Archive for January, 2013

Recap: Cavs 91, Denver 98 (or, can’t they just play three quarters?)

Friday, January 11th, 2013

The caption on this picture says "Kosta Koufos, right, fouls Cleveland Cavaliers' Tristan Thompson left, who scored the basket"

Man, another one of these games.  Kyrie was sick, but played anyways.  After tonight’s final quarter, we are all probably a little ill.

The first quarter displayed the perfect glimpse-of-the-future that we all hope for.  Tristan made possibly the two smoothest plays I have witnessed from him; a drive right from thirty feet, finished with a beautiful lefty lay-up, and then his Kyrie impersonation: he received the ball at half-court, dribbled between his legs twice, started right, spun left, and finished with the left hand. It was pretty.  In February, I expect to see him takedown rebounds, go coast-to-coast, and thread behind-the-back passes to streaking trailers.  One great sequence included two of our favorite defensive foils: Tyler blocked a Nugget transition attempt, but Denver recovered.  Of course, Kyrie poked the ball away for a steal, initiated the break and hit a trailing-Tristan for a two-handed SLAM!  Later, Dion canned a three, drove and finished, and completed a fast-break and-one off a Thompson steal!!  Tristan scored ten!!!  Kyrie had eight points, five assists, and two steals!!!!  Zeller blocked two shots and also broke up an alley-oop!!!!!  The Nuggets made eight field goals while turning it over nine times!!!!!!

The Cavs led 30 – 23.  As far as the youngsters all putting it together at one time, this quarter may have exceeded all others this season.  It was fun.

The second quarter was an extension of the first, albeit slightly less superb.  Waiters scored six points early in the second, and the back-ups maintained the lead.  Kyrie entered at the midway point and made things happen, including a sweet little righty drive with a lefty floater finish.  The half ended with the Cavs up 56 – 45; Kyrie finished with 12 points, 7 assists, and 0 turnovers; Dion scored 14 on 6 of 9 shooting; Tristan netted 10 on 5 of 8; the team notched nine steals for the half.

The third quarter started reasonably well, before a typical pattern emerged.  Tristan hit a righty push-shot and slammed home a follow-up; the Cavs lead 62 – 50.  Then, the third quarter blues emerged.  Denver started running and beating the Cavs before the defense was set; as Cleveland’s twelve-point lead unravelled, Denver had twelve possessions following a Cavalier miss or turnover – they scored eighteen points.  Ty Lawson found Kosta Koufas for two bunnies, Danilo Gallinari was left alone for an open trey and later beat Dion for an and-one; suddenly the lead dropped to one.  In a pivotal momentum preserver, on consecutive possessions, Kyrie drilled a three, then tipped a pass to force a turnover, before finding twine on a pull-up…lead regained.  Javale McGee missed a few dunks, and Cleveland headed to the fourth with a 76 to 72 lead.

The Cavs started the fourth quarter struggling, so much so that Kyrie actually checked back in with nine minutes remaining.  Dani must have been very happy; Kyrie immediately responded by scoring seven points in 1.5 minutes, including a looooong three.  Cleveland lead 85 to 80 with seven minutes left.  They were outscored 18 to 6 the rest of the way.  Gee missed two critical free throws, and twice Tyler ended up guarding Ty Lawson on the perimeter, which ended badly.  A-Gee and TT miscommunicated a defensive assignment, leaving Gallinari wide-open for a back-breaking three that gave Denver a 94 to 89 lead with thirty seconds left.

To me, the big story of the final stanza was the team’s continued reliance on the one-man game.  Kyrie took and missed four shots in the last several minutes.  None was an assisted look.  Others were also guilty.  A small red-flag went up for me in the first half, when I noticed that Cleveland had 9 assists on 24 made field goals.  The second half featured 3 assists on 13 baskets.  Not good, and the team needs to institute something that vaguely resembles an offense.

A few bullets:

  • Cleveland took the wrong end of the officiating tonight.  The Nuggets shot twice as many free throws.  Tristan picked up three fouls in the first two minutes of the second half.
  • There were a few nice individual efforts.  Kyrie finished with 28 points, 7 assists, and 5 steals.  His defense has looked appreciably better.  Notice that all his assists came in the first half though.  Dion was aggressive and scored 18 points on 59% true shooting.  Tristan finished with 16 & 7, but despite twelve field goal attempts in the paint, he never shot a free throw.
  • Tyler Zeller drew two charges, keeping himself firmly entrenched in the NBA’s top-ten for that stat.
  • Alonzo Gee’s defense early against Danilo Gallinari was pretty bad.  He also finished with only 2 points and 2 rebounds.
  • Three weeks ago on Saturday, I asked for four wins by the end of this weekend.  The Cavs obliged, thanks in part to their double-digit wins over Milwaukee and Atlanta.
  • Dion has a tendency to start aggressive and if it goes well, then he seems to think “I’ve earned some jumpers”.  Tonight, three of his five first quarter shots were at the rim.  Zero of his eight field goal attempts after that were (he did get fouled once in the paint and made both freebies).  He needs to keep attacking, dribble a little less, and shoot fewer long twos.
  • Cleveland was horribly outrebounded: 56 to 35.
  • Denver assisted on 24 of their 36 field goals.
  • Luke Walton played 23 minutes.

1 through 5

Friday, January 11th, 2013

Five Cavs questions for the writers – all in one place.

Question 1: Will Anderson Varejao’s torn quad (out 6-8 weeks) affect the big picture rebuild much?

Dani: Sadly, it will. Andy’s trade value has plummeted, and will remain low even when/if he returns. Fair or not, he already had a reputation as an oft-injured player, and this will make him very tough to trade. Now, there’s another line of reasoning you could take here– if you were against trading him, then I guess you got your wish, and the prolonged absence will certainly get us a higher lottery pick. But it’s hard for me to see the silver lining in losing our second-best player and (probably) losing a lot more games.

Mallory: Andy being out is great for Tristan, moderately bad for the rest of the team, and horrific for his trade value.  Tristan has thrived in Andy’s absence.  I see no reason that won’t continue.  Kyrie, though, loses  his most trusted scoring option off the PnR, which will likely lead to a continuation of that ISO offense we’ve all grown to hate.  That could potentially lead to some bad habits from this young team.  We may win fewer games now than we ever could have imagined, which I’m sure some people will applaud, but I for one think that’s worrisome.  That’s a different topic for another day, though.  Finally, Andy’s trade value, in my mind, has probably fallen substantially.  For three straight years Andy has incurred major injuries.  I think it’s time to officially call him injury prone.

Kevin: I will punt and say this question is impossible to answer. We have no idea what would have been on the table for a trade in February (or December). Maybe with the injury though, the Cavs draft Shabazz Muhammad, all the young guys blossom, and Andy hits a game-winning tip-in over Serge Ibaka in the 2017 NBA Finals. I do think that moving forward Cleveland needs to work on minute reduction for Andy during heavy parts of the schedule.

Nate: Andy’s injury will be a blessing in disguise.  They won’t trade him now for some mediocre assets, and I won’t have to consider Dani Socher  a leper for pushing the Andy trade bandwagon.  When the season of ascension starts (2013-2014), Andy will be right in the thick of things.  Alternatively, they can try to trade him this off-season for a disgruntled Kevin Love.

Tom: Only if they were hell bent on dealing him this year to (presumably) a contender.  The Bill Simmons/Zach Lowe conversation about Andy to OKC for Toronto’s (mildly) protected 1st, Jeremy Lamb, and Kendrick Perkins’ albatross contract would have changed the dynamic of the rebuild.  But I doubt that would have happened.  So I think the “effects” will be less wins, more ping pong balls, more minutes for the youthful bigs, and less chances Andy suffers a serious basketball injury during unintended tankapalooza.  (Like that spin?)  Also, I mentioned in a comment that after the news, a rumor would surface about a failed Cavalier trade with the implication that it failed because the Cavs are stubborn.  Already happened – and I don’t believe one bit of it.  Won’t be surprised to see more.

Question 2: Describe a play the Cavs run effectively or that you enjoy watching.

Dani: I have to go with every time C.J. Miles pulls up from 28-30 feet. When he gets going, he has unlimited range. That jumper is silky smooth. Very few players in the NBA can run off picks and drain threes with barely a moment to set their feet. But when C.J. goes unconscious, watch out.

