Archive for December, 2012

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Monday, December 31st, 2012

Happy New Year!!  Five Cavs questions for the writers – all in one place.

Question 1: Of Pargo, Casspi, and Leuer – to whom should CG extend a qualifying offer?  Should CG pick up the Cavs’ team option for C.J. Miles?

[http://hoopshype.com/salaries/cleveland.htm]

Kevin: Other than those players, the Cavs have six players under contract for next season.  Miles’s player option for $2.2 million is a no-brainer.  The team probably has to offer Casspi his $3.3 million qualifying offer; he is 6′ – 9″, plays some defense, and makes 36% of his career threes. I don’t think any other team exceeds the offer; if he accepts, the team is only up to eight players; if he declines and goes to Europe, then I think making the offer keeps him as a restricted free agent if he ever returns.  Leuer fell into the doghouse, but in six games with the Charge, he averaged 20 points, 12 boards and 59% true shooting.  If Luke Harangody warranted the third year $1.06 million qualifying offer; Leuer certainly does.  I would let Pargo test unrestricted free agency rather than offer the $3.3 million.

Dani: C.J. Miles certainly deserves to be picked up. He’s streaky, but he’s also occasionally explosive, and has proven that he can be a real threat off the bench. In a league where shooting threes is only getting more important, a guy like Miles can be a real asset- assuming, of course, that his play (his three-point shooting, specifically) recently hasn’t been a mirage.  On another note: Byron Scott has been unfair with Casspi, and hasn’t really given him a shot to earn a contract. Unleash the Hummus!

Mallory: This is definitely a tough one, but it’s absolutely between Casspi and Miles.  I think Casspi hasn’t been given a fair chance this season – he’s a long SF who is decent defender and rebounds.  He’s had some trouble finding his shot, and lapses, but you figure at some point he’ll put it together.  If we end up actually becoming a contender, some winning might do him well.  Miles is streaky as heck (duh) but when he catches fire, he’s virtually unstoppable.  It’s OK to have a guy like that on your bench as a playoff bound team.

Nate: Miles will probably have his option picked up if he continues to be able to score in bunches.  I like Casspi a lot, but it seems as if Scott does not.  There’s no point in picking up a player who doesn’t get to play.

Tom: It’d be nice to actually understand why Omri Casspi never plays and J.J. Hickson continues his domination in Portlandia.  Casspi just needs more burn.  I think 3.3 million isn’t too rich for a young athletic 3 and D small forward.  Of course, that’s 3.3 million wasted dollars if he never gets off the pine.  So I would “consult” Byron Scott first if I was Chris Grant.  I’ll say the same for Leuer.  I don’t think Kevin Hetrick knows this but after reading all his glorious Leuer posts I actually purchased myself a Jonny FatHead.  My wife told me I can’t leave it up while he’s in the D-League.  The Cavs need a full roster, so Leuer seems fine to me at barely above 1 mil, although I still can’t believe the Cavs didn’t look at Derrick Brown.  Maybe next year.  Pargo’s 3.3 mil qualifying offer seems steep.  I’d keep him for around 1.5 mil, but my guess is if they let him enter unrestricted FA he will bolt.  C.J. Miles?  Who’s that?  I sorta remember some chucker posting a NEGATIVE 5 PER for about a month.  Not sure what happened to him.  This new guy that they got in December that averages 15 points in 24 minutes on 47/48/90 shooting?  How much is the team option?  2.25 million?!  PAY HEEEM.

Question 2: If you are pro “cavs aggressively target DMC” give a recent player example to support your argument.  If against – do the same.

Kevin: No example, but Cleveland already has one potentially petulant 21-year-old in Dion Waiters.  Their focus for now needs to be building an offense using Kyrie and Dion together, but also individually, teamed with TT and / or Zeller.  Adding Cousins to a new, young, struggling team sounds like trouble for him and the development of the remaining youngsters.  Maybe Philadelphia should role the dice on Cousins; a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned them as a team that may desire to shake things up.

Dani: I am by all means in favor of the Cavs aggressively pursuing Demarcus Cousins. He’s an immensely talented two-way center in the prime of his youth, potentially available on the cheap due to behavioral concerns. Are you kidding me? These are the risks that win teams championships. As for player examples, I’ll do you one better and give you a full team. The 2004 Pistons. Championship winners and chock-full of jerks.

Mallory: I’m definitely pro Boogie.  Trying as hard as possible, on the spot, to think of a guy who fits his profile (and talent level) going to another team and putting it all together, but I can’t think of someone as troubled, but also amazing, doing it.  But plenty of players have needed a change of scenery to find their groove.  Cousins is absurdly young; I have complete faith that, with the right guidance, he can mature into a great NBA center.  And lets be honest, it’s not like the Kings are a model franchise.

Nate: My DMC comparison?  Allen Iverson: Career knucklehead who was at times capable of brilliant play, but burned through coaches like they were kindling.  If Grant values his job, there’s no way he’s touching DMC.  AI made a finals appearance, but his character, combined with his inability to adapt his game made him very difficult to play with and coach.  Runner up comparison: Michael Beasley, who is currently educating Phoenix in buyer’s remorse.

Tom: I’m on the fence.  But here’s two examples from the same team.  The Pistons took a flyer on Rasheed Wallace and he won them a championship.  Darius Miles – a younger, more talented player(scored 47 once) that had major character issues and had a run-in with his coach – he never amounted to anything.  DMC is crazy good, but I get the feeling he is always a few seconds away from detonating.  A key component is the rest of the locker room and the coaching staff.  Say what you want about Flip Saunders, he somehow channeled all the negative energy of those Pistons teams and they won games.  One thing that pushes me off the Cousins bandwagon is that the Cavs are so young and trying to find themselves.  They aren’t “falling in line” right now behind a player or a coach.  I certainly wouldn’t want Cousins coming in and creating a bunch of locker room dysfunction.  I’m gonna go with NO to pursuing DMC – final answer. (Fun Fact – that JailBlazers team I referenced also sported: Zach Randolph)

Question 3: Who is your favorite NBA player?

