Posts Tagged ‘cleveland cavaliers’

LeBron James – Point Guard

December 6, 2014

Before this latest string of wins, there were a lot of opinions being thrown around about the state of the new Super Cavs.

On defense the consensus opinion seemed to be that Kevin Love should morph into a shot blocking defensive anchor, I’m guessing via some sort of exposure to radioactive materials, or maybe there’s a gene therapy he could get in Germany. Let’s ask Kobe Bryant for advice here. Alternatively, everyone not named LeBron James or Shawn Marion needed to learn to pay more attention at the defensive end. And frankly, James had been pretty lazy on defense for his normal standards too.

On offense, folks seemed to expect Kyrie Irving to take personality altering drugs until he saw the floor like Chris Paul and became as pass-happy as Rajon Rondo. People also wanted to see Love in the post more, which is a great idea as a first option in half-court sets, except that if Love is catching the ball in the post, LeBron isn’t. Everyone remembers that LeBron shot over 60% from two-point range since he moved into the post as a power forward for the Heat, right? You might want to exploit that particular little piece of amazing. Also LeBron in the post is a dramatically better passer to open shooters than Love.

BUT, LeBron is also vastly more versatile than Kevin, so they may just have to sacrifice that piece of James’s game. This is the trouble with combining a group of super-scorers. They can’t all have the ball in their favorite places at the same time, so the threat of everybody playing sub-optimal ball, or at least putting up sub-optimal stats, is real.

The concerns are a bit premature, but they are legitimate. The Cavs are currently the 5th best offense in the league (same as the Heat last year). They are the 15th defense in the league (4 spots worse than Miami last year). Their margin of victory is only 3.8 points at the moment. It’s always good to have that number be a positive, but historically championship contenders have an MOV of about twice that number. There’s still lots of time.

The competing voice in the Cavs debate always maintained that it was just a matter of time. Talent wins out in the NBA, and these guys were bound to figure it out, or LeBron would just give into the impulse to take over and simply carry them into relevancy on his own. What no one seemed to anticipate, and what has clearly taken place is that James has assumed a new position this year.

The official Cleveland starting line-up looks like this:

PG – Kyrie Irving
SG – Shawn Marion
SF – LeBron James
PF – Kevin Love
C – Anderson Varejao

In actual execution that line-up amounts to this:

PG – LeBron James
SG – Kyrie Irving
SF – Shawn Marion
PF – Kevin Love
C – Anderson Varejao

First, let’s clarify the basic difference between a guard and a forward in traditional position assignment. Guards are ball-handlers. Forwards work for points off the ball and generally play closer to the basket unless they are playing a “stretch” role as a jump shooter. Shawn Marion is no guard. He is a classic tweener or swing forward capable of rebounding with bigs and running with quick wings. He can defend big guards, but he cannot serve that role on offense. LeBron on the other hand has the ball-handling skills of an And-1 champion. The idea that Marion is the starting two guard and James is the starting small forward is as ridiculous as the old days when skinny, three point shooterRobert Horry started at center next to post-scoring, shot-blocking, rebounding machine, Tim Duncan. It’s non-sense.

In fact, not only is James starting at guard, he is clearly the primary playmaker on this team. You see it when you watch them play. He’s orchestrating. He’s handling the ball. He’s making things happen for others. It’s also clear in the box score where he’s leading the team in assists and turnovers. That’s a point guard. Kyrie is ball-dominant, but he’s using his guard skills primarily to create scoring opportunities for himself. This is fine. Allen Iverson won an MVP and helped an offensively challenged Sixers team reach the finals while playing that style. The question-mark is with LeBron. Should he be playing the point?

When the Heat were going through their growing pains, LeBron took over point forward responsibilities for a time (Miami always started two true guards – Dwyane Wade and one of Mario Chalmers, Mike Bibby, or Norris Cole), and he did not like the role. I don’t recall that James gave an explanation for why he didn’t want to be the point man on the team. Too tiring, maybe? Wanted a system for sharing the ball better so as not to alienate Wade? Not sure. But it looks like that’s where the Cavs are now, and I wonder if James didn’t intend to take this responsibility on from the get go. He did take it on himself to lose a ton of weight this summer. He looks more like a guard than a power forward now.

