Archive for September, 2012

TT’s development, and Terry’s Talking

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Over at Fear the Sword, Conrad Kaczmarek wrote a great piece on what to expect from Tristan Thompson this year. How about being blocked less often on put-back dunks? It’s getting embarrassing. Here’s the link.

Terry Pluto wrote about the Cavs in his latest edition of “Terry’s Talking.” You have to scroll about halfway down the page to find it, but he says some interesting stuff. If Luke Walton doesn’t make the active roster, Anderson Varejao will be the oldest player on the team…at 30. Here’s the link.

We’re Back With Idiot Wonder

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

I’m glad the sportswriting world has embraced hackery. Or rather, we’ve embraced that everyone is to various degrees a hack. The knowledge that informs this sounds self-evident when stated in plain terms: you can’t know sports. That’s a nonsensical concept, and the people that hold fast to that idea tend to be ex-jock troglodytes or else just gigantic morons. You can only know things about sports. Writers like Bill Barnwell, Chris Brown, and John Hollinger demonstrate this, but the numerous stat and video analysis geeks remind us constantly: they don’t have predictive powers, and though math is sometimes involved, their use of it doesn’t produce well-wrought urns of analysis. They conduct themselves like sportsologists—the pseudo-scientific nomenclature is deliberate—constructing from data various models of how the games they analyze work. They’re not experts; they don’t hold pretensions to authority. (And when the rare sabermetrician or video analyst does write as if atop a sports knowledge throne, it’s every bit as insufferable as when Blowhard Broadcaster X sidles up to a microphone to condescend to you about how to defend pick’n’roll.) For the most part, they’re just obsessive people trying to figure stuff out.

If you’re reading this, there’s a decent chance you’re an obsessive person trying to figure stuff out about the Cleveland Cavaliers. You and me both, friend. I have figured out nothing. I spent forty minutes this afternoon figuring out which Thai place I wanted to order lunch from, and my brain’s still half-melted from finally watching the Bachelor Pad finale last night. We’re talking about a basketball team that might start four players who have played a combined 111 games in the NBA. I don’t follow college basketball; I haven’t been hanging out with Tristan Thompson all summer; and the only things I know about star formation are from watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos a few years ago, so it’s not even like I could make an apt analogy about the Cavs being in their “red dwarf” stage or whatever. Consider this video of a baby elephant learning to walk my cogent analysis of the forthcoming Cavaliers season. Ponder the metaphor. Or perhaps just point at the screen and squeal in delight.

But here’s the thing: I think this season will be fun. Not fun in the ecstatic sense, but fun like a watching a David Attenborough documentary while being punched repeatedly in the left shoulder by a five year-old. Fun like learning something while accumulating bruises.

I think this is the year the Cavs will start to make some sense. Not individual players per se, but the team as an entity. Two years after shoving the post-Lebron roster through a rice thresher, Chris Grant has assembled something that resembles a professional basketball team. Or at least the best college basketball team in the country. We’re finally going to see talent interact with talent. Kyrie Irving, already one of the twenty or thirty best players in the league, won’t seem so out of place. There are arguments to be made about how good the Cavs’ offseason acquisitions can be, but they’re already markedly better than Luke Harangody and Ryan Hollins. They have motor skills much more advanced than that of the average toddler and don’t handle the ball as if it were an irate lobster. They’re basketball players—they know how to make lay-ups and everything!—and Cavs fans will be treated to something like basketball.

Bad basketball, probably. It’s not like this team fills me with evangelical fervor. But it arouses my curiosity in a way last year’s team didn’t. (You really only needed to watch 30-odd games before you figured out Irving’s great, TT’s a project, Alonzo Gee’s an eighth man, and everyone else is varying degrees of not-good.) Dion Waiters moves through the lane like a bowling ball on a hoverboard, and Tyler Zeller is the Cavs’ first athletic seven-footer since before Brad Daugherty’s back lit up like a Lite-Brite board of pain. They were both asked after the draft how they fit into the team, and I remember being confused by the word “fit,” which implies there’s an existing structure into which one needs to position oneself. Rookies need to fit themselves into teams with mostly-solidified rosters like the Spurs and the Celtics. The Cavaliers exist in a pocket of collapsed space-time wherein Kyrie Irving stands solitary, dribbling a basketball through his legs with a look of unease on his face, and Tristan Thompson flickers like a hologram. Do whatever you want, rookies. You might not be good right away, but at least you’re corporeal. Fill the emptiness with reverse lay-ins and mid-range jumpers. No one’s going to stop you.

