We have finally reached the point in the NBA dead season that the venerable Zach Lowe is breaking down Space Jam. I love cartoon Muggsy Bogues as much as the next guy, but I would much rather watch our very own Sideshow Bob take on Uncle Drew, albeit in a game with much smaller ramifications. The friendly scrimmage between Team USA and Brazil provided some real basketball relief and a delightful peak into 2014-2015 Cavalier ball.
The game started with both Cavaliers on the bench. At least that is what I assume considering the Russian language Youtube feed started fashionably late. Steph Curry seemed rather intent to claim alpha-dog status with an array of jumpers. Brazil provided an intresting test for a USA team lacking size. With Nene, Splitter and the best Brazilian ever, Anderson Varejao, Brazil features three quality frontcourt players. Anthony Davis was charged with holding the bigs on his own. He responded well. His defensive surge at the beginning of the fourth quarter, combined with his insane ability to convert any lob thrown near him helped seal the game.
Derrick Rose made a very solid return to the court. Most of the highlights include his speedy drives to the cup that sent Chicago fans into a state of delirium. I get it. He was out for a long time. But hold yourself together Bulls fans or you aren’t going to make it past November. Speaking of the Bulls fans, my favorite part of the evening was Andy’s smile as he checked into the game for the first time. The Chicago faithful cascaded boos upon the anti-Noah with gusto.
Ok full disclosure:
I’m going to be honest. I basically watched Andy and Kyrie in this game. When they were out, I vaguely noticed some bearded dude dribbling and a flash of ‘Brow, but if you want any more Team USA coverage, check our sponsors.
Andy had a bit of a slow start allowing Davis to sneak by him for a pretty putback. But as he warmed up, the floppy haired wonder reminded us of his disruptive presence: a slight overplay followed by a tipped ball after a perfectly hedged screen, etc… With all the publicity surrounding LeBron, Kevin Love, Kyrie, and even Dion, Varejao is far too frequently mentioned as an oft-injured role player. It isn’t hard to find a Cavalier fan who loves Anderson Varejao. It is far more difficult to find a casual NBA fan who understands Andy’s importance.
Much of that can be attributed to how subtlely great he is. Varejao is an incredibly high usage(note: the usage percentage stat has made it difficult to use the word usage. See how hard that was?) player without touching the ball. Wild Thing’s third quarter was emblamatic. He created at least three extra offensive possessions via backtap or rebound. He was involved on almost every possession as a multiple screener. Andy expertly flips picks, alters timing, makes the right interior pass, and buries defenders on screen rolls time after time. He is a big man PnR textbook. Brazil had wide open threes after layups during a third quarter that Andy owned. He looks relatively spry and mentally locked in. It’s just that if you ball watch, you wouldn’t notice.
Kyrie Irving is going to play some defense this year. I am excited. I don’t know whether it is Thibs, Coach K, LeBron, or simply a maturation process, but Kyrie entered the game in a defensive stance and stayed in it almost throughout. He checked in, corralled a tipped loose ball from Faried and converted the layup. The next defensive possession featured solid footwork on full-court pressure followed by a tricky pass steal off a fake. By the third possession, the Brazilian PG was so flummoxed he thought it better to simply hand the ball to Kyrie. Irving didn’t do much shooting in this game. I don’t remember a single jumper. But, he played strong through contact around the rim, and for the love of Basketball, he kept his behind low and moved over picks!!!! I cannot contain my glee.
In the years without LeBron, Anderson Varejao was the Cavs’ best player when healthy. Kyrie was the second best player. As they move from #1 and #2 down to #3 and #4, their off-ball and team oriented contributions will become all the more important. Andy has always excelled. Kryie’s USA play is very encouraging. What is most amazing is that the Cavs 2014-2015 roster is arguably stronger than this Team USA squad. My, how things have changed.