Archive for March, 2013

Recap: Cavs 92, Hornets 112

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

I was out-of-town this weekend and arrived home later than expected, plus I have a cold, so not much of a recap tonight.  Not that this game deserves an opus.  Cleveland, riding a seven-game losing streak towards the third-most lottery chances, faced one of their closest “competitors”.  Kyrie Irving returned from injury to face 2012 first-pick Anthony Davis.

Very glad to have you back, Kyrie! Now, watch the tape of the first half. Play like that all of the time. Burn the tape of the third quarter.

Starting sloppily, the teams combined for six turnovers in the first three minutes, until Kyrie started his Mr. Amazing routine: a between the legs pass to Tristan for a dunk, a pick-and-roll dime to Tyler, followed by another drive & dish that netted Thompson a slam.  12 to 8 Cleveland.   Limiting his minutes, Kyrie headed to the bench early, and Ryan Anderson and Brian Roberts started scorching the Cavs; the duo combined for thirteen points in five minutes, pacing New Orleans to a 21 to 23 first-quarter lead.  One Cleveland highlight featured a nasty backdoor pass from Walton to Livingston, allowing Shaun to ridiculously posterize a poor-Hornet with a filthy left-handed slam; the play deserved each of those adjectives.

Anderson scored another seven early in the second, building his fifteen first-half points with back-downs against Livingston and Speights.  The Hornets lead 23 to 34 when Kyrie checked-in around the 8:30 mark.  Irving proceeded to dominate: a tough and-one in the lane; a scintillating ball-handling display that ended with Lou Amundson on the ground and Kyrie at the hoop; two drive & kicks for easy teammate-jumpers; three drained hoists of his own; and two free throws.  The deficit ceased to exist, as Cleveland went to the locker-room ahead 49 to 48.  Recently, I read Jamal Crawford talking about Chris Paul’s complete control of the game; twenty-five year old Kyrie Irving can (needs to?) own that same mastery.  In the first half, Kyrie’s plus-12, behind 14 points on 69% true shooting, with 5 assists and zero turnovers, ranks amongst Irving’s best offensive play to date.  He found open teammates, complimenting it with his other-worldly scoring ability (or vice-versa).  It was definitely great to see him on the court again.

Then, everything went to hell; shocking that a third quarter would start like that.  New Orleans forged a 17-to-2 run: errant passes, offensive fouls, missed jumpers…the offense turned to garbage.  And from that, resulted New Orleans alley-oops.  Several of them; Cleveland routinely butchered transition defense, and Anthony Davis thanked them.  Many of his thirteen third-quarter points arrived via soaring throw-downs as the Cavs whimpered helplessly.  Kyrie’s second-quarter magic shifted down a few gears, including a horrible three-on-two break, where instead of hitting Ellington flying down the wing, he dribbled behind-the-back away from him, allowing the defense to catch up, before botching a bounce-pass to a trailing Tristan.  Cleveland trailed 57 to 70 when Irving headed to the bench.  The Herculoids offered highlights; Walton found Livingston and Speights for dunks, but every time the Cavs mounted a run, New Orleans found an open three or lay-up.  Cleveland trails 73 to 84, as we’re off to the fourth.

Tonight, the back-ups could not package their special brew of lightning-in-a-bottle.  Livingston and Walton provided turnovers, and the Cavs did not score for nearly five minutes.  New Orleans stretched the lead to twenty…and that is how the game ended.   Of his twelve points in five minutes of garbage time, Kyrie made one of the most absurdly awesome lay-ups ever…EVER!!  Underhanded, with his arm fully-outstretched flying under the basket, switching hands after drawing contact, he spun the ball high off the glass, for a jaw-dropping and-one.  Phenomenal, but unfortunately occurring while embroiled in a double-digit runaway loss.

Cleveland’s defense was generally horrible.  New Orleans hit 54% of their field goals and 57% from deep.  After forking-over twelve turnovers in the first half, the Hornets only lost-the-ball twice in the second, scoring 64 points and running the Cavs out of the gym.  If you get a chance, check out their third & fourth quarter shot charts; only four of those 64 were not in the paint, from three, or at the free throw line.  The entire second half, New Orleans got whatever shot they wanted.  It was hideous.

With 22 wins and 50 losses, Cleveland continues to firmly entrench themselves into the third-best lottery chances.

A few bullets:

  • Kyrie Irving…31 points and 6 assists in 29 minutes.  Very glad to have him back.  But his first half featured 5 assists and 0 turnovers, compared to one versus three in the second.  Greivis Vasquez and Eric Gordon abused him a few times on defense also, both in isolation or the pick & roll.
  • Tristan finished with 12 & 10 on 6 of 9 shooting.  He finished a few rim-rattling dunks off of Kyrie dishes, but also finished put-backs and his running hook.  On a couple of his early misses, I thought fouls may have been in order…but I am biased; Cleveland shot only 12 free throws, compared to New Orleans with 29.
  • Walton and Livingston combined for 3 assists and 4 turnovers, a major contrast from their Herculoidian hey-day.  Miles finished one of nine from the field, as only Speights played particularly well, draining several jumpers and finishing contested shots at the rim.  Despite his 12 points & 4 rebounds on 67% true shooting, the second-unit allowed runs early in the second and fourth quarters.
  • Daniel Gibson and Omri Casspi shot 0 for 5 and finished minus-26 in twenty-six combined minutes.  I want to remember the good times (even though for Omri that may only mean the pre-season game against Orlando when he scored six in overtime).
  • The Hornet point guards (Vasquez and Roberts) finished with 40 points, 12 assists, 4 turnovers, 5 steals and 83% True Shooting.  Congratulations to Toledo-an Brian Roberts on a stellar “rookie” season, after graduating from Dayton in 2008.  Whether open threes or lightly-contested forays to the hoop, Gee, Irving, Gibson, etc offered little resistance on the perimeter, while the bigs impeded little at the hoop.
  • Outrebounded 45 to 31, Cleveland grabbed only 3 of 39 available offensive boards.  As far as giving an inspiring effort, making hustle plays, etc, the Cavs offered very little tonight.