So bully to anyone calling themselves an expert, but they can’t possibly be right. This team is one shade lighter than absolute black, and I just want to stare at it for a while and let my tempestuousness simmer. I want to embrace not knowing stuff and write about the darkness and what might be inside it. Then I want to write about the nascent light that hopefully emerges and what it illuminates. That’s what we’ll be doing this season at Cavs: The Blog. (Yes, we’re back in full and rolling out preseason coverage all this week. Wake the children.) This is all to say we’d be pleased if you would join us. It’s probably best if we travel in packs. Things are about to get weird.

Dion (<3) Waiters is Interviewed

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

Splendid in orange cream.

In an interview with Hoopsworld today, Dion Waiters said that he wants to make the playoffs and win Rookie of the Year. He also said some things about Cleveland that are guaranteed to warm the cockles of your heart, and possibly bring tears to your eyes.  In short, this guy is awesome. Here’s the link.

Skyrie, Alonzo and Some Ramon: Top Ten

Friday, September 21st, 2012

The NBA released the Cavs’ official top ten plays for the season recently. They are a hell of a lot more exciting than last year’s highlights, thankfully, and Austin Carr provides the usual. GET THAT WEAK STUFF OUTTA HERE’S THE LINK.

Mary Schmitt Boyer On the Cavs

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

A young(er) Tristan Thompson

Mary Schmitt Boyer, of the Plain Dealer, answered a few questions on the Cavs. Here’s the link.

Ten Things to Like About…Tristan Thompson

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Admittedly, this was not as easy as Jon Leuer and Alonzo Gee.  Expectations for a recent fourth draft pick obviously rise above waiver wire pickups and undrafted free agents.  Cleveland is building a great supply of depth, but two players need to ascend to “star” status along Kyrie.  As a high lottery selection, certainly hope resides that Tristan Thompson fits that bill.  Let us skip TT’s rookie shortcomings for the time-being and start with a focus on ten likable traits.

Tristan T pities the fool who questions his ability to take a leap forward this year.

  1. Much hand wringing ensued as Tristan plowed through the first third of last season making sub-40% on free throws.  His touch improved every month though, rising to 62% for March and 63% over April.
  2. Barely legal drinking age, he is young enough to improve significantly.
  3. He possesses the work ethic and attitude necessary to reach his full potential.
  4. Of all NBA players, he finished with the sixth best offensive rebounding rate last season.
  5. In his 2011 – 2012 rookie awards, David Thorpe declared Thompson the most likely to break out this year.  John Hollinger ranked TT third in his 2011 Draft Rater.  That must be a good thing.
  6. He’s not Marcus Morris or Jan Vesely, two players often ranked above him pre-draft.  In the two weeks before selection day, Morris decided he played small forward and proceeded to struggle mightily. I could not get excited about the idea of Vesely at #4.
  7. Tristan is Canadian, which reduces any worries about summer injuries while playing deep in the Olympics or World Championships.
  8. Of 143 forwards who played 30 or more games, he ranked 17th in blocked shots per minute.
  9. Explosive athleticism allows for sequences like this.
  10. His max vert reach is 12 feet.  That’s really fricking high.

Mr. Thompson provides youth, explosiveness, and a willingness to improve.  While some certainly carry higher hopes; I  consider him most likely to peak as a high quality role player.  Last season, for every strength his game harbored corresponding weakness.  Alongside the shot blocking, he ranked 70th of forwards for defensive rebounding, 104th for taking charges, and 124th collecting steals.  Three of those four outcomes always result in ending the opponent’s possession.  The one where Tristan currently proves most apt is not one of those three.  He finished 90th of the 143 forwards for per minute foul frequency, and Cleveland’s defense allowed 3.5 points more per 100 possessions when he played (certainly not helped as one of the only healthy players remaining in April).  He needs to learn balance on defense, between disrupting shots and grabbing boards.  Everything that can be learned from Anderson Varejao about pick-n-roll snuffing must be absorbed like a sponge.

