Archive for November, 2012

Recap: Cavs 95, Mavs 103 (or, I guess it’s time to start working on some Draft Profiles)

Saturday, November 17th, 2012

Tyler wore a mask. Compared to Zydrunas' and Varejao's masks, I would say he was relatively non-creepy.

Coming home after a long road trip, Cleveland ended the night on the losing end of a  hard-fought battle.  Tyler Zeller returned to the lineup, wearing a fancy mask to protect his broken cheek.  He played horribly in the first half, but drew two charges and swatted a three-point attempt into the stands in the second half.  Glad to have you back, T-Zell.

The game initially reinforced a common theme; Cleveland started off scorching, with Alonzo Gee and Daniel Gibson pitching in a half-dozen each towards an early 24 to 16 lead.  Alas, with two-minutes remaining in the first quarter, Kyrie checked out, Jeremy Pargo subbed-in, and the lead rapidly tumbled to nil.

Cleveland treaded water early in the second, thanks to Boobie’s shooting and Tristan starting the quarter.  Dion re-entered with nine minutes to go, and scored eight points in 86 seconds during one stretch.  Gee splashed home a pull-up off a behind-the-back dribble, and Andy connected with TT for a sweet alley-oop.  Kyrie drove for a couple of easy finishes, and I reveled in how fun this team can be; the good moments are both higher quality and more prevalent than recent seasons.  Still though, I feel this team’s parts are greater than the whole.  Prior to this season, Kyrie and Tristan played around 500 minutes together; Andy and Kyrie, only 23 games. Varejao and Tristan shared the court for 47 minutes last year, and Dion Waiters is a rookie.  Other than the Kyrie to Varejao pick-and-roll, the team barely runs an offense, making it amazing that heading into last night, Cleveland’s starters owned the best plus/minus in the league.  I can not wait for two years from now, when this group forms a well-oiled machine.

Cleveland leads 52 – 51 at the half.

Kyrie came out hot to start the third, drilling several jumpers and extending the margin to three.  Then, in a teeth-gritting moment, Kyrie left with a sore wrist at the seven-minute mark.  A bright side emerged though, as the Dion & Boobie back-court finally got some run.   And it was good, including a 7 – 0 run; when Dion hit the pine, the Cavs lead by two.  A Pargo-lead squad allowed a small Mavs run to end the quarter, with Dallas heading to the fourth up 73 to 75.

But then, behold!!  Kyrie is back on the court!  At one point, his seven points in 80 seconds tie the game 89 – 89.  Alas, it was all down hill from there.  The Mavericks hit a few jumpers, managed to frequently find themselves with mismatches in the post, and eventually brought home the 103 – 95 win.

I am not too upset about this loss.  There were no mind-numbing 32 to 6 runs, and ultimately, the veteran Mavericks just made more plays at the end.

To close out tonight’s recap, I will briefly address the regularized-adjusted-plus-minus (RAPM) data available at http://stats-for-the-nba.appspot.com.  Their player values quite capably reflect many of the early season Cavs narratives.  A reputable website, the stat is referenced throughout the “2012 – 2013 Pro Basketball Prospectus”.

I’ll note the regularized adjusted plus minus trends through the first eight games, and how those held up tonight.  (As always when I do a recap like this, tonight’s action is in italics.)

  • Through eight games, Anderson Varejao performed as the NBA’s 20th best player.  No doubt about it, he produces like an all-star.  Based on RAPM, the East’s front-court as of right now should be Tyson Chandler, Kevin Garnett, Josh Smith, Joakim Noah, and Andy.

Rough night for Varejao as he couldn’t get his tip-ins or floaters to fall, finishing 2 of 11 from the field for four points.  His four offensive rebounds lead the game, but on defense, Chris Kaman poses as the species of big, reasonably skilled big man that troubles the Cavs Center.  Kaman netted a few buckets from the post and scored 15 points on 12 shots.

  • A transcendent offensive force, Kyrie ranks tenth most effective at point-producing in the league.  Truly amazing stuff from a 20-year old.  On the flip side, he resides as the 25th worst defensive player.  Add it all up, and this leaves him 72nd.  While I dispute that, keep working at that defense, Kyrie.  Someday in the future, as a top-five offensive guy and an above average defensive player, First-Team-All-NBA awaits.

Kyrie scored 26 tonight; from pull-ups, set-shots, and an array of drives.  Finishes that should be rare, now seem completely routine. His place as a top-five NBA scorer remains secure, however zero assists is a career first (see parts are greater than the whole discussion.  This group is still learing to play with each other.)  His defense was fine tonight.  As a team, the Cavs forced 20 turnovers and allowed only eight offensive-boards.

  • Dion Waiters sits atop the rookie-heap.  Granted, he is only the 214th best player, but no other newbie performed better.  Regarding the extremely low across-the-board rankings, I will simply say that RAPM hates the way rookies play defense.

An up-and-down effort from Dion; he scored sixteen points thanks to an aggressive mentality that resulted in eight free throw attempts, but he only converted 4 of his 16 shots from the field.  Two of Cleveland’s strongest stretches involved Dion at the controls; the aforementioned stints next to Pargo and Gibson, respectively.

