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March 1st, 2013 by Tom Pestak

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

Question 1: Discuss the Kyrie/Dion on-court chemistry and how the Cavs should build an offense around these two.

Mallory: I covered this VERY thoroughly in the podcast but my basic gist is that both need to look to attack.  Ideally, Kyrie would look, off a screen, for a jump shot – if it’s not there, he’d dish to Andy/TT off a PnR or Dion who would attack the rim and either finish or, if the D collapses, dish out to an open wing at the corner, or an open Kyrie driving to the rim (Or, Speights/Zeller for a jumper) – the reason this works so nicely is Waiters is excellent at passing out of a drive.  The only issue here is Kyrie doesn’t move well without the ball in his hands.

Dani: There have been some notable exceptions (there’s at least one nice drive and kick play a game, for example), but overall the on-court chemistry between Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving has been severely lacking. Dion hasn’t really figured out any off-ball moved or cuts yet, and combined with the fact that Kyrie is occasionally a reluctant passer, what often results is a stunted isolation for Kyrie at the end of the shot clock, while Dion sulks thirty feet from the hoop. I would love for Byron Scott to initiate a lot more movement for the Cavaliers in general, and a lot of that should involve the backcourt. For example, a pick and roll starting with Kyrie and Tyler Zeller could be helped immensely if another player set a screen for Dion to dive to the rim. Zeller so often pops outside for a jumper that there should be more space in the paint for a cutting Dion to finish. As for an overall offensive gameplan, I want all Cavs coaches and players to watch extensive tape on the Rockets offense. James Harden and Jeremy Lin pilot one of the best offenses in the NBA, and there’s no reason the Cavs couldn’t reach similar heights in a similar scheme (lots and lots of three-pointers)with Dion and Kyrie.

Kevin: Undoubtedly, it needs work, but they are 20 and 21.  Too many times off the ball, Dion drifts 30 or 40 feet from the basket, which can be maddening.  The team plays four-on-five…or maybe one-on-five, if Kyrie decides to do it himself.  This is definitely in contrast to watching the bench orchestrate a superior team offense with lesser talent.  Dion needs to navigate better away from the ball.  An imaginary line needs drawn 26 feet from the basket, that he can not cross in the half-court.  He needs to learn proper timing to cut when Kyrie drives  Both players need to more frequently dive to the corner when dribble penetration occur.  Ultimately, the team has to start looking like they call and run plays other than pick & roll when the starters are in.  I think Dion should work on some post offense.  Finally, Kyrie must initiate more offense for his teammates; with how skillfully he breaks down defenses, 5 assists a night has to get higher as he matures.

Nate: The Cavs are one of many teams in the NBA that are going long stretches with two guards on the floor at the same time that can initiate the offense: Houston, San Antonio, Charlotte, Brooklyn, Sacramento, Minnesota, etc.  Dion, Kyrie and the brain trust need to sit down and watch how these other teams do it.  One thing that needs to happen is that Dion and the rest of the team need to get better at running fast breaks.  The Cavs consistently waste three on two breaks by leaking Gee or Waiters to the corner instead of filling the lanes on the primary break.  Waiters needs to work on being the finisher on the break and not just the ball handler — Kyrie too.  Finally, movement needs to happen.  Teams have figured out the double-iso I talked about in the Heat game.  Kyrie is drawing so much attention in the fourth quarter that movement out of that set would help immensely.  So I drew up a set Cavaliers could use.  Click here to see it slowed down.

Coach Nate's crunch time set for KI and DW.

Tom: It’s lacking, but I don’t think it’s a talent/skill set issue, and thus, it is correctable.  Kyrie is a generational wunderkind on offense, so I’m not going to put the onus on him to change his stripes, he just needs to be more willing to move without the ball after he gives it up.  Dion is going to have to start playing like Gerald Wallace, though (minus the injuries).  He should be in attack mode at all times.  When Kyrie is vaporizing opponent ligaments, Dion needs to be curling around behind him filling the now-open space or crashing towards the hoop for a weakside bucket.  Dion has shown a lot of growth already, especially in his half-court approach – I have confidence that with solid coaching, they will be devastating together.

