Before the playoffs, I wrote and posted a “big list of fears” for the Cavaliers in the playoffs. Now that the playoffs are over, let’s check back in on some of those fears. The stuff in italics are my (unedited, minus the intro) thoughts from before the playoffs. The stuff in normal font are my current thoughts on my previous thoughts. Without further ado:
1. Re-Integrating Shaq
I think Shaq is a great player. I think he’s been playing basketball for long enough to not need much of an adjustment period. He’s playing around savvy veterans who should know how to fit him back into the starting lineup right away. His early-season struggles were as much about Shaq being out of shape and out of sync than any issues with adjusting to the system. By all accounts, he’s kept himself in excellent shape, and seems to be focused 100% on a title.
That being said, Shaq has barely played with the Cavs’ projected starting power forward this season. He hasn’t played in a game since February. For whatever reason, they thought it was the right move to keep him inactive in what would have been a scrimmage game to end the year. Now he’s going to start a playoff game on Sunday? Add that to the fact that Shaq isn’t a plug-and-play guy; he has very pronounced strengths and weaknesses, and there’s risk inherent in trying to incorporate those during the most important playoff run in franchise history.
Everything should be fine. Shaq’s a pro, he’s in shape, and the Bulls don’t present any significant matchup problems for him. But the Cavs’ starting center for the playoffs hasn’t played since February. I worry about this.
Yeah, this turned out to be a problem. Shaq reverted to how he started off the year, demanding the ball in the post and forcing hooks instead of moving without the ball and trying to get easy shots. He also had problems with the athleticism and physicality of both Noah and Perkins, particularly on the boards. His defense was often suspect. He had some great offensive games, but the Cavs were usually better off with the big fella on the bench. One thing I would like to know is whether or not he would have accepted a demotion to the bench when he was coming back from his injury.
2. Backcourt Production
This isn’t about trusting Mo Williams. I know Mo had a bad series last year, but I don’t think of him as a choker or anything like that. I fully believe that Mo Williams is very good at his job. The trouble is that Mo Williams has a very difficult job. Mo is competent at running the offense and can attack the basket from time to time, but the strength of his game is outside shooting. That means Mo will be counted on to put a ball through a 10-foot hoop 25 feet away from him with large men running at him and trying to make him miss on a consistent basis. This is a very difficult job. It is almost impossible to succeed at Mo’s given task more than half of the time. Since Mo doesn’t have a lot of ways to contribute if his shot isn’t on, I worry about this.
Delonte is the Cavs’ second-best guard, but he’s been terribly inconsistent all year. His three-point stroke never really came around, and he’s been asked to do more on-on-one scoring instead of trying to slash and make his teammates better. He has a good midrange game, but he’s often hit-or-miss as a scorer. Delonte’s talent is still there, but he hasn’t retained his consistency with his move to the bench.
Parker is a spot-up shooter like Mo, but he’s almost completely worthless if he’s not making his threes. As was previously mentioned, making threes is very difficult in an NBA game. His defense is solid, but it’s not good enough to forgive him being an albatross on offense.
Yeah, this was a problem. Mo and Rashard Lewis are learning similar lessons: it’s really hard to succeed against a defense as good as Boston’s when you rely on spot-up threes to score. They rotate fast, the pressure is on, and they pride themselves on not giving up the open looks from the perimeter Mo lives off of during the regular season. Even when Mo played well, he had to play insanely aggressively instead of being able to play his game.
Delonte made some nice plays, but he couldn’t buy a three and he had trouble scoring from the field. AP played as well as can be expected of him — the problem is that the expectations on AP weren’t all that high to begin with.
3. Jamison and Ilgauskas’ shot selection
Jamison is a wonderfully talented player who is capable of doing just about everything on offense and enjoys the occasional scoring explosion, but he takes too many forced jump shots early in the shot clock, especially from a foot or two inside the line. Ilgauskas’ shot has been off all year, and he still settles for it instead of drawing out the defender and rotating the ball. Both of these guys are capable of making those shots, but that doesn’t always mean they should be taking them.
This turned out to be a non-issue. Jamison’s shot selection was fine most of the time, and Z didn’t play enough to have his shot selection become a problem.
5. Free-Throw Shooting
Of the five starters, Mo is great, Parker isn’t a sure thing, LeBron is streaky, Shaq is historically terrible, and Jamison is historically decent and currently historically terrible. Giving up 4-8 free points in a playoff game is not a good idea. I wish the Cavs had more guys they could confidently put on the line late in games.
Didn’t turn out to be a huge problem. Free-throw shooting cost the Cavs game three against Chicago, but since none of their losses to the Celtics were close, you can’t blame any of them on free-throw shooting. So there’s that.
Who doesn’t get minutes between Shaq/Varejao/Jamison/Hickson/Powe/Z? What about Parker/Gibson/Moon/Williams? How much should Delonte play? Mike Brown is going to have a lot of tough decisions to make based on the matchups and who has the hot hand. I don’t believe he coached a terrible series against the Magic, but giving Ben Wallace Joe Smith’s minutes was a catastrophic error. I hope history doesn’t repeat itself this year.
This is already starting to become a dead horse, but rotations were a major problem. Not having more small-ball lineups for Boston was an absolute disaster.
Low on the list, but on the list. If the Cavs blow out the Bulls in the first round, they were rested. If they struggle, they were rusty. Resting the guys was the right call, but it does disturb me how long it’s been since the Cavs’ starters played.
8. I wish it was possible to combine Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker.
I don’t like how little Parker brings to the table at times. It’s tough to see someone that passive as a starter on a championship team. But do I trust Jamario Moon to hit a wide-open three or not commit a bad foul in a close game? No I do not.
The Cavs needed more of Moon’s length and athleticism to defend the Celtics, but Parker was the one hitting shots.
9. LeBron’s perimeter game
LeBron is easily the best player in the league. I worry about literally every player on the roster before I worry about LeBron. But he will have games where he can’t get to the paint at will and will start launching out of frustration. It’s either easy baskets or impossible shots. I really wish there was a middle option, be it some shots from the 8-15 foot range or a post-up game, but what’s there is very good. Still, I worry.
This turned out to be a huge problem. Just like the Spurs and Pistons did in years past, the Celtics loaded up the strong side on LeBron and knew where to rotate when LeBron got trapped and had to pass. LeBron’s jumper was on in game three, and that was the game the Cavs dominated. In the Cavs’ four losses, James had trouble getting anything going outside the paint. Please develop some post moves and a better mid-range game, LeBron.