Are the Cavs a .500 team or heading to the cellar?

November 16th, 2010 by John Krolik

(Note on the video: I tweeted this earlier, but I would very much like to see an alternate Heat jumbotron entrance video, featuring LeBron lording over everything, set to this. That’s some Fantasia stuff right there. Also, the only way I could be more excited about the upcoming Kanye album is if he’d had time to sample this soundtrack. Everything needs to use this soundtrack. It owns.)

(Note #2: I was overwhelmed by how many incredible applicants I got for the links editor position. I’ve been putting off getting back to those of you who applied because I don’t want to have to not choose people, but you will hear from me soon.)

(Note #3: HOLY CRAP MICHAEL VICK. That was the game we’ve been waiting for for nearly a decade, and it came under these circumstances. His first pass to Jackson traveled 60 yards in the air, and with lateral movement it was probably closer to 65 or 70. I can’t get over how insane all of this is. This is like rookie LeBron never really improving his jump shot or shot selection, going to jail for dogfighting (I’m sorry, I can’t think of an analogy for that), getting signed as Durant’s backup and getting some token minutes, then finding his 08-10 form as he absolutely destroyed an out-of-shape, rapidly looking overrated Durant’s team. It’s legitimately cooler to be a Vick fan than a LeBron fan right now, by a large margin. I would not have called that when I wrote this in 2007. Final note on this: if Vick and LeBron’s transgressions were somehow combined, they would be the ultimate enemy of the Dawg Pound.)

Well, it’s nearing crossroads time for the Cavs. The team surprised a lot of people by getting some pretty decent wins, but they’ve also been thoroughly outclassed at home by the Raptors, Nets, and Pacers, and are currently 27th in the ever-popular Hollinger Power Rankings. So let’s take stock of the things the Cavs have done that decent-to-good teams do, and the things they’ve done terribly:

Not that bad: Sometimes they run the Princeton Offense well.

There’s cutting. There’s passing. There’s movement. Varejao and Hickson are surprisingly patient in the high post, and have both been stunningly accurate with their mid-range jumpers. There is legitimate NBA offense being played by this team at times, and it’s fun to watch when it’s working.

Very bad: The team goes away from it far too much.

Varejao and Hickson will break off the offense at times, and often the offense will devolve into Sessions/Boobie/Mo trying to create something out of nothing and forcing up a shot. That’s not going to get it done.

Not that bad: Sessions is capable of playing the point very well.

He’ll make plays. He’s fast and aggressive. He is capable of passing, and always puts the pressure on the defense. He’s shown the ability to make cuts when the Princeton is being run. The team’s best moments have been when the lightbulb turns on for Sessions.

Very bad: Sessions usually plays like he has no idea what is going on.

STOP FORCING DRIVES. STOP FORCING DRIVES. Ramon isn’t a good shooter, and offense has to come from somewhere, but diving at the basket 15 times a game, settling for a pull-up or floater when the defense rotates, or just going all the way, getting blocked, and creating a run-out for the other team is not good basketball. I never thought I could like a player this determined to get to the basket this much. If LeBron played like Sessions, I’m convinced he’d score something like 65 points a game, but Sessions isn’t LeBron. In fact, Sessions may be shedding some light on why LeBron didn’t just damn the torpedoes on EVERY SINGLE PLAY.

Not that bad: The interior defense

Varejao is a beast defensively, and he’s not getting pushed around by opposing centers. His defense on Brook Lopez was a thing of beauty. Hollins has actually been surprisingly stout inside as well. This team is not getting bullied or giving up easy baskets to opposing bigs, and that’s a big deal.

That bad: All other kinds of defense

Opposing wings are lighting this team up. Moon isn’t fundamentally sound enough, and Parker is 20 steps to slow to guard opposing wings. The team has no chance. Ramon and Mo aren’t doing a great job of shutting down penetration either; if this team wants to outrun teams, they have to find ways to stop penetration. You can upgrade this to wing play in general: Parker plays like a guy who was great overseas when he was more athletic, and he’s slowed down about 20,000 breaks in the first 8 games of the season. I hate to kill AP, because he has skills and knows how to play the game, but he’s just so slow now, and he’s being given way too much offensive responsibility. Jawad Williams still thinks he’s Ohio’s Mr. Basketball award winner, and Jamario Moon’s fundamentals are Jamario Moon’s fundamentals.

Not that bad: Depth

You can probably upgrade this to “pretty darn good.” Jamison is one heckuva sixth man, Hollins has been solid, Powe can contribute, and Boobie’s point play has been a revelation. This team’s bench has been a strength.

That bad: The team has to be deep, because they can’t rely on anybody on a given night.

Kinda speaks for itself. That was always the case with the other 11 Cavs on the roster when LeBron was here — now that LeBron isn’t here, it’s that much more of an issue.

Not that bad: Hickson is blossoming into a very good ballplayer

I honestly didn’t think Hickson would have this kind of perimeter game in a million years, and he’s mixed that in with forays to the basket, some nice mid-post moves when he faces up, and good cuts when the team runs Princeton. Very glad I get to watch him grow up as a ballplayer.

That bad: the team might be asking to much of him

The fadeaways and pull-ups are nice, but he’s not enough of a go-to guy to be relied upon the way the Cavs have been relying on him, especially early. He’s still at his best when he’s moving to the rim and throwing down, but the Cavs have been forced to toss the ball to him in one-on-one situations and hope for the best far too much.

Well, that’s all I have for tonight. We’ll see what this team is made of over this next stretch.