Archive for January, 2012

Recap: Cavs 105 , Jazz 113 (or, who shows up tonight?)

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

This was going to be a tough game for the Cavs. Not that Utah is great, but neither is Cleveland, and Utah is 4 – 0 at home this year.  Cleveland is on the 4th game of road trip.

I’m going to handle this game through looking at eight different internal battles that will either lead the good guys to a victory, or result in defeat. They are:

1. “OMG! He’s going to be a star” vs. “:( – He’s still just a rookie”. Obviously this one’s for Kyrie Irving. Irving has raised the bar for himself early on; threading needles with passes, getting to the hoop with some sick handles, hitting NBA threes…all while being the undisputed leader of an NBA offense at age 19. Obviously there will be ups and downs for a player this young; he’ll eventually need to finish more consistently at the rim, he’ll need to cut down on turnovers a bit, etc. But he’s definitely a keeper. In the Cavs four wins so far this year, Irving has shot 55% from the field, but in their four losses only 36%.

Irving was really solid again tonight, tallying 20 points on 60% true shooting with 5 assists and only two turnovers. He continues to get to the basket with relative ease and finished some spectacular shots tonight. A skill that needs developed is a pull-up or floater; Irving’s two first half charges sent him to the bench. The Cavs were leading 42 – 41 at that point, but then Utah went on an 11 – 1 run to end the half.  They never looked back, but the Cavs win this internal battle, and the score is “Cavs 1, Jazz 0”.

2. “Sorely needed offense” vs. “Children, avert your eyes!!” Cavs:theblog’s complicated relationship with Antawn Jamison is well documented. Jamison is one of the only players on this team that regularly creates offensive opportunities. The downside is that just as often as not, he’s very bad at converting those opportunities. In the Cavs four wins, Jamison has shot 53% from the field and 53% on threes. Can you say trade asset?!? In the losses however, those numbers are 31% and 11%. Watching all those bricks get laid stings deeply.

Last night, Jamison scored 22, but on relatively poor 48% true shooting. He drew alot of fouls on the Jazz big men, resulting in Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors fouling out, but he was abused by Millsap otherwise. Millsap scored 19 points on 9 of 10 shooting. Inefficient scoring…matador defense…Bad Jamison loses this one; “Cleveland 1, Utah 1.”

3. “I’m back and better than ever!” vs. “I’m still offensively limited”. It’s early in the season, but Anderson Varejao is averaging career highs in points, rebounds and PER. He’s rebounding better than ever, ranking 3rd in the NBA with 4.1 offensive rebounds per game. Even when accounting for the full variety of low minute players whose only skill is rebounding, Varejao still shines; he’s grabbing 19% of available rebounds, which ranks 13th of 317 qualifying players. Varejao can’t generate a lot of offense if his cuts and o-rebounds aren’t working and like the previous two players, Varejao has struggled from the field in the Cavs losses, shooting 44% compared to 57% in the victories.

Against the Jazz, Varejao snagged 7 offensive rebounds on the way to 12 points and 11 rebounds with the Cavs outscoring the Jazz by 3 with him on the court. The big downside is that defensively he had no answer for Al Jefferson (30 points on 13 – 17 shooting).  His Magic Johnson impersonation – a spin move followed by an over the shoulder pass to Parker puts Varejao into the win column (he was called for a charge on the play, but it was still excellent). Cavs take the lead, 2 – 1.

4. “Legit rotation wing” vs “Playing in Italy isn’t all bad”. Coming into the season, I leaned towards thinking Alonzo Gee’s NBA career would be relatively short. Then he started the season looking like he had improved his game, mixing athletic attacks on the basket with 50% three point shooting over the first four games. If Gee really wants to succeed in the NBA, he’ll need to stick some from long range; his strong start to the season left me re-thinking his future. Over the last four games, Gee’s field goal percentage has dropped to 41% and he’s only 1 of 8 on threes. Compared to his two seasons in Sacramento, Omri Casspi has been worse in almost every way. I hope for one of these guys to be a back-up on the next Cavs championship team, and this season is a big audition.

In last night’s loss, Gee had a big first quarter, leading the team with 8 points and 2 steals. His second half was pretty quite though, with 2 points and 2 turnovers. Casspi scored 5 points in 22 minutes, continuing his struggles in Cleveland. The Cavs get one-half credit for the ongoing rotation feud between these two, maintaining their lead at 2.5 – 1.5.