I do wish to see him learn to play more within the offense and stop the ball less.  Also, despite the three assists tonight, more passing would be nice.  Many times in the paint, he tries a challenging shot of his own, whereas ideally, he starts setting his bigs up for easy flushes.  His 2.2 dimes per night pale compared to his college distribution; tallying 2.5 assists in less minutes at the slower-pace of college games.  As he figures out his teammates and NBA-offense, this is an area his game will continue to grow.

Overall though, he continues to look solid, aggressively attacking the paint and typically looking strong & engaged at the defensive end.

  • Alonzo Gee and Tristan Thompson rate nearly identically, at 114th and 125th, respectively.  Both offer above average defense, with slightly deficient offense.

Midway through the third quarter, Tristan notched his double-double.  He sat much of the fourth quarter, and finished with 10 & 12.  A really nice defensive hedge forced an over-and-back by Darren Collison; hopefully many of Andy’s tricks rub-off on Thompson.

Gee did what he does.  15 points on 41% true shooting, with 7 rebounds and 4 steals.  Really, a mixed bag, but he looked solid.  Solid ball-handling resulted in zero turnovers, whether flashing a lefty-drive for an and-one, a behind-the-back dribble into a drained pull-up, or dishing a fast-break-dime to Tristan; Gee provided a series of commendable plays.

  • The Bench is awful.  Actually, the three worst players in the NBA sit on Cleveland’s bench.  Luke Walton, Donald Sloan, and Jeremy Pargo round out the RAPM dregs-of-the-NBA.   RAPM does not like Sloan’s offense and finds his defense nauseating, yet he serves as one of six Cavaliers to play every game.  Despite NBA-cellar status, Walton re-entered the team’s rotation last game. Please make it stop.

Slightly improved tonight; Daniel Gibson continues to shoot lights out, Omri Casspi drained a three, and we saw a little of Dion with the second unit.

The rotations were more staggered tonight, but part of that was due to Kyrie sitting the last seven minutes of the third.  My inclination is still that Sloan and Pargo need perma-glued to the bench; the Cavs were a team-worst minus-11 during Pargo’s ten minutes.  (And I suppose it’s worth noting that Pargo played, not Sloan…I did trot out Slargo during the pre-season though)

Also, what is the deal with CJ Miles?  He has completely disappeared from the line-up to ‘clear his head’ (Coach Scott’s words).  I hope he works things out soon, and returns to his destiny of ‘serviceable back-up on middling teams’.  The Waiters – Gibson – Miles backcourt exists to wreak havoc on NBA benches across the nation.

That’s it for tonight.  Until next time…


Pray for Luke

Friday, November 16th, 2012

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

In possibly the worst news in C:tB history, Luke Harangody, the blog’s golden boy, will be out for 6 weeks following arthroscopic surgery.

Who the heck are we going to talk about now?

Something Like What We’re Talking About

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

A tepid rage filters through me when I hear the phrase; it might just be a phonetic thing: “Veteran leadership” sounds dumb. It’s a concept that commentators thoughtlessly invoke without explanation like we all know what it is and it need not be defined. We heard the term a lot during OKC’s extended playoff run last season. Derek Fisher is bringing his veteran-y veteran-ness into that tyke-filled locker room in Oklahoma City and giving the Thunder the sort of age and dead limbs that champions are made of. It’s not that I don’t believe that a Derek Fisher type provides some kind of valuable service to a young team that is difficult to quantify, but I believe in it like I believe in moderate politics and Anna Faris’s talent—it’s difficult to locate and figure out exactly what it’s doing.

Perhaps this is because the act of “veteran leadership” happens mostly out of public sight—on team charters, in locker rooms and practices. I assume it sometimes involves knowing where to find a good steak restaurant in Minneapolis. Other than the specific instance when a level-headed guy like Shane Battier bear-hugs a teammate who is cussing out the referee and talks him down, where do we see direct, tangible results of a veteran’s presence on a team’s roster? One occasionally hears about vets teaching their tricks to youngsters, but it’s not like Tristan Thompson started trying out Antawn Jamisonian scoop shots halfway through his rookie season. It’s hard to believe in what you can’t see.

I think we can perhaps discern the effects of veteran leadership best when it’s noticeably absent. The Kings, for example, have been a rudderless team over the past few years in part, the story goes, because they have a bunch of guys in their early 20s, and DeMarcus Cousins, who occasionally adapts scenes from The Yellow Wallpaper to the basketball court. They’re a fascinating, schizoid tapestry of a team that can just as easily upset the Thunder as lose by 26 to Golden State, but the dominant narrative is that the Kings have too many selfish players, Cousins chief among them.

This dominant narrative isn’t altogether wrong (though, as Eric Freeman rightly points out, “It would probably be easier for [Cousins] to mature if anyone treated him like an adult.”), but the language used to describe the Kings’ conundrum is telling. “Selfish” is a term that has a thoroughly pejorative meaning. For example, Kobe is rarely “selfish” when he goes Optimus Prime in the fourth quarter of a game, but when he clanks three straight contested jumpers down the stretch, that adjective tends to creep back into the picture. And petulance is somehow twinned to “selfishness,” I think because we associate inflated egos with childishness. (A two-year-old is the ultimate egotist.)

