Archive for November, 2012

Part 2: A Numerical Take on Dion’s First Two Weeks

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Based on data available at  hoopdata.com, through November 12  games, there are 62 shooting guards averaging ten or more minutes per game.  Of those, Dion:

Making 50% at the rim against OKC

  • Takes the thirteenth most shots at the rim per forty minutes (4.5).  Of all shooting guards who have made more than one such shot, he has been assisted on the fourth lowest percentage.  He gets the ball to the basket.  Unfortunately though,  he converts a poor 50%, approximately 15% below NBA average this season.  Kyrie struggled similarly early last season, and that turned out allright, so hopefully this tide also shifts for Waiters.
  • He jacks the nineteenth highest number of long-twos per forty (4.3), while nailing a robust 48%.  This is 10% higher than current league average for SGs.  These are the least efficient shots in the game, and ideally Dion learns this and quits showing a propensity for them.
  • From three, he hoists frequently (6.5 per 40, 19th for SGs), and makes them at a ridiculous rate of 53%.
  • He is only shooting 0.18 free throws per field goal attempt.  This is below average for a shooting guard.  His foul shooting of 60% sits well under the 75% from his two collegiate seasons.

Clearly the shooting from deep is unsustainable, but if everything else also ‘normalizes’, how does his production look for the first seven games?  Well…

  • For a guy attacking the basket reasonably often, I will assume his ability to draw fouls eventually regresses to the league-mean.  If he also drained three-quarters of his freebies; that adds six points through his first seven games.
  • If his shooting at the rim was only slightly below league average for an SG (59% compared to 65%), he makes two more field goals.  So, four more points.
  • If his shooting on long twos reduced to 43% (compared to 38% average), he only loses one bucket over the first two weeks.
  • The huge aberration is the three point shooting.  If his shooting from deep approached his collegiate level of 37%, he makes five less to date, or a 15-point reduction.

By subtracting seven total points and adding five more free throw attempts to his current seasonal output; his true shooting calculates as 54.4% – exactly league average for a shooting guard.  That would rank 23rd of the 62 players, while using a relatively high distribution of possessions (19th most).

For what it’s worth, this occurred against a tough schedule.  The defensive ratings of the Cavs opponents to date are: 2nd, 5th, 8th, 10th, 12th, 16th, and 26th.  The team already braved a west-coast road trip, yet maintains a non-horrid offense (20th of 30 teams).  Softer defenses should be forthcoming.

Overall, it is very reasonable to expect Dion to regress, but if he finishes with league average true shooting, high-usage, and an assist-to-turnover ratio above one; I will be thrilled.  Performance to that degree from a pair of 20-year-old guards exceeds all expectations.

I do hope Waiters takes his conditioning seriously, hires a nutritionist, etc.  A sleek Dion, moving a split-second faster and jumping a hair higher would be awesome.  Work on this, young man.  Your body is your temple, and if you do this right, a long NBA career, two max-contracts, etc, can be yours.

(Also, see my Part 1 article below on the Cleveland bench.)

Part One: Thoughts on the Bench / Rotation

Monday, November 12th, 2012

A day after Colin loosely criticized criticizing rotations; I have a full post doing that.  At Cavs:the Blog, that is what we call synergy.

If someone told me the following things would be true in 2012 – 2013:

  • Kyrie tallies 23 points and 6 assists per game on 57% true shooting;
  • Dion averages 15 points with a 17.5 PER; and
  • Andy plays 85% of Cleveland’s contests and posts a nightly 13 & 13;

My guess would have been, “Ready or not, playoffs, here we come!!”  Instead, Cleveland sits with a record of 2 and 5, and the sixth-worst point differential in the league.

You know the problem: bench play.  Aside from Daniel Gibson, the weighted-per-minute-PER for the non-top-six players is 5.8.   Their worth according to basketball-reference…negative 0.7 win shares.   That must be league worst.

Let’s assume for a minute that a season where Kyrie and Dion thrive, that is sabotaged by the bench, and results in another top-eight pick is a bad thing.  What can Cleveland do with the current roster to avoid the lapses of quality basketball caused when the starters sit?

Andy is furious about losing. He is willing to play 12 minutes a game without Kyrie to make it stop.

