Archive for February, 2013

2012 – 2013 Pre All-Star Break Round-up

Friday, February 15th, 2013

Finally, the Cleveland Cavaliers are interesting again.  Two seasons ago proved brutal, last season presented a team still in flux…now, the franchise provides a product offering real topics to routinely banter about.  The team won 11 of their last 25, and their per-game margin is only negative-2 during that time.  Over the recent one-third of a season, they compete almost every night.  I actually get a little nervous for the games again; will the young guys produce?…can the team avoid a blow-out?…can they beat the bastion of accomplished veterans coming to town tonight?

This was a lot of fun.

The season started miserably, with Cleveland winning only 5 of the first 28 tilts.  Kyrie missed eleven games, while Waiters sat eight; three guys wore masks at the same time.  Eighteen of the first thirty games were on the road, while Andy went down for the season in the midst of an 8 games in 12 days stretch.  The season looked bleak, unless the team’s young nucleus started providing a lot more nightly punch.

And, they did; Tristan Thompson being the most impressive example.  Early this season, TT exhibited many similar traits to his rookie year: too many shots getting blocked, sub-50 percent true shooting, miniscule assist rates.  His defense was progressing nicely, and his offensive rebounding still thrived, but it was only seven weeks ago that I wrote this. The basic theme being that Tristan plays strong defense and does a lot of things that don’t show up in the box score.  Generally speaking, the article was well received.  Then…BOOM!  Eight of his next eleven games were double-doubles!  Over nearly two months, his averages reach 14 points, almost 10 boards on 53% shooting and 70+% from the line!!  He nets more assists than turnovers!!  Andy got injured, and Tristan became unleashed to flash the post and face-up games he has been working on in the Cavs’ secret underground laboratories.  Keep up the strong work, youngster!

Kyrie continues playing as the offensive wunderkind that showed-up fresh-faced last year.  He ranks sixth in the league in scoring, and fourteenth in PER.  His all-star debut happens this weekend, and he does not turn 21 until next month.  His ball-handling and shooting are so sublime as to almost be  unreal.  His 40 points against Boston, 35 against Oklahoma City, and 33 in Atlanta keyed recent victories against likely playoff teams.  And who can forget the 41 in a narrow loss at Madison Square Garden, or the buzzer-beater to beat Toronto last month?  But, with great power comes great responsibility.  There is little reason to think that Kyrie’s ceiling is not around Chris Paul-level; basically, the third best player in the NBA.  To get there though, Kyrie must shore-up his ball distributing and defense.  Did you know that Chris Paul twice lead the league in assists, and is a five-time leader in steals?  I don’t know if you are following the pre-draft stuff I have going at Hardwood Paroxysm, but Chris Paul’s 2008 – 2009 was a completely dominating effort on both sides of the ball.  Kyrie possesses the skills and smarts for similar accomplishments; he needs to hone in on these other aspects of his game and get there.  He has only two double-digit assist games this season, contributin to his ranking 26th in the league for dimes.

The other huge event trend-setting the Cavs towards respectability was the Chris Grant robbery of Memphis.  Waiver-wire pickup Jon Leuer, sent packing to cost-slashing Memphis for Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby, and a future first-round pick?  Did I read that right?  In ten games with the Cavs, Speights looks rejuvanted, providing a nearly 20 PER, while averaging 13 & 6 to shore-up a previously horrendous bench.  Ellington has exceeded his expectations, tallying 18 made-threes versus 5 turnovers, as his introduction to Cleveland features a soaring 17 PER.  Add in the ball-movement of newly acquired Shaun Livingston, and long-time C:tB favorite Luke Walton, and the NBA’s worst bench suddenly looks like one of the more fortified crews.  Keep up the strong work, Herculoids!

The 2012 draft class brought much promise, but also the growing pains expected from inexperienced players.  Dion Waiters’s December was appalling, including eye-scratching 34 / 21 / 63 shooting. Since the New Year though, he has increased his true shooting to 52%, as he still gets to the rim five times per game, but is now converting at 62% there (58 of his last 94).  He recently struggles from distance, shooting 1 of 11 from three in February, but an array of skills is becoming apparent from the young shooting guard.

His draft classmate, Tyler Zeller, still often leaves much to be desired; he looks like a rookie, frequently being abused on defense and the boards, and looking a touch tired in his shooting.  His playing time saw a significant reduction from January to February from 35 to 25 minutes per night.  So far, this appears to benefit his play.  If T-Zell can average 7 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 turnover on 55% true shooting for the rest of the season, as Speights reduces the rookie’s workload, that would be awesome.

Aside from the trade and the youngsters, there have been a few other silver linings of the season.  Alonzo Gee rim-rattles frequently with ferocious dunks.  Pargo mania was fun for a few weeks; the 28 points he scored against Philly to break-up a prolonged, depressing losing streak will always be cherished (Philly recently signed him to a 10-day contract).  C.J. Miles going unconscious in December, scoring 15 per game with 49% three-point shooting was enjoyable.

And of course, there is Andy.  This weekend was supposed to be his; 14 points, 14 rebounds…22 PER.  His energy and skill level were at all-time highs early this season.  An absolute beast through the dark, early days of the season, his 9, 23 & 9 against Washington, the 15 & 22 against Memphis…10 straight games with 15+ rebounds was the longest streak in the NBA since 2003.  The Kyrie-to-Andy pick-and-roll became a sight to behold, and his play was infectious.  Hopefully you are in Houston, partying like a rock-star this weekend, Andy.  Unfortunately for the third straight year, his season was cut down by injury, this time involving an ominous blood clot.  Get better, Wild Thing.  Next year could be a lot of fun, and you need to be a part of it.