Recap: Cavs 87 – 76ers 97

Friday, March 29th, 2013

So you're saying there's a chance...

The Cavs hosted the Philadelphia 76ers, who are not yet mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.

(more…)

Byron isn’t Sorry

Friday, March 29th, 2013

That's a familiar pose.

While searching for a Byron Scott-as-coach image to post with this link, I noticed that every single picture looked the same. Stalwart, stoic Byron, standing with his arms firmly folded across his chest. Every Cavaliers fan has that image burned into their head by now, indelible. Throughout it all, close losses and huge defeats alike, Byron has maintained his serious face, and folded his serious arms. This reflects, unfortunately, his apparent attitude towards coaching. Unchanging, unwilling. Against the Celtics, Tyler Zeller was kicking ass through three quarters. 11 points, 9 rebounds. Coach Scott promptly benched him for the entire fourth. While the Celtics made their late charge to win the game, the Cavaliers had three timeouts left. The Cavaliers ended the game with three timeouts. Check out this Jodie Valade article about Scott’s thoughts on the game. Do you feel comfortable going forward with Byron Scott as coach of the future?

Lessons from the Bench

Friday, March 29th, 2013

The Cavs core contains: Kyrie Irving – Dion Waiters – Tristan Thompson – Tyler Zeller

All four members of the core were selected with first round picks in the last two drafts.  It’s reasonable to assume that at least 1 more draft pick will be added to the core this offseason.  The core remains solidified barring a major trade until at least 2015.

The Cavs bench can reasonably include: Shaun Livingston – Wayne Ellington  - Luke Walton –  Marreese Speights

The bench contains waiver-wire gem Shaun Livingston and 3 guys acquired in salary dumps.  It’s easy to imagine the trades were more about the accompanying draft picks than anything else.  But then they started playing together, and the Cavs, perhaps buoyed by a less grueling schedule, suddenly looked like a decent team.  The fate of the bench, or the Herculoids as they’re known around here, is anybody’s guess.  Logic suggests Ellington will be back, and I think Speights will opt-out, making it highly unlikely he returns to the Cavs.  Walton and Livingston will be unrestricted free agents. [HoopsWorld]

I appreciate what you did with the bench. But are they gonna be around next year?

The core and the bench share a locker room, and not much else.  Consider some of the differences:

Age and Experience: Zeller is the adult of the core, and the other 3 could still be in college next season had they stayed.  Ellington and Speights are 3 and 4 year players and Livingston and Walton are certified veterans.

Offensive Approach: The core scores more than 20% of its points off turnovers, and scores almost 11% of its points in transition.  The bench generates about 15% of its points off turnovers, but only 6% in transition.  The core has the edge in points in the paint and plays at a faster pace.  Naturally, it is a more athletic ensemble and tries to leverage that athleticism on offense.  Armed with only that information, you might suppose the core is a more efficient offensive team.  But it’s the opposite.  The core has posted an offensive rating of 100.9, while the bench sits comfortably at 107.7.  For perspective, the Heat lead the NBA with an ORTG of 112.6 and the Wizards are last with a 99.9 mark.

Defensive Approach: The core generates a lot of turnovers.  At a rate of 16.4% of opponent possessions ending in turnovers, that’s good for 5th in the NBA.  Their opponent foul shot to field goal attempted ratio (FTA/FGA) is slightly better than league average so they aren’t playing Jerry Sloan defense in order to force the turnovers.  The core secures only 70.4% of opponent misses – which would be the worst mark in the NBA this season.   The bench generates a more modest 14.2% opponent turnover rate, sends teams to the line more often, and does a decent job blocking out offensive rebounders – securing 76.1% of missed shots (higher than any NBA team this season).  The core bites more on pump fakes and chases shooters off the three point line, whereas the bench tends to concede many more triple tries over cemented feet and outstretched arms.  The core gives up 7 threes a game at 43% while the bench gives up 9 threes a game at 37%.  The core really can’t stop anybody on defense and is often exposed on the perimeter during a pick and roll.  The D breaks down and the players are left scrambling after the ball handler the way pee-wee soccer teams play defense.  The bench does a slightly better job, often choosing to switch screens on the perimeter limiting the crippling bouts of 4 on 5 defense.  The bench is longer, and more fundamentally sound, making life more difficult on ball handlers.  The bench gives up 46% FG and 36% 3PFG which is below average, while the core gives up 50% FG and 43% 3PFG which is shockingly poor and would easily generate the worst eFG% in the NBA.

The situation may not be quite as dire as presented above.  The bench as categorized avoided much of the early season gauntlet and does get the benefit of playing more minutes against opponent 2nd stringers.  Still, they do many things better than the core.  As the youth movement comes of age there are lessons that they can learn from their elders.  I’ll highlight a few that I’ve noticed over the course of the season.

