Archive for June, 2011

Cavs trade J.J. Hickson for Omri Casspi

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

As fate would have it, I’m moving to a different apartment today and Colin is ridiculously busy at the moment, but the Cavs have reportedly traded J.J. Hickson for Omri Casspi. I’ll have a full writeup up tonight, but for now I like the move — the Cavs desperately needed a young wing, the frontcourt was getting a bit crowded, and I’d pretty much given up on Hickson hitting his “ceiling.” Again, more coming tonight.

Cavs Exercise Team Option on Eyenga

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

From CBSSports.com:

The Cleveland Cavaliers have exercised their third-year contract option on swingman Christian Eyenga.

Eyenga, who averaged 6.9 points as a rookie last season, is under contract with the Cavs through the 2012-13 season. In 44 games last season, the Congo native averaged 2.8 rebounds and 21.5 minutes in 44 games – 18 as a starter.

Skyenga: Year Two. Let’s do this.

Jent leaves the Cavs for OSU

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Former Cavs assistant coach Chris Jent has left the team to take an assistant coaching position with the Ohio State Buckeyes. My writeup on Jent’s move can be found over at NBC. Best of luck to Mr. Jent, his family, and the Buckeyes.

Goodbye for now

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, I was on my freshly created Twitter, scrolling through tweets of the N BA and MMA writers I was following, looking for articles to read. One of the writers, John Krolik, tweeted, “Wanted: One Draft Expert.” Intrigued, I clicked the link, read the ad and decided to apply. I was two weeks from graduating with a journalism degree and needed all the experience I could get. Lo and behold, after sending Krolik links to my articles in the school paper and writing a sample profile on Jimmer Fredette, I was hired for my first writing gig.

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to work for a sports team in some technical capacity, like scouting prospects or breaking down video of opponents. Not surprisingly, I found I actually enjoyed breaking down a player’s tendencies by watching film of him.

It’s a different way to watch a game, focusing on only one player rather than keeping track of the ball. You see strengths and weaknesses that you’d never otherwise notice, and you quickly begin to see why scoring is the most overrated part of basketball by the casual fan: that’s all he’s paying attention to. He doesn’t see things like whether the player fights through screens or boxes out when a rebound is in the air (no and no – good luck Sacramento).

As we know now, the Cavs went with Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson as their building blocks of the future. Personally, I thought they should have drafted Derrick Williams because I thought there was a good chance Brandon Knight would be available at four. Thompson certainly has potential though, and if he pans out, this draft will be a huge win for the Cavs assuming Irving is as advertised. All that matters is that the Cavs add three impact players with these two plus next year’s presumably lottery pick. If they do that, they’ll be in great shape going forward.

So I got published by an ESPN-affiliated site and I had fun doing it. I didn’t bring as much zealous passion to table as Kevin (sorry, not a Cavs fan!), but I hope you guys came away from my series of draft profiles with some valuable insight on the college and international players the Cavs were considering drafting.

As for me, I just earned a degree six years in the making (haha, I know) and I think I’m going to indulge myself in a lazy summer. I’m planning on spending it playing pickup basketball, going out with my friends and earning a few dollars playing in live poker games again for the first time since I took school seriously. Perhaps I’ll even job hunt a little bit.

I have no clue where life is going to take me in the next 10 months or so, which is about when John will probably be ready to fire up some new draft profiles on a 2012 class that looks to be pretty stacked. If I haven’t found gainful employment to take up my time and John wants me back, perhaps I’ll return to scout another crop of young ballers for you guys. Until then, go Cavs because I feel a little attached to this franchise now after writing for you all :)

On Big Men :: Colin McGowan

Monday, June 27th, 2011

Nearly every team that has competed for a championship in the last decade has controlled the paint. Tyson Chandler anchored the 2010-11 Mavericks’ defense. Orlando, who reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009-10 and the NBA Finals in 2008-09, have Dwight Howard. In the early part of the decade, the Lakers had Shaq; now they have Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom. Until the Jeff Green Trade, Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett were the backbone of the Celtics’ vaunted defense. There’s a reason Hubie Brown inflates like a canary’s chest when he talks about “the painted area.”