  1. Already enacted is step one; no more Luke Walton.  Mr. Walton, you clearly have a good head for the game.  May your coaching career bring many successes.
  2. This is the most important one; make sure that Kyrie or Andy is on the court at all times.  Did you realize that in Andy’s six games, he has played only seventeen minutes without Kyrie?  There are two players on the team where I confidently think the opponent can not forge any 12 – 0 runs, and their minutes need dispersed a bit more.  If both continue to play 35 minutes per night; start them both, sit Andy with six minutes to go in the first, while Kyrie plays the entire quarter.  Sit Kyrie for the first half of the second quarter, with Varejao on the court all twelve minutes.  Repeat in the second half.
  3. CJ Miles must stop being horrible.  Four straight seasons each featuring over one-thousand minutes, he posted PER’s above replacement level and offensive ratings over 100.  Each of those years included decent assist rates and low turnovers.  He is not in the same universe as those numbers through the early portion of this season.  Time for him to figure things out and return to prior levels.
  4. Tyler Zeller needs back on the court.  In the two games prior to injury, he totaled 17 points and 14 rebounds.  Get well soon, TZ.
  5. Approaching 100 games into Samardo Samuels’ career, he remains a sub-replacement-level player.  I would like to see Jon Leuer continue seeing playing time.  Slightly younger than Samuels, Leuer posted solid NBA numbers last year.  Cleveland knows what exists with the old guy; give the new blood an opportunity.
  6. Sorry to repeatedly be so hard on you, Donald Sloan, but you must go.  Now 744 minutes into your career, an 8.7 PER does not portend NBA-caliber performance.  When Kyrie sits; Cleveland needs to suit-up a crew featuring Dion AND Andy, or something like: Gibson, Miles, Gee, Leuer, Varejao.

I continue to think that, when healthy, the five starters, plus Boobie, Miles, Leuer, and Zeller can resemble a decent nine-man rotation.  Sure, this is contingent on CJ Miles not resembling a steaming pile of garbage. Let me know your ideas, or if your preference is a season of Kyrie = All – Star, Dion = first-team-rookie, Cavs = 25 wins and high draft pick thanks to crappy bench play…let me know that, too.

Finally, come back Tuesday morning for “Part Two: A Numerical Take on Dion’s First Two Weeks”.

Recap: Thunder 106, Cavs 91

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

This one opened up late. The Cavaliers had a great first eight minutes, then spent the majority of the game battling a five-to-ten point deficit. It was by no means a drubbing, but the Cavs rarely threatened to take the lead. Let us recap:

–I expected to spend a bullet point admonishing Kyrie Irving’s defense on Russell Westbrook, but Westbrook’s phenomenal night wasn’t really Irving’s fault. The bulk of Westbrook’s points came either against the Cavaliers’ backup brigade and/or via his uncharacteristically hot shooting from beyond the arc, where he was 4-for-6 (including one at the end of the third quarter from 30 feet out). Not that Irving’s defense was particularly good: a number of times, Westbrook was able to blow past Kyrie with hesitation moves, crossovers, and great bursts of speed. To be fair, Irving did the same sorts of things to Russ. One of the reasons the development of Tristan Thompson the Shot-Blocker is so crucial is because it would do a lot to meliorate the effects of Irving’s lacking perimeter defense. It would make the job of someone like Westbrook more difficult if, once he got past Kyrie, he had to worry about getting his ensuing lay-in swatted away.

–Irving does a great job of collapsing the defense with his driving ability, then finding an open man at the three-point line, but that open man at the three-point line is often Alonzo Gee, who’s not entirely comfortable shooting (open or otherwise) from beyond the arc. I like Gee a lot, and he played pretty well tonight—18 points on 7-for-17 shooting, although he should probably never take more than 10 shots in a game—but he desperately needs to improve his range. He shot just 32% on triples last season. I’m aware improving one’s jumper is easier said than done, but the Cavs would benefit handsomely from Gee locking himself in the gym with a rack of basketballs and trying to become a Jared Dudley type.

–Boobie Gibson took a bunch of Dion Waiters’s minutes in this one, not because Dion played particularly poorly, but because Gibson was a revelation off the bench. Bizarre game for Boobie: he was 1-for-5 from three-point land, but he ended the game 6-for-12 from the field (some of those shots were just barely two-pointers) with five rebounds. Waiters finished with a solid first quarter (seven of his eight points) and just 21 minutes. One note on Waiters: the officiating was a whit soft in this game, but he needs to control his foul count, especially early in the game. He had some momentum going in the first quarter, then landed himself on the bench after picking up his second foul with 5:07 to go.