5. “I can do this in my sleep” vs “I’ll be retired next year”. Expectations for Anthony Parker are pretty simple this year; make some spot-up bombs from long range. He’s not asked to do much else on offense; on the season, he’s shot 5 times from inside of ten feet and only 4 free throws.  This hyper-aggressive NBA schedule will be tough, as he’s 36 years old and athletically overmatched by NBA 2’s.

Last night, Parker shot 0 – 4 from downtown and got taken to the basket by fellow senior spokesmen Raja Bell (congrats to Mr. Bell on the birth of a child yesterday morning). Parker didn’t get it done, bringing the score back to even at 2.5 – 2.5.

6. “Super Subs” vs “Lunch Meat Sandwiches”. Cleveland’s bench has helped turn a couple of close games into walk-away wins this year. Ramon Sessions and Daniel Gibson have been hugely instrumental in those efforts. At 25 years old, they’re both at the point where they’re beyond hoping on any potential. Day in and day out they need to show that they’re a cut-above for back-up guard tandems, or they’ll instead be viewed as inconsistent and undersized. Sessions has averaged 7.3 assists per game in Cavs wins, but only 2.5 in losses. Gibson has shot an amazing 71% from deep in Cleveland’s triumphs, while struggling to hit a quarter of his shots in defeat.

In Utah, Gibson’s +/- was -3 for the game with 6 points in 26 minutes and Sessions finished with a negative 9. Cleveland’s bench was bested by Utah tonight, pulling Utah ahead at 2.5 – 3.5

7. “Projected as AWESOME!!” vs “Project”. A few things are apparent about Tristan Thompson after 8 games; he runs the court, is active as a weakside defender & as an offensive rebounder, and he adds a lot of good footage to the end-of-year highlight video. This skill set will build the base of a long career. He’s not without his warts though; the 42% free throw shooting is scary and he could improve his defensive rebounding chops. Finally, an expanded offensive repertoire would look really good on him. Relying too much on offensive rebounding and the generosity of others will occassionally result in super quiet offensive games (3 games with 2 points or less).

Against Utah, Thompson did exactly what he does. 9 points on 5 shots (2 dunks), 3 offensive rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block. On the flip side, only 2 defensive rebounds and 1 of 3 from the charity stripe isn’t the right idea. That said, as long as Thompson continues to generate a couple of buckets every game with his 2-dribble drives, he’s a winner. Good TT puts in work, and the Cavs pull even in my pseudo game at 3.5 – 3.5

8. “Legit Back-up Center” vs “Playing in Italy isn’t all bad, Part 2”. Is Semih Erden, Samardo Samuels or Ryan Hollins an NBA player?

Erden got the minutes tonight and the answer was no. He had twice as many fouls and turnovers as points, rebounds, and blocks. And that settles it, Cavs lose their “who shows up” battles by a final of 3.5 – 4.5.

Summary: Amazingly, my super-scientific system resulted in an outcome similar to the game. One issue is that the Cavs’ bench was not able to stretch leads as in previous wins; they were outscored 47 – 38 by the Jazz bench. The biggest issue for the Cavs though was their interior defense. Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Derrick Favors scored 63 points on 82% field goal shooting! The Utah Jazz paint was where amazing happened tonight. Jamison was completely overmatched by Millsap and Favors. Varejao does alot of things well on defense, but post defense is not necessarily one of them. I think Byron Scott could have tried something different to stop the Jazz big men; maybe immediately running double teams at them, maybe playing Thompson more than 15 minutes…I don’t know, but obviously when you’re getting torched like the Cavs were, something different needs attempted.