Mallory: In honor of our fallen vet, how much do we all miss the Kyrie to Andy PnR?  They had it basically perfected.  I’m also slowly becoming a fan of Tristan’s bunny hop off-the-backboard shot.  Not really a play, per se, but it’s fun to watch.

Kevin: Kyrie to Andy pick-and-roll?

Nate: My absolutely favorite play the Cavs run is on defense when they decide to hard trap the pick and roll on the wing.  More and more teams are putting shoot-first guards in this play, and against young teams that don’t move the ball that well, hard traps can be a great tactic.  Kyrie’s defense is getting better, as is Waiters’.  They seem pretty competent at trapping, as are Gee and Livingston.  Zeller and TT play the passing lanes pretty well, so when the Cavs blitz the pick and roll aggressively, they often get turnovers or make the other team burn a lot of the shot clock to get a good look.  It can lead to easy baskets when good team recognize it and make the appropriate adjustments, but springing it on an unaware team has been a nice wrinkle over the last several games.

Tom: In my opinion the Cavs don’t run any play effectively – and that’s why they revert to hero-ball.  And that’s the last thing you want out of a young team.  This season is about growth – they need to keep people in motion, feed the high post, send in the weak-side cutters, and set more screens for the spot up specialists (C.J. and Boobie).  They aren’t risking home court in the playoffs if they experiment and try to get some creative shot opportunities from real offensive sets.  They don’t trust their spacing or their passing, however.  There is a reason the Cavaliers offense gets worse by quarter.  Defenses will allow a low-threat team to launch transition 3s and show off Mr. Buckets….in the first half.  It’s the reason C.J. Miles goes back into the telephone booth and puts on his business casual after halftime.  In the most recent win against Atlanta, the Cavs had 25 assists on 37 made baskets, or 68% assist rate.  On the season?  55%.  Big difference.

Question 3: Why is C.J. Miles exceeding expectations and Omri Casspi cannot get in games?

Dani: Because he’s playing within his limitations. There’s a common theme that runs throughout all of Miles’ best games- he doesn’t attempt to dribble. He’s at his best running off screens and  shooting only from downtown. When he spends games trying to penetrate and score in isolation, it gets ugly. Casspi I won’t blame. I blame most of his disappointing play on Byron Scott’s absurd treatment of him. He’s barely allowed on the court.

Mallory: I’m almost certain that more than a few of us said this at the beginning of the season – guys like C.J. Miles and Omri Casspi – young players still trying to find their place on a team – thrive from consistency.  C.J. has been a revelation since starting simply because he now has some confidence.  Likewise, the lack of playing time has continued to sink Casspi.  For more of my thoughts on Casspi see my article from Monday.

Kevin: I could probably give him credit for only the last twenty-five games, but inconsistency is part of my understanding of the C.J. Miles experience.  His season-to-date PER, offensive rating, win shares, etc are in-line with his career marks. His shooting from deep looks great, but a lot of his strengths from prior seasons have declined this year; his assist rate and steal rates are down, with an increase in turnover rate. He needs to keep shooting, but hopefully by next season he can settle into a bench gunner role. Casspi got a bad rap due to his horrendous play early in 2012, but he’s a 6’ – 9” small forward with a higher defensive rebounding rate than Tyler Zeller.  He converts 36% of his career threes. Both opponent-PER and RAPM consider him a league-average defender.  That he cannot supplant Luke Walton, who has not posted a double-digit PER since 2008 – 2009, makes no sense.

Nate: C.J. Miles stats are baffling.  He might have the highest standard deviation per game PER of any player in the league.  He is all over the map: game to game, week to week, month to month, season to season, going all the way back to his Utah days.  He can have incredible stretches and then play an absolute stinker.  He’s the Colin Farrell of NBA players.  When he’s good, you can’t take your eyes off him.  When he’s bad, he is capable of destroying careers.  One game will be In Bruges, the next game will be the Miami Vice movie.  So my expectations for him early on this season and in preseason were high (Tigerland, Minority Report…) then the season started and he was abysmal (Alexander, Miami Vice), and then he redeems himself with some stratospheric performances (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths).  Like Farrell, Miles seems better as part of an ensemble than when he has to carry the team by himself.  C.J. Miles has simultaneously exceeded expectations and disappointed this season.  (Also, if you haven’t seen In Bruges, it’s one of the best kept secrets of the 21st century).  Like Miles, Casspi needs minutes to shine.  These guys aren’t low minute players.  They need a groove: regular minutes, a chance to figure out where their shots are coming from and confidence that they’re not going to get pulled the second they screw up.  I don’t want to conjecture why Casspi can’t get off the pine.  He was a lone bright spot off the bench earlier this year, and then he got the flu, and then he lost his rotation spot to Luke Walton and Co.  He’s an underrated defender, a decent spot up shooter, an aggressive rebounder, but don’t think Scott likes him for whatever reason.  I’m thinking Casspi tossed his cookies on one of Byron’s handmade suits when he had gastroenteritis in December.

Tom: Miles took offense to my first Trends, Ranks, and Outliers piece, obviously.  Here are his shooting stats before and after the date of that post.  30% FG, 25% 3PFG / 45% FG, 46% 3PFG.  In all seriousness, he may have had an injury or conditioning problem early in the season.  It looked like his mind and body were not in sync as he seemed as surprised as anyone that he couldn’t shoot or dribble or give a high 5 without something terrible happening.  David Wesley promptly retired after that infamous layup.  Miles was doing that repeatedly and just keep on.  It might be hard to notice this now, because Miles is a very “soft” player, but he is extremely athletic.  He is very valuable to the Cavs (in the first half) when he’s raining 3s all over opponents.  Casspi’s benching has drawn my ire as he is 24, seems to play very hard, and in limited time, his advanced stats indicate he is effective.  For many old timers, Danny Ferry will forever be unfairly mentioned alongside Ron Harper.  For me, Casspi will forever be (also unfairly) mentioned alongside J.J. Hickson (really, whatever he becomes in his prime).  At least Ferry was a staple of the Cavs rotation.  I really don’t understand why Casspi doesn’t get minutes.  I laugh at all the fans saying “because it’s OMRI CASSPI” or mentioning his underwhelming shooting percentages.  Have you watched this team?  Have you seen Dion Waiters shooting percentages?  What about Luke Walton’s?  Alonzo Gee’s? The aforementioned C.J. Miles before he played his way out of it? [deep breath] Casspi’s TS% is 7th on the team.   Casspi’s 24, not 30 – yet somehow the “well he’s only xx” is reserved for Tristan Thompson round these parts.  Give the guy a chance.  According to 82games, Casspi is 4th on the team in PER vs Opponent PER differential, and 8th (6th if you don’t count Livingston and Jones who have played 1/5th as many minutes) in net On Court / Off Court.  Why, then, is he the 12th guy off the bench?  The Cavs have killed his confidence and his trade value.  I’m sure they’ll deal him for a chalupa (make up for the Atlanta game), he’ll become a solid 7th or 8th man on a decent team, and I’ll be arguing against this line in 2 years “well he WASN’T going to figure it out here”.

Question 4: Is the “ready or not” nature of Tyler Zeller starting good for his long term growth?

Dani: Yes, I think it. Zeller is going to have to learn to play defense at some point, and watching tape can only get you so far. The in-game experience will help him tremendously, even if it won’t help the team all that much. One cannot learn how to defend an Al Jefferson hook shot until one is forced to defend that shot over and over again. That may not be a fair example, actually– no one can defend Al Jefferson, and I really hope we sign him this summer.

Mallory: Realistically I think it’s a push.  Zeller doesn’t have any seriously bad habits beyond shooting from outside the paint poorly (although I think that’ll change) – he’s just not very strong or athletic.  Eventually I think he’ll find his groove as a 6th or 7th man off the bench, but starting now probably won’t do much to hurt or help him.

Kevin: A psychology question about Tyler Zeller? These are tough queries today. Has someone studied the career progression of player’s that saw 500 – 1000 minutes of action during their rookie year versus those with over 1000 minutes? Without knowing his propensity for discouragement, my inclination is that the repetition will help.