–I’m always hesitant to criticize rotations (it’s rather like criticizing playcalling in football) because I don’t know what Byron Scott is trying to accomplish with this second unit, but, um, what is Byron Scott trying to accomplish with this second unit? Donald Sloan can’t run the offense when the only decent scorer on the floor is Boobie Gibson. I don’t know if this scares Scott or what, but it’s time to give the Irving-absent keys to Saint Weirdo and just let him do whatever he wants.

–I don’t know that it would have made a huge difference in this one, but here’s hoping Tyler Zeller recovers from his concussion soon. (I’m glad the Cavs are being cautious, by the way. You don’t mess around with head injuries.) He helps the second unit in terms of shouldering some of the scoring load, and he’s the only big man on the team who can knock down a 15-footer with some consistency. Varejao, bless his heart, took a few open jumpers from the elbow off of some pick-and-pop sets with Irving, but that’s not his game.

–10:30-ish in the second quarter: Casspi clanks an open three, then lets Kevin Martin blow by him in transition. Casspi hacks him, and Martin lays it in anyway. Then Casspi dribbles the ball off his knee on the next possession. I’m rooting for the Israeli, but he’s having a rough time of it so far this season.

–One last thing: Irving made a terrific 3/4 court pass to Gee midway through the third when the OKC defense was lazy getting back. I don’t know who coached him to do this, but he gets his head up the second he receives the ball, which makes plays like that possible.

The Cavs travel to Brooklyn Tuesday to take on the Nets. Until tomorrow, friends.

UPDATE: Well, maybe Gibson getting burn over Waiters was partially Waiters’s fault. Jason Lloyd reports that Byron Scott was a little miffed with Waiters’s performance, though he won’t elaborate.

The Young Blood

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

Over from Grantland, exactly the kind of article that can make you smile and pretend like the Cavs aren’t 2-4. It’s a straightforward summary of what makes Kyrie Irving the youngest superstar in the NBA. Here’s the link.

Recap: Phoenix 107, Cleveland 105 (Or playing the part of Luke Walton last night was non other than C. Miles)

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

C. Miles

26 points…  That’s a big lead to blow.  Blowing a lead that big turns what should’ve been a success into a failure.

The First Half of this game was a revelation: a clinic on what the Cavs can do when they’re engaged on offense and defense and their shots are falling.  Kyrie directed a symphony of layups.  Daniel Gibson was shooting like it was 1997.  Alonzo Gee was posting up, defending, driving to the basket, and running the floor.   Samardo Samuels was effective off the Bench, and Waiters was the balling like the best rookie in the league.  Cleveland had a 26 point lead at one point, but towards the close of the half, started to wane: their intensity on both sides of the ball dripping away.

The 2nd half was where things fell apart.  When the Cavs came out lackluster, the 13 point halftime lead faded quickly.  Samardo Samuels had the rare double dribble called for a second time in the game against the Cavs.  The 3rd quarter cut the lead to 7, with the Suns chip chip chipping away, and the good guys settling for a lot of traded baskets.

Then…  the end of the bench came in to blow the lead and reset the game to a 10 minute fight.  C.J. Miles was… atrocious.  He established a new statistic: PVRDLP: Points Versus Random D-League Player.  His count this game: -4.  The Cavs guards couldn’t get around screens.  Boobie Gibson lost the ability to guard anyone.  No one got back on defense, and the Cavs defensive philosophy was exposed.  The Cavs help a LOT — too much.  This will be explored more in detail on this blog later, but the Cavs run a high risk/high reward defense: lots of trapping on pick and rolls, random double teams.  This can lead to turnovers, but also to wide open shots, especially against a team that passes as well as Phoenix.

The Cavs found ways to lose this game: taking their foot of the throat of the Suns, Andy’s bad shooting, not getting back on defense in the 4th, and the escaped sanitarium patient who kidnapped C.J. Miles, put on his jersey, and snuck in the game.  This mental patient was so delusional that he thought he could shoot.  Andy was taking shots that have been falling earlier this year, but his outside shooting fell back to earth, and the 17 footers weren’t dropping.  Also, his defense was well, not Anderson Varejao quality defense.