Tough loss tonight. Three more games on the road trip; Thursday night brings Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns, then another test against an even better front line in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in LA. With a few minor adjustments, I am confident the Cavs will hold those two below 75% from the field. Until next time…

Links to the Present: January 10, 2011

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

“Varejao, second on the team in PER (18.7), the only member of the Cavaliers with at least a 1.0 win share, and currently 29 years of age, has long been a target of several NBA franchises due to his relatively friendly contract and unrelenting energy when on the court.  The issue with a potential trade of Varejao, aside from the public relations impact of a transaction involving a fan favorite, would be the considerably thin frontcourt – Ryan Hollins, Semih Erden and Samardo Samuels - that would be forced into a considerably larger role.” [Scott Sargent on the possibility of a Varejao trade this season]

“Scott, who uses 10-game intervals to evaluate progress and ponder rotation tweaks, inferred that Casspi’s position is safe for now. He also said it’s fair to assume that Samuels could lose minutes to Semih Erden, who returned to the lineup Sunday after missing the first seven games and all the preseason with a broken thumb.” [Tom Reed]

“Joe Prunty is Scott’s offensive coordinator, and Jamahl Mosley handles the defense. What about lead assistant Paul Pressey? ‘Paul is my Mr. Everything,’ Scott said. ‘He does a little bit of everything for me. (Newcomer) Nate (Tibbetts) is obviously learning from all those guys. We’ve got a great staff. Guys work their butts off. Obviously, this summer we had a lot of work to do, especially on the defensive end, so me and Jamahl talked about what we needed to do and areas we needed to get better.’” [Bob Finnan]

Rookie Roundup – And It Begins.

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Every two weeks I’ll give a little recap of what our youngsters are up to, how they looked, and what to expect.  With the help of our resident stat guru, Mr. Kevin Hetrick, I’ll dive into their stats a bit and see if we can get the whole picture.

How exciting are these young guys?  I know it’s very early, that we’ve had a small sample size, and that things could turn very quickly, but is anyone unhappy with our picks right now?  Yes, we haven’t seen Krolik’s favorite, Valanciunas, play yet, and I’m still not certain Thompson is a full time starter (he’s averaging 18.4 minutes a game and has maxed out at 25 minutes) but so far I like what I’ve seen.

Kyrie has essentially met or surpassed all my expectations in his first 8 games.  There have been bumps, but that’s to be expected for a rookie, particularly one who played only 11 games in college.  In the last five games (the first five of January) Kyrie has averaged .500 on threes (which includes last night’s 0-3) and .476 on the rest – impressive considering he wasn’t particularly heralded for his shooting abilities as much as his vision and smarts.  Additionally his defense – lateral movement, switching off the P&R, ability to keep his man in front of him – is extremely impressive for someone so young, and he’s even averaged a block a game.  He’s also been pretty good with the ball in his hands, averaging 5.1 assists per game (an average that came down due to his low assist total last night) with only 3 turnovers a game, which isn’t too shabby for a guy still learning the pace of the NBA game.

With Kyrie, I only have a few minor reservations.  Irving has a tendency to, if he starts slow, go completely cold from the field.  When he’s good, he’s great, but, as we saw in those two games against Toronto, he’s capable of complete meltdowns.  Kyrie has also had some slight problems with ill-advised passes to inside men.  Once or twice a game it’s not unusual to see Kyrie, while pushing the pace down the floor, dish the ball down low despite two or three of the opposing team’s defenders standing in the way, well aware of what’s coming.  But, as I’ve always said, this is a very young, inexperienced player we’re talking about.  He’ll only get better, smarter, and more consistent, and I think the final results will be very very good.

Some interesting data that Kevin sent to me:

“After last night’s game, Irving’s usage is 28.1 (according to Hollinger’s method)…higher than any rookie in the last 10 years.  That’s 3rd of all PGs in the NBA so far this year and 8th of ALL players.  I think that’s pretty fascinating.

Obviously using this many possessions could be good or bad.  Irving’s been pretty good though, ranking 26th of 64 PG’s in true shooting percentage and only 39th of 64 in percentage of possessions that end in a turnover.  He’s scoring relatively efficiently and taking care of the ball well enough.  He could stand to improve on the turnovers, but for a 19 year old rookie, who is a starter (playing other teams’ starters) and basically has free reign to be as aggressive as he wants, the fact that he’s taking care of the ball better than 25 NBA point guards seems pretty good actually.”