Question 2: There was a lot of talk very early about Dion Waiters.  Now that the sample size has grown, how have your perceptions changed on him/his potential?

Mallory: The question was never whether Dion had potential – he always had.  The question was whether or not he could cut down on stupid jumpers/attack the rim more often/stay focused on D.  Recently he’s done all three of those things.  Even more, Waiters has shown a knack for finding open men while making his way to the rim, which has resulted in a LOT of open jumpers for the likes of Ellington/Miles/etc.  Gotta love that!

All that being said, we should still, as always, proceed with caution.  As Kevin alluded to in his of the Toronto game, TT has, after his sudden Jan/Feb improvements, seen a recent drop off of his offensive production/efficiency.  This is likely because 1. He was on a hot streak, 2. Offenses have figured him out.  It’s not like some of us didn’t see either of those things coming, and it’s not as though he’s suddenly bad (he’s still playing well above average, and will likely continue to get better), but it’s worth noting because I could easily see something similar happening to Dion.  Right now he’s feeling it – he’s attacking the rim more, taking better shots, and even hitting some of his sillier ones.  While it’s plausible he’s suddenly found himself, it’s more likely he’s going through his own hot streak and that, eventually, opponents will figure him out.  The key is for him to continue to attack the rim and work on taking smarter shots, and eventually finding a way to co-exist with Kyrie.  If he can do that, he’ll replace any drop off in his streakier production with a more balanced game, leading to even greater improvement. Don’t get me wrong, though.  I love what I’m seeing from him.  A guy who can play fast/shoot/attack the rim/defend/see the court is always welcome on my team.

Dani: I started off the season relatively lukewarm on Dion Waiters. At the time, I felt as if the Cavs had panicked when the Bobcats deal fell apart, and reached for a shooting guard. And when he came to Summer Leauge out of shape, my fears were heightened. Then there was the awful shot selection of the beginning of the season; despite a few hot shooting nights, off balance 20-footers were all too common. He was also awful at the rim. But as of late, Dion has really stepped it up. He’s much more efficient at the rim, drives the ball a LOT more than he did at the beginning of the year, and has mostly stayed away from the wild bouts of fadeaway madness. One thing that has remained constant all year is his passing ability. Waiters is a very talented facilitator when he feels like it, and his kick-outs to the corner are beautiful (thank you, Wayne Ellington!). The only player from this year’s draft who is inarguably more valuable than Dion, in my opinion, is Andre Drummond. Dion Waiters has been a revelation recently. At the beginning of the year, I was thinking Monta Ellis. Now I’m thinking Dwyane Wade.

Kevin: I always liked Dion.  To some extent, my perceptions have not changed, they instead look more realistic.  I do less daily teeth-gnashing certainly.  His February, averaging 20 efficient points with 4 assists per 36 minutes, is what I hope he can do every night in a couple of years.  He needs to stay aggressive on offense, focus on team defense, never dribble aimlessly, and stay engaged in the half-court without the ball.  With his full potential reached, the Cavs will employ one-heck of a backcourt.

Nate: The sky is the limit for Dion.  He obviously has a body, handle, shot, and defensive pursuit to be a very effect hybrid/2 Guard in the NBA.  Additionally, his passing, floor vision, and ability to run an offense, especially in the last two games are a revelation.  His only limitation is his off the ball defense, below average rebounding, and his focus.  He lets the refs and events on the floor take him out of his game too often.  These are rookie mistakes, and.  As long as he can avoid falling in love with 22 footers early in the shot clock, he’ll be fine.  In looking at the early reactions to the draft pick, the buzz was that Waiters and Anthony Davis were the only players in the draft with the ability to be superstars.  Lillard could possibly be added to that list, but I’ve seen nothing that makes me think that analysis is off.  The Cavaliers swung for the fences with Dion Waiters, and it doesn’t look like the wind off Lake Erie is knocking down the deep fly ball yet.