Nate: To grow in the NBA, one needs minutes.  Tyler is in the incredibly fortunate situation (for him) of being able to play long minutes and learn on the job.  He is already impressing me with his ambidexterity, his post game, and his overall team defense.  I believe he is among the league leaders in charges taken, and he moves his feet well.  What will help him most by playing is learning to play at the speed of the NBA game, and how to play with Kyrie and Dion.  The other changes in his game will come in the weight room, as he will need to put on some weight to play on the block.  It’s no secret he gets regularly abused there.  Muscle, experience, and film study will help ZPA.  He seems a step slow to recognize players moves and film work would help that a lot.  But no young player ever got worse in the NBA by playing regular minutes, except maybe Luke Harangody…  (too soon?)

Tom: I suspect so.  Zeller doesn’t strike me as someone that might become mentally compromised by all the bullying he gets on a nightly basis.  (It’s mentally “compromising” to watch)  He’s not a “swagger” player so much as a hustle guy.  He’ll continue to do that and he’ll either get better, or the Cavs will have to devise schemes to hide his defensive shortcomings.  Either route requires lots of burn – so I’m glad he’s getting it.  He has a Jamisonian touch around the hoop, and at 7 feet tall – that is going to pay off with in-game experience.

Question 5: To what do you attribute Tristan Thompson’s more robust production recently?

Dani: The absence of Anderson Varejao, combined with a much improved touch around the rim. First: Andy’s absence has given Tristan an opportunity to control the post for the Cavs on both ends of the floor. The two big men have very similar skill sets, as hustle players who specialize in offensive rebounding. To some extent, having the two of them on the floor at the same time is redundant. Tristan also has developed his offensive game quite a lot, mostly through improve touch. He takes the same shots as he did before, but there’s more arc on everything he shoots now, and they go in much more often.

Mallory: A few things.  First, without Andy there are just way more rebounds to go around.  Also, the lack of play time for Casspi has basically removed the third or fourth best rebounder on the team, so Tristan is in an even GREATER position.  On offense, Tristan has started to ditch his gather-attempt-to-dunk-but-get-blocked shot in favor of that bunny hop sky hook backboard thing he’s been doing, and it’s working.  Finally, TT was always a decent defender and he’s using his ample playing time to learn even more about positioning, etc.  All in all, he’s starting to use his skills appropriately, which is all we can really ask right now.  Hopefully in the future he can develop additional skills to add some depth to his game.

Kevin: I think he was a young, hard working player that was bound to improve. His baby-hook has shown a significant improvement in consistency. That said; it’s a small sample size. Just as responding negatively to a few games is a bad idea, I wouldn’t recommend over-correcting based on ten games.  Prior the Bulls, the previous four opponents ranked 17th, 21st, 29th and 30th in defense. Are opposing team’s game-planning around Tristan Thompson or spending much time studying tape of his moves & tendencies? This stretch has been hugely encouraging, but my opinion on TT is still fairly similar to two weeks ago; that of a solid, yet non-spectacular individual future.

Nate: Tristan has become much more productive for a few reasons.  First, according to Austin Carr, he’s shed some of the weight he put on this offseason.  He looks leaner, and his bum doesn’t look nearly as big.  I think he wasn’t comfortable playing at the weight he was at, even if a lot of it was muscle.  Second, the man works.  No one can improve like he has at the free throw line without some serious work.  Every game his shot looks less mechanical, and more fluid.  Yes it would be nice for him to get more air under his shot, but if you watch him shoot free throws now as compared to last year, it’s a sea change.  Additionally, the post game development must have required a ton of work too: most significantly the ability to shoot a hook shot with both hands out to 11 feet.  He also has learned to go to the right hand whenever he wants, as he’s just as effective with it, if not more so.

Thompson’s rebounding prowess has to do with Andy being out (more boards to go around), and general aggression.  Canadian Dynamite must have watched a lot of film of Andy, because he’s learned to block out then bounce off his man for the D-Board, just like Wild Thing does.  But he’s also no longer deferring to the Brazillian.  TT had a brilliant sequence the other night where he showed on the pick and roll, recovered, challenged the shot, and then skied for the rebound on the other side of the basket.  He has a chance to be something special on defense.

The thing that gets me most excited about TT is that he has a chance to be something special on offense too.  He’s already gotten very effective at two very essential post moves: the hook with either hand.  He really has no other move on the block (the counter is to go the other hand).  If he can learn an up and under, a step through, and the faceup drive (he has this a little, but often goes just a bit too fast), he will be hard to stop.  Go watch some Kevin McHale and Al Jefferson film, TT.  If Tristan learns to start using the glass with those moves, and learns to dunk one-handed, he will be incredibly difficult to guard.  That doesn’t mention a jump shot (wisely, TT now takes hook shots instead of jumpers).  If TT can develop a jumper out to 18 feet, watch out.  He could be a 20/15 player.  [Inserted by Editor] All these skills are learn-able.  There’s a chance the Cavs got the two best players from the 2011 NBA draft.

Tom: Roids?  Psychiatry?  That one session with Zydrunas they keep showing on FoxSports?  I have no idea, honestly.  Or I should say, OFFENSIVELY I have no idea.  The early season +/- and RAPM showed him to be passable and the implication (an implication about as subtle as an air horn) was that he must be contributing well defensively since the only thing he did on offense was inflate the other team’s block totals and put dents in the backboard.  He looks totally different now.  Not only is he more decisive and confident, he simultaneously added a European touch (is that YOU, Z?) AND a Dwight Howard-esque toughness on rebounds.  Seriously, did anyone see him treat Josh Smith like a rag-doll?  He just ripped the ball right out of his hands.  A little over a month ago we were watching a mason with the creativity of a celestial orbit and the dexterity of those ridiculous mountain giants from The Hobbitt. TT looks completely different.  He is no longer a liability at the FT line either.  If it seems as if I’m overreacting to his improved productivity – it’s because I never cared about his productivity.  He’s 21.  I just wanted to see little flashes here and there that he had some greatness in him – some potential to realize down the road.  I think crediting his recent play to the absence of Anderson Varejao is a bit lazy if we consider how different he’s looked recently compared to all of last year as well – they only played 47 minutes together all last season.

Commentariat, how would you answer these?

Young Player Profile: Kyrie Irving

Friday, January 11th, 2013

Hopefully there is more trophy lifting in the future.

This will not be two-thousand words like the article on Tristan; then I wanted to highlight some non-box score strengths of his game.  With Kyrie, everyone knows the drill; this is absolutely the least essential of this series.  For a twenty year old, his offense amazes, with performance rarely paralleled in recent years.  Respected analysts describe him as “a breathtaking offensive talent”.  Unfortunately, defensive “train wreck” came with that particular description.  For better and worse, frequently both items ring true.

Offense

On offense, Kyrie has been ridiculous.  A few snippets:

  • Both his career 109 offensive rating and 29 usage are ahead of Russell Westbrook’s lifetime marks, despite Westbrook debuting at six months older and entering his prime.  They also are equivalent to Derrick Rose’s 110 and 28, despite Rose debuting at six months older and playing four seasons.
  • Of all rookies drafted since 2000 that played 5o or more games, Kyrie ranked third for PER behind Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.  Paul kicked-off his career 10 months older than Kyrie, with Griffin a full two years older.
  • Kyrie ranks 16th in the NBA this season for PER.  Only one player ahead of him is within three years of his age; James Harden is 2 years, 209 days older.

At this end of the court, the start to Kyrie’s career is elite; there are no two ways around that.  A spectacular ball-handler and phenomenal shooter, the “future superstar” projection rests on his mantle.  This year, he averages 23.5 points per game on 47 / 43 / 83.

A small negative resides in his “point guard stats”.  His assist rate plunges from last year, and his assist to turnover ratio decreases substantially.  Some of this rests on teammate inefficiency at shot-making, and some on an occasional apparent lack of confidence in those teammates, but a tendency towards hero-ball also rears it’s head.

Defense

Kyrie’s defense is not ideal, but rather than re-hash a thoroughly discussed idea, I will run through a couple of game recaps, then as a summary, provide an over-arching thought on where his defense stands.