I’m going to end there.  Surely I missed several notable events from the first 53 games; this article was penned in about an hour before going to work this morning.  Help fill in the blanks in the comments section; what are the most memorable highlights (and lowlights) from this season?

Trade Kyrie! Zeller is the Future! SAS 96, CLE 95

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Tyler Zeller, future MVP and franchise star.

Kyrie Irving was horrendous, the Cavaliers played the best team in the NBA…and somehow, they only lost to the Spurs by a single point. How on Earth did that happen? Let us delve into the details.

First Half:

Kyrie bricked a deep three to start the game, and it was all downhill from there for him. In a rare turn of events, though, just about every other Cavalier was productive and efficient in the first half. The Cavs looked energetic on defense for once, running around and trapping like demons. Alonzo Gee got a few breakaway dunks, and Tyler Zeller simply looked like a different player from the indolent young man who’s been missing layups and clanking 17-footers all year. And Dion BALLED OUT. Slicing and dicing through the Spurs defense, dumping passes off to open big men, this was the player Chris Grant envisioned when he drafted the young sixth man from Syracuse. The second unit stepped up as well. Luke did Waltonian stuff (pass well, defend poorly) while Shaun Livingston nailed that funky turnaround jumper a few times. Kyrie Irving simply sucked. The only facet of the game he contributed in was distribtion. He fed the big men for some easy buckets, and found C.J. Miles on a beautiful cut (layup was blown).  But man, was his defense awful. Tony Parker simply ran by Kyrie to the hoop, over and over and over again. Not to mention no. 2 couldn’t hit a shot to save his life. Still, a positive half for the Cavs. It ended with an eight-point lead! CLE 54, SAS 46.

Second Half:

Ugly start for the Cavs in the third quarter. They missed a lot of shots, and the Spurs did all the things Gregg Popovich asked them to do. And he’s a genius, so that generally works out well for them. Tony Parker simply ravaged the Cavaliers tonight. If it weren’t for Dion Waiters, this game might have been over before the fourth quarter started. He dropped 10 in the third- all on drives- and was awesome. Kyrie continued to be awful on defense and offense. Then the fourth quarter came, and Cavaliers Nation readied themselves for the entrance of the second unit, the mighty group known as the Herculoids. For all the flak Marreese Speights gets about only shooting jumpers, the man has some great second jump-ability when offensive rebounding. He just hops around until the ball gets in the hoop. The offense was sub-par, but the defense was great. Shaun Livingston is worlds apart from Kyrie when it comes to man-up D. The game went back and forth in the fourth, and when Kyrie hit a pair at the line (giving him a whopping six points on the night!), the Cavs were up 93-90. And then Gary Neal hit an absolute dagger, tying the game. He’s an assassin. Kyrie had a big steal, setting the Cavs up with a chance to take the lead. He wisely got out of the way as Dion calmly drained a 22-footer for the two-point lead. And then the next possession….ugh. An AWFUL decision by Dion to over-help on Tony Parker penetration led to a wide-open Kawhi Leonard corner three….money. With two seconds left, Kyrie managed to slip, commit a carrying violation (no call) and miss a one-handed, falling-down “jumper.” Ballgame. SAS 96, CLE 95.

Notes:

-Maybe the worst game of Kyrie Irving’s young career. I can’t remember him ever looking this out of sorts on offense. 2-15 from the field, six points, five fouls. Sadly, we’re all used to seeing him looks this out of sorts on defense. Tony Parker is a great point guard, but he went to town on Kyrie tonight. Utter decimation.

-Tyler Zeller: 16 points, nine rebounds, four assists, one block, and fantastic defense on Tim Duncan. Timmy D was helpless most of the night, as Zeller’s length and speed were the perfect remedy to the Big Fundamental’s collection of slow hooks and turnaround jumpers.

-Dion was sublime. If he starts to play like this on a regular basis, the rest of the NBA had better watch out. He is an absolute terror on offense when he decides to be aggressive, and is a very solid passer. A lot of his attributes as a player remind me of Monta Ellis, which is not necessarily a negative comparison, and certainly not one that should bother Cavs fans. A stronger Monta Ellis with a higher basketball IQ would be a force to be reckoned with.

-Ideal Alonzo game. Seven points on five shots, and a few rim-rattling dunks.

-The bench as a whole was very solid. C.J. Miles and Shaun Livingston in particular played very well. Speights shot a little poorly. Wayne Ellington was only OK, and is losing ground in the battle for the official “mediocre three-point gunner who only sorta plays defense and only drives once a game” title to Miles.

-Tony Parker PUT DA TEAM ON HIS BACK.

-The Spurs are a great team, and a one-point loss to them is the definition of a moral victory for a team as young and thin as the Cavs.

P.S.

Does this Nerlens Noel injury make him more likely to fall to the Cavs?

Cavs: the Duels #3: Keep or trade Marreese Speights?

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013
At the Manhattan Chess Club in 1971, a crowd gathered around a speed match between Mr. Fischer, left, and Andrew Soltis.