Tom: Of course all I needed was Chad Ford to drop the Wade comparisons a few times and I was sold that Waiters was the guy to take.  Yes, I wanted MKG, but when he was taken I wanted Waiters.  My perceptions of Waiters that have changed the most are about his professionalism.  There were character-related concerns his freshman year at Syracuse and it rubbed me the wrong way that he didn’t work out before the draft and came to camp out-of-shape.  But he has impressed upon me that he uses adversity in a positive way.  When he was benched for poor play (mind-numbing shot selection and trouble finishing) he didn’t sulk.  He came off the bench in attack mode and got to the free throw line.  This approach to the game is the only way he can ever come close to sniffing the Wade comparisons – and he’s embracing it.  As far as his talent – I think he has shown all-star potential.  He plays a little more below-the-rim than I had hoped, but I think this is because he leaves his feet very early when driving to the hoop.  He’s not going to be dunking over people ala Wade, but 2 points is 2 points.  Everyone from Byron Scott down to us lowly writers need to constantly remind Dion:  “REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE” so he can elevate to the proper place in the circle of life the restricted area.

Question 3: The Cavs are winning some games and obviously the bench has been a revelation, but how much credit has the coaching staff earned for the recent success?

Mallory: I think the coaching staff certainly deserves some credit – the obvious improvements from TT and Dion are clearly a major part of the team’s recent success, and couldn’t have been achieved without a patient, smart coaching staff.  But the real winner in the Cavaliers’ improvement is obviously Chris Grant.  Many of us clamored for a better bench, Grant finally brought that in and, surprise surprise, they’re suddenly winning games.  I applaud Scott for using his bench well, especially Luke Walton, who many of us (myself included) thought was a corpse.  But at the same time, using guys like Speights and Ellington was a no brainer over what the team was throwing out there before – really, most anything would’ve been an upgrade.

Dani: Byron Scott certainly deserves a lot of credit for the bench’s success. Initially, we all called for Luke Walton’s head, and complained about his ridiculous (to us) amounts of PT. Fast forward a few months, however, and Scott’s vision of Waltonia has become evident. The 32 year-old has played a huge role in several wins recently, playing hard and showing off outstanding court vision. However, most of the credit for the Herculoids (@Nate)  goes to Chris Grant, for turning Jon Leuer into Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington. Both players have been great, and provided the floor spacing every offensive unit sorely needs. Also, Grant’s Shaun Livingston pickup was one of the savviest front office moves of the year, in all of the NBA. He’s been fantastic as a floor general, and must have one of the best midrange turnaround jumpers in the league.

Kevin: Certainly some of the recent success is due to Tristan’s sterling January and Dion’s fantastic February, and the improvements from them definitely should proffer credit to the coaches.  Clearly, Tristan absorbed lessons-taught about post offense and Dion heeded advice to attack at that end.  The other huge part of the winning is the bench.  In that case, I think much of the credit goes to the players, or Chris Grant.  The bench unit is now all veteran guys that appear to have an intrinsic idea of how to play with each other.  After Livingston, Ellington and Speights came on board early in 2013, everything immediately clicked.  And Luke Walton deserves all the credit for Luke Walton…keep believing in yourself, man.

Nate: I give Byron Scott a lot of credit for sticking with Luke Walton.  I will eat crow and say that I didn’t ever think he could be as effective as he’s been, and I’m super thrilled that his back is healed, and he’s capable of playing at a high level again.  There was a lot of talk that he’d never play again.  Kudos to the coaching staff too.  I was ready to bury them for a while, but they were trying to make chicken salad out of chicken shiitake mushrooms.  They also deserve applause for the way they’ve seamlessly integrated the new additions.  And Chris Grant and Dan Gilbert’s money: great job on bringing in those new additions: smart players with good NBA skill sets.  Now the challenge is to get better at winning and making adjustments in the fourth quarter.