That basically says it all. I think the future is very, very bright for Mr. Irving

Tristan Thompson, as many of you probably already realize, is my new favorite Cav.  I absolutely love his game; he plays with a ton of energy and power, and while he’s very raw, has all the tools to, if well coached, become a special player.  Unlike Kyrie, Thompson isn’t really a jack of all trades, but what he does do he does very very well.  As an interior defender, Tigger has the ability to guard most power forwards, and, if and when he adds some weight, could probably play a very similar style of defense to Andy.  Basically, despite his height, TT is able to succeed using pure atheleticism and a constant motor that badgers his man into missing their shot or turning over the ball.  The kid literally bounces all over the place, throwing his ridiculous wingspan in the air, until something good happens.  As you’ll see in Kevin’s stats, he’s a blocking machine!  The only red flag I’ve seen so far is his defensive rebounding, which is pretty sub par for a player of his talent level.

On offense, Thompson is equally energizing and impressive.  He’s extremely good at throwing the ball down with authority, and makes a lot of good decisions when shooting.  Thompson has a decent arsenal of moves when he has the ball in his hand, and I’ve even seen him make some ill-advised but impressively good jump shots.  He’s shooting .471 from the field, an average that will certainly go up as his minutes increase and he’s able to get into an offensive rhythm.  In addition to his talents with the ball in his hand, Tigger is equally great when the ball is in the air.  Tristan is an offensive rebound magnet, averaging 1.5 offensive boards a game in only 18.4 minutes per game.  Still, TT has a lot of learning to do developing post moves.  But once he does that, I think he could be a force inside on offense.

I really wish Byron would let Tristan play more than the measly minutes he’s giving him now.  Why he keeps favoring Antawn over Tigger is beyond me.  I wish he’d let the kid play and give him a chance to get into a groove and develop his game.

Kevin, again, provided some excellent info about Tristan to think over:

“Through 01/08, TT is now 8th of 297 players who have played six games
or more, with 3.54 blocks per 40.”

If Scott would let Tristan play, I bet we’d see even more highlight reel moments from the young Canadian.

Thus far, I could not be happier with Cleveland’s 2011 draft.  Both Kyrie and Tristan show a ton of promise for the future, and are playing like seasoned vets already.  I’m under the firm belief that we’ve only scratched the surface both players talents, and, if that’s the case, the rest of the league is in for a very good, very scary Cavalier future.

My one quibble, as I’ve said before, is that Byron won’t give these two guys a chance to play together.  It’s an absolute travesty how little time they’ve spent on the court together.  It would be one thing if we were in serious contention for a playoff spot, but we’re not going to win this year, and, even more, Jamison and Ramon haven’t played well enough to warrant taking time from the two rookies.  I have a hunch that, once the record begins to dip lower and lower, we’ll start to see them playing together.  Once that happens, watch out NBA!

I’ll be back again in two weeks to go into more depth about what our young heroes have been up to.  Until then, enjoy!

Links to the Present: January 9, 2011

Monday, January 9th, 2012

“Imagine having a point guard who is averaging 24.7 points, 10.7 assists, 8.0 rebounds and shooting 88 percent from the foul line. That’s what Kyrie Irving and Ramon Sessions are producing. They are playing 49 total minutes, meaning they overlap only about a minute each game. So the numbers are meaningful. One of the reasons the Cavs are 4-3 (along with a soft schedule) is the stunning combined play of their point guards.” [Terry Pluto]

“Many now around the league are crushing on Ricky Rubio and rightly so. He, Knight and Irving will be measured against each other for many years since they were in the same rookie class. The Rookie of the Year battle in the first couple of weeks looks like a battle between Irving and Rubio and if people don’t vote with their hearts at the end I think Kyrie still is going to take this thing home.” [Fear the Sword]

“I thought mentally, especially on the offensive end, we weren’t as focused as we needed to be. I have never seen us that flip with the ball. We were throwing it everywhere like it was a hot potato. That was my message tonight. We didn’t give ourselves a chance to win the basketball game.” [Byron Scott via Tom Reed]

Recap: Cavs 78, Blazers 98

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

With such a lopsided drubbing, you’d think there wouldn’t be much to smile about.  But, in truth, I’m not feeling all that bad about this 20 point loss.  We learned a lot about some of the players we’ve got, and, against a good team, saw some seriously critical flaws.

First off, the Cavs won’t always shoot 13% from the three, and Casspi, who I’ll discuss in a bit, isn’t going to always go 0-5 from downtown.  Boobie and Kyrie had equally abysmal nights from the arc.  Basically, had they hit anywhere near where they should have, or even up to the 28% that Portland shot, and this game would’ve been a LOT closer when it counted (remember, they blew it in the 3rd.)