Here’s a list of the starting centers for both NBA Finals teams over the past decade:

Tyson Chandler (Mavericks) and Joel Anthony (Heat) in 2011

Andrew Bynum (Lakers) and Kendrick Perkins (Celtics) in 2010

Andrew Bynum (Lakers) and Dwight Howard (Magic) in 2009

Pau Gasol (Lakers) and Kendrick Perkins (Celtics) in 2008

Fabricio Oberto (Spurs) and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Cavaliers) in 2007

Shaquille O’Neal (Heat) and Erick Dampier (Mavericks) in 2006

Nazr Mohammed (Spurs) and Ben Wallace (Pistons) in 2005

Ben Wallace (Pistons) and Shaquille O’Neal (Lakers) in 2004

David Robinson (Spurs) and Jason Collins (Nets) in 2003

Shaquille O’Neal (Lakers) and Jason Collins (Nets) in 2002

The list is misleading in a couple places. Tim Duncan played a lot of minutes at center for those Spurs teams, and Andrew Bynum only played about 20 MPG for the Lakers in 2009, but the list largely represents who each team’s interior presence was during their championship run. With a few exceptions, the guys listed above are efficient players on the offensive end. Players like Shaq or Gasol are incredibly efficient due to their tremendous post-up games, but most of these players (Chandler and Perkins in particular) are efficient because they bust their butts on the offensive glass, convert put-backs, and flush the ball when a teammate hits them with a good pass. On the defensive end, nearly all of the above players are difference-makers due to their shot-blocking ability (Howard, Bynum), ability to guard the other team’s best post player one-on-one (Perkins, Anthony, even Collins), and/or relentless activity levels (Chandler, Oberto, Wallace). And nearly everyone on this list is a good to great rebounder on both ends of the floor, with my highest compliments to Pau Gasol and Tyson Chandler, who are masters at tipping offensive rebounds to teammates.

You’ll also notice, if you swap Tim Duncan in for the two Spurs centers in 2005 and 2007 (neither of whom played more than 23 MPG during the playoffs), the team with the better center has won eight of the last ten championships. Not all of those center matchups are a clash of titans (David Robinson vs. Jason Collins is a deceptively irrelevant because Robinson reeked of embalming fluid by the 2003 Finals), but most of them were crucial in their own way, even when they weren’t the key matchup in the series. LeBron’s struggles aside, if Joel Anthony plays Tyson Chandler to a standstill, Miami hoists the Larry O’Brien Trophy, and the world is spared a million blustery proclamations about how Dallas won a championship “the right way.”

This pseudo-analysis (I’m conceding that stat nerds might want to hit me right now) reveals a couple of problems with Tristan Thompson. He does a lot of things that the centers above do (block shots, get offensive rebounds, work hard on both ends of the floor), but he’s 6’9”. This might prove Thompson’s fatal flaw. Were he a few inches taller, his game wouldn’t need nearly as much work. A Tristan Thompson standing 6’11” would need to learn how to box out better on defense, shoot free throws at a capable clip, and maybe hit the weight room. If he developed a post-up or face-up game or a 16-footer, he would be considered one of the best four or five centers in the league.

But 6’9” Thompson needs that 16-footer just to be an effective offensive player, and, by extension, not considered a bust. Because centers don’t score prodigiously. During the 2010-11 NBA season, only two centers averaged more than 16 points per game: Dwight Howard and Brook Lopez. By contrast, 16 power forwards scored at least 16 points per game. Centers defend and pick up garbage buckets, but power forwards need to have a more polished offensive game. This makes sense because if a team possesses a starting PF/C tandem that averages, say, 21 points per game, it places a tremendous burden on the rest of the team’s starters—players who are more likely to rely on jumpers and whose games are less efficient by definition. Thompson needs to develop offensively because it’s difficult to envision a Cavalier starting lineup that features three Kevin Martin-like perimeter scorers. Upon that jumper (and face-up game? Has he mentioned a face-up game? He should develop a face-up game!) rests his having any semblance of an offensive game, and, by extension, the Cavs being worth a damn.