Kevin: (I thought this had to be a non-Cav) I’m probably not a ‘favorite player’ type of guy, so let’s say, David West.  I live in Indianapolis, and the toughness and veteran-ness that he brings to the Pacers has been a ‘culture-changer’.   When Danny Granger returns and Roy Hibbert starts shooting better than 40%, I think Indiana is still the third-best team in the East.  When I look at this year’s crop of free-agents, I do not see a player that makes an equivalent impact on the Cavaliers, but hope that such an acquisition emerges.

Dani: I’d say Kyrie Irving…but I’ll try and pick a non-Cavs player. It’s gotta be Carmelo Anthony for me. He’s one of the smoothest scorers in the game, and he does it with such effortless grace. He’ll never match Durant or Lebron efficiency-wise, but aesthetically he’s leap years ahead of anyone else. Now that he can shoot the three as well, Knicks games have become must-watch TV for me, even if just to delight in Melo dropping the quietest 35 in the league.

Mallory: Other than Kyrie?  And not counting vintage Brandon Roy?  The player I’m most consistently mesmerized by is Rajon Rondo.  Sometimes he’s a train wreck, and sometimes he’s awe-inspiring, but either way he’s unbelievable to watch.  We pretend like there are things he seriously cannot do, but when the man puts his mind to it, he’s virtually unstoppable.  I’ve seen him have games where he shoots nothing but bricks, and others where he can drain it from anywhere on the floor.  Beyond fun to watch.

Nate: Anderson Varejao is my favorite NBA player, but as for a non-Cav?  Oy.  That’s hard.  I’m a bigtime Cavs fan.  Since Shane Battier (my favorite college player) is excepted because he’s currently allied with the Axis of Ego, I’ll take Kosta Kufos because I got to play a pickup game or two with him when he was younger.  It was all pullup threes, working on his handle, and having the snot fouled out of him by sub six footers every time he went inside.  He grew up in my neck of the woods, and Kufos had a lot of talent then as well as now.  He seemed like a nice, focused, no nonsense guy.  I’d love to see him wend his way back to the Cavs some day.  Steph Curry (my 2nd favorite college player) is up there too.

Tom: I have three favorite players: Manu Ginobili, Anderson Varejao, and Paul Millsap.  Ginobili at his best is the most entertaining player I’ve ever watched.  He is, in my opinion, the biggest reason the 7 -seconds or less Suns never got over the hump.  He just OWNED those teams on both ends.  Anytime Suns/Spurs battles started to hang in the balance – Ginobili would just take over.  Anderson Varejao is the player that I would most want to play with regardless of the sport.  I’d want him in my golf scramble – on my Canasta team – doesn’t matter.  Paul Millsap is a very high character guy that is so incredibly skilled for his position.  I believe I just named the 3 most underrated players in the NBA.  Honorable mention is Rajon Rondo – I can’t stand him but he is an incredible basketball specimen and always captures my attention.

Question 4: Name a rule change you would implement as commissioner.

Kevin: Towards the end of last year, I discussed dissatisfaction with the lottery system.  I could still stand to see that changed.  What irritates me this year is the “pump fake and then lean in” move to pick up a foul.  Faking a shot, drawing the defender in the air, then making a completely unnatural basketball move, to force what would not have been a foul if the player had made a natural basketball move, should be as ill-regarded as flopping.

Dani: I would put a shorter time limit on free throws. If there is a time limit now, either referees are ignoring it or it isn’t short enough. Regardless, we shouldn’t have to watch Reggie Evans mime shooting a free throw five times before actually sending the ball towards the hoop. It slows down the game and saps excitement. A shorter time limit could also increase missed free throws at the end of games, which would provide more drama. Take notes, Mr. Stern.

Mallory: The flopping rule is a step in the right direction, though it needs some time to work out the kinks.  I’m actually in the camp that thinks too much is considered a foul now adays – I’d probably try to slowly move the league away from the superstar-gets-to-the-line-because-driving-is-hard-to-stop mindset and let things get a little more physical.  After all, more fouls = a slower paced game = longer/more exhausting to watch.

Nate: It’s more of a way the rule is interpreted.  I REALLY hate the current way a lot of refs don’t let players leave their feet on defense, even if they go straight up.  This happened to TT the other night.  His man pump faked, Canadian Dynamite jump straight up, and then the offensive player jumped into him, and TT was whistled for a foul. When the defender breaks the plane of the offensive player and commits a foul, that’s fine.  I’m even mostly ok when the defender is flying by and the shooter jumps sideways into him, but defenders should always be allowed to go straight up.  This should never be a foul in the NBA, but it seems as if stars get this call all the time.  It’s ugly, it slows down the game, and it’s a cheap.