Let's teach these young bloods how a 2-man game works

1.) Movement without the ball

Here at CtB we’ve bemoaned offensive stagnation all season – specifically when Dion and Kyrie are the culprits.  Check out Kevin’s answer to question 1.  http://www.cavstheblog.com/?p=18025 Neither player seems willing to make defenses pay any attention when the other is in isolation.  The Herculoids are a great lesson in moving without the ball.  Few offensive possessions feature non-ball handlers clearing out and waiting for something to happen.  Ellington flashes to the corners and Livingston does a great job keeping defenses honest by constantly making sharp backdoor cuts when he doesn’t have the ball.  Luke Walton’s willingness to pass is the secret ingredient that keeps the other players hungry to find an opening.  Walton, Livingston, and Ellington all make better use of screens than their younger brethren and it creates a fluid offense that scores well in half-court sets.  This is something the core must improve upon if they are to compete in the playoffs.  Good defensive teams can make even the best isolation scorers inefficient in the half-court.  Think back to the 2008 Celtics against the Cavs.  The game slows down in the playoffs, defenses tighten, and offenses really need to move defenders from sideline to sideline to generate easy looks.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0NHYkG-dtM

2.) Using individual moves to gain an advantage for teammates

It’s the black mark of a chucker, really.  The AI/Kobe/Melo syndrome. These players can get their shot off from anywhere on the court.  Iverson did it with his elite handle, Kobe does it with elite footwork and balance, and Melo does it with a nasty jab-step jumper and explosive first step.  But these guys are not natural facilitators.  When they start losing games questions often arise about how well they fit with their teammates.  And we all remember how Melo + AI worked out.  Contrast those prolific one-on-one scoring attacks with a team like the Spurs, where small advantages are leveraged to give other players much bigger ones.  The Cavs bench provides a nice example of this.  Walton and Livingston are the focal points again.  Both players, even with range limitations on their shot and below average athleticism, are superior to Irving and Waiters at creating seams for their teammates to score more easily.  Walton, despite shooting 29% on threes and sporting a career TS% below .500 gets so many defenders to bite on his deliberate pump fakes.  He uses that slight opening to take a dribble or two into the teeth and gets another defender to step up.  With 2 players out of position, the court is his canvas and he regularly finds Shaun Livingston moving into the open space for layups and uncontested mid-range Js.  These are skills the core really needs to hone.  For all of Kyrie’s prodigenous (first used here) talents, he is weak at passing out of double teams and exploiting the 3 on 4 defense that remains.  Waiters seems more willing to use his explosive first step to draw defenders and then dish off once the defense has collapsed – a welcome sign.  Overall, the creativity and willingness to pass needs to manifest after the initial defensive breakdown.  TT can afford to look for cutters as well when he makes his strong bull move across the lane.  He’s gotten better at creative counters to give himself angles around the basket.  However, when he gets pushed away from his sweet spot by a committed defense, he can survey for open perimeter shooters.  The bench scores 64% of it baskets off assists, compared to the core at 56% despite less dynamic offensive players.

3.) Decisiveness

One of the mysteries of the Cavaliers season is how a bunch of cast-offs could play so well together.  It’s never easy to integrate new players to an existing system.   But in this case, most variations of the Herculoids contained no more than 2 players that had ever played together.  And despite that, they seem supremely comfortable executing offense.  Some of this is due to the decisiveness of the personnel.  Watching Kyrie and Dion in isolation can be a lot like watching a cat stalk/attack its prey.  It might probe, it might play, it might pounce.  It’s hard to predict.  I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions how ineffective some of the picks set for Kyrie are, because he doesn’t really use them.  He generally plays with his defender using elite ball-handling and one on one moves, trying to get his defender to bite before finally creating the separation he needs to score.  But there’s a reason cats hunt alone.  The bench guys probably learned after the first practice that Luke Walton would always look for them to cut backdoor, that Mo Speights would rise up and shoot anything he got his hands on, that Shaun Livingston loves backing down smaller guards to collapse the defense and that Wayne Ellington would always find open space to fill around the perimeter.  Making crisp, decisive moves and forcing the defense to react to that is an effective way for players to get comfortable playing with each other.  All season I’ve commented that the starters don’t seem to be more than the sum of their parts – sometimes even less than that.  The decisiveness with which the bench approaches the offense has made it easy for strangers to develop chemistry quickly.

No hesitation.

4.) Composure

The Cavs core has played considerably worse this season on the road.  The offensive rating in road games is a putrid 98.6.  It is also much worse in second halves: 98.0 versus 103.8 in the first half.  The bench exhibits the opposite on both counts: playing better on the road and in second halves.  Part of the reason for the Cavs offensive woes is that they don’t generate easy baskets in the half court unless individuals catch fire.  When defenses ramp up the intensity, the Cavs core often folds.  At the other end of the court, the pick and roll devastates the core’s perimeter defense – often on account of poor anticipation by Kyrie, and slow lateral quickness by Zeller trying to stop the penetration.  The bench production seems to be less effected by place and time.

5.) Toughness

The Cavs are not a tough team, but the addition of Livingston and Speights provided examples of both a mentally tough and a physically tough player.  Watching Livingston direct the defense and constantly fight until the end of so many heart-wrenching losses should motivate the young guys.  That sort of leadership and attitude is something that could elevate Kyrie from all-star to generational superstar.  The success of the team is going to hinge on Kyrie’s commitment.  If he’s content to take plays/quarters/games off, particularly at the defensive end, so will the rest of the UncleDrew army.  Waiters needs to stay mentally tough as well.  He has been resilient this year, and quieted concerns about his character and coachability.  But he needs to stay in attack mode even when he’s not getting the better end of whistles.  I’ve come prepared to help. Zeller can learn a thing or two from Speights.  Maybe not on defense where Speights has been poor, but noting instead how he throws his body around and punishes defenders under the basket.  For a guy that’s a bit undersized and has a rep for chucking – he gets to the line quite a bit and has really honed his jumper – something Zeller needs to emulate.  He also has a bit of a mean streak – which many of the Cavs could experiment with from time to time when situation demands it.