But you can shift the meaning of something pretty significantly by using a close synonym. Put another way, the Kings have too many ball-dominant players. A ball-dominant player isn’t an inherently bad thing (most great players have high usage rates), but having three of them in your starting lineup is a problem. Categorizing the Kings’ flaws using a more clinical term posits their problem as with the construction of the roster, not the temperament of the players. The problem becomes based in mechanics, not character. But they’re a very young team and Cousins is a lightning rod, so “selfish” is the go-to descriptor when talking about why they struggle. My point is, they might need an adult in the locker room, but what they require just as urgently is a pass-first point guard. Focusing too readily on their youth obfuscates the latter need.

But let us, for the sake of trying to think through our “veteran leadership” question, treat the Kings’ old guy deficiency and say they somehow acquired an exemplary professional like Tyson Chandler. Putting basketball acumen aside for a moment, how would he—try not to retch—”change the culture” of the Kings? Surely, he has stories to tell and wisdom to contribute. He has spent 11 years in the league and persevered through some rough stretches. (It’s easy to forget the first half of Chandler’s career was considered a disappointment.) I don’t know if DeMarcus Cousins would listen to Chandler, but he’d have about as good a shot as anyone at getting through to the third-year big man. Regardless, the onus would be on Cousins—who seems like a smart, thoughtful guy who might be a whit insecure and has a poor handle on his temper—to open himself up to whatever advice came his way. The same goes for the rest of the Kings’ supposed lesser knuckleheads. Counsel is something one must actively seek.

At the beginning of last season Reggie Miller admonished LeBron James after Marv Albert mentioned that LeBron had asked—I can’t recall whom, exactly—an all-star on a rival team about how to deal with the pressure of expectation. That was obviously cheap tough guy rhetoric from one of the NBA’s most unpleasant, bloviating media personalities, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that some players hold the same myopic-jock worldview as Miller, especially extremely gifted players in the first few years of their careers.

To become a lottery pick requires a degree of self-belief that can easily become poisonous. One has to balance the arrogance of believing they’re one of the very best basketball players on the planet with a humility that allows one to persistently improve. I think Cavalier fans will watch Dion Waiters try to calibrate his arrogance over the next few years. His fearlessness is a necessary component of his basketball-playing person, but he needs to sometimes defer to his coaches, teammates, etc. (He’s also about to become a 20-year-old millionaire after growing up broke on Philly’s south side, so throw that complicating factor into the mix.) He has to figure out the solution to a difficult question: how does one maintain intense self-belief and still know when to ask questions?

You’ll notice I’ve strayed from my initial question. I’m talking around the notion of veteran leadership in an attempt to glimpse its form—I think it has its paws in all these slippery concepts I’m discussing. And all these slippery concepts—locker room pH, perceptions of players and teams, arrogance vs. humility, youth development—are relevant to a Cavaliers team that has to decide in a few months what do with its veterans when the trade deadline approaches.

Chris Grant has been deliberate in expressing to the fans and media that he wants to construct a team out of “high character” athletes and cultivate a organization-wide “culture” conducive to developing young talent and steady, sustainable improvement. He has been even-handed in his decision-making; I wouldn’t call anything the Cavs have done over his tenure radical or unexpected. His general managership has been characterized by calculated risk: taking Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters earlier than most people expected, accepting Baron Davis’s bloated contract in exchange for the Clippers’ lottery pick, trading up a few slots for Tyler Zeller.

Grant mentioned, when introducing Waiters and Zeller to the media, that the plan on draft night was to only select two players. He didn’t want to use all his draft choices and take four rookies. Reading between the lines, he seems to think one doesn’t start a youth movement by throwing 20-year-olds against one’s roster sheet and seeing what sticks. It’s a more careful process.

But how careful? The Cavaliers are a deep shade of green. The only players on the team with more than three NBA seasons are Andy Varejao (30), Boobie Gibson (26), C.J. Miles (25), and the crippled remnants of Luke Walton (71). If they jettison Varejao (whose stock is high) and/or Gibson (an expiring contract and great three-point shooter), how does that effect the team in terms of the sort of “culture” Grant is trying to create? Are “veteran presences” crucial to the development of Waiters, Irving, Thompson, et al. or is the “culture” strong enough that the growth of those players doesn’t require the sort of wisdom that comes only with experience? I don’t have answers to those questions, but Grant and his front office staff will either implicitly or explicitly answer them in the near future. It must be the most vexing part of being an GM: you have to assign value to even the most nebulous stuff. They’ll put numbers to the immaterial and quantify for themselves the value of whatever the hell “veteran leadership” might be.

Kevin’s Summer Project, Part 2: Point Guard Speed

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

(I will preface this article by saying that while I was on the calendar for today, Nate Smith and Tom Pestak also posted excellent articles on Kyrie’s defense and Andy’s untradeableness.  Bear down for a long sit of Cavs: the Blog reading and check out the articles below.  It is worth it.)