So, the Cavs drafted a super-athletic 6’9” guy with a center’s game. Which would be intriguing at #8 or understandable if they did not have the option of drafting a 7-footer with a center’s game. It has been written by others (cheers, Kevin), but I find it baffling that the Cavaliers, when confronted with the choice of selecting either: A.) the 7-footer who could become Euro Joakim Noah or B.) the athletic power forward with no offensive game who could become Tyrus Thomas if Tyrus Thomas was, like, good, they chose the power forward. One paradigm is definitely a cog in a championship squad; the other paradigm is… well, since Tyrus Thomas is sort of horrible, we have no idea.

Which is why Chris Grant will be serenaded with Pritchardian praise if the young Canadian-turned-Texan-turned-Clevelander pans out. If Thompson is posting some sublime, bizarre stat-lines in five years, Grant will have carved his name into Conventional Wisdom’s wrinkly backside. I’m all for it in theory. The Who Needs Positions? Revolution, for example, is alluring to me as someone who would like to see the Laws of What Works in Basketball bend and warp beneath the scorching heat of talent and athleticism. So, Actually Good Tyrus Thomas is fascinating to me. But I’m a coward at heart; in the interim I’ll be perplexedly pacing around my kitchen, mumbling something about how much I love Tyson Chandler.

Drawings from the Notebook of Chris Grant (episode six)

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

Hello everyone! Just a reminder…read Kevin’s great post below that I am inadvertently covering up.

A poem for Kyrie Irving

This is the first in a series of works I’d like to call: “A glimpse at the Cavalier rookies, through poetry.”

Enjoy.

Glass Half Full Draft Reflection

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

The draft is over, so this will be my last posting to Cavs:the Blog for a while. Writing these entries does take a lot of time. Lots of credit to John Krolik, for maintaining such a high quality blog for the last several years.

My “reaction” to the draft was a look at draft day from a “glass half empty” perspective. This will contrast that; reflecting on things that went well, as I want to end on a positive note. The negative reaction was based on spending a lot of time, as the Cavs: the Blog Draft Expert, thinking about the draft and having formed opinions on what the Cavs could do. I strongly preferred the Cavs to draft Jonas Valanciunas with #4. I preferred the Cavs do something like trade the #32 and #54 to the Spurs for #29, and take Jimmy Butler. Or at #32, draft Jon Leuer and keep him. Basically something to end up with a player from the 32 pick. At #54, I preferred a lot of players over Milan Macvan. I was unsatisfied with three of the Cavs four picks and dwelled on that. I still would have preferred different selections (and am confused about all the PF’s), but ultimately I’m just a fan with a computer. The Cavs have ways to quantify player contributions that I can’t begin to understand, and they like Tristan Thompson. Here are the positives I see in the drafted players:

Kyrie Irving – It’s folly to forget the Cavs’ good fortune of acquiring the #1 pick in the draft. The Cavs took on an extra $12 million in salary commitments to acquire a likely late lottery pick in a weak draft. Obviously this pick became #1 and has allowed the Cavs to begin laying a great groundwork for the future. Kyrie Irving is an excellent young point guard. The low end of his potential is considered as an above average NBA starter and the high end is as an All-Star. He’s everything a point guard should be; an efficient scorer, good shooter, quality distributor, hard worker, and intense defender. At 19; he is mature and confident, and appears to have a great NBA career ahead of him. On Thursday, the Cavs re-building process took a big step forward in acquiring Kyrie Irving.