Larry C. Morris/The New York Times

The Cavaliers have been  an order of magnitude better since trading with the Grizzlies for Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington.  But the trade deadline is nine days away.  Should Cleveland be looking to keep Mo, or trade him for some more assets?  Nate Smith and Mallory Factor square off.

Nate: It’s simple really.  In all likelihood Speights will be a free agent this off season.  Since being traded to Cleveland, he’s averaged 13.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1 assist, and .8 blocks with 1.3 turnovers in 22.9 minutes a night.  He’s shooting .450/.333/.882 for a TS% of .526, with a PER of 19.6 according to basketball-reference.  These are pretty good numbers.  So now the Cavs have a bench player who can play both center and power forward, has a cap number of $4.2 million, and has a player option for $4.5 million next year.  He’s certainly going to have value for a team looking to make a playoff run.  Furthermore, the only way Speights doesn’t opt out is if he turns into Roy Tarpley, or if he gets hurt.  If that happens, why would the Cavs even want to pay him $4.5 million next year?

Why wouldn’t Cleveland try to get an asset for him when they could just sign him in the off season anyway?  At that point, it doesn’t matter if he’s a Cleveland free agent or a San Antonio free agent.  Marreese Speights isn’t a sacred cow.  He’s just a basketball player.  If Chris Grant gets a chance at a 2014 pick, why wouldn’t he take it?

Oh, and the bloom is already coming off the rose.  Speights has started regressing to his bad habits: drifting in games, and taking too many jumpers.  In his first six games as a Cavalier, Speights averaged 14.7 points on .529 from the field, and 7.3 rebounds in 24.6 minutes.  In his last three games?  11 ppg on .281 FG%, and 3.7 rebounds in 19.5 minutes.  He is shooting well from the charity line, with a 12-12 game, and a 3-4 game, but the numbers back up the book on Marreese.  He is a player who plays hard… sometimes.  And he’s a player that takes too many jump shots.  If Dani Socher has taught me anything, it’s sell high.  The Cavs should trade Marreese Speights before his numbers plummet further.

Mallory: You make some excellent points, Nate, but you miss the overlying issue with trading Speights – it’s time for this team to not be a abysmal.  It’s no coincidence that the recent success came off the heels of the trade.  Speights has been an absolute beast for this team.  When you consider what The Cavs’ bench was composed of before, versus now, it’s even more apparent that the real value from that trade came in the form of the big man.  The fact is, the team’s bench looks better now than it has since the LeBron era.  You yourself said that the bench outplayed the starters against the Timberwolves.  You’re really willing to give up that cohesiveness for what will likely not match Speights’ output?

Nate: Yes, I’m absolutely willing to give up some of that cohesiveness for a couple months, and then get it back in the summer.  I’m not too sold on the Cavs recent success, either.  Monday’s game proved that the Cavs, especially the young players, have a lot of growing up to do.  Ten weeks of Mo Speights is not going to turn a sniping Tristan and Kyrie into the zen of Larry Nance and Mark Price.  Furthermore, why would Cleveland want to keep winning this season?  They’re costing themselves ping pong balls with each win.  True, this isn’t the greatest draft, but I’d rather a good player in a bad draft than a bad player in a bad draft.

The trade goal should be to flip Mo for some draft picks in 2014. What if the Cavs could trade Mo and a second round pick in 2014, to get a second 1st rounder?  Something like this: Gibson, Speights, Casspi, and a 2014 2nd rounder (one of Cleveland’s two), for Nando De Colo, DeJuan Blair, Stephen Jackson (who’d be immediately bought out), and San Antonio’s 2014 first rounder, top 5 protected.  It makes Cleveland worse short term and better long term.  The trade nets the Cavs another misunderstood big man, a point guard prospect, and another chip in the loaded 2014 draft class, and if the spur falls off the boot next year for San Antonio, then it’s all the better.  Do it for this year and next year’s draft.  Do it for Shabazz!  Do it for Nick Gilbert! Don’t deny him the draft lottery spotlight!

Mallory: You and I have greatly disagreed on the ultimate ends to this season, so I’m going to skip over the discussion about win now vs win later – it’s a much longer discussion for another time.  The fact is that this team feels more fluid than it ever has before .  The risk of disrupting a good dynamic for someone who would likely be less known than Speights (who, let me remind you, is only 25) is too high to make it worthwhile.  The chance that Speights re-signs with whatever team he ends the season on is always going to be higher than it will be that he’ll sign with another team.  Lets say Speights gets traded for a middling round pick in any given draft – isn’t the most likely scenario for whatever that player turns out to be worse than Speights himself?

Your hypothetical trade is great, yes, but I HIGHLY doubt any team gives up that much for Speights.  He’s quickly turning into one of those guys who is worth endlessly more to this Cavs team (who need a multi-functional big) versus other teams.  Additionally, with all the excitement over the 2014 draft, I doubt those picks will go for cheap – even if they’re middle round picks that, in all likelihood, won’t even end up being players better than Speights.

Basically, unless Cleveland can package Speights with some guys for a KNOWN player or a DEFINITE top 5 pick, there’s no reason to do it.  His value in the short and long term is as a guy who helps the development of players like Kyrie, Dion (who has played MUCH better with Speights on the team than before), and TT.  As guy who can be part of the not-so-distant future, that is substantially higher than what the Cavs would get in return.

Thomas Ondrey, The Plain Dealer

Speights: Gellin'... like a felon.