Second, they’re still learning to play with such a high tempo, and it showed.  Cleveland had 24 turnovers.  Reduce that number, and again, the game is much closer.

This isn’t to take anything away from Portland, who played outstanding tonight.  Wallace, Aldridge, Crawford, and Batum all had multiple steals, and their general domination of the paint and perimeter really said it all.

One other quick note – our interior D definitely left me wanting…

I’m going to try to keep this brief – tomorrow night I have a Rookie Roundup coming, so I’m going to attempt to save most of my thoughts on the youngsters for that.

Onto the good and bad of the night:

Good:

Kyrie Irving – Yes, he had four turnovers, and yes he shot a big fat zero from downtown, but he’s young and he’ll learn (we have a nice long grace period to say that.)  The fact is, he shot 9-17 (with a few late misses to pull his stats down) and had four assists and four rebounds to boot.   The pace of the game, and aggressiveness of a really good team defense, definitely threw him off – his passes didn’t look quite as crisp, and there were a lot fewer open looks for the guys he dished to, but I was happy with the way he stayed aggressive and continued to drive to the rim.

Tristan Thompson – Seriously Byron, how did he only play 18 minutes???  And WHY Can’t you play him with Kyrie a little more???  Stop teasing us!!!!  But really, this kid is a stud and we all know it.  When he’s in the game, the energy level is palpable.  And when he played with Varejao, while only for a few seconds, it was awesome – there so much energy, I thought the court would explode.  Tigger is a joy to watch – every time he goes near the ball I watch the screen a little more intensely, looking for that exciting moment we all know is coming.  Byron needs to stop trying to out smart the other team and just play his best players.  Imagine what would happen if Thompson was given a chance to get into an offensive rhythm!  There’s no way Tristan should be playing 18 minutes a game.  Inexcusable.

Anderson Varejao – Yeah yeah yeah, everything here is completely predictable, but did you realize Wild Thing had 5 rebounds in the first 9 minutes of the game?!  He slowed down a lot, and I think the combination of Camby, Aldridge, and Thomas wore him down over 30 minutes, but gosh darn I missed him last year.

Bad:

Pretty much everyone else…

But really,

Casspi – First and foremost, we’ve got to talk about Casspi.  It would be an understatement to say I was curious to see how Casspi would fit into the Cavs.  I’ve always enjoyed his style of play, and figured if he could put even a tiny bit of weight on and maybe drive a little stronger, he could be a good player.  Lo and behold – not only does he seem terrified to move with the ball in his hands, he is completely unable to do the one thing he’s naturally great at – hit the three.  1-4 would be a huge disappointment for the first Israeli to ever play the game.  But 0-5?!?  That’s pathetic.  And it’s not as though he’s delivered on other nights – day in and day out, he’s done the same.  We’re really thin at the swing, I get it, but play like this is costing us wins (which, I guess, we don’t really want right now, so good job Byron?)   I’m not a particularly huge fan of Gee, but Casspi has done nothing for us so far.

Antawn Jamison – I’m going to keep this short.  1-8 fg%, 1-4 3pt%, -22 +/-, 4 fouls, and 3 points.  Yes he had 11 rebounds, but a lot of those seemed like they were right place, right time.  Jamison is the exact wrong player for a young team – he’s streaky and takes a lot of dumb shots.  When he’s on, they fall, and when he’s off, look out.

Daniel Gibson – Ouch…just…ouch.

Byron Scott – I want to preface this by saying I like Byron and I think with a good team he’ll do wonders.  But with such a tight, low range of performable talent, he’s using far too big of a rotation.  Additionally, he’s letting the vets play too many minutes, and keeping the young guys from playing together and meshing.  I know it’s a condensed season and he doesn’t want to wear the kids out and risk injury, but Kyrie could handle some big minutes once and a while.  Tristan too.  Let the guys play together and figure it out.

Additional Thoughts:

Did everyone see what happens when Kyrie and Tigger play together???  AWESOME! Maybe Byron didn’t realize who was out there, but we finally got to see what can happen when the two young studs see the court at the same time.  That beautiful dish down low…that slam home…I can’t say this enough – AWESOME.

Keep on the lookout for my Tigger gushing…err…blog post about our rookies tomorrow.