January 2nd, 2013 – Sacramento at Cleveland

Kyrie tallied 22, 5 and 6 on 53% true shooting with 3 turnovers as Cleveland suffered a painful loss to the Kings, who played without Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans.  The first quarter started well, as Kyrie took advantage of the smaller Isaiah Thomas, scoring six points in the first eight minutes without missing a shot.  On one possession, Irving also drew defensive praise from the Sacramento announcers for fending off Thomas on repeated penetration attempts.  Repeatedly running pick-and-pop sets with Zeller and Walton resulted in three missed-assist opportunities, as the Cav bigs could not convert.  As the quarter wore on, Kyrie’s play slightly diminished; he missed two shots in the final eleven seconds, and I swear he stalled for a full second on a Jimmer Fredette pick.  Just to be clear, Jimmer Fredette set the pick.

As typical, Kyrie sat the initial seven minutes of the second quarter.  He missed both shots for the quarter, including another beautiful, yet failed, isolation play near the end of the half.  A give-and-go dish to Alonzo Gee resulted in another missed jumper.  Defensively, he strolled behind a couple of pick-of-rolls and offered the anti-TT experience, with a thought process apparently of “can’t someone else do it?”

The third quarter again offered good and bad.  Isaiah Thomas drove past Kyrie for an and-one, and an ill-advised switch allowed a Demarcus Cousins mismatch in the post.  Bright sides included Kyrie and Tyler corraling the ball-handler to step on the baseline through solid pick-and-roll defense, and he hounded Thomas into an ugly miss to end the quarter.  Kyrie’s passing resulted in two assists on shots from deep, however three other would-be assists rimmed out; Sacramento pretty much quit guarding Luke Walton.  Kyrie scored eight, including a spot-up three and a magnificent behind-the-back-into-between-the-legs-into-tough-elbow-pull-up!

Kyrie checked in with 5:40 to go in the fourth.  Several Sacramento possessions featured Kyrie finding himself out of the play, and the remainder of the possession devolving into chaos and a Kings bucket.  Aaron Brooks blasted past him for a crushing lay-up that extended Cleveland’s deficit to four with 18 seconds remaining.  Offensively, Kyrie converted a mind-meldingly-tough baseline shot and also scored six points in the final two minutes to keep the game close.  Unfortunately, all three of his turnovers came in the final four minutes, helping shut the door on a comeback.  The iso-heavy, non floor-spaced offense that Cleveland frequently features in crunch time lead Kyrie into a ball-handling miscue and also tripping / throwing a pass out of bounds.

This was a relatively representative Kyrie game.  He scored 22 with reasonable efficiency and some circus shots.  His defense was…uninspiring.  His six assists easily could have been 9 or 10 if a few teammate jumpers fell.  Let’s move on to the next one.

January 7th, 2013 – Cleveland at Chicago

This was certainly not one of Cleveland’s best efforts; that will happen when profiling a random selection of games.  In 29 minutes of a Bulls blowout, he tallied 15 points on 55% true shooting with 6 assists and 3 turnovers. The game started magically, largely fueled by Kyrie-related brilliance en-route to a 30 to 20 lead.  His nine points and four assists included two transition dimes, a pull-up 20-footer off a pick, a slick-dribbling pull-up, and a sweetly-stroked three after bringing the ball up-court.  His jumper was on, he located open teammates…all cylinders were firing.  The final possession of the quarter featured an iso-drive from half-court for a miss.

As Kyrie sat the first seven minutes of quarter two, an eight-point lead crumbled into a two-point deficit.  His five minutes of play featured some lackadaisical pick-and-roll defense and halfway committed post-help.  On several possessions, his positioning best describes as no-man’s-land.  Tightly-controlled ball-handling lead to four shot attempts, but unfortunately all were missed; this included two in the final ten seconds.  For anyone counting at home, that is seven shots taken in the last twelve seconds of the six quarters profiled, with only one make.  Kyrie can be a crunch time ninja, but hopefully a part of his growth includes incorporating additional appropriate opportunities to pass in these situations.  Certainly the defense is paying a lot of attention to him.

The third quarter was ugly for the Cavs, as they gave up 35 points.  Generally, Kyrie’s defense aided the Chicago explosion, but I am bored of talking about it.  He made his final field goal of the game less than two minutes into the quarter and then sat out the fourth.  It was a stupid second half.  Let’s move on to the…

Summary:

Kyrie is a top twenty offensive player in the league.  Right now.  And he cannot legally enter drinking establishments for two months.  That is spectacular, and finds him progressing toward the upper echelon of NBA stars.

His defense is less phenomenal.  According to RAPM, of 364 players with over 400 possessions this season, Kyrie is 294th as a stopper.  And this needs to improve, lest he be overrated; it’s a two-way game.

He is young though.  His defensive RAPM has improved by one point per 100 possessions from last year to this one, the PER he allows his opponent is down 1.5, and his steal rate is up.  He always rebounded well.  With continual improvement to his effort and performance on defense, and only incremental upticks on offense, he can be the best player on a championship team.  Let’s see him do that.

In a Foreign Land

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

Omri Casspi reportedly wants out of Cleveland. This makes enough sense. Casspi came into the league as its first Israeli player, and put together a solid rookie campaign, averaging 10.3 points per game with 52 TS% in 25 minutes per game. His numbers dipped in his sophomore year in the league—8.6 points per game with 51.7 TS%—and he was dealt over the summer to the Cavaliers, where he put up his worst season as a professional: 7.1 points per game with 49.9 TS%. Most disoncertingly, his touch from beyond the three-point line left him, and he shot just 31.5% on threes after converting 37.1% of his attempts from deep over his first two seasons.

Casspi was acquired during one of the darker hours in Cavaliers history, and perhaps he was permeated by its sour milk stench. He came into the organization in a swap for J.J. Hickson—whose tantalizing potential had burned up in the smoldering wasteland that LeBron left behind—and I remember thinking that the acquisition of Casspi and a heavily protected draft pick in return for the young power forward was a rather dour comment on what a failure the Hickson project had been. (Nevermind that he seems to be realizing some of his potential playing the role of a rebounding center, of all things, in Portland.)

The numbers above indicate that the season following his move to Cleveland was the worst of Casspi’s career by a wide margin, but they don’t illustrate just how inept he looked, especially during the first half of the year. His three-point touch left him, but so did everything else: he blew lay-ups, bobbled passes, and generally looked like he was being controlled by a drunk poltergeist. He began the season as the team’s starting small forward but by midseason was logging 12-to-15 minutes per game, in which he tried hard on defense and stood around on offense, occasionally launching prayerless threes and making facial expressions like someone who has just leaped off a tall building to their death but is also remembering they left the stove on in their apartment.

It’s riveting and horrifying to watch someone who has been great at something their entire lives—in Casspi’s case, basketball—fail at it so repeatedly that you can see them start to think, “Y’know, maybe this just isn’t for me. Maybe I can still go to law school.” You could see Casspi’s confidence circling the drain, and he looked disoriented, at once home and in a foreign land. Of course Casspi, who left Israel to play in the NBA, knows that feeling in a more literal sense. As he struggled, it began to look like his other home, a basketball court, didn’t belong to him anymore either.

Omri Casspi seems to be putting the nightmare of last year behind him. In limited minutes this season, he has looked like an NBA rotation player again. He’s more at home than ever behind the three-point line, shooting 40.8% on 49 attempts, and he has improved on the defensive end—this is faint praise, but he is the best defender on one of the league’s worst benches. But if Casspi is trying to prove that last year was a slight aberration and that he can contribute to an NBA team—I would argue that he has been successful at doing so—then his efforts are being hampered by a coaching staff that won’t play him. He’s racking up DNPs while Luke Walton—whose birth, I believe, is chronicled in some of Milton’s poetry—plays double-digit minutes and Byron Scott experiments with three-guard lineups that function like a one-winged bird.

One refrain sports fans lean on is that, on a bad team, the young talent should get as much playing time as possible. Why bother with Luke Walton—the inspiration for several of Buster Keaton’s more memorable characters—when he’s definitely not going to be part of the team’s future? It’s not an uncompelling argument, but one of the problems with it is guaranteeing playing time to anyone under the age of 26. A lot of coaches believe that playing time—especially on a bad team—needs to be doled out according to merit because it’s one of the most powerful motivational tools coaches have at their disposal. PT can act as a developmental carrot, more or less. As a player works hard and continually raises his level of play, the logic goes, he will play in games more frequently and for longer stretches. Coaches pull players from games for bad shots or lackadaisical defense, and put in someone else with the either explicit or implicit directive, “Don’t screw up like the dude I just sat down did.” Regulating playing time is one of the few ways a coach can exercise control over his players. It establishes a decorum of the court, so to speak—a player understands that he must play a certain way if he wants to keep playing.