Tom: First, the low-hanging fruit –  the NBA has got to change the way it calls charges.  The incentives are such that the defensive player has only 1 goal – to jump in front of player about to be captured on a poster and stand like a statue cupping their man-parts – only to blow over in the wind.  It’s the most unnatural thing ever.  Try it sometime.  Try jumping in front of something aggressive and then standing upright so that you are top heavy and have no balance.  At the apex of excitement in the NBA – a possession goes the other way because a player was crafty enough to stand upright faster than another player could jump 8 feet through the air.  Instead, allow defensive players to contest any and all rim-rocking attempts.  If they contest the shot and absorb the contact in the air – SWALLOW THE WHISTLE!  The only time being anchored in the ground motionless should draw a charge is when the offensive player is not jumping – but just streaking unabashedly and uncontrollably forward.  But all this restricted area, take away that man’s highlight finish, crap has to end.  OK, for the more complicated rule change.  The NBA’s biggest in-game problem is how slowly and anti-climatically close games often end.  With teams literally doing unnatural clock stopping endeavors for the entire final minute.  I have some ideas.  Imagine if, in the final minute of games, every inbounds was from half-court.  This would eliminate the NEED to call timeout simply to advance the ball.  Now imagine that all fouls in the final minute (since they are almost always intentional) grant the fouled team the following options.  A.) 1 and 1, B.) 1 shot and the ball, with 5 seconds on the shot clock.  If there are less than 5 seconds in the game, only a 1 and 1.  Something needs to be done to speed up play at the end of games and end the drudgery of 20 minute foul shooting sessions and 6 timeouts in 24 NBA seconds.

Question 5: Predict the NBA’s final four this season?

Kevin: I will go ‘chalk’ here.  The East looks like a two-team race with Miami and New York, but I could envision Indiana giving the Knicks trouble in the second-round.  The West is stacked, but I think the Thunder represent in the Finals again this season.  And how can anyone pick against the Clippers in the midst of a sixteen game win streak?

Dani: Clippers-Lakers, Knicks-Heat. A pair of conference finals for the ages.

Mallory: MIA, OKC, SA, NYK.  But I still think Boston, Chicago, Both LAs, and Memphis get sneaky close too.  Really, beyond Miami and Oklahoma City are there any 100% certainties this season?  This might be the most exciting playoffs in quite some time.

Nate: New York Knicks/Miami Heat, Tacoma City Plunder/Memphis Grizzlies.  This assumes Clips get upset by the Grizz in the second round.  The Lakers also lose in the first round, and Kobe Bryant actually rips Devin Ebanks head off and eats it.

Tom: In the West this is going to be about match-ups.  But I think the teams left standing will be the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder and in the East no one will beat Miami in a 7-game series.  They will face whoever was able to avoid them up to that point.  I’ll go with the 2-seed which I anticipate to be either Indiana or New York.  NY has a 4 game lead right now so I’ll go with them.

Commentariat, how would you answer these?

Links to the Present: Dec 31, 2012

Monday, December 31st, 2012

Couple nuggets, mostly requiring insider.

I'm not working out with Thorpe, I swear!

Finally in David Thorpe’s top 10 rookies is…NOT Dion Waiters.  Rather, Tyler Zeller makes a cameo.  Thorpe does his usual breakdown of skills/weaknesses.  One thing he points out that I’ve also noticed is that Zeller really isn’t a great mid-range shooter and seems way too comfortable firing away.  From Thorpe: “Zeller would be better off receiving pick-and-pop passes (which is where he’s getting most of those shots) and immediately swinging the ball or throwing it back to Kyrie Irving, then running to set another screen. In time he can be a solid pick-and-pop player, but for that to happen he needs to shoot with more flexibility in his legs and keep his weight on the front of his feet and not the heels.” Thorpe’s got a good point here.  Zeller’s mid-range set shot is flat and seems flat-footed.  Zeller is best suited around the basket when the shot goes up anyway.  He’s an effective offensive rebounder and is very creative around the hoop with both hands from a variety of angles, especially from the right block.  Zeller has had some success from the baseline from 10-20 feet out, but has been extremely poor from the elbows, which is where a lot of those two-man pick n pops leave him.   You can see his shot chart here: http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/z/zellety01/shooting/2013/

FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3PT% eFG% BLKA FGM (%AST) FGM (%UAST)
Less Than 5 ft. 53 97 54.6% 0 0 54.6% 16 62.3% 37.7%
5-9 ft. 9 21 42.9% 0 0 42.9% 5 88.9% 11.1%
10-14 ft. 6 21 28.6% 0 0 28.6% 1 83.3% 16.7%
15-19 ft. 18 42 42.9% 0 0 42.9% 0 100.0% .0%
20-24 ft. 8 32 25.0% 0 0 25.0% 0 100.0% .0%
25-29 ft. 0 1 .0% 0 1 .0% .0% 0

Next up is an expose on Kyrie Irving from Amin Elhassan.  Elhassan predicts UncleDrew will be the league’s best PG by 2015.  This article really does a nice job highlighting the special combination of elite skills that separates Magnum KI from the rest of the pack.  Outside of Chris Paul, most of the league’s elite PGs have 1 or 2 identifiable elite talents that they leverage to the tune of perennial all-star status.  Offensively, Kyrie seems to have almost ALL of these skills.  The piece fluffs over his defense but offers this line of truth: “The longer Irving has to play savior on offense, the longer it will be acceptable for him to give subpar effort on the defensive end, which slows his overall development toward being the best PG in the league.” One contention I have with this piece is that Elhassan labels Irving a “pass first point guard” that is reluctantly firing away.  I wouldn’t label him that way.  The masked man GETS BUCKETS and he looks to GET BUCKETS.  Jeremy Pargo has a higher assist rate with the same “lack of other viable offensive options”.  Of course, Irving has the highest assist percentage on the team.  That basically means Irving is a more effective yet less willing passer than Jeremy Pargo.  Sounds about right.  As much as we’ve been blowing smoke at Byron Scott for the Cavs complete lack of offensive creativity, it might be time to demand more of Irving.  For one so adept at destroying his man off the dribble, there should be more openings for other players.  That being said, there are times when Iso-Irving is the best play the Cavs have to offer.