Nate: The crux of your argument is, “Cleveland’s gelling right now.  Getting rid of Speights could stop that and hurt their long term development.”  I just don’t see it.  Kyrie Irving is not going to look back some day when he actually turns into Uncle Drew and say, “that ten extra weeks I got to play with Mo Speights in the spring of ’13… it changed everything.”

The second focus of your argument is that Speights will be more likely to sign with the team the Cavs trade him to than with the Cavs.  You might be right if it’s a team like the Spurs.  Mo might get a taste of winning, and never want to leave.  But, he could also get buried on some team and never want to re-sign there because he won’t get an opportunity like he would with Cleveland.

Your third argument is that Cleveland won’t get enough to make it worth their while: the trade has to be worth the increased risk of not signing him in the off-season.  But you’re forgetting that the Cavs could decide not to trade Speights, and then get nothing if he leaves.  The fact that the Cavs gave up little to get him doesn’t matter.  He’s an asset, and letting him leave for nothing is a bad business decision – like the movie,  Rock of Ages bad.

Chris Grant doesn’t know what other teams will offer him till he tries.  A top five pick probably isn’t going to happen, but as the last few years have shown, having multiple first round picks greases the wheels in a lot of trades.  One never knows if the jewel Cleveland gets for selling high on Marreese Speights is the extra little scale tipper needed to get a superstar in the future.

Mallory: Look, I get Speights isn’t a fanchise-changing guy.  At least not in the superstar Kyrie way.   (I’d argue that Mo’s arrival has changed the Cavs over the past month, but whatever).  The point is that he’s become a big part of the way this team runs.  His averages have been great, his tenacity is absurd, and he fits the team’s needs perfectly.  If Cleveland trades him, I doubt he looks back and says “now that’s the team I want to go back to,” but if they keep him, I bet he ends up re-signing.

Chances are, whatever they get in a straight-up trade or a trade where Speights is the featured piece – whether it be a pick or a prospect – will not end up being up to his caliber as a bench guy.  (Lets put it this way – who, in the last month, has been a better player: Tyler Zeller or Speights?  Think that kind of pick.)  Why would the Cavs risk losing Speights  just because they want to keep making deals?

If a mind-blowing trade comes along, where the Cavs trade Speights, Zeller, Walton’s contract, plus their #1 pick for Cousins or something, then duh I’d pull that in a heartbeat (note: I have no idea if that trade works), but for another shot in the dark?  No way.  At some point they have to look at this roster, say to themselves, “This is the foundation for success.  We’ll add another piece or two, and then we’re big time contenders.”  Speights alone will likely not change that landscape.  So why rock the boat?

So who wins, Commentariat?  Should Cleveland keep Mr. Speights or attempt to trade him?

Kyrie vs. Byron (but in a good way)

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

I'm rooting for Byron, personally.

Sometimes it seems like all that Cavs fans want to talk about is weighty, depressing stuff: Kyrie’s horrendous defense on the pick-’n-roll, Dion’s off-balance 22-footers, or Tyler Zeller’s general awfulness. Which makes sense, of course. The Cavs are a pretty terrible basketball team. But with a young team like the Cavs, with a young star like Kyrie Irving, sometimes stories come out about the Cavs that just make you smile, stories that don’t require general hysterics about Greg Oden’s knees.

For example, this one. Apparently Byron Scott has issued a three-point shooting challenge to Kyrie Irving, in preparation for Kyrie’s performance in the NBA All Star Three-Point Shootout. From Uncle Drew himself: “I just read something today where coach Scott unofficially challenged me…that’s something a third-place winner would do, go behind my back and challenge me.” Byron Scott finished third in the Three-Point Shootout himself in 1988, after finishing dead last in 1987. Is there anyway the Cavs can get this televised?

P.S.

Watch this Kyrie highlight reel. Immediately.

Cavs: The Podcast 0024 – Cavs: 92, T-Wolves: 100

Monday, February 11th, 2013

What an awful loss.  It’s never easy watching your favorite team lose to an equally awful one.  Even more, when you’re at home and coming off a pretty good last ten.

Tom and I had a lot to say about this lost, so we decided to pop on the line for a mega-podcast!  In it we discuss the recent loss to the T-Wolves, the development of Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and our bench, and answer some of your questions.

As always we’re on soundcloud at: https://soundcloud.com/cavstheblog/0024-cavs-92-t-wolves-100

And on iTunes at: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/cavs-the-podcast/id528149843?mt=2

Enjoy!

Links to the Present: February 11, 2013

Monday, February 11th, 2013

There’s a bunch of stories floating around the web today that have some ties to the Cavaliers.

  • Livingston always knew he would return in some capacity. So did his grandfather. “People ask me that question and I say I expected it,” Frank Livingston said. “I expected him to do well. I don’t expect us to fail. I expect us to do well.“ Profile of Shaun Livingston.  [Jonathan Abrams - Grantland]
  • “We’ve got to continue to grow and these guys have got to continue to learn how to play with each other,” Scott said. “But right now, they are vibing. So we want them to keep vibing.” [Jodie Valade - The Plain Dealer]
  • “Then you start to think about it and realize that this is more serious than I thought. A week after the surgery I was at home thinking about how I could be gone right now.” Anderson Varejao’s Blood Clot Scare [Marc J Spears - Yahoo! Sports]
  • “Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas — the generation of stars that made the NBA a force — all wanted to lead all-time great teams. LeBron wanted that in Cleveland and won 66 regular-season games in 2009. Unfortunately, he bought the hype and surrendered to the NCAA/NBA Combine culture that subtly preaches team greatness is irrelevant, individual greatness is all that matters.  Only the ring matters.” [Jason Whitlock - FoxSports]
  • “I’m just proud of him. He didn’t start listening to what everybody was saying. He stuck to doing the things we felt he needed to do. Now he’s starting to see the progress he’s making.” -Byron Scott on Tristan Thompson [Bob Finnan - The Morning Journal]

Ask Away!