There are lots of opportunities for the Cavs core to assimilate some of the traits and skill sets of that bench guys that give them a breather every night.  Hopefully they are taking notes.

Recap: Cleveland 92, Boston 93 (Or Byron Scott is the tanking grandmaster)

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Whew.  Close one here.  Some of the Cavs were playing really well tonight, and the team was in severe danger of screwing up the third worst record in the league with a win.  With four games separating 28th and 18th place, this was a win the Cavs could ill afford.  Fortunately, Byron Scott is a master of coaching  just poorly enough to lose.

The Cavs played three and a half quarters of fairly solid basketball, in a game that was at times very ragged.  This game saw extended minutes by Cavalier Chris Quinn and Celtics Shavlik Randolf and Terrence Williams, all on 10 day contracts.  In 35 combined minutes they scored 5 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, and 4 turnovers.  To say both teams were scraping the bottom of the barrel in this one would be an understatement. Still, some of the Cavs had their moments.

The Rook: Tyler Zeller Looked really sharp in this one.  According to Austin Carr, the key to his success is playing with his knees bent, and it certainly seemed to be help ZPA tonight.  His jumper was pure, and he had a very nice pump fake and go for a soaring one handed Jam.  Furthermore, his individual defense was very solid.  In one stretch in the first quarter, he stopped a Jeff Green drive on a switch and then he stopped two straight possessions, first cutting off Bass who tried to bully him on the right baseline, and then giving Chris Wilcox no quarter on the left.  He finished 5-6 for 11 points and 9 boards in 24 minutes.  In a masterful move Scott left him on the bench for much of the fourth quarter, knowing that his play might turn the game in the Cavs’ favor late.

The Bishops: C.J. Miles was really influencing the game, and it wasn’t with his shooting.  He had a regular season career high 6 assists tonight off some pretty nice passing.  He hit Walton on a 3-on-2 with a nifty behind the back pass that Luke bounced in off the square.  Then, early in the fourth he hit a cutting Speights two plays in a row for easy buckets.  Though he finished 4-13, he helped the offense flow, and chipped in four rebounds.  He also had two big free throws with 39 seconds left to stretch the lead to 3.  It was really nice to see him contributing despite his jumper not falling. He really had some clutch plays in helping the Cavs lose tank down the stretch too.  With 2:23 left and 7 seconds left on the shot clock, Miles launched a 26-footer that led to a nice Boston possession, where he fouled Pierce and gave him two free throws, and then after a Livingston turnover, Miles helped Jeff Green score an “and 1.”  This kind of awesome collapse doesn’t happen without players taking dumb shots and dumb fouls at key moments.

Shaun Livingston had his usually solid floor game with 12 points, 3 boards, 5 dimes, a steal, and a block.  But he missed some key jumpers on his way to 5-13 shooting, including a late post-up over Jason Terry that hit the back iron like a rubber missile.  Gee also had a nice game with 12, 5, and 3 and a couple enormous steals, but his inability to stop Pierce from scoring with 32 seconds left was one of the real keys to losing this game.

The Knights: Tristan Thompson had a strange game.  The Cavs went to him a lot early and he responded with a lot of bricks.  He seemed to be playing slightly too fast, but mainly his shots weren’t falling and the Cavs didn’t want to go back to him.  In the third he reverted to 2012 Tristan with a tentative play around the basket which was promptly blocked from behind.  Still, he had 9 boards and some mostly decent defense, except for a wide open Bass dunk in the third where TT helped and never recovered on the pick and roll.  His defense was good enough that Byron had to pull him in two crucial possessions late, lest he keep Boston from scoring.

Wayne Ellington was simply the best player on the floor for three and a half quarters.  He led the Cavs with 16 points on 7-16 shooting, with 3 boards, 2 dimes, and 3 steals and only 1 turnover.  He scored off drives, pullups in transition, and a sweet baseline reverse on Jeff Green for the hoop and the harm.  Green was key in the 13-4 run the Cavs had to start the 3rd, scoring or assisting on 9 points.  His handle was tight, his decisions were solid, and though his jumper was just ok, he was completely in control on offense and defense.  Until Pierce started doing his thing late, Wayne was better than anyone in the gym.

The Pawns: Mo Speights had a solid night with 13 and 6 in 17 minutes.  But his 4 fouls in that time helped Boston get into the bonus in the 4th and really propelled their run.  Daniel Gibson had a couple moments reminiscent of 2007 when he hit a stepback three from straight away against Jason Terry at the end of the 3rd, and then came back and did it again from the right wing to start the 4th.  Though that was the extent of his scoring,  he also pitched 6 assists, but had some brutally bad turnovers and some horrific missed layups that were more in keeping with the narrative of 2013 Daniel Gibson.

The Queen: Luke Walton (with the help of Byron Scott) was really the MVP of fail tonight.  His -14 +/- tells you how bad he was on defense, and he really had the fail of the game towards the end.  When we’re all watching Oladipo or Porter dunking next year, we’ll be able to look at tonight and remember how Luke Walton really laid it on the line for that draft pick.

End Game

So just how did the Cavs manage to save this game from the win column, leading 86-72 with eight minutes left?  Things were looking dicey for the Cavs.  Fortunately Brandon Bass, Pierce, and Avery Bradley checked back in for Boston.  Wisely, Byron Scott did nothing to counter and stayed with Gibson, Walton, and Quinn.  King’s gambit accepted, Doc Rivers.  Daniel Gibson obliged by taking two ill advised pullups with plenty of time on the shot clock — one from a Luke Walton bounce pass between his own legs, which Boobie promptly airballed from the the left baseline.  Livingston got back in for Quinn at 6:28. and TT and Gee return for Speights and Walton at 5:07.  Livingston turned it over on a lob to Miles off of a pick and roll, proving yet again that Livingston is awful in the pick and roll.   Gee took a terrible isolation pullup from the left baseline with 9 seconds left on the clock and then Livingston airballed a shot on a post-up with 11 seconds left. In the meantime, Ellington finally came back in for Gibson with 4:20 left in the game after sitting since 2:04 in the third.  Pawn sacrifice… Well played, coach Scott.  Well played.  Not only did you sit your top scorer for 20+ minutes of real time, and let the Celtics get back within striking distance, but you subbed him out for ten straight minutes for a guy shooting .160 from the floor and .063 from three in the last 5 games.