Last week, hopefully you read the intro to “Kevin’s Summer Project”, when I laid out the groundrules of a study correlating pre-draft measurements with NBA offensive performance.   The first article primarily asserted that most of the measurements do not prove highly useful, with some exceptions.  Today, the first of those exceptions will be explored; the implications of speed for point guards.

Who is this guy? Perhaps he could have been the Cavs' back-up PG. Apparently he was too small or something.

For primary ball-handlers, of the pre-draft measurements, three-quarter-court sprint speed served as the truest barometer of future offensive success.  The other athleticism tests, primarily leaping, also featured frequent positive correlations, but size proved unimportant.  Actually, nearly 90% of the size-to-offense correlations were negative.   Small, fast floor generals ruled, starting at the top with sub-six-foot Chris Paul and including players as short as 5’ – 8” Nate Robinson.

The following table reflects the accumulation of speed correlations with offensive win shares.

Fairly strong, including nothing lower than 0.10, one of the two ‘all player’ correlations above 0.50, and two robust values of 0.63 and 0.66; definitely a promising trait corresponding with NBA offensive production.  But what else can this info tell us?

First, note the sub-trend of speed factoring as a larger predictor of success for upperclassmen.    I will credit this to the overall importance of skill and production over athleticism or size.  While many highly regarded underclassmen flex strong athleticism, a more critical component to being draftable at a young age is dominance on a basketball court; athleticism alone does not provide for elite basketball.  Many underclassmen posted marginal measurements, but were very skilled, and  progressed to highly successful NBA players.  The list includes Chris Paul, Michael Redd, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, Al Horford, and Al Jefferson.  These are highly skilled players that began exhibiting their abilities at a very young age, whereas many upperclassmen were not draftable at an earlier age, because they could not develop their talents to this high of a caliber.  Hence, a higher tendency for reliance on size and athleticism.

Now back to point guards and how the idea relates to pre-draft valuation.  While speed registers as a valuable commodity at draft time, the impact on draft positioning does not seem prevalent enough for upperclassmen.  The correlation between draft position and sprint time for upperclassmen point guards is 0.22, a number far exceeded by each of the applicable values in the table above.  The list of drafted upperclassmen point guards from 2000 through 2010 with sprint speeds below 3.20 is:  Speedy Claxton, George Hill, Darren Collison, Kirk Hinrich, Derrick Zimmerman, Ty Lawson, Jameer Nelson, Chris Duhon, Will Blalock, Eric Maynor and Earl Watson.  This looks fairly unremarkable until the average draft position of 28 is viewed, with only one player selected before 18th.  Despite the inauspicious draft positioning, nine of the eleven players outperformed their selection status.  The two non-contributors came off the board at 40th and 60th, so even with higher draft-day weighting towards speed, these players are probably second round picks.  Each of the other players warranted earlier selection than actual.  Finally, one addition expanded this list in 2011; 60th pick and eventual all-rookie team member Isaiah Thomas.  Apparently the trend towards small, fast point guards was not realized sufficiently to fix that one.

So; small, speedy, upperclassmen point guards are undervalued by NBA teams.  A sub-trend is that the new hand-checking rules initiated in 2004 – 2005 increased this group’s success.  While three of the five underclassmen correlations showed mild upticks, upperclassmen correlations rose dramatically, including all values above 0.50.  The graph below reflects the most-correlated data, with Ty Lawson, Jameer Nelson and George Hill populating the upper-left section and several less successful candidates filling up the low-lying portions.  The primary outlier at 3.9 offensive win shares is Jarrett Jack.

Drilling down further to determine combinations of traits that even more reliably provide NBA success, elite upperclassmen performers in both speed and agility rise to the top.   While not as strong for agility as for speed, correlations were always positive with occasionally high results.  From 2000 to 2010, the list of drafted, upperclassmen point guards who finished their sprint in less than 3.2 seconds and their agility drill in less than 11 seconds is: Speedy Claxton, Kirk Hinrich, Chris Duhon, Jameer Nelson, Earl Watson, Darren Collison, Ty Lawson, and Eric Maynor.  As the only player to meet these thresholds in 2011, Isaiah Thomas provided a stellar rookie season.  Every one of these players exceededed the expectations associated with their draft position, which should lead NBA teams to draft similar players higher.  No dice though; no upperclassmen selected in 2012 met these levels, even though Casper Ware was otherwise draftable and surpassed these marks.   Now playing in Europe, through six games in Italian LegaDue, his 22.6 PER helps pace his team to 4 wins and 2 losses.   Draftexpress.com lists his ‘best case’ as Isaiah Thomas, and I had Ware ranked 46th in the class of 2012.  Too bad the Cavs don’t desperately need a shot-creating second string point guard.  They do?  Apparently they needed Luke Harangody more.