Monday, February 11th, 2013

In lieu of a post (keep your eyes peeled for my new Brews and Bruises, by the way) I figured I’d open the comments section to your questions.  Tonight we’ll be podcasting post-game.  Let us know what you’d like us to discuss and we’ll do our best to cover it.


Resetting Greg Oden

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

Courtesy of Jason Lloyd, the buzz around C-Town is that the Cavs are going to offer Greg Oden a multi-year deal as soon as the trade deadline passes. Everything sorta makes sense: Oden played at OSU and is currently living in Columbus. The Cavaliers have a strong partnership with the Cleveland Clinic and Oden comes with a history of debilitating injuries. There is hope that Cleveland is exactly the sort of environment someone like Oden needs to restart his career. Consider this tidbit from the Plain Dealer in October: Zydrunas Ilgauskas was one of Parker’s patients in 2002 when the now-retired 7-foot 3-inch center was plagued by foot injuries. An innovative surgical procedure kept him in the game, and “Z” will join Ironman world champion David Scott on Monday to talk about the practical impact of the latest technology in sports. ‘Parker’ is Dr. Richard Parker, the chair of Orthopedic Surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. Also still in town, is BIG Z. Think a 7-footer whose career almost ended before it started because of chronic foot problems could help Greg Oden? I do.

How about emotional support? Greg Oden’s not a Nintendo cartridge after all – can’t just pop out his knees, blow on them, stick em back in, and enjoy endless hours of fun. He’s had some documented hardships during his short NBA career. I’d recommend this interview to anyone interested in getting to know Greg Oden a little more. It seems to me that Greg Oden is going to need an emotionally-nurturing environment. (On and off the court)  I’m probably not an expert on the lifestyles and accompanying temptations that young professional athletes deal with, so I’ll just defer to Greg on this one: “For starters, Portland isn’t a great city to live in if you’re a young, African American male with a lot of money,” Greg explained with an embarrassed grin. “But that’s especially true if you don’t have anybody to guide you. Since I was hurt the entire season, I was on my own a bunch and didn’t have veteran teammates around to help me adapt to the NBA lifestyle.”
Having lived in Cleveland and spent some time in Portland – I think Cleveland is a better place for a young professional looking to get his career off on the right foot (pun not really intended until it seemed too obviously intended).  After all, [Portland]  and Greg Oden is not interested in retiring. In addition, the Cavaliers have a pretty good history (at least in the last decade) of acquiring high character guys and keeping them out of trouble. It’s a mandate for the current front office and it’s evident in the selection and growth of guys like Tristan Thompson. Might just be a coincidence, but news of a Big Z – Canadian Dynamite mentoring first surfaced in early December. And as is well documented here at CtB, Tristan has been in straight Beast (sometimes Video Game) Mode since mid-December. Anderson Varejao has spoken on many occasions how Zydrunas mentored him and helped him adapt to the game and the lifestyle. I see no reason why the same support wouldn’t be available for and embraced by Greg Oden.

Thanks for everything, Z. Modern Day Mr. Cleveland

How about on the court? The situation is a little bit different in Cleveland today than it was 3 years ago when the Cavs drafted J.J. Hickson. There is no ‘win-now’ mandate, and Byron Scott is certainly comfortable giving a ton of minutes to a ton of young guys (except Omri Casspi – arggghhh). Also, as should be ridiculously self-evident, the Cavaliers do not have a true starting center. Varejao has filled-in admirably at C since 2010 and Thompson works hard even when he’s giving up inches and lbs, but both guys are better suited to defend the PF position. And while the Cavaliers have played much better since shoring up the bench, their interior defense is still getting abused on a nightly basis. It’s the one negative common thread between almost all of the recaps.

Advanced Stat Proof that Big Guys Own the Cavs

This brings me to the crux of the argument against the Greg Oden experiment – that he won’t play much and won’t be effective in a diminished form.  I think the current NBA landscape is a bit of a mirage, especially in the Eastern Conference. There was a time, not even 4 years ago, that Dan Gilbert opened up his wallet and shelled out TWENTY MILLION DOLLARS for, literally, [I'm dead serious here] THE ABILITY TO COVER DWIGHT HOWARD WITHOUT DOUBLE TEAMING. Try to wrap your mind around that. A 66-win team that started the PLAYOFFS 8-0 with 8 double digit wins, was exposed by one guy, that just happened to be bigger, stronger, and higher than everyone else. No one was under the illusion that Shaq was brought in to be a mentor or some kind of defensive ace or to help the Cavs score more points. No. Shaq was playing distant 2nd banana in 2006. In 2010? Forget it. [Read the first paragraph]

Yeah but I was drawing all those double teams while Wade drew all those phantom whistles.