Finally for the non-insider folks, an unrestricted article by Kevin Arnovitz classifying each NBA team by their commitment to playing with “real” big men.  I was a little surprised the Cavs were firmly in the BIG circle, but then again it’s not really about being large in size as it is playing with prototypical “big” men.  Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, and Tyler Zeller certainly can’t be confused with stretch 4s, so I suppose the classification is correct.  For now…

BKN 103, CLE 100

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

Deron Williams played shut down D.

I tried writing the beginning of this recap a hundred times before I had any idea what to write. I still don’t, really. The Cavs keeping piling up losses, but it’s not the W-L column that hurts. It’s the individual defeats. I know that every team in the NBA loses, and the close ones are supposed to hurt. But man, was this one tough.

First Quarter: Brook Lopez, master purveyor of the flat-footed hook shot, dominated Tyler Zeller, he of the weak chest and propensity to be pushed around. Dominated to the tune of 19 points. Kyrie was out of sync early, and this one looked real ugly until C.J. Miles started raining threes. BKN 34, CLE 24

Second Quarter: Kyrie Irving remained mediocre. C.J. Miles, thankfully, remained supernova. His jumper has looked decidedly silky as of late, hasn’t it? The defensive effort by the Cavs in these 12 minutes was nothing short of horrendous. Jerry Stackhouse was hitting open jumpers, Marshon Brooks was getting gifted all sorts of open looks–hell, even Andray Blatche hit a three. BKN 61, CLE 53.

Third Quarter: Ew. The third quarter basically consisted of the Cavs and the Nets both missing a ton of shots, until the Cavs missed a few less shots near the end and somehow ended the period only down by five. But hey! Kyrie Irving hit two free throws, just in case, you know, you forgot he did anything other than miss contested jumpers over Deron Williams. Also, Gerald Wallace is a lot of fun to watch play basketball. He just kind of runs around and bangs into everyone, all the time. Also, Luke Walton is Bizzaro Gerald Wallace in every sense. The two of them exist to be polar opposites Neither can live while the other survives. BKN 79, CLE 74.

Fourth Quarter: Tristan Thompson and C.J. Miles were heroic, picking up the slack we sorely needed while Kyrie uncharacteristically continued to suck. They combined for 19 in the fourth, and seemed like the only Cavs interested in winning the game. Tristan, especially, showed fantastic effort on both sides of the floor, all the while rebounding like a maniac. His tip-dunk with a minute left cut the lead to three was unbelievable, and would have been Andy-esque, if Andy could jump that high. At the very end, Kyrie hit a three-pointer to cut the lead to one. Joe Johnson hit a pair, and Kyrie’s last heave rimmed out. BKN 103, CLE 100. Ballgame.

Player of the Game: Tristan Thompson had 17 and 15, with a pair of blocks and only one missed free throw. He was fantastic, and the big games have been coming often enough recently to convince me that he’s a really valuable piece for the future. He’s not nearly as good as J.J. Hickson, though…JOKE.

Highlights: Alonzo Gee continuing to get one breakaway steal-to-dunk a game, Tristan Thompson being a total beast, C.J. Miles unleashing high-volume efficiency on the Nets, Tyler Zeller on offense, did I mention Tristan Thompson?

Lowlights: Tyler Zeller on defense, Kyrie Irving on defense, Kyrie Irving on offense, Reggie Evans suddenly becoming an effective offensive weapon, Byron Scott’s rotations.

General Notes: In case you hadn’t noticed, Byron Scott lives to confound Cavs fans with his unfathomable, ridiculous Kyrie Irving Playing Time methodology. As much as Kyrie sucked this game, there was no reason for Scott to hold him out for the first five minutes of the fourth. Our offense is stagnant without Kyrie in there, and the non-Kyrie effect is larger by several orders of magnitude in the final frame, when defense buckles down. Now, should our 20 year-old star be playing 40 minutes a game? No, but there are ways to stagger minutes, and I’d much rather have Kyrie miss a few minutes earlier in the game, if it meant he could play more of the fourth. We would have been down by a lot more when he came in if it weren’t for a few unlikely Jeremy Pargo plays. C’mon, Byron.

Also: Luke Walton was one of only three players to post a positive +/- for the night, but he didn’t pass the eye test. Everyone raves about his passing, but Walton tries a little too hard to thread the needle, and often passes up good looks to further his Steve Nash-without-foot speed impersonation. 30 minutes? C’mon, Byron.

Recap: Cleveland 94, Atlanta 102 (Or the Hawks are a lot better than the Wizards)

Friday, December 28th, 2012

Close match here.  The Cavs battled the Hawks for the better part of 4 quarters, but were out executed down the stretch.  Atlanta is a lot better at winning close games than Cleveland.  The Cavs were up 1 off of a Kyrie layup with 2:53 left to go.  Atlanta needed points down the stretch, and they put Kyrie Irving in the pick and roll to get them.  The Hawks took the lead off a Teague/Pachulaia Pick and Roll where Kyrie got lost 10 feet away from the play —  not sure whether to cover Teague or the big and instead decided to float.  The Cavs called time out with 2:24 to go, and came out of the huddle with a brilliant play: the LeBron Special: a 31 foot iso jumper from Kyrie.  Clank.  The next play: a Horford/Teague pick and pop: both defenders went with Teague and then Horford canned an open 19 footer.  Subsequent Cavs play: iso-Waiters while the other 4 Cavs stood around in bad spots and watched him launch 22 foot fade-away jumper.  Clank.  1:30 left, 97-94 Hawks, Atlanta ran another Pachulia/Teague pick and roll.  On the roll, Pachulia missed a 5 footer, got his own rebound, kicked it to Korver on the left wing for 3.  Ballgame.  You read that right: a 7-0 run in 1:11.

