geek Aaron Barzilai.

-Kobe #1, LeBron #2, Shaq #9 on the list of the best-selling NBA jerseys.

-New Windhorst podcast.

-Terry Pluto on the meeting between LeBron and Jim Brown.

Whew. Told you there were a lot of links. Until later, folks.

Recap: Cavs 108, Raptors 100 (Or, The Time A Dinosaur Beat The Raptors)

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

(Photo Courtesy of oldpeopleinhats.com)

Overview:

In a high-scoring game, the Cavs dispatched the Raptors 108-100. LeBron James had a final line of 28/9/11, and Mo Williams added 22 points and 10 assists. The Cavs held the Raptors to 17 points in the final 15 minutes of play to seal the win.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

-The big matchup to watch in this one was how well the Cavs’ Shaq-led froncourt would fare against the speedier, perimeter-oriented bigs of the Raptors. In the Cavs’ first meeting with the Raptors, Toronto absolutely whooped the Cavs whenever Shaq was on the floor. The Raptors outscored the Cavs by 25 points in the 25 minutes Shaq played, and made him look silly on both ends of the floor.

Rather than trying to adjust his lineups for this game, Mike Brown accepted the mismatches and played Shaq for 24 minutes. The result was an offensive slugfest, with each team exploiting mismatches for easy baskets. Shaq finished with a minus-5 on the night, but let’s look at Shaq’s first and last stretches in context:

First Lineup: Shaq/Hickson/LBJ/AP/Mo, 12:00 – 7:05, Q1

Shaq is able to get deep position on Bargnani and gets the passes inside for two easy layups. On defense, Shaq starts the game on Chris Bosh. Bosh drains a mid-range jumper, sets DeMar DeRozan up for a layup, and beats Shaq for a tip-in in the opening stretch. Even worse, Bosh is able to draw Shaq away from the rim. This leaves JJ Hickson on an island against Bargnani, who gets two layups of his own in the first five minutes.

After five minutes of nobody playing effective defense on either end, the score is 14-12 Toronto, and Shaq takes his first rest.

Last Lineup: Shaq/Varejao/LBJ/Delonte/Mo, 5:58-0:34, Q4

Before Shaq enters the game, the Cavs have become stagnant offensively, scoring four points in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter. The team feeds Shaq on the left block, runs a split, and Shaq finds Mo Williams open in the short corner for a line-drive three. On the next possession, LeBron finds Andy in transition for a layup. The next time down, the team again sets up Shaq on the left block, and LeBron gets an uncontested dunk off a dribble handoff. With 3:05 to play, LeBron finds Shaq under the basket for an easy dunk. The Cavs have stretched their lead from one to six, and they hold onto that lead for the remainder of the game.

This is the reality of Shaq on the Cavs. No one way to use Shaq properly has emerged for the Cavs this season, but he has given the team an extra dimension. He does take things off of the table for the Cavs at times. Tonight, Shaq had a lot of trouble dealing with the speed of the Raptors, and got caught making slow rotations a number of times. Sometimes, the ball stops when Shaq gets the ball 10 feet out and tries one of his flat running hooks. Other times, Shaq will hurt the spacing of the offense.

However, sometimes Shaq will neutralize the production of another team’s post-up threat. Sometimes, he’s better off being used at the beginning of the quarter to get the Cavs in the bonus and wear down the other team inside, then sitting late as the Cavs close out with a more athletic lineup. Tonight, it turned out Shaq helped the most by closing the game out. The more flexible Mike Brown is with how he uses the Big Fella, the more effective he becomes.

-One last Shaq note: of Shaq’s seven made field goals against Toronto, six were assisted.

-In LeBron news, he went off for 28/9/11 with a 58.3% TS%, added three blocks and three steals, and nearly made me tear my hair out.

LeBron was 8-8 from inside of 10 feet, and equivalent of 12-12 from the line when you factor in his two and-1s. That’s 28 points on 14 attempts from inside. LeBron was also 0-10 from outside of 10 feet, including 0-7 on threes. He missed five jumpers in the fourth quarter. He missed bad looks, good looks, red looks, blue looks.

There’s a line between having confidence in your shot and pressing, and it seemed like LeBron was on the wrong side of that line tonight. You could tell that he was trying to prove to himself and the world that he could make the deep jumper at times tonight, rather than trying to get the easiest shot for himself. Part of that is trying to keep the defense honest, but the other part of that is pride.

There’s nothing wrong with LeBron making shots at the rim and deep jumpers the backbone of his game. This is especially true considering LeBron’s natural shooting range and how much more efficient threes are than two-point jumpers. But Tuesday was one of those nights when having a more reliable shot from the post or the 10-15 foot range would’ve helped LeBron get his perimeter game going.