For underclassmen point guards, the highest correlations were actually with leaping, with speed sitting in second place.  In a somewhat interesting twist, upperclassmen posited negative correlations for the leaping drills.  This will be explored deeper during the look at defense, but the agility drill may be more conducive to skills associated with role-players, a position more likely to be the dominion of older draftees.   The combination of strong speed and jumping from underclassmen produces a very exciting list of prospects.  Young point guards faster than 3.15 with a no-step vert of 30″ or greater is: Derrick Rose, Russ Westbrook, Mike Conley Jr,  John Wall, Nate Robinson, and Jerryd Bayless, with no additions in 2011 or 2012.  Obviously, this package is highly sought-after, featuring five lottery-picks, four top-fives, and two number-one overall selections.  There is no additional draft-day-value to be extracted from young, talented, explosive point guards; possibly my most shocking discovery from this series.   (one side note; the recent run of Rose, Westbrook, and Wall sort-of served as Kyrie Irving’s primary weakness leading up to the draft.   Pundits generally thought that Kyrie’s lack of athleticism removed him from ‘star’ potential.  In hindsight, clearly there is still a place at the top of the point guard heap for non-freak athletes who are young, highly skilled and ridiculously productive.  Kyrie, Chris Paul, and Deron Williams…your jobs are safe.)

Ok.  So I have potentially proved too expansive for one article and missed many important points, while hitting (or missing) on lesser elements.  Let’s wrap this up.  To summarize, as it relates to offense for point guards, there are four main takeaways supported by numbers:

  • Athleticism is helpful, with speed as most prevalent, and agility (upperclassmen) and leaping (underclassmen) also relatively important.
  • The success rate of fast, agile upperclassmen point guards is very much underappreciated on draft day.
  • Since 2004, the importance of speed in a floor general has marginally increased.
  • Size doesn’t matter

Come back next time, for a deeper look at shooting guard offensive production.

The Curious Case of Anderson Varejao

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

After dominating the Nets last night, Anderson Varejao is once again on the trading block.  Well not exactly, but there has been and continues to be a sizable collection of Cavs fans that wish it were so.  All arguments go something like this: “Varejao isn’t getting any younger, he’s reckless and injury prone and is going to be a shell of his former self in 1-2 years when Kyrie/Dion/TT and company will be getting SERIOUS buckets (and please God some stops), @CavsDan will be emptying his wallet, and AC/Fred and crew will be back to calling playoff games.  The future UncleDrew Army has no room for a grizzly ol veteran like Varejao and therefore the Cavs should trade him now while he’s playing like a top 3 center in the NBA and get something back.” yes, endquote

There are many that oppose this line of thinking, and some that follow the logic but just can’t bear to see a Cavs team without the Wild Thing and would rather he finish his career where he started it – maybe even with a large wig enshrined in the rafters.  There’s a twitter poll up right now and the popular vote is almost as close as that nauseating election we somehow lived through.  I guess that makes me a SuperPac.  Time to move the needle.  Let’s start with some “ fact-checking” since that’s all the rage.  Or maybe a better phrase would be “exposing some myths”.

Myth1: Anderson Varejao is old.  This should really read “Anderson Varejao is quickly becoming too old to be an effective NBA basketball player.” I rate this claim as Mostly False. Yes, there are studies showing that around age 30 basketball players start to head off into the sunset.  And Andy just celebrated his 30th bday.  But there are many interesting bits of information about Anderson Varejao that suggest he will buck this trend.  Let’s start with the basics.  Age matters, but so does mileage.  So here’s your first trivia question.  Which of the following players has logged the least NBA minutes? Anderson Varejao, Rudy Gay, Rajon Rondo, or Kevin Durant?  Well if I created the question, you should be able to figure out the answer.  So just let that sink in.  Here’s the proof:

That was about as cut and dry objective as it gets.  Easy stuff.  So let’s wade into some murky waters.  I’m no NBA scout – but even a dedicated fan can make basic observations about the game.  What diminishes with age that would hurt an NBA player’s production?  Quickness, leaping ability, stamina, and the body’s resiliency.  A relatively recent obsession for “outside the box” training and nutrition have somewhat improved upon the resiliency problem.  Stamina is managed with minutes, practice-waivers, and rest (Spurs have this perfected).  So the main diminishing traits brought on by Father Time are loss of quickness and no more dunk contests.  A lot of Cavs fans feel like they remember watching Shawn Kemp’s career die in front of them.  It’s true in some ways, he was a shell of his Seattle self, but a 30-year old Kemp was still a warm body.  Check out 31-year-old Kemp that the Trail Blazers inherited.  http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/k/kempsh01/gamelog/2001/ But contrast that high-flying style, totally dependent on elite quickness and dominant athleticism, with Varejao’s game…

It’s mostly highly-skilled below-the-rim finishes around the hoop, an arsenal of off-balance hooks and up and under moves, and the occasional wide-open 15-foot jumper.  Almost all of his baskets are assisted or off offensive rebounds meaning he doesn’t need to blow by a defender to create space for a shot.  As a big man, he doesn’t grind away on the block in the low-post, it’s all backdoor cuts and constant movement.  On the defensive end he makes a living outworking the competition, and it helps that he has good defensive instincts, a 7-foot wingspan, and there is no one better in the league at defensive position for taking charges, contesting, or boxing out.  It’s pretty obvious that his success is rooted in skill (particularly his touch), will, size, and a very high bball IQ.  None of these are going anywhere.  There’s another player from another era with the same description, and wouldn’t you know it, he’s the first guy on this list!  That’s right, Dennis Rodman.  Comparing The Worm and the Wild Thing is pretty fascinating.  Here’s a nice little career-comparing chart.