A.C. called it correctly.  Atlanta runs plays down the stretch, and the Cavs stand around and try to go one on one with no one else moving.  He sounded as irritated as I felt.  The Cavs really didn’t play any better against the Wizards, but the Wizards weren’t a good enough team to take advantage of it.  Atlanta is.  The Cavs lack of offensive creativity and execution doomed them when combined with their inability to get stops.

As for the rest of the game, it was a tightly contested yo-yo affair where the lead for both teams bounced back and forth to 9 for the Cavs and 11 for the Hawks.  As brilliant as Kyrie Irving is on offense, he and Waiters got torched on defense.  Though they combined for 46 points, 9 assists, and 2 turnovers, Teague and Williams combined for 43 points, 12 assists, and 7 turnovers.  Despite the turnovers, they played pretty much to a draw.  Until they stop giving up as much as they get, Waiters and Irving won’t win.  Some of this is defensive philosophy or lack thereof.  I can’t tell when the Cavs are supposed to help, when they’re supposed to switch, and when they’re supposed to stay on their man.  Unfortunately, I don’t think they know either.  As for Saint Weirdo, he certainly lived up to his nickname with some brilliant drives, dribble moves, and nasty finishes combined with some decent passes, and a selection of dumb shots — including the game losing 22 foot fadeaway.  7-21 is not good shooting.

Speaking of passes, Tristan Thompson had the pass of the night with a lookaway bounce pass to Luke Walton that ended up not even counting cause Tristan was fouled on the feed.  But it was one of those “WHOA” moments I’ve been noticing lately from Canadian Dynamite.  TnT had a mixed game.  He gave Josh Smith nothing on offense but crappy 22 footers, holding him to 2-12 shooting.  Tristan was +5 for the game and had 8 boards, including a couple really nice offensive ones that led to putbacks, but he had some frustrating moments where he got his shot blocked when if he could have just shielded his defender with his shoulder and put it up off the glass, he would have had much higher odds of scoring…  But he’s getting there.  He had another “WHOA” moment on defense when he switched out on Teague for 30+ seconds of man to man defense (there was an o-board in the middle), and he got in good defensive position  and denied Teague ANY dribble penetration both times.  It was, dare-I-say, a Varajao-esque moment.  Canadian Dynamite played with more energy than anyone from Cleveland tonight.

Gee was decent, though his shooting woes continue.  At least he’s getting to the line.  He was the Cavs’ least incompetent perimeter defender.  If 4 of Chucky Miles’ minutes had been gone to Gee, the Cavs might’ve won.

Zeller was competent on offense, and his jump shot is coming around, but he still has a long way to go on defense, and Kyrie was passing to him like he had Andy’s hands.  He doesn’t yet.  ZPA had some bad offensive fouls and a couple more turnovers, but the jump shot progression was nice to see.  Unfortunately Josh Smith owned the defensive paint, and nothing came easy there for Tyler and the rest of the Cavs.

Cleveland’s bench was in a word, atrocious.  Chucky Miles was back, posting an earth-shatteringly horrific -21 for the game, off a series of awful possessions.  His shooting numbers look better than he played.  He was 3-7, 2-4 at the line, and 2-2 from the stripe.  But his 3 misses had absolutely no chance of going in, and if he was guarding anyone, I didn’t see it.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if the Cavs want to win, the play is to start C.J. and bring Dion off the bench, because Miles is an order of magnitude better when he starts.  But that doesn’t seem to be the goal as much as developing Waiters, and I can live with that.  Pargo was awful: slow ponderous, perplexing, enigmatic, offering little of substance.  He’s the Skyfall of point guards.  His sole moment of triumph was a reverse hook shot layup to close out the 3rd, off some nice Nashing around the basket.  What Walton gave on offense with some nice passing and general heady play he gave up on defense and the boards.  Asking Walton to guard Al Horford should be the opening act in the Theater of the Absurd.

In their defense, the bench was hampered because Gibson got clocked by an errant forearm and ended up with a mouthful of blood.  He went to the locker room with a “head injury” and never returned.  He suffered a concussion and won’t be traveling to Brooklyn tomorrow.  Let’s hope he’s going to be ok.

Atlanta looked good, and their ability to out-execute the Cavs really speaks to Teague’s maturation.  Josh Smith did not let his poor offensive evening detract him from protecting the paint, and Al Horford could be one of the best centers in the league if he was more assertive.  Lou Williams is one of the toughest players to guard in the league.  If this team could somehow get an alpha scorer, they could be very very good.  Danny Ferry be praised.  The Tim Misny lookalike should be calling O.J. Mayo this offseason.

Conclusions:

With a young team, it’s often hard to say when they lose whether they got outplayed or outcoached.  I can’t imagine the play coming out of the timeout in the late 4th was a 31 foot KI jump shot.  It’s hard to say whether Byron called K-Iso, and Irving was feeling it, or whether Kyrie just never waited for the play.  But the ball sure is sticking.  One coaching thing I notice is that the Cavs are very bad at closing out quarters.  At the end of the 1st and 3rd quarters, the Cavs let players get all the way down the court and get good looks at the basket, including a Jeff Teague layup to end the 1st with only 8 second left on the inbound.  They need to watch film of Indiana who aggressively traps the ball-handler at the end of quarters, and forces them to the sideline, making it difficult to advance the ball and get off a good shot in limited time.  The way teams end quarters lead to point differentials that are not insignificant throughout the season.  In addition, though Waiters didn’t lose his starting job to Chucky Miles when Dion came back from his ankle injury, Casspi got a case of the green apple splatters and hasn’t been off the bench since (no pun intended).  This is the kind of double standard that really annoys me with Scott.  Some players have very short leashes, and some players get all the opportunities in the world.  To call coach Scott’s rotations arbitrary would be kind.