Dion Waiters tried his best to win this game in the fourth for the Cavs: running the backup point when Irving was on the bench and eating Hobbits raw when he was playing two guard: shooting, driving, looking like he was made by Saruman in the pits of Orthanc to destroy whoever came across his path.  He and Alonzo Gee Shagrat (his Uruk–hai name – I can’t give up in this metaphor) rebuilt the blown lead to 7.

But Phoenix could not miss, and the Cavs inability to get back on defense kept hurting them.  Down 3, in the last 20 seconds, the constant flopping by Phoenix finally drew dividends when Goran Dragic was shot by an unknown shooter from the second floor of the book depository and Kyrie Irving got called for an offensive foul that should never ever be called in the last twenty seconds of an NBA basketball game.  Kyrie looked like he was pressing though: unable to quite deal with the fact that it was Dion who kept the Cavs in the game, and not him.  At the end, the Cavs blew 10 seconds while down 1 chasing Sebastian Telfair around, trying to take an intentional foul.  Kyrie had the opportunity to foul him and seemed to think it was someone else’s job, taking a half hearted lunge at Bassie while KI’s feet were trapped in cement.  Also, he coughed the ball up 7 times this game…

So I’m not impressed with B. Scott so far this season.  He seems a steady as she goes guy: a guy who won’t make changes mid game, or without 2 or 3 games of evidence.  And his situational coaching has been Mike Brown-esque… Casspi should have been playing in the second half.  Miles needs a stint on the pine.  In trying to save Miles’ confidence, Scott’s destroying the Cavs bench.

The Cavs were only in the position, down 2, to win or tie because of a ridiculous fadeaway by Boobie to cut the lead to 1 with 14 seconds left, and a brick at the line by Telfair, but that lost 10 seconds hurt badly.  KI took the inbound with 2.9 seconds at the top of the key, tried to do some behind the back magic, and then clanked a 3 pointer.  In two games with last second inbounds shots, Milwaukee and Phoenix, I’ve not been impressed at all with Byron Scott’s calls.  At the Bucks, the inbounds defense was terrible and situationally obtuse.  In the Phoenix game, the inability of the Cavs to realize that Phoenix had a foul to give seemed daffy.  Then not running a play with some screen action going to the basket with enough time to get a putback in case of a miss, seemed like a bad idea too.  And I’m just sayin’… as hot as he was, maybe Neon Dion should’ve been taking that shot.

Yeah,we might just have two Alpha Dogs.

Saint Weirdo

Byron’s Problems: Edition #1

Friday, November 9th, 2012

This year’s Cavaliers average 22.7 years of age. The oldest player on the roster is Anderson Varejao, and he’s only 30. Admittedly, Luke Walton is 32, but I’m doing my best to pretend he isn’t on this team. Regardless, the Cavs are a young team. Young teams make mistakes. Enter Byron Scott. Occupation: coach. Favorite mode of communication: yelling. Byron Scott is not known for going easy on his players, and he’s going to have plenty to get angry about this year. Just five games in, Coach Scott has seen it all: bad inbounds defense that leads to a game-winner, myriad turnovers, and Tristan Thompson’s insatiable desire to block mid-range jumpers, to name a few. In honor and respect of Byron’s ability to mold this young squad to his will, we’ll be highlighting the most debilitating issue this team faces semi-weekly, and speculating on what Coach will do about it.

Through five games, the Cavs’ biggest problem has been free throws. As a team, they’re shooting 61. 2 percent (74-of-121). That’s last in the NBA. Unsurprisingly, the main contributor to this debauchery of basketball fundamentals is the much-maligned Tristan Thompson, who’s hit on exactly 50 percent of his free throws this year. (The positive outlook on this: Shaq never hit his free throws either! The negative: Tristan doesn’t do anything effectively other than rebound on offense, and hasn’t improved from last year.) But to be fair, this is to be expected from Tristan. More alarmingly, Dion Waiters has hit only 6-11 free throws so far. As a player with a reputation as a shooter, that isn’t good enough, especially for someone who figures to be on the floor at the end of close games quite often. Even Kyrie Irving, the Anointed Son, is only hitting on 78 percent of his free throws so far. The average free throw percentage in the NBA usually hovers around 75 percent. If the Cavs had hit on 75 percent of their free throws this year, 16 more points would have been scored. That’s 16 points left on the table.