Tristan Thompson – Going into Thursday, the Cavs had one player under 25 that was potentially a part of the long range plan (my opinion, see draft reaction). With Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, that number has tripled. Thompson still needs to develop his offensive skills, but he undoubtedly brings a lot to the table on defense. He has good size and strength for a 20 year old and was the most agile big man at the draft combine. Thompson should be able to defend power forwards in the post, on the perimeter, and even cover some small forwards. Per 40 minutes, he averaged 3.1 blocks and 1.2 steals in his freshman year. He had very effective defensive games against two other lottery power forwards. In a narrow NCAA tournament loss, he held Derrick Williams to 17 points on 42% true shooting, and in a mid-season victory over Kansas, he had five blocks while the Morris twins struggled to the tune of 26 total points on 42% true shooting. As John noted in his post draft summary, the Cavs were very lacking in defense last year; and Irving and Thompson will both step in and begin restoring the Cavs commitment to defense. Finally regarding Thompson; I would be remiss to not mention that he rated as the third best prospect in John Hollinger’s 2011 draft rater. Hollinger’s draft rater is not perfect, but it historically has been good at picking top performing big men.

So there are definitely positives from draft day that I didn’t discuss in my “reaction”piece. Similar to the reaction though, I still am look forward to an interesting trade, a 2011 – 2012 NBA season, and the start of the Irving / Thompson era in Cleveland (complete with a championship where Thompson shuts down Durant).

Another Cavs Draft Reaction – by Kevin Hetrick

Friday, June 24th, 2011

The following post is fairly critical of the Cavs’ draft day decisions. I will preface the post by noting that the Cavs have much more information at their disposal than I do and surely have very talented people working on their player evaluations. They could also have a big trade in the works. Finally, it is foolish to evaluate a draft one day afterwards. With that said…

My reaction to the Cavs’ draft is confusion. Draft day started with so much promise. The Cavs had the 1st and 4th picks, two second rounders, a huge trade exception, and an owner willing to spend money. The options seemed limitless and, at a minimum, it appeared the day should end with the Cavs having two long-term starters and a quality role player in tow. Something completely different happened. No picks were bought or traded for; instead a pick was traded away. At #4, the Cavs reached for a player that most had in the 8 – 10 range; who also plays the same position as two of their three best players under the age of thirty. Of their fifteen players, the Cavs have four point guards and six power forwards. Are the Cavs trying to remake themselves as the Minnesota Timberwolves? The trade exception expires in two weeks. Surely a trade is coming. This can’t be the last memory prior to a depressing lockout, can it? For pick by pick analysis:

Kyrie Irving – Kyrie should be the Cavs point guard for the next 12 years. If I was taking a glass half-full approach, more time would be spent discussing this pick.

Tristan Thompson – After the Irving pick, my assessment of the Cavs current roster of players under 30 would have been:

Part of the 10 year plan – Kyrie Irving

Part of the 5 year plan – Anderson Varejao

Gets one more year to prove he belongs as a starter in the five or ten year plan – JJ Hickson

Belongs in the NBA, but isn’t part of future plans – Daniel Gibson, Ramon Sessions. I’m sorry, Boobie. You were fine when the Cavs dominant ball handler was a 6’9” small forward. Now that the dominant ball handler is 6’3”, it’s time for us to go our separate ways. Thanks for the memories and good luck with your continued NBA career.

Players with one more year to prove they at least belong on an NBA bench – Samardo Samuels, Ryan Hollins, Semih Erden, Christian Eyenga, Manny Harris & Luke Harangody.

The top five are point guards and power forwards, so the Cavs could really use a center and some wing players. Hickson, Gibson, and Sessions would have been available for the right price. Fortunately for the Cavs, the best player available was a center; Lithuanian Jonas Valanciunas. Jonas is seven feet tall with a 7’-4” winspan. He has been a great U18 player in Europe and had a very promising season in the Euroleague, the second best professional basketball league in the world. Some scouts thought he could eventually be the best player from this draft; and two of the best run organizations in basketball (Spurs and Thunder), were rumored to want to trade into the lottery to draft him.