-It sure seemed like the Raptors were hot from outside for most of this one, but they only finished with 55 points on 59 shots from outside of 10 feet. That’s very good, but not off the charts. Of course, a lot of the reason for that is the Raptors only going 5-15 on shots outside of 15 feet over the final 15 minutes of the game. Live by the jumper…

-Mo Williams was able to take advantage of the weak Raptor defense, tallying 10 assists. Of those 10 assists, seven led to layups, and two more set up threes. He also played through a shoulder injury and made some big threes, hitting four of his eight shots from deep. He was also able to get baseline and set up my favorite play ever, when Mo goes baseline and feeds a cutting LeBron for the counter-motion slam. Very good to see Mo back on his game a bit, but keep in mind the Raptors can’t guard anybody, especially point guards.

-Zydrunas Ilgauskas was a step slow on defense and only played 13 minutes, but I actually like what he did offensively against the Raptors. A few times, Z got the ball at the top of the key and drew his man out to contest, but rotated the ball and waited for a better shot. There’s a reason I like this. From the top of the key and the left elbow, Z is shooting a combined 5-37 this season. That’s not good. He’s actually shooting better than 40% from every other zone in the 15-20 foot range, and 44% from the left wing.

And guess where Z ended up draining two jumpers from after he passed up a jumper from the top of the key and set picks for LeBron? The left wing. Then he took a shot from the left elbow, which he bricked.

-Ultimate Jawad, game seven: 2-5 from the field, a game-low -10, and some ugly offense when that small-ball lineup was in during the fourth. Ups and downs.

-Ultra-efficient night for Anthony Parker, who was 2-2 on threes, both from “Parkerville.” (The corners.) He also added a jumper off of a curl, which Windhorst recently mentioned the Cavs expected to see more of from AP when he was signed.

-Delonte uncharacteristically went only 1-4 from inside the arc, but the make was a beautiful jam in transition when the Cavs needed it in the fourth.

-Cavs outscored the Raptors 50-32 in the paint, and actually beat them 25-16 in fast-break points. In the bad news column, the Cavs did turn it over 16 times. However, a lot of those turnovers were a byproduct of how much they were moving the ball, as 27 of their 38 field goals were assisted.

Bullets of Randomness:

-Bosh is a beast with that mid-range jumper. He reminds me of a Minnesota KG, in more ways than one. Although Bosh plays outside-in while KG played inside-out.

-Andrea Bargnani is better than I thought defensively. That might even have been a clean contest on LeBron late in the fourth.

-Um, where was this effort a few months ago, Hedo?

Alright, campers, I’m done for the night. Have a good one, and get ready for the Lakers on Thursday.



Preview: Raptors at Cavs, January 19th

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Relevant Statistics:

Pace: Raptors 95.4 (13th) vs. Cavs 93.3 (28th)

Offensive Efficiency: Raptors 108.1 (4th) vs. Cavs 108.1 (5th)

Defensive Efficiency: Raptors 109.5 (30th) vs. Cavs 100.4 (4th)

Notes:

-The Raptors have been hot over their last 10 games, but they still have the worst defense in the league. Cavs shouldn’t be afraid to try and score the ball in this one.

-Every possession Hickson guards Chris Bosh is asking for trouble.

-Last time these two teams played, the Cavs were still trying to use Shaq to set screens out on the perimeter. As a result, they got the worse of the Bargnani/Shaq mismatch. Let’s see if they’ve adjusted how they use Shaq for this one. A good measuring stick game for Shaq tonight.

-Jose Calderon does not play defense. An opportunity for Mo Williams to get out of his recent semi-funk tonight.

Recommended Reading:

Raptors Republic

I’m Back From Vegas, And I Brought Links

Monday, January 18th, 2010

Hey folks, I’m back from vacation. Vegas was absolutely amazing. I have many stories, most of which are unprintable. But even though I had a great time, it’s nice to be back at school. A round of applause for Ryan and Mark, who did a wonderful job filling in for me this weekend. Here are some links, because there’s a lot that happened over the long weekend. Also, I’m tired.

-Brian Windhorst with a must-read midseason report card. LeBron gets an A, and Andy gets the second highest grade with an A-. A few Cs round up the rotation, but Windhorst’s harshest grade might be the C+ he gave to the Cavs’ offense. Windhorst cites the difference between the Cavs’ offensive execution in the first quarter and the fourth quarter as his greatest cause for concern. I agree, especially with the Cavs’ spotty play in tight games this year.

-No LeBron in the dunk contest. I’m bummed he teased the possibility of his entrance, but I don’t a lot of upside to LeBron competing anyways. If he gets a ring in the next year or two, it might be fun to see him compete on a lark and show off his athleticism. At the moment, however, my feeling is that LeBron and his image are better off for showing he’s interested in more important things than the dunk contest.