It’s safe to assume that approximately 10,000 free throws will be attempted in practice this week. Allen Iverson’s emotions on the subject notwithstanding (yes, I’m aware that reference is about three years past its expiration date), Coach Scott knows practice makes perfect. There isn’t much else to do, anyways, when it comes to free throws. As opposed to defensive rotations or the pick-and-roll, repetition is really the only path to improvement. Let’s hope things pick up. In the meantime, it makes me smile to imagine Dion Waiters shooting free throw after free throw while Byron stands and screams in his ear about FIFTY FOUR PERCENT. Practice is supposed to make perfect, but let’s just hope practice makes three of four.

(Stats from:

http://www.cleveland.com/cavs/index.ssf/2012/11/cleveland_cavaliers_free-throw.html)

Recap: Warriors 106, Cavs 96

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

This one was a little uglier than the score indicates. Against the Warriors—and without Tyler Zeller and Andy Varejao—the Cavs often looked overmatched. They clawed back from a 17-point deficit to take the lead in the third quarter, but their defense ultimately let them down and Golden State cruised to a 10-point victory. It’s hard to take a lot away from this game because the Cavs were missing their best big man (and defender) in Varejao, and Zeller, I think, would have fared well in a game that had some frenetic up-and-down stretches. Regardless, let us recap:

–All fires have to burn alive to live. Dion Waiters’s hallucinogenic fever finally broke tonight; he went 5-for-15 with some godawful shot selection. At one point in the third quarter, he took a step-back baseline 20-footer that clanked off the side of the backboard and yelled out “HASHTAGSAINTWEIRDO!” This is all part of the Dion Waiters Experience, obviously. He is the Westbrook to Irving’s Durant, and there are going to be games when his jumper is off and for whatever reason he just. keeps. shooting. This is fine, given that he’s the second- or third-most offensively gifted player on the team (depending on how you feel about Varejao) and the fourth-most offensively gifted player on the team might be Tyler Zeller. It’s not like there’s a teamful of gunners he should be deferring to when his shot isn’t falling. Just keep it to one horrendous air ball three-point attempt per game, okay Dion?

–Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry didn’t even pretend to guard each other. At one point late in the game, Byron Scott put Alonzo Gee on Curry, who passed the ball to an Irving-guarded Harrison Barnes at the top of the key. Barnes promptly blew by Irving and into the lane. I hope Scott and his staff try to embarrass Irving in film sessions about his defense. He’s too good of an athlete to not become a competent defender. But he was, y’know, characteristically phenomenal on the offensive end. I would say he carved the Warriors’ defense up, but the Warriors’ defense is rather like pork shoulder that’s been braising for twelve hours. There’s no real structural integrity to it. Let’s just say Kyrie poked the Warriors’ defense with a fork and it fell apart. Anyway, he had 28 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds. “M-V-P!” etc.

–Tristan Thompson posted a double-double (11 points and 10 rebounds) tonight on 4-for-8 shooting from the field. He had a couple nice put-backs and scored off some slick passes by Irving out of the pick-and-roll. 3-for-8 from the free throw line isn’t cutting it, but we’re trying to be optimistic here. On the defensive end, Thompson got torched by David Lee (who had 22 points and 14 boards), in part because he was too eager to go for shot blocks. A few times, when Lee caught the ball 15-plus feet from the basket, TT lunged at him, thinking the shot was going up. All Lee had to do was throw a little pump fake and he either blew by Thompson or drew a foul. This goes back to what I was saying earlier today about TT not being a natural shot-blocker: he needs to learn when to go for the block and when to bear down and keep his body in front of the offensive player.

–I didn’t notice this until I looked at box score, but Samardo Samuels had a pretty good game: 11 points, 7 rebounds, and three post-foul admonishments of the referees. Samuels may be a 10th man, but he gets pissed off at the referees like he’s been playing at an all-star level for a decade. How dare you call me for a foul on that play! I thought superstars like myself got a little more leeway in this league!