Then the Cavs draft Tristan Thompson. I liked Thompson well enough and had him rated as the #11 prospect; but he wasn’t the best player available and fills a lesser need than Valanciunas. Despite being a freshman, Thompson is 20 years old (2 months older than Derrick Williams, 14 months older than Valanciunas). Thompson has great potential as a defensive player, but overall he is very raw. A few random stats on him:

 Draftexpress.com compared 17 big men’s situational play. Overall, Thompson was fourth to last for points per possession (ppp). His 0.747 ppp on post-ups was second to last and his 0.654 ppp on jump shots was the worst, despite taking less than one jumper per game.

 Thompson got to the free throw line more frequently than any other big man; however he only shot 49% when there. Thompson is a very raw offensive prospect. He scores on putbacks, cuts, and occasionally in isolation situations when he can beat less athletic players off the dribble. He will face many fewer “less athletic” players in the NBA.

 Thompson was a great offensive rebounder, grabbing 14.0% of available offensive rebounds. If he can eventually rebound with the same efficiency in the NBA, he would be a top five offensive rebounder for a power forward. The flip side is that he only grabbed 13.6% of available defensive rebounds. It’s pretty rare for someone to rebound better on offense than defense. Even if he can grab defensive rebounds at the same rate in the NBA as in college; he would rank as a bottom ten power forward in the NBA, comparable to players like Danilo Gallinari and Rashard Lewis. His poor defensive rebounding is generally attributed to poor fundamentals and positioning. He definitely needs to improve these skills in order to fill his most likely role in the NBA.

Hopefully time reveals that this draft is a huge success for the Cavs, but one day later it’s hard to get excited about Tristan Thompson at #4, considering the huge potential that the start of draft day promised.

#32 pick – This pick was confusing when the Cavs picked Justin Harper. Another power forward? The Cavs and Timberwolves should play one game next year where all that plays is point guards and power forwards. Anyways, Harper was at least a quality addition and a player that I had rated as #31 in the draft. Then the Cavs traded him for future 2nd round picks. What? I thought the Cavs were the team that was going to be buying draft picks; or they were going to trade #32 and #54 to move into the late part of the first round. Instead they punted? Perhaps with the lockout coming, the Cavs thought it was better to have picks in future years. Maybe they tried to trade into the late first round and draft Nikola Mirotic, but the Bulls made a better offer. Regardless, as far as short term satisfaction is concerned; the outcome of the #32 pick is surely lacking. Even for long term considerations, the value of two picks in the 40 – 50 range is unlikely to have better benefit than picking someone at 32 this year.

Milan Macvan – This is a throw away pick. Macvan is 6’9”, 265 lbs. He is technically a center in Europe, but there is no way he ever plays center in the NBA at 6’9” with poor athleticism (so the Cavs drafted another PF). Even as a PF, many expect he will never play in the NBA; both due to lack of necessary ability but also due to lack of desire to come to the NBA. He is a totally serviceable center in the Euroleague, and I wish him a great career. If the Cavs wanted to stash a Euro here; they could have drafted Adam Hanga (who the genius Spurs drafted at #59) or Georgi Shermadini, a 7’-1” center who had a PER of 23 in fifteen Euroleague games this year. There were also at least ten American players that were drafted later or weren’t drafted, that are more likely to see minutes in the NBA than Macvan (ten players with a chance greater than zero).

Like most Cavs fans, I was disappointed by yesterday’s outcome. I hope that several years from now, when I re-read this, all I can think is: “Wow, I was really dumb for doubting the Cavs. They never would have won their NBA championship if Tristan Thompson didn’t lock down Kevin Durant like that. I wonder if they’ll retire his jersey some day?” For now though; I’ll hope for an interesting trade, a 2011 – 2012 NBA season, and the start of the Kyrie Irving / Tristan Thompson era in Cleveland.  (I added Thompson to the last sentence as an edit.  Welcome to Cleveland, Tristan.  Hopefully any doubts only drive you to become a better player.)