I’ve gone through this post without mentioning much of Kyrie Irving’s overall offensive brilliance.  The man scores effortlessly, and is a pleasure to watch play basketball when the ball is in his hands.  He can score from anywhere on the court.  But I think the time has come to bring someone in to mentor him on the little things: how to defend the pick and roll; when to assert himself and when to feed his teammates; how to feed a hot teammate; how to get someone who needs it an easy bucket; how to pull up in traffic and pick up a cheap foul on a defender; how to shot fake and get to the line; how to execute plays in the half court in crunch time, and how to defend the pick and roll.  I think it needs to be a player, because Byron Scott is either not coaching well, or Kyrie’s not listening.

Feel Better, Boobie.

Young Player Profile: Tristan Thompson

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Over the last two years, I wrote numerous draft profiles for Cavs:the Blog.  Typically, in 1000 words or so, I would overview a player’s statistical accomplishments, but also provide a detailed look at a couple of their games.  As I dwelled on the status of the ever-fascinating Tristan Thompson, I decided to provide similar content, but instead with articles focusing on the Cavaliers youngsters.  Over the next month, I will pen an extensive overview on Tristan, Kyrie, Dion and Tyler (this one surpasses 2000 words.  I really wanted to provide the full TT experience).

Tristan Thompson entered the league with a dossier of being an athletic, defense first player, with great work ethic, excellent offensive rebounding instincts, and an otherwise non-developed repetoire.  Oh, and poor free throw shooting.  So far, he checks each of those boxes.  Part of the genesis of this series was to provide a fair take on Tristan’s greatest skills: man-to-man and team defense, as they are otherwise unlikely to result in glowing narrative.  As TT approaches his 22nd birthday, how does his progress look?

Tristan still shoots free throws left handed.

On offense: Thompson battles issues with scoring the ball.  According to ESPN, of 75 qualified power forwards, his true shooting percentage ranks 47th, despite using only the 56th highest frequency of possessions.  The TS% serves as a significant improvement over last year, however that is aided by a 4% reduction in his usage rate.  His 56% career free-throw shooting has not helped, but he converted 62% this month.  Struggles with quickly collecting passes and attacking, or innovating when his shot isn’t there,  lead to obscene amounts of his shots getting blocked (10th most in the NBA through 12/17).

He shines as an offensive rebounder though, proving his elite collegiate skill transitions to the NBA.  Of 327 qualified NBA players this year, his rebounding rate ranks 24th.  As a willing pick setter, and a player constantly battling to extend possessions through his board-work, he offers some offensive benefits.   (more…)

Recap: Cavs 87, Wizards 84

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

As one might expect between these two teams, the game got pretty sloppy toward the end, but the Cavs pulled out a rare victory over what might be the worst team in the league. Let us recap:

–The Cavs got pounded inside tonight by Nene and Emeka Okafor, who combined for 33 points and 17 rebounds, which is to be expected when Tyler Zeller is forced to play 36 minutes in Andy Varejao’s stead, but Tristan Thompson was the Cavaliers’ port in the storm with 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting and 12 rebounds, including an and-one quasi-dunk with under a minute to play that ostensibly iced the game. (That is, before a missed Kyrie Irving free throws and a strange foul by Alonzo Gee put the game in doubt for a few moments.) He also hit all of five of his free throws, so I’m sure Byron Scott will reward him with a sugar cube or something. For the month of December, TT’s averaging nearly 50% from the field, which is way up from his dreadful 44% mark in November. He now has a four-game run of double-doubles. Thompson’s still an ugly player to watch—though he did convert a nice running hook in the first quarter—but perhaps he’s turning a corner.

–Kyrie Irving didn’t have quite as spectacular a game as his statline—26 points, eight assists, and six rebounds—might suggest. He was pretty inefficient tonight, shooting just 8-for-23, but then he’s the primary offensive option and everyone has a bad shooting night from time-to-time. What Irving did do was keep the Cavs in the game during a first half in which the Wizards were as dominant as the Wizards get (which is to say: sorta), putting up 20 points in the first 24 minutes. Irving struggled down the stretch; took a lot of contested jumpers; and, as noted, his touch at the free throw line was curiously absent. But he did most of the work on Thompson’s crucial and-one lay-in, and only turned the ball over twice so all is forgiven.

–Dion Waiters stays Dion Wiatersing. He went 3-for-11 from the field (2-for-5 from three-point land) and put up nine points and one assist. I didn’t think Saint Weirdo’s shot selection was particularly egregious in this game, but he took a lot of shots with a wobbly sort of balance. He gets lazy with his footwork sometimes and that leads to complete bricks. When he has his shoulders square and jumps straight up, his rainbow jumper is quite beautiful, but too often he shoots moving to his right or left, which I think is why he puts up so many shots that don’t even come close, including his customary once-per-game airball three-pointer. Waiters also didn’t attack the rim much in this one. I know he’s struggling to finish there, and he feels he’s not getting calls, but the coaches need to stay in his ear about getting into the paint because he’s not a pure jump shooter. I have confidence he’ll figure out how to score around NBA big men if he sticks with it.

–The lowlights: C.J. Miles and Jeremy Pargo were ineffective off the bench, combining for 5 points on 1-for-6 shooting. And I think we all know this but Tyler Zeller is overmatched starting at center. Against a pretty good PF/C combo, he got pushed around and only finished with six points on 3-for-10 shooting and seven rebounds.