Rodman turned 30 in 91-92.   That’s 3 whole years before he was the starting PF on the 2nd 3-peat Bulls.  Food for thought.  While we’re weighing the likelihood that Andy is moments away from slowing down and falling off the NBA’s age cliff, let’s take a look at a few Andy-specific trends.  Here’s a chart showing his FT% as a function of age.

He’s gradually improved almost every year.  This means a lot.  He’s worked on his game to eliminate a liability.  Not available in chart form is that he’s become a devastating pick and roll partner which is exactly what someone like Kyrie Irving needs.  What I found most interesting, however, was that as his usage has increased, so has his efficiency.  He spent many years living the backup role and it may have been easy to cast him as an “energy guy”.  He’s spent the last 2 years playing starters minutes against starters and the results have been nothing short of all-star worthy recognition.  Here’s a chart showing seasons sorted by usage and the accompanying player efficiency.

There’s really nothing to suggest that he’s about to start trending downward.  If anything, his role has increased, he has a devastating PnR partner feeding him the ball in good position, and he’s making a living off of putting some fancy english on below-the-rim finishes.  As of yesterday, he was 5th in the entire NBA in estimated wins added – he’s not even pumping the brakes.  Now’s a good time to remind everyone that mostly-offensive stats like PER really do not capture all of Varejao’s value at the defensive end.

Myth2: Anderson Varejao is reckless and injury prone. I rate this as partially true, but the “Trade Andy” proponents act like he is some kind of injury outlier.  Every team has injuries, and every player will go through various debilitating injuries throughout his career.  In the case of Varejao, he does have a well-documented injury history.  But the last one was a total fluke.  Nothing about his style of play made someone go Tonya Harding bodyguard on his wrist during a routine rebound.  Guys that are “injury prone” are guys with degenerative bodies.  Think of Brandon Roy, Greg Oden, or even Z before Cleveland doctors fixed him – guys that have constant, nagging issues.  (you might even put Boobie Gibson and all his high-ankle sprains into that group) Varejao’s injuries range from broken wrist to dislocated shoulder to broken cheekbone.  Maybe his style has something to do with it (flying into the stands and diving on the floor) but in some of these cases clearly there is some bad luck involved.  If he was dealing with a nagging knee or back injury every 6 months it’d be different story.  Clearly, these injuries haven’t affected his play at all.  When he’s out he’s out, when he’s in he’s getting better every day, playing more minutes and at a higher usage rate with the only side effect being a spike in PER as it were.  This is not to say he won’t continue to suffer injuries, but what you really want to gauge is how they are affecting his play when he IS playing.  And anyway, if he gets bed-ridden with poison ivy this year or next for a few weeks at the end of the season because of his “style” it’s just good tanking at that point, right?  (Don’t think for one second I haven’t had to deal with that lazy excuse for why paying the Lakers to take Ramon Sessions was “good value”) [Don't respond to that in the comments - it's been covered and we all love future MVP Tyler Zeller, myself included]

Myth3: He’s more valuable as a trade asset than a future asset. PANTS ON FIRE FALSE! Andy is never going to net anything close to equal value in a trade and it’s because of perception, his role on the Cavs, his contract, and his potential suitors.  Let’s just establish a basic common sense principle.  If you own something that is ridiculously UNDERRATED you don’t want to SELL that.  Andy is ridiculously underrated.  In addition, the void he fills on the Cavs is immense.  Marcin Gortat is a lot more valuable on the Suns that he was on the Magic.  Can you even imagine the Cavaliers right now not only without their best player but splitting 96 minutes between Zeller/TT/Samuels?  I’d be orders of magnitude worse than watching the backup PG torch-passing from Ramon Sessions to Donald Sloan.  Here’s another way of thinking about it: if the Cavs adding Chris Paul to their current roster it would add less value than the difference between trading and keeping Varejao.  The Cavs have no one even close to being able to replicate Andy’s skills/role on the team.  Also, there is no real match between teams that need him and teams that can give the Cavs an attractive package.  The Cavs SHOULD want a high round draft pick (top 15) and a legitimate NBA starter AT LEAST.  Not only would zero GMs offer that if they COULD, but there are no good teams with the pick and no bad teams that would give up the young starter.  Then there’s the issue of his contract.  It’s almost a joke when you look at how little Andy makes for an established NBA Center.  Roy Hibbert just landed a max contract.  Varejao makes less than HALF that.  Finally, it seems his reputation is forever stuck in “irritating flopper that lived off LeBron” (which is a total farce and shame) and NBA Coaches/GMs are as subject to irrational narratives as fans.  This would further inhibit anything remotely approaching fair value.