-The Plain Dealer with the top 40 regular-season Cavs games in franchise history. Shouldn’t really need to sell you on that one.

-Finnan reports rumors of a Z for David West swap. Interesting.

-On Fanhouse, Shoals looks at the importance of Marbury signing with Chinese club. After covering the press conference announcing Kobe’s signing a marketing deal with SINA last season, I can tell you that basketball in China is a huge deal. We’ll see how things work out for Starbury over there.

Alright guys, I’m going to bed. Until tomorrow.

Three Stats You Need to Know: A Midseason Review.

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

It’s a game late for an official midseason review, but I’m hoping the generous fans of Cavs: The Blog will be able to forgive me for being late to my first day of work.

For those of you who missed John Krolik’s announcement, my name is Mark Cameron and I write for a Cavs blog named Numbers Don’t. I’ll be writing here part-time, probably weekly, so make sure to email me at camakazee03@yahoo.com if you have any questions, comments, concerns, or stats you’d like to see analyzed.

Anyway, after 42 games, I figured it was time we all take a look at what the Cleveland Cavaliers have done so far this season. But, instead of a traditional midseason review that may grade every player on the team or touch on what they’ve done well with or struggled with, I decided to throw out three unique stats that Cavs fans need to know.

Some of these are simply updated stats I’ve used before with new conclusions now and some are new altogether. So, without further ado, here are the midseason stats you have to see.

#1. Where do LeBron’s assists go?

A pie chart tracking the distribution of LeBron James' 323 assists to date.

After breaking down the results, not much has changed since I last looked at where LeBron’s assists go after game 28 this season. Anthony Parker is still the primary beneficiary of LeBron’s assists, accounting for 19% of them (61 assists), with Mo Williams a close second with 17% (56 assists).

However, LeBron has started looking for his big men more, particularly his centers. After game 28, LeBron had found Shaquille O’Neal for 7% of his assists and Zydrunas Ilgauskas for 11% of his assists, averaging 1.46 assists per game to the two targets combined. All three numbers have increased after 42 games, with O’Neal commanding 9% of LeBron’s assists, Ilgauskas receiving 14% of the dimes, and the two combining for 1.76 assisted baskets per game courtesy of LeBron James.

However, if some players are receiving a larger proportion of LeBron’s assists, there has to be an equal decrease with other players. In this case, J.J. Hickson saw a -3% drop in assists received from LeBron since game 28 and Jamario Moon saw a -2% reduction. Moon’s drop off, however, can be attributed to recent injury, as Jawad Williams has picked up his 2% production filling in for him over the past week.

One of the more interesting conclusions from this stat comes from charting the type of players that are on the other end of LeBron’s assists. For instance, despite averaging only 7.3 points per game (10.2% of the team’s 71.3 points per game not scored by James), Anthony Parker is on the other end of 19% of LeBron’s assists. The reason for this discrepancy is the style of Cleveland’s spread and attack offense that has benefit LeBron James for quite a few seasons now. By putting three-point shooters in the corner, LeBron is able to attack the heart of the defense with either little defensive help or a wide open sharpshooter to either side. Both Parker and Mo Williams are able to finish off many of LeBron’s assists this way, simply by camping out at the three-point line. So far, through 42 games this season, 110 of LeBron’s 323 assists have been on three-pointers (34.1%).

With nearly 35% of his assists going to three-point shooters, this boosts LeBron James’ hands on points percentage. For those who are unfamiliar with the measure, hands on points is the percentage of a team’s points that a player either scores directly or assists. With 1,243 points scored and 756 points off assists so far this season, LeBron James has accounted for 47.2% of Cleveland’s points. This number is also up from earlier this season, but only by 0.2%.

Averaging a career-high 7.7 assists per game through the first 42 games, we may be witnessing LeBron’s most dominant offensive season yet.

#2. What about “LeIso” jumpshots?

It’s the shot that drives every Cavs fan crazy. The Cavaliers take over with roughly 20 seconds left, ensuring the last shot of the quarter, as LeBron James calls for the ball at midcourt. He then proceeds to hold the ball as his eyes alternate between his opponent and the game clock until it reads five seconds. Then, James varies it up between either a few jab steps or a couple of dribbles as he moseys into a deep three or a foot-on-the-line two-point jumper. Well, in the minds of the fans, this shot never goes in. But what do the stats say?