–Jon Leuer sighting! He can’t guard anyone, and he is appallingly not good at jumping or running, but he’s better than Luke Walton, sort of. He’s got a nice 15-footer as long as no one’s guarding him. My point is, if the Cavs want to play an unathletic white guy with a decent jumper at power forward—something this coaching staff has seemed very committed to doing over the past few years—then Leuer’s probably the best choice.

–“Hey, why isn’t Omri Casspi getting minutes?” [Watches Casspi attempt to play professional basketball.] “Ohhhhhhhh, so that’s why.”

–A programming note: ESPN has disabled their “photos” feature for games, which is where I used to pluck the post-game image from. Does anyone know of a good place to get photos from a game that is in progress/recently finished? Hit me up at colinsilasmcgowan [at] gmail [dot] com or just throw something in the comment section if you have any suggestions. Thanks.

The Cavs continue their west coast swing in Phoenix on Friday. Until tomorrow, friends.

UPDATE: Dion Waiters was limping around the locker room post-game due to a bruised right thigh. And apparently (the Golden State broadcast team didn’t tell me this) both Irving and C.J. Miles played tonight with food poisoning.

Kyrie Irving or Stephen Curry?

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

The Cleveland Cavaliers will be facing the Golden State Warriors tonight, at 10:30 PM. That’s a little late for us Midwesterners, but the point guard match up is tantalizing enough to keep this Cavs fan (point thumbs at self) awake. Any GM worth his salt in the NBA would tell you he’d rather have Kyrie Irving than Stephen Curry, but they are remarkably similar in style of play. Both are scoring point guards with exquisite jump shots. Kyrie’s better at getting to the rim (around 3.3 attempts per game in his rookie season), but Curry is one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA, hovering around 44% from deep during his career so far. Both point guards are a sieve on defense, with the only notable argument for Irving being that Curry has been playing terrible defense for several years now, and Kyrie is an NBA sophomore. Also, Curry’s ankle hasn’t ever held up for an entire season, and his entire career thus far has been marred by injury trouble. Anyways, here’s Kyrie’s stats, and here’s Curry’s. Make of them what you will, and let me know what you think of the match up and the game overall in the comments below.

#ConcernedFace: Tristan Thompson

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

There’s a Jewish deli about a mile and a half from my apartment that I can still walk to because the sidewalks are snowless, and the maple tree outside my kitchen window doesn’t quite yet resemble a cluster of black spider legs. It’s too early to worry about Tristan Thompson, but then I divide my activities into two discrete categories: Things I Do While Worrying About Tristan Thompson and Things I Do Before Going Back To Worrying About Tristan Thompson. I was hoping to allocate more time toward the latter category this year, but a mere four games into the season here I am collecting shed cat fur on the bottom of my bare feet as I wander circuitously through my apartment trying to make sense of the lanky Canadian with a broad smile and a flat jumper.

I’m not concerned that Tristan Thompson doesn’t look like a second-season phenom. If developing into a great player is indeed “putting it all together,” TT is is possession of too many disparate talents to assemble them all in one offseason. I didn’t expect him to show up this season with a Rasheed Wallace-like 15-footer and a coach’s understanding of defensive positioning. What concerns me is that it appears he hasn’t added anything but an additional fifteen pounds on his frame. He still rebounds well, defends just okay, and is intermittently painful to watch on the offensive end. There’s not a facet of his game that I can discern as markedly improved.

Further concern: he supposedly worked extremely hard in the offseason. Whenever coaches were asked in training camp who was the most committed to getting better over the summer, and who would impress in 2012-13, they invariably named Thompson. After four games (one good, three pretty dreadful), I can’t tell what he worked on. He’s still a step slow on defensive rotations, still tries to block shots he has no chance of affecting, still reads five pages of Faulkner aloud between receiving a pass and attempting a shot.

We can contrast him (sort of unfairly) with Blake Griffin, who thoroughly outplayed him Monday night. Griffin doesn’t always do this, but when he caught the ball last night, he was instinctive. On the perimeter, he either set himself and took a jumper or swung the ball to the wing. In the paint, he put a move on his defender or kicked the ball back out to the perimeter. He didn’t, as he is sometimes wont to do, dribble through his legs 16 feet from the basket or jab step repeatedly like a broken choreography robot. Griffin was decisive, which makes him difficult to guard he’s so much quicker and stronger than a lot of the players that try to check him. If he moves swiftly, chances are high that his defender lacks the athleticism to stay in front of him, and they’re forced either to foul or allow a high-percentage shot.