The paternalism inherent in all this—coach as parent, player as child—is gross in the way that a lot of things about sports are necessarily gross. We talk about the need to “control” someone like DeMarcus Cousins or J.R. Smith, and using a word like that feels improper and disrespectful, but it’s also true to an extent: players need to fall in line and adhere to, at least, a loose set of principles in order for this whole team sport thing to work.

But the Casspi situation is where we get to a word that I can’t say on this Disney-owned property—it involves male cattle and food and the end product of that food. I don’t know what Casspi said or did to Byron Scott other than look terrible for long stretches last year, but if he has not been, in limited minutes, one of the eight best Cavaliers—this is not a high bar to clear; Casspi doesn’t compare favorably with your average eighth man—then I know nothing about the sport I’ve been watching religiously since I was eleven. Maybe Casspi just spends practices farting and making racist jokes, but if he doesn’t, then he should be getting his 15-to-18 minutes per game off the bench. He works hard on defense and helps space the floor on offense. He has earned his minutes, and I know Scott probably wants to give the other young players some burn and let them exhibit what they can do in an NBA game, but he should take that playing time from someone else. Jerking around the floor-time of a guy who is coming off a year where I imagine he was flat-out terrified of falling out of the league probably isn’t good for his confidence, which is important because confidence is what shooters like Casspi need most. He needs to know that if he clanks a few threes, he’s not going to get shelved for two weeks.

I don’t usually come down hard on coaching decisions because a.) my opinion doesn’t hold any sway, so there’s no use getting worked up about it, and b.) I literally do not know what I’m talking about because I’m not in the locker room. Maybe there is a really good reason that Scott has been so liberal in messing with Casspi’s minutes this season, but I’m more apt to believe that it’s out of neglect or ineptitude or some overly rigid philosophy that, when applied to this particular situation, does not work. Clearly, Omri Casspi doesn’t understand what forces are at work because he has asked to be traded. Free Casspi, Byron Scott, or he will, as he should, free himself.

The Flickering Hologram

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Anderson Varejao is out for the next six-to-eight weeks with a tear in his quadricep. I just tilt my head slightly to the side and make a sound like a dog being miserably awakened from its nap. The Cavaliers’ season has been punishing to watch in a way that’s not entirely straightforward. The source of punishment isn’t that the team is bad—though they are; Luke Walton plays significant minutes some nights—but that it’s difficult to conceive of them not being bad. It’s hard to discern a path toward greatness or pretty good-dom for the Cavaliers.

Perhaps this has to do with the fact that, if and when the Cavs are great or pretty good, half the players on this team won’t be around anymore. We will have forgotten about C.J. Miles’s early offense step-back jumpers and Jon Leuer will be playing in Europe and Luke Walton will have passed away. They will be replaced by more competent players, and those more competent players will not be asked to carry the offense for long stretches because the team will have a couple of options outside of Kyrie Irving—who will have moved into a full beard phase about which we will be ambivalent—capable of creating scoring chances.

But another reason the way forward is tough to visualize is because the team has a nasty habit of looking like a tire fire that decided to show up at an NBA arena. The ball doesn’t move on offense, the defense can be split open by just about any halfway decent guard, and fourth quarters resemble a scene from Story of the Eye more than they do a team that knows what it’s doing. Byron Scott is aloof to the point of inscrutability, and I would criticize his rotations more harshly, but he’s trying to build a second unit out of wet paper and bobby pins. The ineptitude on the court—which isn’t a surprise, really; we knew this team would be bad—is so severe and the parts are so disparate (and perhaps disposable) as to obfuscate the future. I know the Cavs are going to be better next year because young players can only improve and because I think the front office is going to spend a little money to reinforce the bench, but I don’t know how the team is going be better. It’s comforting to see the beginnings of developmental curve because you can extrapolate from it, but I can’t yet make out lines that mean anything to me. I just see bad basketball with interstitial moments of raw talent—a Tristan Thompson put-back dunk, a layup from Dion Waiters where it looks like he’s skating on air—and can’t locate a signal in the noise. I’m uneasy and hopeful.

If watching the actual games makes me anxious, the unknowableness of this team that allows me to dream exhilarates me. The prospect of trading Anderson Varejao and, in return, getting some young talent and/or a high draft pick, whether it was realistic or not, was exciting in the way that blank space is exciting. Dread and optimism intermingling. The unknown can always be better than the known. And when the known is a messy, occasionally unwatchable team without a clear identity, the unknown becomes even more appealing. The Clips would need to be overwhelmed by an offer in order to trade Blake Griffin, but the Lakers would ship out Pau Gasol in a heartbeat if they got something resembling equal value. Desperation and unhappiness make one more willing to change.

With Varejao out, the Cavs have lost their ability to change in a significant way. They might, say, deal Luke Walton’s expiring contract to a team in need of cap relief for a C-minus asset, but their ability to pull off a trade that can remarkably alter the present and future of the franchise is almost nil. They’ll have a high pick—maybe the highest pick—in this year’s upcoming draft and a bunch of cap space with which to build their 2013-14 team. I’m convinced Varejao, whose trade value is now probably permanently diminished after three straight injury-marred seasons, should stay with the team until the end of his contract. I was a proponent of dealing him, perhaps for slightly less than he is worth to the Cavaliers, for the sake of getting younger and covering a few more spaces on the roulette wheel with chips, but it’s hard to imagine the Cavs getting a lottery pick or a talented player in his early-to-mid 20s for a 30-year-old center with an increasingly long injury history. Better to keep him in Cleveland, where he fits in quite well, and hope he can stay healthy.

The hoping he can stay healthy is where my concerns lie. There’s a problem unique to depending on an oft-injured player that the Cavs are going to have to compensate for if Varejao is going to remain an important component of their team over the next few years. When you’re constructing a team on paper—which is where teams are built—you look at what each player gives you. When I’m trying to figure out before a season how good I think a team is going to be, I pull up their depth chart and go through each position, noting when a team has a thin front line or when their point guard situation is a disaster. I also try to see how each player fits into the team and what his role/roles is/are going to be. So, if a team has a lousy defensive power forward, is their center capable of guarding the 4 or is the team just going to get torched when Kevin Love comes to town? Who’s the distributor on this team? Who can score off the bench? You get the idea.

The problem with an injury-prone player is that he both fills and does not fill a role. In the case of Varejao, the Cavs have a player who is a great defender and rebounder and who runs the pick-and-roll about as well as any big man in the league. He’s an excellent starting center. Except for the significant amount of time he is not any of those things and is sitting on the bench in a suit. So what do you do if you’re Chris Grant? Do you hope he stays healthy and fill other needs? Do you account for his propensity to get hurt and sign a free agent center who can start in a pinch? Does this create a logjam at the 4 and 5 when Varejao is healthy? You see the problem here. The injury-prone player is a flickering hologram; his existence is halfway. How much do you count on him? Having a crucial part of the team miss half the season each year makes team-building even more difficult than it already is.

Of course, even players with no injury history get hurt. If Kevin Durant’s hand gets crushed in a car door in the middle of May, Oklahoma City’s title hopes would be similarly crushed. You don’t win games on paper and everyone turns an ankle or strains a hamstring here and there. That’s the nature of sports, but it’s hard to compete for anything significant if a player you rely on the way the Cavs rely on Varejao is sitting on the sidelines. It’s a problem I’m not entirely sure how one would solve, but it’s one that the Cavaliers front office has to account for if they’re going to move forward with Anderson Varejao in tow.