After a particularly ugly 2 minutes where the Celtics and the Cavs played hot potato with the ball, Livingston made a driving layup and Pierce countered on a ridiculously easy layup where he walked to the basket after a terrible Gee closeout.   Alonzo was perpendicular to Pierce, who simply took the right lane and scored.  After a wasted Cavs possession, Pierce drew a foul, the Cavs called a timeout with a 6 point lead and 2:15 left.  Pierce made both, and then Livingston threw it away on a bad post-up attempt by Thompson.  The defensive match-ups for the Cavs were bad, but Byron made sure that the Cavs got the worst of them.  TT guarded Bass, Gee guarded Pierce, Miles guarded Green, Ellington guarded Crawford, and Livingston guarded Bradley.  Because why wouldn’t you put your worst defender on the floor on a guy who hung 43 on Miami the other night? Of course, as we mentioned earlier, Green posted up Miles and got an and-1. 90-89, Cleveland, 1:43 left.

After a Livingston miss, The Cavs did manage a nice defensive stand and fast break that turned into two made freebies for Miles.  And then with 39 seconds left and the Cavs up three, Byron’s white queen entered the fray: Luke Walton in for TT to guard Jeff Green.  After an easy post-up by Pierce over Gee for two (cause it’s not like having some shot-blocking there might help…), Livingston bricked, and then Boston called a timeout with 9.2 seconds left.  On the ensuing play, Boston ran the ball down to Pierce for an isolation on the right wing, but Gee poked the ball away with 2.1 seconds left.

Just don’t give up a layup.  That’s the defensive mantra there (if you’re not tanking).  A foul, a contested jumper…  they’re acceptable.  The only thing Cleveland needed to avoid was a layup — I mean if they wanted to win.  Boston got a free timeout, which they didn’t have, because of the official review of the out of bounds.  (The NBA really ought not allow teams to meet with the coach on these types of scenarios).  Byron Scott made sure that he didn’t make the mistake of having no timeouts at the end of the game.  He had three, because they can be be used to buy 1up mushrooms at the general store, right?  Anyway, Boston ran a beautiful play.  Green set a screen at the left elbow with Terry coming from the left wing, diving down the lane, but Terry stopped, screened Walton who was guarding Green (was he?  was he really?).  Green caught the inbound at the top of the key.  Walton tried to push Terry into Jeff Green, which allowed Green to run right by Luke at what appeared to be the speed of light, but only appeared that way because Luke Walton is so incredibly slow that he slows down the perception of time.  Green: down the right lane, finger rolled it high off the glass over Livingston and Ellington as Gee and Miles watched him and no one thought of, you know, fouling.  The ball slowly fell through the net as time expired.  Crisis averted.  Draft pick saved.  Check and mate, NBA standings.

0027 – Aaron Craft gets Benched

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

It’s Bench Week here on C:tB.  And what would any in-depth discussion be without Tom, Nate, and me discussing Aaron Cra…err…putting in our two cents vocally.

Nate was kind enough to lend his voice to the marathon ‘cast, so he’ll be posting his article later this week.

On today’s podcast, we discuss the individual players that make up the Cleveland Cavalier’s bench.  We touch on Shaun Livingston, Marreese Speights, Luke Walton, CJ Miles, Tyler Zeller, and Wayne “Duke” Ellington.

And of course, there’s Aaron Craft…

As always we’re on SoundCloud at – https://soundcloud.com/cavstheblog/0027-aaron-craft-get-benched

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

Enjoy!

Bench Week!

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Really, this is a little late.  With Kyrie and Dion out, the Livingston – Ellington – Miles – Walton – Speights second-unit ceases to exist.  But the success of this group served as one of the more unique stories of the Cavalier season.  And while the story received frequent recap coverage, we at Cavs: the Blog felt a more thorough memorialization was due.  For six weeks, this crew, affectionately dubbed the Herculoids, unexpectedly provided one of the NBA’s better benches.  Consider:

  • None of these guys ever played together prior to January 2nd.
  • Since joining the Cavs, Shaun Livingston’s PER is 15, better than any of his previous ten stints with an NBA team.
  • During his three seasons in Minnesota and early part of this year with Memphis, Wayne Ellington never posted double-digit PER.   In 600 minutes in Cleveland, he soars to a 15.4
  • Same story for Mo Speights, an 18.3 PER exceeds anything done in Philly or Memphis.
  • And of course, C.J. Miles joins in also.  His 15.2 PER in 2012 – 2013 serves as a career-best.
  • Unfortunately, Luke Walton’s PER is only his best since 2008 – 2009.  His assist rate and assists-per-36-minutes easily reach peak levels though.

In his tenth NBA season, did Luke Walton find his calling as a second-string point forward?