All we have to fall back on with Tristan Thompson is how athletic he is, but you wouldn’t know it from watching him on the offensive end. He almost never catches his defender off-guard—despite, most of the time, being a superior athlete—because when he receives the ball, he often brings it to his hip in order to gather himself before going up for a shot attempt. This is an open invitation for guards to collapse from the perimeter and attempt to knock the ball free, and it allows the big man guarding him time to position his body or attempt a block. How often do you see TT hunched over in the post, trying to get a shot up with a big man standing over him, and a wing trying to slap the ball out of his hands? Thompson might be “quick” in the sense that he’s more agile than most power forwards, and he can probably jump over impressive-looking stacks of crates, but his slow mechanics negate his athleticism, unlike Griffin, who on his best day exploits the athleticism gap between himself and his opponent.

On the defensive end, TT’s problem lies chiefly in poor positioning. There has been some backlash against the league’s best shot blocker, Serge Ibaka, recently. He’s frequently out of position on defense because he: a.) goes out of his way to pad his blocking stats by needlessly chasing down shooters and b.) doesn’t yet fully understand the whole five-players-on-a-string principle that guides the NBA’s best defenses. Sounds something like Thompson, right? But the things that redeems Ibaka are that he’s even more of a physical freak than TT, and that he seems to be a preternaturally gifted shot-blocker. When we see Thompson’s 35-inch vertical, we daydream about a guy who can average three blocks per game, but blocking shots has never been his forté nor do I think any coach has ever told him his primary role on defense should be helping into the lane and attempting to alter the shots of penetrating guards. He has neither a shot-blocker’s instincts nor a shot-blocker’s training. It’s something he needs to learn how to do.

You can read the tea leaves as to whether this is a good or a bad sign for Thompson’s defensive prospects. On the one hand, he might improve as a shot-blocker because he’s still new to that role, and on the other, he doesn’t seem to have the same knack for blocking and altering shots that the Serge Ibakas and DeAndre Jordans of the world possess. His sense of where he is on the floor and where he needs to be at any given time in a defensive set will likely improve, if only because I think Byron Scott will have him deported if he doesn’t. Plus, for whatever reason, learning the workings of effective NBA defense usually takes players a long time. Even great defenders usually spend their first few years in the league learning from frequent mistakes.

* * * * *

I went to the release party for the Onion’s Book of Known Knowledge a few weeks ago and left at intermission. One of my favorite comics, Dan Telfer, was performing at the end of the night, but I had been battling a sense of displacement all day. I hadn’t meant to come alone, but I spent the hour and a half before the show flipping through a copy of The Reader with my head down at a table in a secluded corner of the overcrowded bar. I wandered around Lincoln Park for about forty-five minutes before the warm rain soaked me. I hopped a train north. There has been a lot of construction on the red line over the past few months because the many of the stations have 30-year-old wood platforms and reek of piss. The new ones aren’t much better. They’re very bright and their floors recall a vehicle showroom from the ’70s. I had probably ruined my own night. You can only see so far when you’re inspecting the floor and the city is painting over its mold.

I don’t think Tristan Thompson will excel or even be particularly good. There are more objective reasons for concern delineated above, but my fears for him are like bacteria procreating in a petri dish. They need no fuel or host. From the moment the Cavs passed on Jonas Valančiūnas to draft a player I was unprepared for them to draft, TT’s been a vessel for my anxiety. He’s a foundling, and I resent him in a way that’s wholly unfair. I’m strung too tight: the Cavs have to do everything perfectly in order to build a contender, and that includes not picking someone who might kind of suck with the fourth pick in the draft. It’s not Tristan’s fault. He’s onstage, and I’m in the rain muttering to myself. It’s hard to dream when you’re inspecting the floor and your team is painting over its mold.

Kyrie and Dion Looking Good

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Dion's looking slim!

Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving lit up the Clippers last night, and Kevin Arnovitz was watching. The Truehoop maestro wrote an article about the Cavs’ backcourt that should make any Cleveland fan smile. He floats the idea that what many people saw as a potential mistake- drafting two combo guards- could turn out to be a huge advantage for Cleveland. Here’s the link.