Recap: Cavs 99, Hawks 83

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

The Cavs turned in one of the best performances of the year to defeat a rather tired-looking Atlanta Hawks team. Let us recap:

–Your stat of the night: six Cavaliers recorded at least three assists, which is evidence that the ball was moving much better than it has during the majority of the Cavs’ games this season. Because the Cavs don’t have many players who can create their own shots, they have to work hard to manufacture decent looks and that means quick passes and movement off the ball.The Cleveland broadcast highlighted one such instance in the third quarter where the ball started with Irving on the right wing and moved from the corner, to the baseline, to the opposite corner, to the left wing, and all the way back to Kyrie on the right in a span of a few seconds. It didn’t create a great look, but Irving caught the ball with the defender half a step off him, which is all he really needs to have a solid chance at converting a three-pointer, which he buried. At C:TB, we’ve been bemoaning the lack of ball movement on offense, and tonight demonstrated that the Cavs can be pretty effective on offense with a little extra effort and some luck.

–Of course, Kyrie Irving going all super saiyan helps, too. He took over the game in the third quarter, scoring 18 points, including a contested three from about 24 feet out at the end of the period, just to remind everyone watching that he’s really, really good at basketball. Irving finished the game with 33 points on 11-for-15 shooting, four assists, and a pair of turnovers. His offensive performance negated what was a not-great defensive job on Jeff Teague, who had 15 points on 7-for-11 shooting and eight assists. Just another night for one of the league’s best young guards: great offense, mediocre defense. Rinse, repeat.

–Tristan Thompson had a phenomenal first half. Full stop. No quibbles. He was a terror on the offensive boards, as he always is, but after corralling a miss, instead of resetting the offense by kicking the ball out to a guard, he finished around the basket with some nifty moves and even a powerful two-handed dunk at the end of the second quarter. TT was less phenomenal in the second half, when he sort of disappeared, but that’s going to happen with a player that relies on garbage buckets. I thought he passed the ball out of the post pretty well. A couple of times, he came across the lane, and instead of taking a running hook (which he’s hitting with greater frequency lately, but it’s still not money in the bank by any stretch), he faked the hook and threw a jump-pass out to the perimeter. It’s not like he’s conjuring memories of Chris Webber, but I was happy he tried to draw the defense and find the open man rather than taking a tough shot.

–Tyler Zeller grabbed 12 boards but got pushed around a lot in the post. He’s not strong enough to tussle with dudes like Pachulia and Horford and Smith. You know this. Moving on.

–Alonzo Gee had one of his better games, mostly due to a phenomenal first quarter in which he drained four three-pointers. In general, he just looked more confident when the ball came to him on offense. He was decisive, and we didn’t see too many of those awkward moments where he tries to create off the dribble and fails miserably. (Though it still happened a couple of times. Baby steps, AG.)

–Dan Gilbert visited with Fred MacLeod and Austin Carr during the second quarter. I’m not Gilbert’s biggest fan  because of the whining and apish bluster he sometimes exhibits when things don’t go his way, but I was pleased with what he said in the interview. He admitted that the Cavs’ record and their fourth quarter performances have been “embarrassing,” but not in a “George Steinbrenner showing up his players in the media” kind of way. Rather, he admitted that the team is young and not very competitive yet. He stressed that fans have to be patient and allow a bunch of players who are in their early 20s to find their way in the best basketball league in the world. He understands that the rebuild is a Project (with a capital “p”). None of this is profound stuff, but I think it’s easy for a man as rich and successful as Gilbert to insulate himself from reality as far as the quality and future of his basketball team (which is kind of a rich person plaything for a lot of NBA owners), and when your favorite team has one of those owners that lives in a fantasyland, it can spell disaster for your team. Gilbert seems to live in something approaching reality and has faith in the people to whom he has delegated very important tasks. He also said that when the time comes to splurge and outfit the team with additional help, money will be no object. All of this is very good news. High-five, Dan Gilbert.

The Cavs travel to Denver on Friday to take on the Nuggets. Until tomorrow, friends.

Anderson Varejao Scheduled for Surgery Tomorrow (out 6-8 weeks)

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Hot off the twitter press is the news that Anderson Varejao will undergo surgery tomorrow to repair a “split” in his quad muscle.  Some are referring to it as a “knee-surgery”.  There has already been an attempt to clarify that this surgery will repair a “split” and not a “tear”.  Apparently a “tear” is more serious.  Varejao played 38 minutes in the Cavaliers’ loss to the Toronto Raptors on December 18th – this, despite suffering numerous hard falls and receiving a flagrant foul from Amir Johnson in the 1st half.  In the second half he was visibly hobbled and had trouble moving laterally.  This was most evident as the Raptors exploited the Cavs lack of interior defense to the tune of 64 2nd-half points – blowing out the Cavs in possibly the worst loss of the season.  Varejao was a DNP the next night against Boston with a “bruised right knee” and has been out ever since.  It seems that the bruise was not healing properly and a second look revealed the need for surgery.

Here is the NBA Press Release on the Injury:

Cavaliers center Anderson Varejao was injured during the Cavaliers game against the Toronto Raptors on December 18th at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. Diagnosis was a right knee contusion, specifically to the vastus medialis which connects to the medial (inner) border of the patella. As Varejao’s treatment and recovery process continued, an MRI revealed the contused area included a small longitudinal split in the vastus medialis. Despite continued, gradual recovery of the contusion, symptoms also continued in the specific area of the split. Another MRI revealed an increase in the split and symptoms persisted. Dynamic ultrasound imaging also revealed tissue from underneath the split was herniating and pinching with knee flexion.

A second opinion was recently obtained with Dr. J. Richard Steadman of The Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado, which confirmed Cavaliers Head Team Physician Dr. Richard Parker of the Cleveland Clinic’s recommendation for surgical intervention. Varejao will undergo surgery this Thursday (January 10th) at the Cleveland Clinic and is expected to be out for six to eight weeks.

Here are some tweets to get you up to speed:

“Varejao’s surgery will be Thursday.  He received 2nd opinion at The Steadman Clinic in Vali, Colo.  that confirmed need for surgery [Jason Lloyd -  Akron Beacon Journal]

“Re: Varejao – surgery will be on leg, near knee. Quad muscle near right knee is split & “herniating and pinching with knee flexion,” per CLE” [Jeff Zillgitt - USAToday Sports]

“Cavs emphasized quad has lengthwise split, not horizontal tear. Scott called Varejao’s problems last 2 years “freaky injuries.”" [Marla Ridenour - Akron Beacon Journal]

“Byron Scott calls Varejao “heart and soul” of#Cavs, says no setbacks in his recovery, severity just discovered when he wasn’t healing well.” [Mary Schmitt Boyer/Jodie Valade - Plain Dealer]

“Byron Scott on Varejao: “He’s our heart and soul. … Just disappointed for him and for our team.”" [Sam Amico - FSO]

“Smh man, worst news I’ve heard all day,#getwellandy” [Kyrie Irving]

“Scott on what he will say to Varejao: “I’ll go up, give him a big hug & tell him it’s going to be OK.”" [Marla Ridenour - Akron Beacon Journal]

“It has to be said- by not trading Andy the last 2 years, the Cavs rebuild is set back.” [Rick - WFNY]

“Cavs should have dealt Varejao 2-3 weeks ago at peak of value. They needed to sell high when he was healthy – he gets injured too often.” [Bill Simmons - ESPN]

“And nobody makes major trades in December anyway!” [Conrad Kaczmarek - Fear the Sword]

“Not saying the Cavs were 100% trading Varejao. Cleveland felt they could hold out for their asking price. Obviously it all went to hell.” [Probballdraft]

“Though Cavs were on the fence about trading Varejao, this almost certainly removes him from market. Was having a career year.” [Brian Windhorst - ESPN]

Where are You?

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Ah-dorable, Andy. We miss you.

Where is Anderson Varejao? That’s what everyone wants to know. Wednesday night, Varejao will miss his 11th game in a row with a knee contusion. The contusion, or bruise, was suffered on December 18th against the Toronto Raptors. After expressing pain and coming out for a few minutes, the Brazilian big man returned to the game and finished it out, with 22 points and 10 rebounds. The injury seemed minor, moderate at most. Varejao was slated to miss a couple of games after the injury, and then return to action. Obviously, that has not been the case. Is there any possible explanation for his prolonged absence? Let’s cover the possibilities.