Tom: After being underwhelmed with the in-game coaching, rotations, adjustments, and the general lack of urgency, I am more at ease these days, as I think the Cavs coaching staff is turning the corner.  I’ve started to notice little things: Cavs getting more 2 for 1s, using fouls to give, better inbounding plays, defensive adjustments, and just players approaching each game like they actually paid attention to scouting reports.  Since the all-star break I have noticed the Cavs actively trying things on defense to take away opponent strengths.  It’s not really effective yet, but it’s a necessary first step.  Also, it’s easy to say that the Cavs had huge upgrades in talent, but how honest is that?  When I bring up Greg Oden there are people that immediately freak out and say “He’ll never play again”.  But we all expected Shaun Livingston to be hitting his head on the rim throwing down reverse dunks…and after being cut from the Wizards?  Right.  And my initial reaction to the now herculoidian trade was: “well, the draft pick might be nice, but I really thought we should have played Leuer more…”.  So yeah, I’m gonna give the coaches the benefit of the doubt on this one.  Well done, guys.

Question 4: Are you most surprised with the outstanding play of Luke Walton, Shaun Livingston, or Wayne Ellington? How has their play diverged from your expectations if you had any expectations in, say, January.

Mallory: First, let me say, as I have many times, that I’ve irrationally loved Livingston’s game for a while.  If anything, I’ve always overrated the guy, so it’s not surprising to me he’s become a leader.  Now, knowing that, this is still a tough question to answer.  The obvious reply is Walton, because, like I noted above, we all pretty much assumed Walton was broken down.  He’s clearly not, and has, like Livingston, embraced a major leadership role on this team. (Quick aside, I vaguely remember a discussion between myself and a bunch of commenters about how, more than anything, this team needed to trade for some vet leaders.  Who would’ve thought WALTON would turn out to be the answer?)  The problem with quickly saying ‘Walton’ is, in honesty, I had no idea Ellington could play at such a high level.  Tom covered it pretty thoroughly – Ellington is exceeding all expectations on both O and D, and has become a major spark off the bench.  We all knew he was a knock-down three point shooter, and that his ability to do so would be a perfect fit for this team, but who would’ve thought he’d be able to do so much else?  So, while my short answer is Walton, my long answer is BOTH.

Dani: I wrote about Walton and Livingston above, so I’ll focus on Ellington. Coming in from Memphis, Ellington was known as a sort-of effective spot-up shooter, and little else. He played very limited minutes for the Grizzlies. However, he has been very good on the Cavaliers so far, performing at a level he has never even approached in his career, averaging career highs in percentages across the board, and sporting a PER that is his career’s best by a wide mile. Now, that could mean one of two things. Either he has been revitalized by more minutes and increased opportunity in a new team, or he’s simply overachieving, and likely to fall back to Earth any day now. I tend to lean towards the former, if only because I’m a hopeless optimist; I see Ellington as a perfect 3-and-D guy, and a significant piece of the Cavs future.

Kevin: Absolutely, Luke Walton.  There is no denying that he was really, really bad early this season, and probably has been for several years.  Through the early part of this season, his per-36 minute numbers were something like 6, 4 & 4 on 35% shooting.  His defense was sieve-like; he generally looked out-of-place and not athletic enough to complete.  I wrote an article several weeks ago outlining how miserable his performance had been going back to 2008 – 2009.  He piled up 40 assists and 8 turnovers in February, and avoided being a complete defensive liability, for what may have been the NBA’s “Bench of the Month”.  That sounds crazy, but after Wednesday, the Cavs have outscored opponents by 15 points per 100 possessions when Wayne Ellington plays, with a 124 offensive rating.  That is ridiculous.

Nate: Was Luke Skywalker surprised that Vader was his father?  Was America surprised at the end of the Sixth Sense?  Was Karl Rove surprised on the second Tuesday of last November?  Yes.  I am surprised that Luke Walton is a quality NBA basketball player again.  The fact that he’s so effective playing so many minutes as point power forward?  …even more surprising.  But runner up?  I had no idea that Wayne Ellington was this good.  His advanced stats are ridiculous.  A +7.3 simple rating?  That’s borderline elite.  That’s NBA 6th man of the year quality.