Another Link to the Present: January 6, 2012

Friday, January 6th, 2012

I’m in a hurry and haven’t looked at this yet, but I’m sure it’s interesting…An early look at Tristan Thompson from nbaplaybook.com

Links to the Present: January 6, 2011

Friday, January 6th, 2012

Here’s a very thoughtful piece from Scott Sargent over at WFNY that discusses the ways in which the “character” (or lack thereof) of the players around which teams are built (high draft picks, big free agent signings, etc.) impact that team’s present and future. It’s kinda football-centric, but I think the ideas it espouses are applicable to all sports, really, and especially to the Cavs since we have heard Chris Grant and Byron Scott state that one of the reasons they felt comfortable choosing Tristan Thompson and Kyrie Irving as crucial elements of the foundation of the new-look Cavaliers is because both TT and Irving are exceptional human beings.

“While they said all the right things about Williams’ athleticism and physical appeal, privately the Cavs didn’t have much debate between Irving and Williams. Cavs coach Byron Scott wanted a true point guard, and Irving was, in the Cavs’ eyes, the best overall talent available. Williams could easily carve out a great career for himself, but he entered the draft without a clear position. At 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, he doesn’t quite have the size to be a power forward, but he could struggle defending some of the better small forwards in the league.” [Jason Lloyd]

“Kyrie Irving is playing like a No. 1 overall pick. Derrick Williams is looking like the second-best rookie on his team. The statement is neither an indictment on Williams’ potential nor a reflection on how the Timberwolves view the power forward they selected No. 2 overall behind Irving in the NBA Draft. But as Irving and the Cavaliers face the Timberwolves Friday night in Minneapolis, any talk of rookie-of-the-year showdowns must include Ricky Rubio, who’s part point guard and part pop star to a fan base that has been eager for a reason to get excited since Kevin Garnett left town in 2007.” [Tom Reed]

Since we don’t often do full-fledged game previews, I highly recommend you watch tonight’s Cavs-Wolves tilt. Minnesota has quickly become one of my favorite NBA League Pass teams: they’re young, talented, and a complete mess. This game will have Rubio v. Irving, The Guy the Cavs Passed On to Take Irving (Derrick Williams), Darko (always fun), some Andy Varejao v. Kevin Love action on the boards, and two hyper-athletic power forwards who should never shoot outside of 10 feet in TT and Anthony Randolph. This has the potential to be one of the most entertaining games the Cavs participate in all season. (If the game turns out to be a boring 81-75 rock fight, I accept full responsibility for jinxing it.)

Still thinking about the Draft? Less so…but, yeah.

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

In the second installment of Cavs: the Blog’s look at potential lottery picks, Harrison Barnes will be overviewed. These posts are envisioned as a look at potential future Cavs over the course of another re-building season. Barnes would be a long term solution at small forward.

Since deciding to return to North Carolina for his sophomore year, Barnes has been regarded as a top 3 pick in the 2012 NBA draft. He was the consensus #1 player in his high school class, and NBA teams are excited about his combination of size, offensive skill and maturity. I think he’s a tad overrated.

Let’s start with the promising aspects of his game. Barnes is a talented offensive player, leading a team of future first round draft picks in scoring. In only 26 minutes per game, he’s registering 17 points behind 57% true shooting and blistering 49% three point shooting. He’s young but already solidly built; at 6’-8” tall and 220+ pounds, he has ideal size for an NBA small forward. Playing with a high level of skill, he exhibits great footwork and a variety of step back and turnaround jumpers. He’s strong and can put the ball on the floor and finish at the basket. There’s little doubt that he brings the necessary size and abilities to find a way to get the ball in the basket in the NBA.

Some concerns about Barnes include the limitations to his offensive game. He’s a good athlete, but not particularly explosive with his jumping or first step. His ball handling is not extremely advanced. This combination can lead to him becoming primarily a jump shooter. His rebounding is down from last year, at only 4.7 per game. Gathering only 9.6% of available defensive rebounds isn’t going to get it done for a 6’ 8” forward. He has ideal character and temperament, but some are starting to question whether he has the disposition to be a star or if he’s better suited as a 2nd or 3rd option.

Finally, despite reports describing him as a defender with good fundamentals and intensity, it’s possible there’s weakness here. For more on this, let’s look at three recent UNC games.