FG’s/FGA’s Type of shot Av. Point DIFF before shot 1st Q 2nd Q 3rd Q 4th Q
4-20 (20.0%) eleven 3’s, nine 2’s +5.6 5 7 7 1

These numbers reflect only isolation end-of-the-quarter jumpshots by James, weeding out other attempts with a few simple rules. First, no layups or dunks are reflected in these stats. Secondly, only possessions when the Cavs take over with more than 10 seconds left will count, thus separating isolation jumpshots from half-court heaves or a sprint to a shot. Lastly, only jumpshots taken within the last 5 seconds of the quarter by LeBron James will be included in the stat.

Now, with that said, it’s quite clear that these isolation jumpshots to end the quarter are probably the most inefficient part of LeBron James’ game. Believe it or not, that percentage is up from just a week ago thanks to two made field goals on the west coast road trip. In fact, before a two-point jumper to end the first quarter in Portland last Sunday, LeBron James was 0 for his last 13 isolation jumpers to finish the quarter. That jumpshot also marked his first made two-point isolation jumper to end a quarter, as he was 0-7 on two-point jumpers before that game.

Ultimately, LeBron rarely reverts to the isolation jumpshot to end the quarter if his team is losing. The Cavs are ahead by an average of 5.6 points when he hoists these jumpers, and Cleveland has been leading 16 of the 20 times when James has decided to hold the ball and ease his way into a long shot to conclude the quarter. But there’s no denying how much more efficient the Cavs look at the end of a quarter when LeBron either drives hard to the hoop for a layup, dunk, or kick-out, or fools the defense by holding the ball and then passing off to a three-point shooter in the corner. After all, lack of focus when holding a moderate or large lead has been an area of concern so far for the Cavaliers this season and these isolation jumpshots to end the quarter certainly reflect that.

#3. How about each player’s splits?

An important piece of information to know for any team is who can shoot well on the road and who can’t. If you’re having flashbacks to Thursday’s game at Utah with Anthony Parker on the line, I apologize for any stress I induced. Here is a look at the team’s splits between home and road shooting percentage as well as each individual player’s splits.

Cleveland’s FG% on road: 47.1%.
Cleveland’s FG% at home: 50.0%.
Cleveland’s FT% on road: 75.2%.
Cleveland’s FT% at home: 72.1%.

Player FG% on road FG% at home FT% on road FT% at home
Delonte West* 46.5% 44.0% 83.7% 80.0%
Mo Williams* 42.7% 47.4% 90.3% 87.2%
LeBron James* 49.7% 53.6% 79.5% 75.2%
Anthony Parker 43.1% 44.6% 76.7% 77.8%
Jamario Moon 48.5% 41.7% 72.7% 93.8%
Zydrunas Ilgauskas 42.3% 49.1% 73.5% 78.6%
Daniel Gibson 45.3% 46.6% 69.2% 72.7%
J.J. Hickson* 51.2% 58.0% 67.5% 61.5%
Anderson Varejao 50.0% 52.6% 65.2% 67.6%
Shaquille O’Neal* 49.7% 55.6% 54.0% 50.0%

* players that shoot a better free throw percentage on the road.

So, if you could take a time machine back to Thursday night, the ball should have gone to either LeBron or Delonte, not Z or Parker (remember, Mo Williams had fouled out that game). Both LeBron and Delonte shoot better from the line in away games than home games and they also have a better road free throw percentage than either Ilgauskas or Parker.

Also, it’s somewhat startling to see how much less efficient all three of Cleveland’s leading scorers are on the road. James, Williams, and O’Neal all shoot a lower field goal percentage in away games as opposed to home games by 3.9, 4.7, and 5.9 percent, respectively. Hopefully this is a byproduct of some tough road games out west and not a developing trend that could hurt the Cavaliers in the playoffs.

Luckily, the team has found a nice way to counteract the inefficient shooting on the road, and that solution lies at the free throw line. The Cavaliers are averaging 27.0 free throw attempts on the road this season, compared to only 23.3 free throw attempts at home. The team also shoots better from the line on the road, believe it or not, shooting 75.2% in away games as opposed to 72.1% in home games.

A lot of this starts with LeBron James, who not only shoots a better percentage on the road as I mentioned earlier, but is more aggressive and quicker to get to the line in away games. James has averaged 8.5 free throw attempts at home so far this season, yet has managed to shoot 10.0 free throws per game outside the state of Ohio. Ultimately, if the Cavaliers remain this aggressive on the road and begin to shoot better from the floor as the visiting team, they could become a very dangerous road playoff team.

Hopefully, you’re all able to take something away from these three stats. If anything, you now know where LeBron is trending with his assists, how inefficient his end-of-the-quarter jumpshots are, and how aggressive the team has been on the road in terms of drawing fouls. In the end, the biggest stat might be the 9-3 record the Cavaliers have posted against the nine teams with 24 or more wins. Not a bad start against the league’s elite, that’s for sure.

Make sure to join the discussion at Numbers Don’t and Real Cavs Fans!