For all the offensive rebounds, his effectiveness remained restrained in part due to poor finishing, as he ranked 116th of all forwards for field goal percentage at the rim.  This barrage of “out of 143 forwards” data may prove as overkill, but at other locations, his field goal percentage sat at:

  • 3 to 9 feet – 91st
  • 10 to 15 feet – 119th
  • 16 to 23 feet – 140th
  • Free throws – 134th
  • His assist rate nearly hit bottom at 140th, with assist-to-turnover ratio at 142nd.

Even his true shooting percentage over March and April (47.6%), when he peaked as a rookie, placed him 122nd.  I am not saying that Tristan can not reach whatever level he aspires to…but he has a ways to go.  On offense, he needs to keep the ball high when in the paint.  Obviously a fifteen-footer and consistent arc on his freebies would prove helpful.  An explosive face-up move from both elbows seems most readily available as an offensive skill, but some post / countermoves also could reside on his wish-list.

This season serves as an important glimpse of TT’s ability to either reach elite levels or towards settling into valuable-rotation-player status.  I will definitely be rooting for the former.

Byron Scott, Unabashed Enthusiast

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

The New York Post interviewed Byron Scott recently about the Knicks. At the end of the interview, he had a word or two about the Cavs. He said he expected some modicum of improvement. Big expectations aren’t really his thing, and never have been.  Here’s the link.

Ten Things to Like About…Alonzo Gee

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Alonzo Gee rose to prevalence last year thanks to highlight reel finishes and the frequent ability to resemble an NBA player.  Only 25, fierce-dunking Gee signed with Cleveland for 3 years earlier this month.  Here are ten reasons to appreciate the AG experience:

  1. Dunks like this.
  2. Or this obliteration of Kenneth Faried and Chris Anderson.
  3. But you know AG provides more than highlights.  Of 116 swingmen playing 30+ games last year, Gee ranked 22nd in rebounding rate, including tenth on the offensive boards.   He also snagged the 14th most steals per 40 minutes.
  4. Last year, he finished second on the team in minutes and split his time evenly between the wing positions.  Often matched against the opponent’s best offensive option, he held opposing shooting guards to a 15.7 PER and kept small forwards in check at 14.5.  Team defense was 3.7 points better per 100 possessions with him on-court; second best of all Cavaliers that averaged 10 minutes per game.  While not a lock-down defender, he typically gets the job done.
  5. He’s an underdog.  Undrafted out of Alabama, written off by know-nothing media as recently as one year ago, Gee netted himself a nearly eight-figure contract after his improved 2011 – 2012.
  6. Over the first forty games last season, prior to injuries to Varejao & Kyrie, and before Ramon Sessions packed up for LA; Cleveland struck a 34-win pace for a full season.  Gee was the 5th best player on a respectable NBA team.  The season completely unraveled over the final six weeks, but a top-5 player on a borderline-playoff squad can be a top-8 player on a future contender.
  7. Speaking of the end of last season, the Wine & Gold started April embarking on 9 games in 13 days.  Gee then sat three games due a sprained ankle, before returning for four more games in five days.  Carrying far too heavy of a load for a depleted team battling an onerous schedule, Gee struggled mightily, converting only 34% of his field goals and 27% of his threes.    Did you know that other than April 2012, in his other 175 career attempts, Gee has stroked 35.5% of his threes?  And over the last three NBA seasons, NBA average falls in the 35 – 36% range?  With a resume of: tolerable shooter, solid defender, top-drawer rebounder, and ESPN-top-ten-play-contender; he is worth…
  8. Three years and $10 million.  This is an extremely low risk contract.  The Cavs are way under the salary cap right now, and the third year of Gee’s deal is a team option.  Basically, even if his carriage turns back into a pumpkin, he serves as an expiring contract trade chip as early as 2013 – 2014.  And remember, in that season, the incremental luxury tax sets in.  Then in 2014 – 2015, the “repeat offender” tax provisions set in.  At the exact time that teams are beginning to experience the full wrath of the new CBA, Cleveland positions themselves with one more asset to potentially deal.
  9. Did I mention the dunks?  How about an exclamation point on a late season victory against an eventual Eastern Conference semi-finalist?!?
  10. And finally, remember when Cleveland beat Miami two seasons ago?  Baron-Davis-to-Alonzo-Gee-Smash!! Surely Kyrie and Alonzo connect on a few of these next year.