11/11/2011 against Michigan State
Barnes finished with 17 points on 60% true shooting with 5 rebounds and 2 assists in 32 minutes, with UNC winning by a score of 67 – 55. This was just another day at the office; efficient scoring without a lot of additional box score filler. There weren’t tons of definitive moments for him offensively; he showed off well-practiced footwork with a long turnaround jump shot early in the game. On the downside, he had a couple of poor box-outs that lead to MSU putbacks (UNC was terrible on the defensive glass as MSU had 19 offensive boards). Two of Barnes’ shots got blocked, but on the bright side, after getting one turnaround jump shot blocked by a help defender, Barnes raced down the court and swatted a transition jumper. It would have been refreshing to see more of this defensive intensity throughout the game.

11/30/2011 against Wisconsin
In this 60 – 57 UNC triumph, 20 points came from Barnes on 66% true shooting with 3 rebounds, 0 assists, a steal and 3 turnovers. The game was a tale of two halves, as at times Barnes was nearly invisible in the first half. UNC has so many blue-chip players that their offense can occasionally exclude any given player. He missed a couple of jumpers, had a layup blocked, and was also frequently away from the action on the defensive end, as he spent much of the half guarding Josh Gasser. Barnes started the game guarding Ryan Evans, Wisconsin’s 6’ 6” forward and third leading scorer. After Barnes’ first trip to the bench though, he was switched onto Gasser, a 6’ 3” guard who is Wisconsin’s least involved offensive player (average of 7 points in 32 minutes per game). This made for a relatively uneventful half of Harrison Barnes watching.

The second half featured several highlights from Barnes as UNC pulled out the victory. These twenty minutes started out rough; a poor boxout lead to an opponent putback, then later he dribbled the ball off an defender’s foot. He was sent to the bench three and a half minutes in, and Roy Williams’ pep talk worked as Barnes’ defensive intensity was noticeably better when he returned. His array of offensive abilities was on display; he made a three off a screen, hit an 18 footer off a shot-fake / step-fake / one-dribble move, and drilled a spot up three. A couple of nice passes didn’t result in assists. He spent much of the half guarding Evans, but was again switched to Gasser during crunch time. Negatives included his couple of times in the post; on two possessions, he got his shot blocked once and had the ball stripped the other time.

12/21/2011 against Texas
Barnes had his best game of the season statistically; tallying 26 points on 70% true shooting with 10 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 steals. There are a few reasons to not overvalue this though. Texas is very young and very small; five of their top seven minutes earners are freshman. Their starters are 6’-1”, 6’-1”, 6’-3”, 6’-7” and 6’7”, with only one player on their team taller than Barnes. For much of the game Barnes was guarded by J’Covan Brown, who is 7” shorter. The other question mark was Barnes’ defense. Towards the end of the first half, Barnes appears to have been benched in order to get a defensive pep talk. He checked into the game with 4:20 remaining and was guarding Jonathan Holmes, the Longhorns fourth leading scorer. Holmes hit a couple of jumpers, including one play where he lost Barnes around a couple of screens…Barnes sat back on the bench after playing less than two minutes and didn’t return for the rest of the half. To start the second half, Texas ran pick & rolls against Barnes on their first three possessions and a few minutes later called two straight plays for Sheldon McClellan while being guarded by Barnes. Barnes didn’t handle one pick & roll well and McClellan got two looks from long distance (hitting one). Maybe I’m making something out of nothing; but did Texas view Harrison Barnes as a defensive liability? Barnes had two fouls in the first half, maybe Texas was just trying to get him in foul trouble. The sequence of events in the Texas game, combined with UNC’s decision to have Barnes guard Gasser in the Wisconsin game, certainly left me unsure about Barnes’ defense. He was never faced with a tough matchup in these three games, and it was a stark contrast to watching Michael Kidd-Gilchrist guard the opponent’s best perimeter offensive players.

I’ve belabored that enough; Barnes was very effective offensively against Texas and showed his range of skills as UNC won easily. He flashed good strength around the basket, finishing two and-ones and also making at least three other shots through contact, but with no foul called. He hit a couple of pull-up threes and made some nifty passes that didn’t lead to assists. He scored on a turn-around jumper on a post move, too.