To prove my point, consider two NBA players born just 4 days apart.  Both have had at least 3 seasons where they missed more than 30 games.  Their career player efficiency ratings differ by ½ of 1 point.  Their career Offensive and Defensive Ratings are: [115,102] and [115,101].  Their Win Share per 48min are .153 and .151.  Their career usage ratings are 14.0 and 13.9. (Is this getting crazy?!)  They’ve both played between 1600 and 1700 playoff minutes with Playoff PERs of 13.4 and 13.5.  They’ve both played center with an elite PnR point guard and coincidentally Byron Scott as head coach. (now you got it)  Both players have current contracts that extend until 2015.  One player has a max deal and would never EVER EVER be traded just because his “value is high”, or because he has a history of injuries, or because he was born during the first term of the Reagan presidency.  That player is Tyson Chandler – NBA Champion X-FACTOR and absolutely critical to the New York Knicks playoff aspirations.  And the other guy is (surprise) Anderson Varejao – the most criminally under-appreciated player in the National Basketball Association and a guy many Cavs fans wish management would dangle for little more than a 1st round draft pick!  Grab an extinguisher and put your pants out!

Also, if we could get Peyton Hillis on the cover of Madden we can certainly get Varejao into the All-Star Game. Follow the Leader

Kyrie’s Defense is Offensive. Part II

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

So the previous post covered the first half of the Nets, Cavs Game.  I didn’t even talk about all the bad help defense, lazy double teams, and time spent standing around doing nothing.

Here are the second half highlights.

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Kyrie’s Defense is Offensive. Part I

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Evil Spock is the one that doesn't play defense.

Note: due to the number of pictures in this post, I’ve broken it into two parts.

So now that we’ve all had a day to process last night’s debacle, a loss in which the Nets shot %54.5, with only 13 turnovers, and outrebounded the Cavs 39 to 35, it’s worth looking at the defense.  It’s an understatement to say that the Cavs have been bad on defense so far this year.

Cleveland is last in the league in opponent field goal percentage at %51.4.   They are 24th in rebounds per game, 29th in defensive rebounds per game (of course part of that is because they allow such a high shooting percentage).  They give up an astoundingly bad 1.35 points per shot.  They are 24th in Opponent free throw attempts.  The block shot number is truly pathetic, at 1.6 per game, a full 1.4 blocks less than New York, the 29th ranked team.  There are 18 players in the league that block more than 1.6 shots per game.  The one thing the Cavs are good at?  …Generating turnovers.  They are 4th in the league at that.  And they ARE tied for fewest technical fouls in the league.  Put it all together and these numbers paint the picture of a team that plays extremely undisciplined defense: high risk/high reward defense that generates a few extra turnovers a game, and a lot of wide open shots.

Their offense doesn’t feed the defense either as they turn the ball over 17 times a game, good for 27th in the league.  They are 27th in point differential at -6.9 per game.

As bad as the Cavs are on defense, there is one player I believe is head and shoulders below everyone other starter on defense.  The Cavs start six players: Anderson Varajao, Alonzo Gee, Tristan Thomson, Dion Waiters, Kyrie Irving’s offense, and Kyrie Irving’s defense.  This is like the Star Trek where evil trans-dimensional Kirk replaces good Kirk, except it happens to Kyrie every time he doesn’t have the ball.  The players look exactly the same, but one is good, and one is terrible.  It’s mind boggling how a player who is so gifted and instinctive on offense can be so terrible on defense.  Maybe Kyrie needs to lose the Evil Spock goatee.

It’s hard to get raw stats on Kyrie Irving’s defense this year because of the small sample size, and because Byron Scott has routinely been shifting Kyrie to the opponent’s worst wing.  KI spent much of last night guarding C.J. Watson.  But opposing point guards have been torching the Cavs to the tune of 23.5 points per game, and 11.9 assists, combining for a 19.1 per.  His defensive rating last year was 110 points per 100 possessions (54th worst), and it’s 111 this year (30th worst).  (Interestingly, Samuels, Leuer, and Sloan are worse.  Sloan has the 4th worst rating in the league).  KI’s Defensive Wins Shares last year was .6 for the year, and this year, it’s zero.  It’s not negative, but it’s not good.

Why is it so bad?  What are the mysteries of defense that have eluded Kyrie?  In short, Kyrie Irving is disengaged and lackadaisical on defense.  He does not seem to be thinking at all when he’s on the court.  The angles he takes in certain situations are worse than bad.  He also has terrible fundamentals on and off the ball.  And in a pick and roll league, he’s one of the worst pick and roll defending guards there are.  He cannot get around a pick.  In the first quarter of the New Jersey game, I watched New Jersey run their first 6 plays against Kyrie (in his defense, he was guarding New Jersey point guard, Deron Williams).  Here are some examples.

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Other Bench Options?