Not impressed yet?  How about this then, from January 25th, when Ellington and Speights arrive, through March 10th (Kyrie’s last game)?  The Cavs go 10 – 10 during this time, as:

  • Walton ups his assists per 36 minutes to 8.8.  His previous career-high rate was 5.6…from his rookie season.  His assist to turnover ratio was 50% better than his career average (3.32 compared to 2.15)
  • Livingston’s 6.5 assists per 36 minutes are only bested by his rookie season.  His 3.67 assist to turnover ratio, which would rank 5th in the NBA, dwarfs the remainder of his career (2.22).  Also, as a player with career 51% true shooting, Livingston scorched the nets with 61% during these six weeks.
  • Per 36 minutes, CJ Miles scored 22 points on 63% True Shooting.  Ellington posted 15 and 61% TS, and Speights dished-out 21 and 10 rebounds.  They were killing it.

Each of these guys are 25-or-older.  What facilitated them playing at peak levels at the exact same time?  I mean, these guys were not highly-regarded NBA players.  Is it luck associated with small sample size, or was something bigger going on?  This week, Nate, Tom and I will explore that question.

Today: I will briefly talk about the things a player can’t control that may decide his success or failure.

Tuesday: Nate will talk about Shaun Livingston’s role on the Cavaliers.  Just how have he and the coaching staff adjusted the offense and defense to enable to Shaun to have the best months of his career?

Wednesday: Tom will talk about the different approaches to the game between the core and the Herculoids and what the core needs to assimilate from their brethren.

Today, I focus primarily on Luke Walton and Wayne Ellington.  Early this season, Walton was horrible, continuing a several year trend. Of Cavs fans, 99% assumed his usefulness ceased to exist.  Of non-Cavs NBA-fans, 100% probably thought he retired.  The slim super-minority supporting him (including Tom) weren’t saying “he is better than you guys think”; it was more like “he teaches the youngsters to play the right way” (which oftentimes meant without athleticism and with extremely errant jumpers). Basically, court-vision & passing serves as his only remaining, apparent skill.

Prior to joining Cleveland, Walton spent his entire career playing alongside Kobe; the offense did not run through Luke very often.  Early this season, playing alongside ball-dominant guards like Jeremy Pargo or Dion Waiters; same story.  And this makes sense – why would you build an offense around Luke Walton?

The Herculoids were perfectly suited for Walton’s skill-set though.  The guards were low usage: one a skilled passer and the other a proficient floor-spacer.  The Center offered a bruising low-post presence that picked up the rebounding-slack and spaced the floor.  Suddenly, Cleveland started running the second-string offense through him, surrounded by solid shooters and smart cutters, and he looked like an offensive maestro.

For four seasons with two teams, did Wayne Ellington simply never get the right opportunity to showcase his skills?

For Ellington, his career began on a horribly dysfunctional 15 -win Timberwolves team, with the minutes and usage leaders being Al Jefferson and Jonny Flynn.  The next season featured Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph, and the assists leaders averaged 5.4 and 3.4 per game; during both seasons, Minnesota ranked bottom-four in the NBA for percentage of assisted field goals.  By his third season, as the Wolves started getting fun, he was an afterthought, seemingly playing out his rookie-contract towards a short career.  According to basketball-reference, the players most similar to him after three years were: Pace Mannion, Chris Corchiani, Gerald Glass, Mike Holton, Harold Ellis, and Franklin Edwards.  Huh?

Then, traded twice in six months, the second as a salary dump, he suits-up for a new team and promptly posts career highs in PER, offensive rating, usage, defensive rebound rate and steal percentage.  In 25 games with Cleveland, he matched his previous career total for Offensive Win Shares, accumulated over 229 games.  Double huh?  Given additional offensive freedom and matched with a pair of excellent passers, he showed enticing ability scoring off-the-dribble, cutting to the hoop, and with his trademark shooting (career 39% from three).

What does it all mean?

Basically, for every Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant, players destined for stardom regardless of circumstance, there are one-hundred players whose NBA career hinges on forces not under their control.   These aspects could include: coaching, system, organizational commitment, or a positional logjam.  Within those, exist subsets; coaching could include the boss’s relationship with or confidence in a player, or the instruction received.  Lack of fit with a system perhaps hinges on the actual play-calls or perhaps a mis-assignment of role within the given plays.  Perhaps items as diverse as the quality of an organizations trainers, strength coaches, nutritionists, or doctors, even give a player advantages over a similar guy.  And sometimes, all that is needed is an opportunity.

Obviously this isn’t an amazing, new idea.  Matter of fact; here is a podcast from last season between Henry Abbott and David Thorpe, talking about Royal Jelly. For this quintet, their recent opportunity in Cleveland possibly changed the remainder of their careers.  In Luke Walton’s case, it may just be another year in the league.  For Ellington, the resultant perhaps comes through contractual security this off-season.

These considerations are also vital as Cleveland hopefully melds myriad youngsters into a contender.  The brief discussion of Russell Westbrook in the “Royal Jelly” podcast made me think of Dion Waiters. In the right situation, the young Cavalier shooting-guard develops into a star; in less suitable circumstances, perhaps he devolves into an inefficient chucker.  The value of opportunity, solid positional coaching, and organizational-confidence in a player already surfaces in young Tristan Thompson.

Anyways, I’ve lost sight of my theme.  Come back the next two days, for an in-depth look into the inner-tickings of the unlikeliest, excellent bench squad the NBA witnessed this season.  Tom and Nate promise to bring their “A” games, backing up this Monday post (and probably finishing +11, compared to my -8).

Recap: Cavs 78, Rockets 116

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

With twenty-seven days remaining in the season, the Cavs draw the Rockets tonight, prior to an extended 5-day break.

