As evidenced by last night’s scores, the playoffs are still bananas. Did anyone predict Indiana and OKC getting blown out at home? Speaking of playoffs, Yesterday, Kevin covered the Eastern Conference, in his series of glass half full/glass half empty first round breakdowns. Today I continue the series by tackling the Western Conference. We’ll pretend that Dallas and Memphis wouldn’t be top four teams in the East. Thankfully, (Glass Half Full) the Cavs play in the lesser conference. Frighteningly, (Glass Half Empty) if the NBA ever re-seeds the playoffs to ignore conferences, Cleveland could be hosed.
(1) San Antonio Spurs vs (2) Dallas Mavericks – Glass Half Full: Both these teams are proof positive that good coaching and an effective team culture can make make unrepentant shooters into effective offensive components (see: Ellis, Monta) and marginal role players into spark plugs off the bench (see: Blair, DeJuan and Diaw, Boris). The Cavs can copy these models. The Spurs built their core out of the draft, but they built their bench through free agency. Diaw, Green (starter, but clearly inferior to Manu), Belinelli, and Mills were all picked up as unrestricted free agents and all play on reasonable contracts. Free agents can make a difference. In Dallas, outside of Nowitzki and Jae Crowder, the rotation was built almost entirely through trades and free agency: Ellis, Calderon, Marion, Blair, Carter, Brandan Wright, and Devin Harris all came through free agency and helped build a 49 win team. Players like these can be acquired. The trick is identifying them and plugging them into roles that they can excel at. In fact, there are several free agents available from this series.
Ones that might be gettable for the Cavs? Jae Crowder is a restricted free agent who should definitely be on the Cavs radar. While his traditional stats are very pedestrian, his RAPM is a very solid 2.13. How? He is one of the best players in the league at helping his team force turnovers when he’s on the floor. He also possesses an interesting shot chart: very solid from the corners, straight on, the paint, and the right baseline, and terrible from the left and the wings. If he can eliminate the wing three and the left side pull-up, he could be a very effective 3 and D player. DeJuan Blair, while he had a great playoffs, seemed unnaturally hot, and I have my doubts he can sustain that kind of production next season. He would be a suitable replacement if Tristan Thompson gets moved, but I don’t know if he can play starters’ minutes. Also probably available from Dallas for a trade, and a suitable C.J. Miles replacement? Wayne Ellington. Dallas may be chasing bigger fish, which could allow these fry to swim free.
Glass Half Empty: Both these teams run highly structured, advanced offenses that are light years ahead of Cleveland’s. To watch the Spurs in game seven was to watch basketball poetry in motion. It remains to be seen whether Cleveland has the coaching staff or the players to achieve close to this level of offensive competence. Also, San Antonio is built around once in a generation player, Tim Duncan and rock solid franchise cornerstones in Ginobili and Parker, while Dallas is built in another all-time mold-breaker, Nowitzki. Do the Cavs have a player on their roster who can rise to these levels?
(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (7) Memphis Grizzlies – Glass Half Full:
- It’s good to see that a seventh or eighth seed upstart can compete with a second seed or a first seed.
- The Thunder model works: get a superstar, keep drafting smartly, and build a perennial contender.
- Shooting matters. Memphis’ lack of three point shooting ultimately doomed them, and made comebacks impossible. Memphis attempted 15.2 threes per game, and made them at a clip of 29%, both playoff lows. Memphis may have reached their ceiling with their current team design. They need to either be happy where they’re at, blow it up, or add shooting. The Cavs are certainly better from the perimeter than the Grizz.
- The Cavs should be thankful for Dan Gilbert. Clay Bennett’s cheapness might doom OKC this year. The Thunder didn’t want to amnesty the calcifying Kendrick Perkins, and didn’t want to go over the luxury tax to add another big. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph beat up the Thunder inside in their three wins. If Zach hadn’t been suspended in game seven, and if Memphis would have shot better, they’d have won this series. I expect OKC to struggle against Jordan/Griffin, too.
- Lionel Hollins is still available.
Glass Half Empty:
- If I was John Hollinger, I’d have less hair. And I’d be going after C.J. Miles to be a starting wing. He would fit Memphis like a William Shatner toupee.
- Rookie, Steven Adams, had some big moments in games six and seven. I like his future, and he’s another guy the Cavs passed on. I mean he was never in the discussion, but just seeing him reminds me of the 2013 draft and makes me say my prayers that Anthony Bennett is working out in a gym somewhere.
- James Johnson, Cavs killer, has a neck tattoo that gives me nightmares. He is also available via free agency.
- NBA Conspiracy theories are alive and well. The Zach Randolph game seven suspension was the stuff of frozen envelope legend.
(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs (6) Golden State Warriors – Glass Half Full: This series gave Kyrie Irving two GREAT point guards to emulate, and gives the Cavs blueprints for how to build teams around a point guard: shooters, bigs who can score on the pick and roll, defenses that generate blocks and turnovers, and players who can push the pace. I hope Kyrie is breaking down film of the series and watching both players on offense and defense. Speaking of role models, Draymond Green in this series is a perfect combo forward for AB15 to emulate, well, except for the 27% from three. But the energy, the aggressiveness, the all around game… Green’s clearly surpassed Harrison Barnes who looks lost and far inferior to Dion Waiters at this point. Bullet dodged, there.
Glass Half Empty: The Cavs aren’t built like these teams. They don’t have the defensive bigs (Bogut was missing this series), and they don’t pressure the ball the way these teams can (Andre Iguodala anyone?). More importantly, the Cavs don’t play natural pick and roll partners with their point guards the way that these two teams do. David Lee and Blake Griffin are great partners for Paul and Curry. It makes me want to see a lot more Tyler Zeller and Andy next year, and a lot less of the 2013-2014 version of Tristan Thompson. Also, Cleveland is an order of magnitude less athletic than these two teams. The Clips play in lob city, and the Cavs play in long-two city.
(4) Houston Rockets vs (5) Portland Trailblazers – Glass Half Full: Portland and Houston prove that you can turn it around quickly in the NBA. I mean it was just the other day that Kevin was telling me that he wasn’t sure LaMarcus Aldridge was a guy worth trading for… Suddenly, L.A. is in the discussion with Love and Griffin as the best power forward in the NBA. And in that series? Aldridge grabbed the torch. Portland also showed what a great big man and a great point guard can do to a bad defense. Aldridge posted an insane 29.8 point, 11.2 rebound average with two dimes and 2.7 blocks on .546 true shooting. Lillard? 25.5/6.3/6.7, a WS/48 of .228 (that’s LeBron territory), and .665 True Shooting. In theory, putting a good front court scorer with Kyrie could approximate that kind of output. Another plus from this series? Omer Asik is available via trade, and despite getting torched by Aldridge, would help solve a lot of interior defensive problems.
Glass Half Empty: The Cavs passed on Damian Lillard for another ball dominant 6’3″ guard… I like Waiters, but can you imagine a two combo guard offense that can shoot like Kyrie and Damian can? They’d have revolutionized back court play in the NBA. They also might have been worse on defense than Harden and Lin (ok, no one is THAT bad. At least Kyrie is trying to get better). The Rockets proved that you can’t solve defensive problems just by adding an elite shot-blocker. Perimeter defense matters. What the hell was James Harden doing at the elbow on that Lillard series winner? Don’t you switch everything there, and overplay the three point line? The Cavs have to get better at perimeter D. If they don’t, they may win more, but, like Houston, they’ll never stop anyone in the playoffs.