Twenty Million Dollars so that Dwight Howard, a really big, really strong center, wouldn’t be able to bully his way in the paint. And today fans across NE Ohio are saying to themselves “Greg Oden’s never going to play much, and even if he does, he won’t be effective.” My question for the doubters is: won’t be effective at WHAT? At being 7 feet tall? At weighing upwards of 300 lbs? In his injury-riddled, foul-plagued, incredibly short NBA career, he STILL averaged 2.3 blocks in under 24 minutes a game in his second season. [This is an average of 1 block every 10.48 minutes.  For perspective, Dikembe Mutombo averaged 1 block every 11.19 minutes] He was a monster around the glass and he held opposing Cs to a sub 14 PER (while he posted a 24 PER). The Blazers were better on defense AND offense with Oden on the court. Check out his 82games.com numbers from his last season.

Greg Oden: larger than Dwight Howard

It doesn’t take much in the way of scouting or analysis to recognize that the Cavs, the NBA’s worst team at both blocking shots and getting their shot blocked, could use a guy that blocks a shot every 5 minutes. And who knows, maybe someday, if the East ever becomes decent again (you’re lucky as $#!^, Miami) and having a legit big is necessary to make a deep playoff run, the Cavs will have a guy that they only paid a few million dollars to so that they wouldn’t have to double-team a Dwight Howard or an Andrew Bynum, or an Anthony Davis, or even someone closer to home, like Andre Drummond or (geez, even) Nikola Vucevic. The last 3 years, Greg Oden has been defined by what he failed to do. I still remember a guy that was as dominant defensively as David Robinson coming out of college. Yes, today the NBA is no longer a “big man’s league” in the sense that centers aren’t asked to average 20 shots a night from the low block. But this game, has always been, and will always be, about buckets. And in the playoffs, it’s about getting easy buckets. And having an elite shotblocker, upwards of 7 feet tall and 300 lbs, gives your team a unique advantage – for the other guys, a lot of those buckets don’t come so easy anymore.

The Chapter in Which Kyrie Irving wasn’t a demigod, and Marreese Speights Was Awful: DEN 111, CLE 103

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

Javale Mcgee put the team on his back.

The Cavs have been on a great streak lately, and before this game had won six of eight and three in a row. The Nuggets were on an even better tear: eight in a row, with this win making it nine. What happens when a stoppable force meets a slightly less stoppable force? The second force wins by eight points. The Cavs played reasonably well tonight, but Denver is a premier NBA team, and the Cavs allowed the Nuggets to do Nugget-y things all night: run the floor, block shots, hit open threes, dunk, etc. On to the highlights:

1st Quarter:

The dominant narrative of the first quarter was that Alonzo Gee turned into Kevin Durant for a few minutes. He was draining threes, knocking down step-back J’s, and getting to the line. It was simply amazing to watch. He had 13 in three minutes, and 15 for the quarter. The defense was awful, though, and Tyler Zeller especially got manhandled in the paint. But it wasn’t just Tyler- the George Karl drive ‘n dish offense simply dismantled the Cavs. The quarter wasn’t awful, though. Kyrie Irving displayed his usual offensive wizardry, and the Cavs were up two at the end of one. CLE 32, DEN 30.

2nd Quarter:

The second was really, really ugly until the 4:39 mark, when both teams threw their hands up and said the hell with defense. Before that point, there were a lot of Denver bricks and Dion Waiters turnovers and blocked shots. Kyrie and Tristan had a few buckets, and then Denver heated up and scored the last eight to take a six point lead into halftime. DEN 58, CLE 52.

3rd Quarter:

Alonzo scored the first bucket of the third, and all of Cavaliers Nation waited breathlessly for another offensive explosion. Denver hit three shots in a row, and Kenneth Faried continued to jump all over the place, and Cavaliers Nation sighed. Then Alonzo scored again, and we sang hosannas and danced for our small forward. Alas, that was the end of it. Denver was nursing a ten point lead with six minutes left when Kyrie picked up his fourth foul of the game. His fouls were mostly a product of his general defensive malaise, and not fantastic effort on the fast break.  The quarter finished, and Denver had an eleven-point lead. DEN 84, CLE 73.

4th Quarter:

Andre Miller started off the final frame with an and-one. Man, is that guy crafty. Just like that, the Cavs were down  14. A few Kyrie free throws, and some Ellington-Speights spice later, the lead was trimmed to 10. Then the Cavs basically traded buckets with the Nuggets for the rest of the quarter. That’s not a good way to win games when facing a deficit,  it turned out.  The Cavs could just not protect the paint tonight, or play anything resembling transition defense. The Nuggets had 62 in the paint, 20 on the break, and an eight point lead when the final buzzer sounded. DEN 111, CLE 103.

Bullets:

-Alonzo Gee’s one-man explosion in the first was a joy to watch. I’m not sure why the Cavs didn’t really look his way again for the rest of the game. He finished  8-8 from the field, and 3-3 from three. Think we could have used a few more bombs from Alonzo?

-Kyrie had 26, 7 and 6 tonight. 10-24 shooting. Not the type of game to complain about, but it wasn’t enough tonight. Perhaps this represents how badly the Cavs need help. Kyrie couldn’t pull it together for another maestro performance, and that meant a Cavs loss (not that there weren’t other factors).

-Dion was ineffective tonight. He had a few nice passes, and wasn’t a total matador on defense (that’s YOU, Kyrie), but  he looked disoriented and was easily harassed into bad decisions.