–For any interested parties, Brad Beal is still struggling to adapt to the NBA. He went 0-for-5 tonight and was generally a non-factor. I was pretty enamored with Beal when he was coming out college—mostly because of his jumper—but he seems stuck in the same shooting funk he experienced during the first half of his freshman year at Florida. He’s shooting just 36% on the year. For comparison’s sake, Waiters is shooting 37%. (And both are prone to having nightmarish 2-for-11 nights.) Here’s to Beal relocating his shooting stroke and Waiters assuming his identity as Wade-lite. It would be really fun if Irving-Waiters vs. Wall-Beal was a marquee matchup in a couple of years.

The Cavs host the Hawks on Friday. Until tomorrow, friends.

Kyrie Irving: NEXT

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

Raise your hand if you're glad we didn't pick Derrick Williams.

ESPN The Magazine has selected Kyrie Irving to be on the cover of this year’s upcoming NEXT issue. The issue seeks to pick out players who are on the cusp of becoming the faces of their sport. Past winners of the honor include Cam Newton, Kevin Durant, Buster Posey, and Matt Ryan, among others.

A few glowing articles accompanied the selection. Pablo S. Torre wrote about Kyrie’s life and rookie season, and general demeanor. He also has a few lines about the Lebron comparisons inherent in being a young star on the Cavs. Quoting a former Cavs employee:  “But confidence is the biggest difference. LeBron always seemed worried about what would be said when he failed. Kyrie’s more like, I’m just going to score on those motherf–.”

For those with ESPN Insider, an accompanying article explained why Kyrie Irving will be the best point guard in the NBA by 2015. Beware: it’s very sabermetric-y.

Cavs Cut Sloan, Add Livingston

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

The Cavs have waived Donald Sloan and claimed Shaun Livingston off of waivers from Washington.  Livingston is averaging 3.7 points 2.2 assists and 2.2 rebounds in 18.8 minutes per game this season for a pedestrian PER of 7.65.  Sloan averaged 4.8/1.9/1.4 for a PER of 10.34.  For what it’s worth, I like the move as it adds someone with some size into the backcout and someone who is a veteran and can run an offense, even if Livingston is a below average shooter.  As for Donald Sloan, we wish you well, and note that it SUCKS to get cut on Christmas.

The Argument Index

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

The never-ending quest to be right about sports has always been boring and ineffectual. I suppose the helplessness of fandom drives some of us to importunate, blustery denial—practiced by the types who hop on a sports talk radio call-in show and lecture an athlete who almost certainly isn’t listening about how if he doesn’t pick up the defensive intensity, he’s going to be run out of town, as if the bloviating caller had the power to make such decisions. If you’re reading this blog, you’re likely enough of a basketball obsessive to have frequented or at least perused some forums where a loud simpleton insists two games into the season—misspelling words all over the place, natch—that the coach has to be fired because he has lost the locker room or the new offense that he has installed will never work. You get it: needlessly angry irrationality is pervasive in sports. If you don’t, imagine a mustachioed, slightly overweight security guard shouting at some skateboarding children or that same mustachioed, slightly overweight security guard incensed that Hardee’s has discontinued the Sludgeburger®. Replace his words about skateboards and deep-fried whale liver with sports words like “hustle” and “the will to win.”

We would all like to fancy ourselves better than my pudgy security guard straw man, but some of us are not, and some of us are on TV shows and have sports columns in major markets, and unfortunately, we can sketch a venn diagram in which we discover that people who possess my pudgy security guard straw man’s impotent rage and people who possess a forum that reaches millions of sports fans are—*defeated guffaw*—sometimes the same people. Skip Bayless is their sunbaked king, but there are others—writers and pundits who disingenuously or otherwise tell it like it is because they are not afraid to make bold declarations and speak truth to, I dunno, power? As if there were truth in sports, as if there were power.

I blame this major media reductive content machine—time-killing Sportscenter debates about “Who’s better? Player X v. Player Y;” Bleacher Report listicles; overrated/underrated discussions; power polls; conversations about “clutch;” Skip Bayless, et al.—for running rigid debate topics into the ground for so long that the analytics community got pissed off enough to say, “Y0! Here’s a statistical breakdown of Kobe’s late-game performance. It’s not great. Please be quiet.” The mistake the analytics men and women made was in thinking they could end facile debates or that the mainstream would listen to them. Incorrigible sportswriters and talking heads stage these debates because they rile up reader- and viewership and because they’re easy to argue—you don’t have to do much work to get a reaction out of people if you say that Russell Westbrook is the reason the Thunder will never win a title; the topic is already charged and all you have to do is make the assertion and say some vaguely insulting stuff about how Westbrook doesn’t “have what it takes” or whatever. I doubt many sports columnists and talking heads are excited to argue about Extremely Tired Debate Topic X or even if they particularly care. They just don’t want to think too hard. It’s how you end up with Rob Parker calling Robert Griffin III a “cornball brother.” Race is a pre-charged topic; it just happens to be one that matters enough in the real world to get Parker suspended for saying something stupid about it.

Analytics-driven writers—unlike a lot of the pundits you see and hear on major networks—are generally thoughtful people who try to help their reader- and viewership better understand the game. I learned a lot of what I know about how NBA offenses work through Sebastian Pruiti’s now-defunct NBA Playbook, and John Hollinger’s PER Diem column helped me understand how various advanced stats function and what they tell us about what we’re seeing on the floor. Kirk Goldsberry’s maps over at Grantland are informative and pretty. Hell, this blog exists on a network that swarms the Sloan Conference each year and possesses a lot of writers who use advanced stats and analytics in their articles. I actually feel a bit out of place as a writer who compares crossovers to butterflies for a network that’s often so analytics-obsessed, but I see the value in the movement.