Tom: Well, what Walton is doing lately is saving this season from a fan-perspective.  But the thing is, while guys like Nate were trying to throw him birthday parties with triple-digit candles, I’ve thought all season that Walton’s presence on the court was a net positive from the perspective of: “this is how you play the game.”  Actually, at one time I called Walton the anti-Jamison.  He wasn’t talented enough to generate wins (as Jamison certainly was) but his approach to the game was correct and he could rub off on the young guys.  Then he started laying out to tip passes and hitting game winners and developing devastatingly fun 2-man games with every player on the team.  He has a surreal assist to turnover ratio lately, and his play is leading directly to wins – and it’s making this whole season a memorable one.  No one saw it coming.  But the guy whose actual production is just blowing me away is Ellington.  Man I hope he can keep it up.  And for my final magic trick I’ll say that if you’d have described all three scenarios (the play of Walton, Livingston, and Ellington) to me in November (before Walton posted a negative PER) my response would have been “Wait, you mean Shaun Livingston of the youtube video I refuse to watch?  He can walk?  And he still plays sports?  Really.”

Question 5: If you were Chris Grant, name a free agent you would pursue this offseason and justify the contract details.

Mallory: First off, I’d keep this team entirely intact.  I love this bench and think, as long as Ellington is ~$3.5 for a year (which he will be), Livingston is ~$2 mil a year for 2-3 years (which he should be) and Speights is $4.5-5 mil for 3 years or $5-6 mil for 2 years (which  he should be, and don’t say he’s not worth it – the guy is one of the top 10 bench scorers in the East, is a decent post defender, and plays with a crazy mean streak.  Those are ALL qualities a winning team can embrace) and Walton can be had for vet minimum (which, come on, he should be.  The guy just made 8 mil THIS YEAR.)   Throw in a 7th overall pick, and that leaves us with around $44 mil spent (give or take a few mil. – doing quick math here)  The cap is $58 mil, meaning the Cavs have $14 mil to spend/not spend on a player.  Really, there are two directions to go here.

Scenario1: If Cleveland drafts a Center, they need to figure out how to divide the time between TT/Andy/Zeller/Speights/Player X.  Realistically, Speights is probably the odd man out, though it’s a scary proposition to think of throwing him away when he’s so productive.  Zeller is probably the least productive, but also still has upside, so my bet is he sticks around.  Unless TT players 30 minutes, Andy plays 25, Zeller and Speights play 15, and Player X plays 11, which is possible, by the way, there’s just not enough time to go around.  If that happens, I’d really like to see the Cavs go after Andre Iguodala at 12-14 mil a year for 3 years.  I realize many of our readers are banking on the return of LeBron, but the truth is it’s silly to just assume he’ll return.  The man changes his mind on a daily basis – do you really want to stunt team progress for the guy who turned his back on the team and the city of Cleveland just a few years ago?  If it works out, great, but if they can snag Iguodala at what would be a reasonable rate, I’d do it in a heartbeat.  Iggy is a long, strong defender who, though struggling this year, has always been solid on O.  He passes well, rebounds well, does a ton of dirty work, and isn’t the slightest bit selfish.  There’s always a place on my team for a guy like that.  If they can do 15 mil a  year for 2 years with a team option, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

Scenario 2: The Cavs draft a young wing.  If that happens, the team is suddenly pretty evenly distributed, with a minor hole at center.  I know the consensus is that Andy plays better at the 4, but if Cleveland can get away with him playing at the 5, with Zeller backing him up, doesn’t the front court feel complete?  The only guy I’d consider signing is Greg Oden for 2 years guaranteed at 2 mil a year, with a third year team option.  If he blossoms, great, if not, we still have a front court complete for the next 2-3 years.