-Tyler Zeller was awful. Really, really bad. He needs a lot of extra weight, but I’m not sure how much that bulk will even help unless he starts knocking down that mid-range jumper he likes so much.

-Tristan was a mixed bag. A few nice moves on offense, but Kenneth Faried absolutely abused him in the post. Manimal beat Tristan to the ball (and the hoop) all night.

-MARRREEEESSSSEEE Speights was really bad, shooting only 1-10 from the field. The caps lock, if you were wondering, indicates the scream intoned from my couch each time Speights takes an off-balance, early-in-the-shot-clock jumper. We get it, you’re a jump-shooting big man, Marreese. But you’re still a big man. Maybe it’s time to try a layup or two?

-Livingston and Ellington both had solid games.

-Eight of nine Nuggets had double digits, and the other guy to play (of nine) had seven. Man, these guys can ball. Also, I’m convinced that Javale Mcgee would be an All-Star with 35 MPG.

Recap: Cleveland 119, Orlando 108 (or it’s time to nickname this bench)

Friday, February 8th, 2013

Cavs came into the game riding a 2 game win streak and winning 6 of their last 9.  The opening story is Dion Waiters, who Byron Scott is praising for his new found “openness.”  Orlando?  Riding an 11 game losing streak.  Lets get to the highlights.

1st Quarter:

Tyler Zeller flubs his first pass out of bounds.  And Dion attacks the basket on the next trip down, drawing two free throws.  Vucevic, a Nate Smith favorite, finishes a well run pick and roll, the first of his 11 points this quarter.  Gee: brick against the side of the bucket.  Oy.  Vucevic is abusing Zeller and Thompson early on the boards.  TT with a reverse layup!  Another new move!

Cavs trapping a lot early, but the Magic are doing a good job of moving the ball.  Waiters has a nice quarter with 8 points, including a couple tough transition buckets.  The bench starts to trickle in around 4:11 left in the 1st.  By the end of this game, Fred McCleod will be calling for a nickname for them.  I humbly submit the Herculoids: the bizarre Hanna-Barbera cartoon from the late 60s, featuring a collection of aliens with disparate and mismatched skills who work together together “employing precision teamwork and complex tactics.

2nd Quarter

Walton for 3 from the top of the key!  Magic Iso Afflalo on Ellington.  The Magic score two of their first three baskets that way.    Luke Walton leads a break and finds Speights under the basket with a heads up pass.  Dion is 4 for 4 early, attacking the bucket.

TT is getting really good at the 10 foot baby hook.  Zeller follows it up with a monster block on the defensive end.  TT to Zeller on a give and go which leads to two freethrows.  We can talk all we want about TT’s post game, but his passing is so much better than last year.

Kyrie is channels Mitch Ritchmond in the post with a sick turnaround over Jameer Nelson.  I love that move because post moves are easy buckets, and easy buckets win games.  Some great outlet passing by the Cavs tonight…  Waiters: another layup.  One hole in Kyrie’s game is when he has to get tall to make a pass.  The overhand baseball pass often comes out as a shot-put or as a bullet to the third row.

Nicholson, another Nate Smith fave, is having a nice game too with a 14 point this quarter off post up hooks and open jumpers out of the trap, and Jameer Nelson is feeding everyone well.  The Cavs’ bugaboo is still the pick and roll defense.  It seems as if the Cavs bigs are over helping, and not recovering off the traps and helps very well.  They’re showing, but they’re not showing aggressively, leading to easy passes and a feast of jumpers and layups for the Orlando big men.

Ooh!  TT with another new move!  Right hand dribble drive and Vucevic tries to pin him against the baseline, but TT calmly seals Nikola on his left side, and powers back to get an angle on the right square, and puts it in with the right hand off the glass.  Very nice.  56 All at the half.

3rd Quarter:

Nicholson abuses TT on the block, who gambles and Andrew breezes by for a layup.  KYRIE IRVING splits the pick and roll with a sick crossover then scores on Vucevic at the basket with an Uncle Drew up and under layup.

Orlando is out-executing the Cavs: more solid picks, better curls, on time passes, anticipating the double teams, and moving the ball to the correct man, hitting open shots, and out-rebounding Cleveland.

Gee is absolutely broke on offense tonight.  Thankfully, Gee’s defense is solid tonight, and he gets a steal out of a time out that leads to 2 freebies.  Tie game.

Vucevic is killing the Cavs, but the second year wonder gives me hope for Zeller’s production.  Zeller has a similar body and game to Vucevic, and if he can get strong like Nikola, then there’s a lot of hope for him.

Nicholson, Jumper.  Ugh.  Nicholson and big V are 18-26 for the game right now.  19-27… Vucevik on a putback after Kyrie got spun around on a pick and roll.

Uh oh.  Walton comes in for Zeller.  Gee with a steal!  Speights off the glass!  Kyrie misses at the buzzer, but the Cavs post a 10-2 run to close the quarter with a 5 point lead.

4th Quarter:

Shaun Livingston with another nice mid ranger.  Then he does a great job of getting skinny on around a screen and draws an offensive foul.

Ellington, three!  Ten point lead.  Timeout, Orlando.

Speights getting to the line with offensive rebounding pump fakes, aggressive cuts, and nice post moves.  He’s a really skilled big man.