The Wine & Gold may need the rest, because here’s the thing about the Rockets; they’re really good.  Lead by All-NBA James Harden and his 24 PER, their backcourt is deep.  Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverly both sport above-average PER’s.  Chandler Parsons pitches in 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists on 48 / 39 / 72 shooting.  In the frontcourt, Omer Asik averages 10 & 12, as one of the game’s best interior defenders.   Houston shoots and makes the league’s second-most three pointers, while playing at the fastest pace, with the fourth most efficient offense.  Sometimes, they set NBA records for made-threes in a game. If their residence was the Eastern Conference, a battle with Indiana for the second-seed would be ongoing.  Instead, they exist on the fringes of the West’s elite, but they’re tough, and Cleveland visits Houston…

Both of these guys had decent games tonight. Patrick Beverley's team won by forty though.

The game started strongly for the Cavs.  Tristan converted his one-of-a-kind push shot off the dribble with his right hand, and soon thereafter, drove left into the paint and nailed a lefty hook.  The imposing Asik was putty in his hands, as Tristan scored six of Cleveland’s first twelve, with the Cavs trailing by one midway through the first.  Continuing to hit buckets, Ellington, Walton, and Livingston each drained a few jumpers, and Cleveland kept-up with the high-octane Texans.

And we have a Chris Quinn sighting!  Unfortunately on his first play, he threw the ball away, en route to 6 second-quarter minutes of 0 points, 0 rebounds, and 0 assists.  For the good guys, things started coming unglued in the second: a three minute scoreless spell, and 12 to 4 & 10 to 4 Houston runs.  Highlights included a nice two-man game between Tyler and Tristan.  We don’t see much of that, but TT passed to TZ, who pump-faked and drove baseline, before dishing to a cutting Thompson.   Livingston hit a series of twelve-footers off the bounce, building on his 12 point, 2 rebound, 2 assist, 2 steal, 1 block half.  A battle of opposites ensued, as Luke Walton faced-off with Thomas Robinson; they battled to a draw, as T-Rob netted two easy buckets, but the wily veteran lassoed him into a charge.  Ultimately though, Houston’s offense was too much; they drained four triples in five minutes, including a Carlos Delfino buzzer-beater, and waltzed to the locker room leading 43 to 58.

Early in the second half, Omer Asik beat Tyler twice for easy buckets…come on, man!  Omer Asik beating you one-on-one…twice?  Zeller finished with 2 points, 5 rebounds, 3 turnovers and 4 fouls.  The Rockets continued abusing Cleveland on the boards, snagging their tenth offensive rebound midway through the third, pushing their lead on the scoreboard to twenty.  Cleveland was shooting too many jumpers; 17 of their first 73 field goal attempts came outside the paint.  At some point, I started losing focus…a pass zipped through Zeller’s hands…Harden hit a three…I went to get a beer…Patrick Beverly hit a buzzer-beater three.  The Rockets lead 61 to 87 heading to the fourth.

Only half-paying attention to the fourth, I started writing this recap, primarily looking up when the Rockets announcers screamed about a Houston dunk or three.  Kevin Jones hit a jumper and finished a bunny in transition…Miles hit a long three.  I heard that Aaron Brooks blocked a shot; that was probably embarrassing.  Thomas Robinson won MVP of garbage time.  The Cavs lost 78 to 116.

Let move on…to some bullets:

  • Oh, Daniel Gibson.  He missed all nine of his shots tonight and finished minus-30.  He’s shooting 19% in March, with as many fouls as made field goals.  Is there some way that can be arranged for Boobie to go-out on a high note?  Hopefully he can find a situation again where he plays with a ball-dominant wing and just makes threes.
  • A big problem with the Irving & Waiters injuries is that instead of a solid Livingston and Ellington back-up back-court tandem…it’s Boobie and Chris Quinn.  Oy.  Are Kyrie or Dion coming back?  Did this season end with the Miami game?
  • Ellington finished with 13 points,  Livingston with 14, and Gee with 11.  They combined for 53% true shooting and only 3 turnovers.  Pretty solid, right?  Except, when that trio paces an NBA team in field goal attempts, on the road, against a strong opponent, your team might lose by forty.
  • Tristan finished with 8 and 8 in 25 minutes.  That was pretty cool.
  • Outrebounded 54 to 32, the Rockets abused Cleveland’s interior players all evening.
  • Patrick Beverley looked good for Houston.   He played in Europe for a few years, but is offering Houston a solid second-half of this season.  Eleven points, five rebounds, and four assists tonight.

Young Player Profile: Tyler Zeller

Friday, March 22nd, 2013
So far, rookie Tyler Zeller underwhelms.  This somewhat surprises me, as leading up to the 2012 draft, I ranked him eighth in a strong class.  He scored everywhere, with deft touch near the basket, running in transition, and showing a solid stroke from catch & shoot situations and the free throw line.  Draftexpress looked at 26 big men, and even while high-usage, he scored fourth-most efficiently per possession. He rebounded adequately in the ACC, ranking fourth on offense and seventh for defensive rebounding rate. He finished as a two-time Academic All American and the Conference Player of the Year.  Defensively, he possessed a cerebral understanding of rotational responsibilities.  Even performing well at pre-draft athleticism tests, of the drafted seven-footers in draftexpress.com’s extensive database, only four players jumped higher, only five ran faster, and a single-person needled through the agility drill quicker.  Weighing in at a healthy 247 pounds, he benched sixteen reps at 185.

Get nasty, Tyler! Play with some fire!!

Now, three-quarters through his age-23 season, many of those skills have not yet translated.  According to draftexpress, Zeller scored an elite 1.67 points per possession in transition last year; this year that is a less stellar 1.02 points per play, as per Synergy Sports.  From the same source, Tyler received only thirty-four post-up opportunities this year…but he hasn’t earned more that, making five of twenty-four field goals, and losing eight turnovers.  Ouch. While still a 77% free throw shooter, opponents need not respect his jumper, which lands only 33% of the time from outside of ten-feet.  Of 55 qualified centers, he ranks 49th for rebound rate.  Consistently drawing charges stands as his most redeeming quality, where he ranks among the league leaders.  In 63 games and 27 minutes per game, he averages 8 points and 6 rebounds on 48.5% true shooting, good for PER of 11.4 and RAPM calling him the league’s 347th best player.