The thing is, I don’t see either of these scenarios happening.  It’s becoming clearer and clearer that the time has come to go full steam ahead. Cleveland has far too many assets/young guys on the team – we argue over the Speights/Ellingtons/Livingstons of the world, but really 3 years at 5 mil or two years at 3 mil aren’t going to hamper them badly – given the number of small contracts the team has, there’s a lot of flexibility on the roster.  What I would REALLY like to see happen is for Grant to go for a big trade.  Assuming he drafts a SF, Cleveland will have a complete starter-quality roster of Kyrie, Dion, TT, Andy, and player X.  The truth is, beyond Kyrie and to some degree Dion, most of these starters/subs are movable.  We love Tristan, but if you could trade him for Kevin Love, wouldn’t you?  That’s why I’d love to see the Cavs pull a blockbuster deal of Tristan, Zeller, picks (likely this year’s 1st), and some cap filler for Love.  The reason a team gets assets is to have the ability to pull off a trade like this – Tristan is a great young guy, but the likelihood that he turns into a player of Love’s level is doubtful.  That’s why, despite the fact that we love what Cleveland’s young nucleus looks like, it makes the most sense to grab a guy while they still can.  Otherwise the Cavs might, in a few years, be staring at a Harden for Kevin Martin/ec. scenario where, because of lack of money and roster space, they’re getting less value than they’re giving. I could see something similar happening with Dion, though I really like how his game has blossomed, or even with Andy.  But the fact remains that swapping a sum of youth/assets for one big prize makes the most sense to go to the next level.

Dani: Despite what many people have said and argued (well) about Paul Millsap on the Cavs, I don’t see it working out. Tristan Thompson isn’t really big enough to play center, as we all remember from last year. Anderson Varejao is best as a power forward, and Zeller isn’t really ready to start. At all. I also find it unlikely that Andre Iguodola opts out of $16.4 million dollars this year. But if he does, I would love to see the Cavs pick him up. Four years, $44 million? Perfect. If I’m Chris Grant, I actually stay away from Nikola Pekovic. He’s peaking right now, and someone is going to give him way too much money. Samuel Dalembert might be worth a few million dollars- the Cavs don’t have nearly enough centers on the roster. Tiago Splitter is actually my number one target for the Cavs this year, if Iguodola isn’t an option. He’s one of the most effective scoring centers in the league. The Cavs would  probably have to pay a little more than market value (given that this is Cleveland), but I think he’s well worth it.

Kevin: This is boring, but Livingston and Ellington.  Between the five starters, two more rookies, Andy, those two, and CJ Miles; the roster includes eleven players.  Maybe Walton comes back as a twelfth man, but I think “Patience in Free Agency” remains the theme this off-season.  Speaking of Andy, when he comes back next year, the team should limit him to 20 – 25 minutes per game, basically filling Speights’ minutes.  Can you imagine the second-unit, but with Andy instead of Marreese?  The passing and ball-moving raises to an even more exquisite level in that scenario, right?  I’m excited.  With growth from the youngsters, 20 minutes per night of Andy, and another decent draft, the Cavs should be strong next year, without a free agent splash.

Nate: Well, we all know now that the “plan” is to not tie too much money up long term before 2014.  With Tristan as tantalizing as he’s been, I don’t know if I want Cleveland to throw a ton of money at the power forward crop.  Al Jefferson is probably too expensive and too old, and I want to see this bench crew back at reasonable contracts.  So, I give you next year’s free agent: Mike Dunleavy.  Dunleavy can be 2013’s Luke Walton: he’ll be 33, but he is having a fantastic shooting year, with a 14.9 PER, shoots .459/.431/.813, is 6’9″, can play 3 positions, and is a perfect safety valve for Kyrie and Dion.  He will probably want to go to a contender, but overpaying him for 3-4 million a year for a 2 year deal with a team option on the 2nd year?  That would probably price him out of most other teams’ range.  He’s a solid veteran who would have no problem helping this team continue to learn to be pros.  Splashy?  No.  Effective?  Yes.

Tom: Wanted: Defense, athleticism, and effectiveness without the use of inflatable spheres.  Prior Work: NBA Small-Forward or Center.  Pay: 3-6 million per season.  Contract: 2 to 5 years.  Would someone please pass this along to: DeMarre Carroll from Utah (unrestricted) and Al-Farouq Aminu aka Dhalsim from Street Fighter now playing for New Orleans (team option).

I look forward to how you answer #3

Commentariat, how would you answer these?