I think because the analytics community usually writes smarter and more engaging articles than your average sports talk radio bully or snide newspaper dinosaur, we tend to think of the two groups as occupying different spheres, but they overlap more than you would expect. This is in part because the mainstream sports conversation is so inane that it provides an easy target for the analytics community. In the same way T.J. Simers writes some trollgarbage essay about Pau Gasol being “soft” because it’s easy, it’s similarly easy for an analytics person to take apart that assertion with a few handy YouTube clips and some snark. Writers are just content farmers sometimes; we can’t always mine the universe’s profundities. Sometimes we just bang out mildly entertaining or informative content for the sake of filling space while we try to figure out how to say something more interesting the next time we publish.

But righteousness and clowning troglodytes is addictive, and this ostensibly symbiotic relationship between mainstream sports writers’ and pundits’ idiocy and analytics-driven writing has had a poisonous effect on the latter. Or maybe it’s just that people—even or maybe especially smart ones—like to feel superior about things. At any rate, I feel like a lot of analytics-based writing has lapsed into the same sort of “let me tell you the truth about sports, dummy” tone common to an imperious talking head. You can see it in every second-guessing article about what a team should have done at the end of a close game and every derisive comment about hero ball. More and more, the exuberant “let’s learn about basketball together” tone is being replaced by one that sounds paternalistic and patronizing.

The tone shift is understandable. When you’re armed with knowledge, you feel empowered and can easily come off a whit hubristic. We’ve all been overexcited about something we’ve learned at one point or another and relayed that information to a friend like we were Prometheus bringing fire to humankind. But as I wrote at the beginning of this season, we’re all hacks to some degree. We’re all looking at this game through prisms, and analytics is one prism. If you’re working for an NBA front office, then having the best predictive models and being right about things more often than not is is important; it gives you a competitive advantage. But outside of that context, you’re a carnival weight-guesser or a weatherman. Yet still, some analytics writers carry themselves like they hold a secret truth in their back pocket that they occasionally deign to share portions of with the public. They’re the Gnostics of the NBA landscape.

I like the analytics community and because I like them, I suggest this: stop worrying about and comparing yourself to idiots. Will Leitch wrote this past summer that perhaps, if we stop acknowledging Skip Bayless, he’ll go away. I don’t know if that’s true, but I know those of Bayless’s ilk are not worth our time; loud, angry message boarders are not worth our time; trying to prove to the world how smart we are is not worth our time. All writers should write like their audience is intelligent and thoughtful and be respectful of that assumed intelligence and thoughtfulness. No one is an arbiter of truth here.

All of this isn’t to tell you what to argue about or whether to argue at all. The inspiration for this piece was actually a fraught discussion with fellow C:TB staffer Tom Pestak about Tristan Thompson, the Cavalier bench, and Byron Scott. We were both blowing off steam—Tom about his problems with Scott’s aloofness, and me about my anxiety over the team’s future. If any of it were particularly enlightening, I would reprint it here. Let the lack of quotation marks speak volumes.

I know that I’m more self-hating about my tendency to lapse into stereotypical bar room arguments than other fans, and I know plenty of reasonable people who like sports because it’s an opportunity to have good-natured arguments about a topic in which they are invested. But I’m bored with some of it. I’m sick of listening to and reading myself and others trying to figure out if the Kyrie Era Cavaliers can be good because it’s a pointless endeavor. If the young players develop and the front office makes a few choice moves over the next couple of years, the team will be good. If some of those things don’t happen, the team will be less good. And the tenor of the conversations about the prospect of this good-/less-goodness leaves me cold—people virulently professing that the team definitely is or definitely is not headed in the right direction. Does your ill-gotten certainty comfort you? I’m confused.

Anyway, pay attention to statistics and video analysis; pay attention to draft prospects; pay attention to Kyrie Irving’s defense; pay attention to Byron Scott’s substitution patterns; pay attention to anything that interests you. Just keep in mind that each of us follow sports because they provide us with some sort of ineffable sensation we cannot experience outside of sports. We follow sports because they are important to us but they are not important in any objective sense. That we can care so deeply about something that’s not actually important is amazing and freeing. I think constantly about death and failure and addiction and things that can actually ruin me; to vex over Tristan Thompson’s development for 1500 words is therapeutic.

Rap crit luminary Andrew Nosnitsky tweeted out a month ago, in response to a deluge of attacks from Kendrick Lamar fans about the “classicness” (ugh) of his new album, in fittingly exasperated all caps that “NOT EVERYTHING YOU READ IS AN ARGUMENT SOME PEOPLE JUST LIKE TO THINK ABOUT STUFF BECAUSE THINKING CAN BE FUN TOO.” This is all we’re ever really doing about art and about sports (which is not unlike art): thinking about stuff and kicking around ideas. Statistical breakdowns, think pieces, video analysis, etc.: it’s all just talk and sometimes that talk is convincing or beautiful or insightful or whatever. But it’s all about what you want to talk about and how you want to talk about it. We can treat sports as this weird, prismatic, humbling thing that’s a cross between a detective novel, a Rothko painting, and a gladiatorial competition, or we traffic in polemics. It’s a decision we make when we write an article or comment on a blog post or record a podcast, and it’s ultimately an arbitrary decision, but I find one outlook a great deal more interesting than the other.

Have a great day of NBA watching

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

It’s the NBA’s signature day of the regular season.  Five elite games, starting at noon today and ending at 1 am tomorrow.

Well, maybe four elite games…the Brooklyn versus Boston affair could be rough.  During breaks in that game, if you haven’t already, read Nate’s Cleveland Cavs Christmas List from yesterday.