So how can he improve, and what does the future hold for young Mr. Zeller?  What can he do to turn his fortunes around, and salvage my opinion of him as a top-ten pick?  Let’s peruse some game recaps:

March 1st vs LA Clippers – Facing the tandem of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan for the first time since they broke his face, Tyler struggled in this one.  Starting 0 for 5, missing hook-shots, jumpers, tip-ins, and put-backs, Zeller was also abused early on defense.  Jordan scored twice early, once hammering a dunk over Tyler’s head.  Later, when assessing the harrowing choice between an uncontested Chris Paul lay-up or a Blake Griffin alley-oop, Zeller selected the former, letting CP3 stroll to the basket uncontested.

The second quarter featured more timid play; twice, after receiving a pass, he looked hesitant, one time losing the ball, while fortunately receiving a goal-tending call the other.  On air, Austin Carr reprimanded him, imploring that Tyler “needs to throw everyone in the basket”.  And of course, AC is right; Zeller must start trying to create some posters where he’s the focal point.  On defense, the rookie also played tentatively, careening from unsure-responsibility to unsure-responsibility.  Surely against the Clippers, they thrive at making opposing bigs look stupid, but Tyler can be more definitely aggressive at attacking whatever his assignment is.

I don’t know if TZ was intimidated by the Clipper bigs, or certainly a fifth game in seven nights proved tiring, but his non-physicality looked appalling.  Whether ping-ponged around by picks and screens, routinely being out-muscled on the defensive boards, or rarely impacting Clipper shots at the basket, the second half looked like the first.  When a shot goes up on defense, he needs to actively engage the opponent and move them away from the basket; oftentimes, he waits for the ball.  When setting picks, he slips away too soon, without firmly impacting the movement of the player he is screening.

In a 16-point loss, Tyler did his share to help that; 9 points and 1 defensive rebound in 30 minutes with 41% True shooting.  Generally, he looked tired and possibly overawed by the Clipper front-court duo.  Two of his buckets came in garbage time, down twenty in the closing minutes.  This sort of game needs to become much less frequent next year.  As a side note, ideally the young-big-man also focuses on pick & roll play; he often pops, but developing solid timing and strength as a force when rolling, would greatly disturb opposing defenses.

March 16th at San Antonio – I didn’t give any easy nights; the Spurs suit-up twin seven-footers in Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan, the likely NBA Defensive POY.  Zeller’s night started bumpy, initially guarding their big Brazilian.  Splitter posted, then faced-up, then left TZ in the dust, leaving the rookie grasping at a Spurs and-one.  Around the same time, point guard Cory Joseph isolated on the Cavs big, easily beating him and leading the Spurs announcers to call Tyler “a big, tall stiff”, a comment that they humorously back-tracked-on for the remainder of the quarter.  Off a pump-fake, Zeller drove the left wing, finishing with a ferocious slam, then later impacting two Spur-drives with nimble-baseline agility, before running the court and netting a transition dunk.  While also draining a twenty-footer off a pick & pop, additional lowlights existed: lacking defensive awareness allowed a Duncan layup, and Timmy sealed-off the rookie in the post, finishing another easy opportunity.  Overall, I’ll take this quarter from the rookie, as he scored some points and even showed some toughness, once holding his ground and forcing a Duncan air-ball and on another occasion, picking up his second foul by rocking a San Antonio guard with a screen; the guy crumbled to the ground, but really, it didn’t look like a foul to me, just a small player unexpectedly running head-long into an entrenched seven-footer.  When Tyler sat after eleven minutes, Cleveland trailed 26 to 32.

Two fouls in less than a minute during the second quarter guided Tyler to the bench with four for the half.  A strong box-out of Duncan allowed Boobie to clean up the glass.  Potentially due to the foul trouble, Zeller looked particularly inept defending the basket in the third quarter; on several occasions, he allowed an easy Spur-waltz to the hoop.   Tiago Splitter backed-him down for an easy hook, and with twenty minutes remaining in the game, TZ headed to the pine with five fouls.  He did not return.

With a tough matchup, he finished with 6 points and 1 rebound in 16 minutes.  There were highlights, but certainly difficulties manning-up with one of the NBA’s bigger frontcourts.

Summary: Tyler needs to bulk-up, and get meaner.  When he plays, Cleveland’s defensive rebound rate is 70%, which cellar-dwells amongst all NBA teams.  The Cavs grab more offensive boards when he plays though, and over the last twenty-two games, his true shooting rises to a very acceptable 55.7%, thanks to consistently improved finishing.  Finally, some of that collegiate offensive skill is shining through.  Along those lines moving forward, an absolute must includes knocking down 40+% of his jumpers.  I definitely want to see the 2013 – 2014 season start with TZ getting solid rotation minutes and a chance to prove himself.  He hit a wall this season, and hopefully returns next season stronger and refreshed. If January 17th approaches though, with Tyler still getting tossed-around on his 24th birthday, that sentiment will end quickly.  So, hit the weight-room this summer, drink some protein shakes, climb Mount Everest with a Sherpa on your back…just come back a ripped, potentially scowling, mean s.o.b. next year.  That would be cool.

Recap: Cleveland 95, Miami 98 (Or an oral history of the 24th straight win for the Miami Heat).

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

This was a bizarre game — the most bizarre regular season NBA game I’ve watched in a long long time.  So the recap will be equally so: a running diary interspersed with a psuedo-oral history of the game.

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