Cavs depth causing trouble for the Magic who just don’t have the numbers to keep up with Cleveland’s bench.  Vucevic and Nicholson are starting to look gassed…  but Nicholson with a nice left hook on the block.

Man, the Cavs bench squad passes well.  Sometimes the ball barely touches the floor.

Nelson hits a big three to cut it to 7.  LIVINGSTON TO THE RACK!!!! Throws down a gliding dunk over Nicholson and Nelson off a sweet give and go from Luke Walton.  Dear god, that was nasty.

Nelson with another triple to cut the lead to 3, but Miles answers out of the timeout.  Cavs in the bonus with 5:23 left.  Nice Job by the Herculoids.  Afflalo cuts it to 5 on a corner three on a bad Ellington closeout.  Vucevik cuts the lead to 3 on a left block layup.  Miles answers with a left handed runner. Kyrie with some fantastic transition defense on an —  Ohmigod, Kyrie with another sweet crab dribble layin.  7 point lead.  WHEW.  Waiters bricks a 3 with a capital B.

Kyrie slpits another double and gets to the line again.  Ooh.  Harkless with a nifty layup for and 1.  Tyler was beat again.  Ellington, Corner 3!  114-104 Waiters steal, Ellington, Runout Dunk!  Herculoids!

Conclusions:

This was a classic NBA win by a better team: keep it close for 3 quarters, and then blow the other team out in the 4th.  The Cavs bench was a group of super powered aliens, with 51 points.  Though the Cavs did not defend the shot well, giving up 52.3 FG% to the Magic  Cleveland continued their high risk, high reward defense, forcing 19 turnovers, and protecting the ball very well, only giving up 6 turnovers: the key to the game.

Nikola Vucevic looked like an all-star tonight with 25 points, 13 boards, 3 dimes, a block, and only 1 turnover on 12-19 shooting. He had to play 43 minutes and it was obvious he was exhausted by the game’s end.  Great draft pick by Philadelphia, and a fantastic acquisition by Orlando.  Combined with Andrew Nicholson, they could be a very exciting big man combination for Orlando for many years to come.

It’s worth comparing 2013 draftees Andrew Nicholson and Tyler Zeller.  Both 23 year old rookies, Zeller was drafted at 17, and Nicholson two spots later at 19.  While Zeller is 7’ and Nicholson is 6’9”.  Nicholson’s huge 7’4” wingspan and monstrous hands negate the difference, and give him a standing reach of 8’11” compared to Zeller’s 8’9”.  Furthermore, Nicholson is outshooting Zeller by a large margin.  Zeller is posting 8.1 points and 6.1 rebounds off of .414/.000/.765 shooting in 27.4 minutes for a 10.89 PER compared to Nicholson’s  7.3 and 3.4 in 15.1 minutes off of .530/.000/.800 shooting for a 15.44 PER.  To be fair, Zeller is asked to player a bigger role, and score fewer points than Nicholson, but the extended minutes are taking their toll on Zeller’s shooting.  Cleveland may have missed out on the better player here.

One think I’m noticing about the flow in the offense is that the Cavs almost always have 2 point guard style players on the floor between Irving, Waiters, Livingston, and sometimes Walton.  When the defense overloads the guard on the strong side, it’s an easy swing to the other wing where the opposite guard can put the ball on the floor one on one.  Even when it’s Livingston and Walton, the ball just MOVES.  It’s really pretty to watch.

This was another monster performance by the Cavs bench.  Speights, though his shot wasn’t falling (3-13) he was getting to the line where he was a ridic 12-12.  The ability of all the Cavs bench players to play multiple positions really helps when subbing them in and out.  Casspi, Jones, and Gibson all received DNP’s and the way the Herculoids are playing, I doubt they’ll be seeing any minutes outside of garbage time for the extended future.  Ellington had a great game, and played for Gee down the stretch — I’m assuming because of his ability to stretch the floor on offense.  Wayne was getting lit up by Afflalo early, but kept coming to finish with 14 points and a game high +17.  I really like his game.  Miles, Walton, and Livingston were all similarly competent.

As for the Starters?   Waiters attacked the basket, and only settled for a couple bad jumpers for a 15/2/2 line with 2 steals.  Gee was rough on offense, but played fine defense through the first three quarters.  Zeller struggled on defense as Nicholson and big V combined for 46, and Z was often on the wrong side of defensive rotations, but he did flash a monster block and scored 7, all from the line…

TT wasn’t much better on D, but did have a block and 2 steals.  His offense is a revelation.  16 points off 7-11 from the floor.  Let’s be honest here.  I didn’t ever think I’d say this, but Canadian Dynamite needs to become one of the top 3 offensive options every time he’s on the floor.  It’s time to run some plays for him.  His offensive efficiency is stunning lately.  He’s becoming deadly effective out to 12 feet, can dribble drive, and never takes stupid shots.

The Cavs have this guy named Kyrie Irving.  He’s pretty good.  Kyrie: 24, 8 dimes, 6 boards, on .64 TS% and only 2 turnovers.  He even had a very nice defensive transition play I interrupted earlier, where he poked the ball away from Afflalo, and then dived out of bounds to try to throw the ball back in over his head to a teammate, leading to an Orlando turnover.  Uncle Drew rules.

Counters:

New Tristan Thompson Post Moves  +2

4 step crab dribble buckets: +2 (one by Speights tonight)

Chest bumps: +11

GMs pissed they didn’t get a shot at Speights or Ellington: +28