1. The knee injury is significantly worse than we realized.

This seems unlikely. First of all, the Cavs, thank God, are not a team with a history of mistreating injury situations. We all know the issues the Knicks have had with covering up STAT’s various knee injuries, but this doesn’t seem to be a similar type of thing. If the injury were serious at all, it’s hard to imagine that Andy would have returned to the Raptors game. Also, what would the Cavs have to gain from covering up an injury? Any trade involving Varejao would require his passing a physical and medical exam, so it’s not like a cover-up would land us Kevin Love, or anything. It’s possible that the injury is significant, but undefined yet. But given the general acuity of NBA trainers, and the fact that it doesn’t take three weeks to get MRI results back, this can’t really be the case. Even if ESPN thinks so. The missed time must be stemming from something other than the injury itself.

2. There are serious, ongoing trade talks underway, and his absence is a trade condition.

This may be the only explanation that makes any sense at all. A request for a trade target to be held out of games until the completion of a trade is fairly common, and is especially understandable for a player with Varejao’s injury history. It also fits with the other news coming out of Cleveland recently. Samardo Samuels was cut. Roster spots, anyone? Luke Walton didn’t attend Monday night’s game for “personal reasons.” Could he have been making travel arrangements to Minnesota? The only hole in this theory is that eleven games seems like an unusual amount of time for a “Don’t play Wild Thing, we don’t want him getting hurt” stipulation. For the Cavs to listen to such a request, they must have been near agreement with another team. But why would a trade that close to happening take three more weeks to complete? There must have been a serious last-second snag in negotiations to cause such a delay. All in all, this is really the only possible reason for the missed time.

We may have seen the last of Anderson Varejao in a Cavs uniform.  I’ve advocated for an Andy trade all year, as I still do. Regardless, it’s tragic to think that the last we ever saw of Wild Thing was a deflating loss to a hot Alan Anderson and the Toronto Raptors.

P.S.

Byron Scott’s quotes on the situation are infuriating:

“I hope I’m not talking like its long-term or for the season. I’m still optimistic he’ll be able to play this year until the doctors tell me something different.”

“I’m not a doctor and I’m not going to speculate on what it is.”

Recap – Bulls: Eleventy Billion, Cavs: A real (much smaller) number

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Tonight was a bad night for TV.  The Bachelor is back, much to the horror of husbands nationwide – Notre Dame reinforced the nauseating SEC domination narrative, and the Cavs got blown off the court by the Bulls minus Derrick Rose.  And knowing this Cavs team, if Rose had played it probably would have been a close game until the Cavs blew the last 2 to 6 minutes.  The recap’s going to be a little different tonight.  Feel free to love or hate the format as it probably won’t continue in this matter either way.  Colin, Dani, and I were live-emailing each other during the game posting our thoughts.  They are posted with whatever context is needed for the game.  To give the voices an identity I’ll put D, C, T. Necessary context will be in italics.

<- 1st Quarter ->

D – The warm feelings are coming on early for me tonight. Kyrie seems to be playing more methodically, perhaps looking to repent for his turnover-fest last night. Tristan had an ugly turnover, but he also had a powerful drive to get an easy layup against Boozer, and Tyler Zeller had one HELL of a block! We’ve got a 13-9 lead, and I couldn’t be happier. Actually, I could- a win and Kyrie’s third-straight 30-point game would do it.  Kyrie Irving finished the 1st quarter with a healthy 9 points and 4 assists.  The Cavs led by 8 after a very solid all around effort from the starters.  The 3s were falling early too (a season-long trend).

T – CJ Miles continues his strong 1st quarters.  2 of 4 from 3.  Nice balanced scoring from the Cavs.  Keeping with the laws of KyrieISOball the Cavs wind down the clock and despite a double team they get no open look for anyone as Kyrie forces as airball. This play was more egregious hero ball than most because the Bulls actually doubled Kyrie on the drive, not just once he got in the paint.  He still didn’t look for a teammate.  Fortunately, the Cavs intercepted the outlet pass off the airball and CJ Miles almost canned a 30 foot three at the 1st quarter buzzer.

C – C.J. Miles makes no sense. It’s a wonder he holds together at a molecular level. He should open a dry-cleaning joint where half the time they return your clothes brighter and cleaner than ever and the other times they just draw dinosaurs all over them with permanent markers. I think I hate him.

Colin - this is in the mail. Hope it fits.

<- 2nd Quarter ->

C – Tristan Thompson has decided, against maybe the best defensive post pairing in the league (Noah and Gibson), to grab every offensive rebound he can get his hands on and finish it with finesse. Am I happy right now? Is this what joy feels like?  Thompson had a nice first half.  He finished with 12 points including 100% of his free throws and as Colin alluded to, he had 7 rebounds in the first half including 4 offensive boards.  Unfortunately all the Cavs success dried up quickly in the 2nd half.  TT finished with a productive 14 and 8 in 32 minutes on 50% shooting.

D – Tristan with another fantastic move! Get that Wild Thing bum outta here! [Edited due to logical fallacy]

T –  Bulls are methodically scoring now.  Cavs need to get some stops to keep this one from slipping away.  Chicago took it to the Cavs early in the 2nd against the Cleveland 2nd unit before the Cavs seemed to stop the bleeding on offense.  But they never really stopped the Bulls from scoring, especially inside.  The Bulls picked the Cavs apart with passing and when the Cavs collapsed the Bulls always swung it to an open 3 point shooter.  They finished the game 10-14 (!) from 3 and 5 of those came in the 2nd quarter onslaught.  Tristan Thompson scored 8 of the Cavs 20 second quarter points and the Wine and Gold went into the half down only 3.

<- 3rd Quarter ->

The 3rd quarter started out a back and forth affair between the research triangle (Boozer 6, Irving 3, Zeller 2).  At 7:05 left in the 3rd, Nomadic Nate Robinson came in and began an aggravating night.  He dished out 2 dimes keeping the Bulls assist-train rolling.  (They finished the night with 34 assists on 44 baskets!)  The only lifeline was some inspired play by Dion Waiters – he scored 8 straight points to try and stem the Bulls offensive exploitation of Cleveland’s interior D.

T – Really a terrible possession by Kyrie there.  Irving received a screen from Thompson at the top of the key in which Tristan switched sides at the last second.  It was a very effective screen and it gave Kyrie a healthy amount of free space.  He could have easily pulled up from 15 (he was wide open) but choose to keep pounding it until the help came.  Normally this wouldn’t be so bad but there was only a few seconds left on the clock when TT set the screen.  Kyrie’s clock awareness was not there and he picked up his dribble with no one open to pass to as his pass attempt was tipped out of bounds by Chicago with the clock about to expire.  Rather incredibly, with 0 seconds showing on the shot clock, the Cavs inbounded the ball to a leaping Zeller who tipped it in off the glass to save the possession.

D – Tom, you’ve been hating on Kyrie a lot recently. I agree he goes to isolation too quickly and too frequently, but when C.J. Miles and Tristan aren’t moving, and his other options are a Dion Waiters brick or a Tyler Zeller turnover….This is a great point, and turnovers have plagued the Cavs.  More analysis on this comment in the closing remarks.

D – If Dion wasn’t heating up right now the game would be a lost cause. I hate Carlos Boozer.

Why would we be 'over it'?

C – Waiters really is improving at the rim, which will hopefully encourage him to rely on drives as his primary weapon on offense. Waiters was 6/6 from the line and was attacking often.

T – Yeah he has looked more comfortable finishing which is much needed.

C - It’s strange to watch the Bulls without Derrick Rose because they’re a slightly less effective team that’s in some ways more fun to watch. Their bigs move the ball really well and it gets them easy buckets near the rim. (Get well soon, D-Rose; I love to watch you play, etc., of course.) Watching the difference between the Bulls and the Cavs offensive sets is jarring.  The Bulls waste no energy, make crisp, effective passes, and swing the ball from side to side.  It goes without saying they have more talent and experience as the Cavs as well.

D – OMRI CASSPI SIGHTING. DION WAITERS AIRBALL. WOOHOO. Casspi checked in with 3:05 left in the 3rd.

C – “Obligatory Dion Waiters Airball” is a troubling meme.

T – I call it “another Dion Waiters Airball” – Obligatory implies a quota of 1.