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

On Monday, I wrote about possible options to improve the Cavs rotation / bench play.  Sometime contributor Tom Pestak requested that I mention my free agent target from this summer: Derrick Brown.  As best I can tell, he is still unemployed after getting cut by the Spurs in training camp.  While I have not seen alot of his play (who was watching Charlotte last season?), over three years, he has totalled 2500 NBA minutes, with every readily-available advanced stat indicating respectable performance.  PER, Adjusted plus / minus, Win Shares per 48 minutes, Wins Produced, the opponent PER stuff at 82 games.com, WARP; each indicates that the Xavier-alum has performed acceptably through his young career.  Plus the Ohio ties, hailing from Dayton.

DERRICK BROWN!!

Why can’t he find a job then?  I don’t know; he is young, cheap, athletic, plays two positions, and produces.  Maybe he’s a knucklehead?  Anyways, some competition for Casspi, Miles and Walton is certainly warranted, and Luke Harangody appears to be un-used roster space.  Let’s add “Buy out Big Luke and sign DERRICK BROWN!!!” as #7 on my list from yesterday.

(Tom also wants to call attention to Chris Wright, recently of the University of Dayton and more recently playing garbage-time last year for the Golden State Warriors.  He notched an 18.6 PER, thanks to strong rebounding and a huge propensity to draw fouls.  He’s available, and must currently be more capable than Walton.)

Recap: Nets 114, Cavs 101

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

The Cavs opened up a first-quarter lead over the Brooklyn Nets (only sort of pictured above), but then Anderson Varejao and Kyrie Irving went to the bench, and, well, you can sort of anticipate what happened. Let us recap:

–The bench and defense sunk the Cavs in this one. The defense was poor from nearly everyone involved, but the Cavalier substitutes scored just six points despite 61 combined minutes of floor-time. We C:TB staffers were emailing each other a bit after the game, and Kevin’s correct in asserting that this all-starters and all-subs thing isn’t working. Dion Waiters got a little bit of work with the second unit tonight (though he had an bad game; it wasn’t so much shot selection as the fact his jumper and finishing around the rim were off), but for the most part the subs were on the floor without someone who could either create his own shot or get a teammate the ball in a scoring position. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, so I won’t continue, but I don’t think Scott can continue to throw this bench out there without Kyrie or Dion on the floor.

–I’m sure once Dwight Howard and Steve Nash get fully healthy and properly acquainted with one another in Los Angeles, that’ll be the best pick-and-roll tandem in the league, but right now no one runs it better than Varejao and Irving. It’s like the highly effective Andy-LeBron pick-and-roll of old, except Kyrie’s an even better ball handler. Irving also varies the way he uses Andy’s screen so that defenses can’t key on any one move. When the pick works, he gets into the paint; when the defender goes under it, he shoots the three; and once in awhile he’ll catch his man by surprise and reject the screen altogether. He even does that Chris Paul-ish thing where, when the defender’s scrambling to catch up, he’ll stop for a second and let his man run into him for a foul. It’s astounding how many variations on the pick-and-roll Kyrie and Andy run because they understand the multitude of possibilities it opens up.

–One more Andy and Kyrie bullet. They both set career highs in points (35 and 34, respectively) and Varejao pulled down 18 boards. They are both utter treasures and we should thank them for making this game watchable. It would’ve been a complete slaughter if they hadn’t both performed as well as they did. I think fans and players are pretty sold on the idea that Kyrie is on his way to becoming one of the very best point guards in the league, but Varejao has been playing out his skull for the last 15 months or so. (Massive injury layoff excepted, obviously.) In my estimation, he’s gone from upper-echelon hustle guy to fringe all-star selection.

–I really like what the coaches have done re: putting Tristan Thompson on the baseline when Irving or Waiters penetrate. He caught—by my perhaps inaccurate count—four passes on the baseline that led to dunks or free throws. They should have all been dunks, but TT still takes way too long to get off the ground. Regardless, he does a good job of moving out of the way to give the guards a lane to the basket, and if a big man steps in front of them, he’s ready for the pass. Thompson had 14 points on 6-for-11 shooting and was 2-for-5 from the line, which means that Byron’s magical free throw realignment technique apparently will not transform TT into an 80% shooter from the stripe.

–Jon Leuer’s going to start making open jumpers at some point, right? He clanked a few more tonight, and he’s pretty useless if he’s not knocking down fifteen-footers. I’m all for playing him over Luke Walton or Samardo Samuels, but he needs to find his shooting touch.

The Cavs finally return home to face Detroit on Saturday. Until tomorrow, friends.

Kyrie’s Defense

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

From the Truehoop guru himself, Henry Abbott, a Skype interview with Kyrie Irving.  They discuss Kyrie’s defense, and John Hollinger’s criticism of it. Kyrie freely admits  how awful it was last year, but claims his  issues on that side of the ball last year were  mostly conditioning-related, and that he  has already shown significant improvement. Anyways, some good stuff, and food for thought as the Cavs look to shut down a Brooklyn Nets team with one of the best point guards in the league, Deron Williams. Early on, Byron Scott has chosen a few times to stick Alonzo Gee on the star point guards, rather than watch Kyrie struggle. That may be tougher to do this game, however, as one would assume Gee will have to defend Joe Johnson. Here’s the link.