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In summary, Barnes is a well-rounded offensive player. He is not an explosive athlete or a highly adept ball handler, which can limit his upside. Recently ESPN reported that an NBA GM described Barnes’ floor as Danny Granger. I’ll take this a little further; Barnes’ ceiling is 2008 – 2009 Danny Granger, scoring about 25 points on 58% true shooting with 5.5 rebounds and 3 assists per game. His floor is 2010 – 2011 Danny Granger, contributing 20 points a game with efficiency slightly above league average (55% TS). Either way, he is a quality NBA player that doesn’t project as the best player on a contender.

I lean towards the comparison with the latter Danny Granger and through two draft prospect reviews, my ratings (always subject to change) are:

1. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – I liked him before, and his recent 24 point, 19 rebound outing against Louisville didn’t hurt his cause. His ceiling is higher than all but a couple of players in the draft.

2. Harrison Barnes – For what it’s worth, there are a lot worse things to be than 2010 – 2011 Danny Granger.

Links to the Present: January 5, 2011

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Here’s a lengthy feature on Kyrie Irving from Dime. It’s a good read if you’re interested in getting a sense of who Irving is on and off the court in more detail than the “good guy” sentiments espoused by Cavs management and Coach K can connote.

Christian Eyenga has been sent down to the Cavs’ D-League affiliate in Canton. This will be good for him. He needs minutes, and it seems he won’t log many as a Cavalier in the near future. I do, however, worry Eyenga’s never going to amount to much, which is a shame because he’s a mesmerizing athlete.

Samardo Samuels didn’t play last night in Toronto because he wasn’t with the team. He couldn’t travel into Canada due to the fact that he has misplaced his passport. We now know who to blame for having to watch Ryan Hollins attempt to play basketball for 17 minutes.

Recap: Cavs 77, Raptors 92

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Mama said there’d be days like this. The Cavs lost handedly to the Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre on the back end of their first back-to-back of the season, shooting a paltry 29.6% from the floor and mustering just 12 points in the third quarter, when the Raps opened up a double digit lead and never looked back.

– Well, Kyrie Irving came back to Earth with a vengeance. The rook put up 12 points on 13 shots and mustered only four assists. This game was reminiscent of his debut: Irving was outplayed by Jose Calderon, stopped at the rim by Toronto’s bigs, and took a handful of ill-advised shots. I’m not concerned—he just completed his sixth NBA game, after all—but this game serves as a reminder of how inconsistent the Cavs offense will be this season. With a young man not yet of legal drinking age playing the role of floor general for 25 to 35 minutes a game, there will be some nights when the Cavaliers don’t break 85.

– Watching Contract Year Jamison this season is going to be like standing at the peripheries of a dice game after ingesting a bag of hallucinogens. One dude stands in the middle, chucking dice against a wall ad infinitum. Some people are cheering. Some people are groaning. The cigarette smoke forms anthropomorphic bananas that whisper John Keats poems. You check to make sure you’re still wearing pants. (You are.) The whole time, you feel black-green dread ballooning in your throat. You’d rather the whole thing end as soon as possible. (Or you think Jamison’s fine. Whatever.)

– TT was a non-factor. He only played 16 minutes after a negligibly impactful first half appearance and took a couple of shots—whirling into defenders, tossing the ball at the rim—that had absolutely no chance of going in. I’m sure Byron Scott will remind Thompson he needs to play to his strengths on the offensive end and look for higher-percentage buckets.

– Andrea Bargnani isn’t this good, except when he is. He was unstoppable tonight: hitting threes, going hard to the basket, and playing something resembling defense. It’s near-impossible to defend a seven-footer when he’s on fire like Bargs was.

– Luke “The Decatur Decapitator” Harangody straight killed it in garbage time. 5 points on 2-2 shooting. You cannot stop him, you can only hope that it’s a close game because he will certainly not be playing in that scenario.

– I can’t pull up the stat right now, but did the Cavs score a single second-chance point? They had 13 offensive rebounds, but squandered most, if not all, of those additional opportunities, which is emblematic of what a miserable offensive performance they turned in tonight.

The Cavs got whooped because they couldn’t score while their opponents did so with alacrity. It’s going to happen from time-to-time this season. The boys travel to Minnesota for a game against Catalan heartthrob Ricky Rubio and the T-Wolves on Friday. In the meantime, it’s time for TT and Kyrie Irving to do what rookies do best: get yelled at, get better.