D – Despite the huge deficit, Byron Scott will leave Kyrie out of the game until there’s 6:00 left in the fourth and we’re too far back to win anyways.  Horrific third quarter; stagnant offense, stagnant defense. Sixteen points down. Gentlemen, take your bets: what’s your call for the final score? Cavs 101 Bulls 98 At the end of 3 the Cavs trailed 88 – 72, meaning Dani needed a 19 point 4th Quarter differential for his prediction to hold true, harking back to the Mike Brown Era.

C – Cavs: Silent Eternity, Bulls: Quiet Decimation, Colin: Beer

<- 4th Quarter ->

C – What is this lineup, by the way? Kevin Jones, C.J. Miles, Omri Casspi, Shaun Livingston, and Tyler Zeller? Who scores? (Rhetorical question, obvs. No one does.)

T – I like this lineup.  Plus  FREECASSPI!

C – Tom’s going to every Cavs game this year to sit in the upper deck and yell, “WHY WON’T YOU PLAY ONE OF THE CHOSEN PEOPLE?” at Byron Scott the whole time. On Cue, Omri had a nice pumpfake, 1 dribble, that led to a sweet mid-range J.  He followed it up with a strong drive and a pretty feed to a cutting Shaun Livingston, cutting a once hopeless 22 point deficit to 16 before the Bulls called timeout.

D – If Omri Casspi gets us back in this game I’ll move to Israel.

T – I love this lineup.  DISCERNIBLE OFFENSIVE SETS. Players receiving and passing out of the paint.  Casspi pump faking people into shots, dribble drive n kicks, and no one dribbling repeatedly. I took this opportunity to reflect on what an actual offense with passing and cutting looks like – this brief few minutes was it.  Unfortunately, running what looks aesthetically like a real offense is mutually exclusive with getting stops.  And the Bulls quickly destroyed all hope out of the timeout.

T – Good ol Nate Robinson and his Sam Cassel Cheshire Cat Smile.

D – There might be nothing more depressing than watching Nate Robinson shoot your team out of a game. Nomadic Nate came out of the Bulls timeout and promptly drained 2 threes right in Dion’s eye all while taunting him.  Robinson and Marco Belinelli had eerily similar (and dominant) stat lines tonight.  Both were 5-8 from the field including 3-4 from distance, and both were +24 in 24 minutes.  Bulls bench >>> Cavs bench.

T – Wait does the ref not realize that the unnatural leg kick is just part of Dion’s shot?!  Dion looks to get an AND-1 on a 3 and although my sound was muted at that point, he was called for an offensive foul.  Maybe it was for a previous push off that I didn’t see.  If it was because he kicked his leg out, then this applies.

DWhen Lebron or Kevin Durant beats you, at least it doesn’t seem shocking and demeaning all the way through- you know it’s coming. When Nate Robinson wins games, it’s like a baby beating the hell out of you with a toothpick.

And that about wrapped it up.  The Bulls (this is not a typo) went 12-14 in the 4th quarter, and the 12 included 3 And-1s (in other words, fouling didn’t stop them), 3 triples, and 2 other long 2s.  Total domination against Casspi, Leuer, and company.

T – Anyone think B Scott put Casspi and Leuer out there tonight to fail just to give CtB the finger?  I do. I don’t.

And that concludes this live-email recap.  I have one concluding remark.  The Cavaliers do not trust their offense.  Quite often, they will run a set, an entry pass will get tipped or a role player will fumble the ball away.  And that’s that.  They go away from it and revert to isolation hero-ball (for lack of a more creative term).  They need to trust the system and make the necessary adjustments.  There is nothing gained by giving up on trying to execute more complex plays and sticking to isolation and a two-man game on a team that is lottery bound.

Nate and Dani offered their post-game thoughts as well.

Dani:

-Fantastic first quarter from Kyrie. He came out firing and passing, and it was beautiful. Unfortunately, it was downhill from there. Ugly final three quarters from Kyrie. I’d be more disappointed with him, but the Bulls defense will do that to you- they have a tendency to turn every NBA offense into an iso-happy-mid-range-miss-fest

-Dion really turned it on in the third to keep us in the game when the Bulls started scoring, but he didn’t do much else. The ugly step-back jumpers continue, and they continue to suck. When he drove to the basket, good things tended to happen. Nice passing, though- he had a few inside feeds that took your breath away.
-Zeller was terrible. He kept on throwing the ball right to Luol Deng. Who knows why. Maybe he owed him several favors?

-Tristan was the beast we’ve grown accustomed to over the last few weeks. In the first half. After that, the Bulls interior D clamped down, and he responded meekly.

-Everyone else, well….whatever. Alonzo was a mixed bag as usual, although his defense was pretty awful tonight. Kevin Jones looked solid, although he continues to be very small for an NBA power forward. Omri Casspi sighting! He played well in garbage time. Maybe Byron will let him play next game? Over Luke Walton? That’d be nice. Coach Scott’s rotations continue to be unfathomable.

Unfathomable.

Nate:

-So there’s nothing like jumping up 10 points on a team in the 1st and still losing by 26.

-Nate Robinson: +24 in 24 minutes — or, there’s a reason Shaun Livingston was on the waiver wire.

- Cavs need a guy not afraid to put an elbow in Boozer’s grill.  Preferably he’d have the last name Gund.

- Tyler Zeller is softer than the Stay Puff (sic) Marshmallow man.

-Will Cleveland lose by more or less than the Irish?  I’m betting less. (Good bet.  The Cavs lost by 26, the Irish by 28.  What an AWFUL night for TV)

-Do the Cavs have to pay individual postage for mailing this game in, or can they just mail in the entire season in bulk?

-Tristan’s developing post game: a nice development, but the Bulls have already snuffed him out.  He needs a counter off the hook shot — even if he is ambidextrous.

-Who’s the next Tom Thibodeau (sic – as in he might be feeling sick right now), and how do we find him?

-So the Starting Five for the all time Cavs hate team has to be Rasheed, Boozer, LeBron, DeShawn Stevenson, and Jordan, right? Throwing this one right to the commentariat.  Who’s the Cavs all-time hate team?

It's "Puft".

Reading the Tea Leaves.

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Claire Danes aka Carrie Mathison w "Homeland" (Fot. Kent Smith/Copyright: Showtime)

So the hot rumor on Cleveland sports talk radio this morning is that the Cavs are trading Anderson Varejao within the next 24-48 hours.  According the Really Big Show, the rationale is that Minnesota has a newly renewed sense of urgency given that Kevin Love is out 5-6 weeks with his latest hand fracture (wish I could tell you what time to look on the podcast, but it was brief).  Normally, I’d just read this as chatter, but the Carrie Mathison in me thinks there might be more to this, for the following reasons.

  • The Kevin Love injury.
  • Tristan Thompson has blossomed during Andy’s most recent absence, thus making the prospect of trading Andy more palatable..
  • Samardo Samuels was waived yesterday.  His contract was guaranteed after January 10th.  Could the Cavs be clearing a roster spot?
  • Anderson Varejao has not played for 7 games, a very long time to sit for a knee bruise.  Could the Cavs be shelving him so that he does not get hurt before they can trade him?
  • Daniel Gibson, in similar fashion to Samardo Samuels, has a contract that becomes fully guaranteed January 10th.  He is scheduled to make $4.79 million this year, of which $2.49 million is guaranteed.  This means that any team that trades for him can then waive him and save $2.3 million of their 2012-2013 salary cap, as long as they do it before the 10th.  Plus, the Cavs have already paid a good portion of the guaranteed contract.  Additionally, he has not played since his concussion.  According to Mary Schmitt Boyer, he’s out tonight: “Just got out of shootaround at the United Center. Daniel Gibson is here but will not playing.”
  • Luke Walton is scheduled as out tonight in order to take care of a “personal matter.”  Could this be to take care of things before he gets shipped, especially because the Cavs are about to start a road trip?  Might he be looking for an apartment in Minneapolis?
  • According to Yahoo.com, Omri Casspi has requested a trade from the Cavs.  According to the Plain Dealer, Casspi has no comment on the matter.

Added all up, it’s either a lot of chatter, or a perfect storm of trade winds.  Andy may sit or play tonight.  The Cavs might want to protect him, or show a prospective team that he’s healthy…  We’ll know whether this was all rumor or prescience in 3 days.  Enjoy the trade machine, my friends.