On the Cavaliers’ draft

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

The good news is the good news; The Cavs made the right choice with the #1 pick. Irving is ultra-safe, he has more upside/star potential than he’s being given credit for, and there’s a clear plan in place for him. He can platoon with Baron in order to keep some pressure off of him for the first year, take the lion’s share of the minutes from Baron in the second year, and fully take over in year three. And with Irving’s ability to shoot, I have no doubt that Baron and Irving will both be on the floor to finish the games, which is far more important than who starts. The Cavs got the best player in the draft. That’s a good thing.

Now, about that Tristan Thompson pick. What the heck. I see three basic scenarios for why the Cavs decided to go with Thompson:

1. The Cavs picked Thompson for someone else, with the belief that they would be able to trade back, still get Jonas, and get another pick to boot.

This has been the main theory in the comments, and it seems to make sense. Because of the buyout, it looked like Jonas would be available in the 7-10 range, where Thompson was expected to go. Grant may well have had a deal in place with one of those teams, picked Thompson for them, and then got a sharp shock when the Raptors passed on Knight, Walker, and Biyombo to take Big V. (Turns out the Raptors’ new coach actually realizes that having a true center who plays defense is a GOOD thing in the NBA.) Not good GM work. Not good GM work at all.

2. The Cavs weren’t willing to wait a year for Valanciunas, and wanted to give the fans something in 2011-12 after an abysmal 2010-11 campaign.

I give Gilbert and Co. credit, because I don’t buy this theory. Thompson isn’t anyone’s definition of a sexy pick, and by all accounts he’s too much of a project to step in and make the Cavs significantly better this season. If they wanted to go the “exciting, win now” route, they would’ve taken Williams with the #1 and Kemba/Knight with the #4. I think the Cavs tried to do what was best for the team going forward, not what was best for ticket sales in the long-term.

3. The Cavaliers honestly believe that Tristan Thompson is a better prospect than Jonas Valanciunas.

Maybe this is what Chris Grant and Co. believe, and they have more scouting information than I do, but I would disagree with that assessment. Thompson can’t play center, can’t shoot or score in the post, doesn’t pass, draws a lot of fouls, is a serious shot-blocker, and is a great rebounder.

The Cavs certainly needed a shot in the arm when it came to defense and rebounding, but I have no earthly idea how a Varejao (who is Cleveland’s best player)/Thompson frontcourt is supposed to work. Andy can play the center position, but he’s better as a four, and needs someone who can either stretch the floor, post-up and give him opportunities to cut, or make good cuts himself and let Andy operate from the high post. Thompson can do none of those things.

The Cavs came into this draft with one really good player under the age of 30, and that player is a great defense-and-rebounding power forward. With a top-5 pick, they took a defense-and-rebounding power forward instead of a potential franchise center who is a true seven-footer, had a higher overall FG% than Thompson did on shots at the rim, and makes 85-90% of his free throws instead of 48% of them. I’m having a hard time selling myself on this pick.

The Cavs got the best player in the draft and got a defensive upgrade that they desperately needed, but I can’t help but feel like they royally screwed up the Valanciunas situation and missed a great chance to put two core pieces in place for the future. However, we won’t know any of this until we actually see Thompson on the floor next season, assuming there is one, and Valanciunas on the floor in 2012-13, assuming he comes over. For now, the team is better today than it was yesterday. The only problem is that it’s hard to shake the feeling they could have done a lot better in this draft.

The Cavaliers trade Justin Harper

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

According to Chad Ford, the Cavs have traded Justin Harper to the Magic for two future second round picks. Fare thee well, Justin. We shall never forget you.