So there you have it.  For a future contending team, a capable back-up for both wing positions, signed for a reasonable price.  Making hustle plays, highlight reels, and open threes, he serves as another young & athletic component on an increasing young & athletic squad.

Ten Things to Like About…Jon Leuer

Friday, September 14th, 2012

I don't think this video game cover ever went into mass production.

In the first of a series heading towards the season, today I present ten things to like about Jon Leuer.  The second-year big man ranked as a sleeper favorite of mine in the 2011 draft, a player seemingly ripe to be a quality 3rd or 4th NBA front court player.  After four years at the University of Wisconsin and one year with the Milwaukee Bucks, good fortune smiled on the Cavs, and Mr. Leuer came their way via waivers.  Admittedly, I watched approximately three Bucks games last year and probably 11 minutes of Jon Leuer, but here are top reasons for optimism.

(As always, thanks to espn.com, draftexpress.com, hoopdata.com, 82games.com, basketballvalue.com, and basketball-reference.com for providing myriad stats for my consumption.)

  1. Of the 50 NCAA players drafted in 2011, he was 5th in pace adjusted scoring.  The Badgers glacial pace masked his offensive prowess.
  2. Did you know he measures 6′ – 11.5″ tall in shoes?
  3. Over his last two NCAA seasons, he drained 38% from deep.  Last year, he connected on 40% of his long twos.  Need a stretch-four?  I know a guy.
  4. He makes free throws, including 84% his senior year at UW and 75% in one NBA season.
  5. Last year at the combine, his max vert exceeded Tristan Thompson.  He also raced through the fastest agility drill of all drafted power forwards.  He probably does not play that athletically, but whatever…
  6. Of 86 qualified NBA power forwards last year, his turnover rate per used-possession ended 6th best.  For assist to turnover ratio, he ranked 46 of 143 forwards who played more than 30 games.   Knocks down jumpers…check.  Takes care of the ball…check.
  7. He’ll be 23 for the entirety of 2012 – 2013.  I better qualify that…unless Cleveland makes the Eastern Conference finals.
  8. In 2011 – 2012, of all rookies that played enough minutes to qualify for adjusted plus / minus; he finished as one of only three guys that was above average in PER, win shares per 48 minutes, and adjusted plus / minus.
  9. After reading everything above, and knowing that he spent much of the second half of last season on the bench, it is certainly reasonable to assume his defense looks nauseating.  Statistics did not pick up on this though. Of 143 forwards playing 30 or more games last year, he posted the 52nd most defensive plays per minute (defensive plays = blocks + steals + charges drawn).  He held opponents to average PER of 14.4.  The Bucks clamped down 2.83 points better per 100 possessions with him on court. (That stat is admittedly deceptive; the Bucks second string ruled at defense).  Of thirteen Milwaukee players who played 500 or more minutes, he netted the sixth best defensive rating.  Anyways, that ramble of numbers was probably nauseating, but the basic point is that a wide cross-section of data did not hate his defense.  His primary weakness presents itself in defensive rebounding, where he sits in the bottom fifth of all power forwards.  He was a twenty-two year old rookie though; if he improves to an average-ish defensive rebounder, that should suffice from a guy expected to play 15 – 20 minutes a game.
  10. His PER at his natural position of power forward was 17.9, while holding his opponent to a 10.3 PER.  When forced to play center, he struggled mightily to the tune of 12.9 versus 24.8.  Small sample size, but I find that encouraging.

In summary, I am intrigued by Jon Leuer.  Add another big, bad-ass seven-footer to the mix; and Zeller, TT and Leuer present an intriguing 23-and-younger front court rotation.  Is it October 30th yet?

While we’re going links crazy…

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Our fine TrueHoop cohorts at Hardwood Paroxysm had a spirited debate about Dion Waiters the other day. I fall in the camp that thinks the Cavs rookie showed up at Summer League out-of-shape purposefully, because he likes a challenge.  Summer League while in top condition?  Too easy for D-Wait.