And frankly if he did decide prior to making the move to Cleveland that he was going to go back to being the primary creator, it may have been a smart move on his part. James is such a great passer on the pick and roll, he has the ability to play to Love’s game this way, keep Andy and Tristan Thompson involved, and open things up for the guards to attack the defense with secondary penetration. LeBron can also push the ball in transition more when he is the first outlet receiver or making more end to end runs off his own defense rebounds. It’s tough to sacrifice all the easy buckets they get off of James’s leak outs, but Dion, Kyrie, and Marion can all finish on the break as well, and LeBron’s ability to see over the defense and make pinpoint passing strikes is unmatched in the game today.

Defensively, my only thought is that they still need to coordinate better and give more consistent effort. Not having a dominant defensive center isn’t a death sentence on defense. The Heat didn’t have one. It just takes more attention to detail and energy on the perimeter when there’s no shot blocker waiting at the rim. Either that or they need to make a move to get the shot blocker they are missing. One easy shift they could make is to consistently line up with Marion guarding the other team’s best wing player. This would give James more freedom to help on defense, and his speed and athleticism make him the team’s best cover up defender and ball hawker.

One nice thing that comes about if the Cavs do concede that LeBron is their starting point guard: Waiters wins his argument with Bradley Beal. The Heat would have the best starting backcourt in the NBA (Warriors have an argument). He just isn’t part of it.

Eastern Conference – Post LeBron and Lance Signings

July 18, 2014

Is it possible that I haven’t written an article since the before the end of round of one of the playoffs? All things are possible through our faith in LeBron, hallowed be his essay. But putting faith aside, I’ve had a crazy summer and am coming back with a vengeance today (possibly followed by another 3 month absence).

Let’s catch up on the things we’ve missed:

Spurs = incredible. Should be favorites to repeat until we see some kind of improvements among the Thunder / Clippers / Surprise WC Contender. Tim Duncan did not go to some other super-duper star level with this 5th championship. He was already there. Anyone who doesn’t view Tim as a top 10 player all time isn’t paying attention.

Heat flaws that we detailed during the season did come back to bite them just a bit in the Finals. Less aggressive defense than the last two years. More turnovers. Poor rebounding. Too much reliance on only taking excellent shots (layups, free throws, open threes), and when a good defense finally took those things away, they just weren’t used to taking tough contested shots (particularly James who could have been more assertive with his midrange game against a sagging Spurs defense). On the other hand, if Bosh and both PGs hadn’t gone ice cold from beyond the arc, the whole series might have been different.

Also a 4 time MVP and the consensus best player in the league just changed teams of his own accord and left the best team in the East for the 2nd time in 5 years. This is a bizarre league sometimes. I want to take the rest of our time in this post to consider the Eastern Conference in the wake of the dissolution of its 4-time Finals representative.

LeBron James bolting for Cleveland completely disrupts the power dynamics in the East. Everybody outside of Miami is proud of LeBron for making this family / community decision and bringing his market growing powers to a city in need of a boost. I concur, but I’m a little disappointed that this Heat team won’t get its best chance to make it 5 straight NBA Finals, which hasn’t happened since Bill Russell’s Celtics.

The Heat, who managed to keep Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, still have a ton of talent (particularly if Wade can pick up his shot attempts without killing what was a career best year for shooting efficiency), and depending on how they revamp their system, might actually remain a contender to make the Finals. I genuinely think that 2011 team could have made and possibly won the Finals with Luol Deng instead of LeBron and an upgrade at center with the rest of LeBron’s salary. That was four years ago. This team’s chances hinge entirely on what Wade has left in the tank. If he can go back to being a 2400+ minute, 30%+ usage first option creator, they have a strong chance to make it to the Finals. If not, I don’t see it happening.

However, another transaction from a top East team has cleared the way for basically anything to happen. The Indiana Pacers lost Lance Stephenson, who was pretty clearly their second best player and the one guy with the most potential to join Paul George as cornerstones for the future. Lance was Indi’s most creative pick and roll player, most aggressive slasher, and a great wing defender who played two positions and even provided some back-up point guard skills. Without him the Pacers could slide back to the pack, and with the Heat a huge question mark as well, there has to be a lot of hope among the other teams out East.

Chicago is the default favorite in many expert opinions (Vegas has the Cavs) based on the signing of Pau Gasol and the return of Derrick Rose. I need to see both of them perform at a high level before I’ll get excited about them and this team in general. The rotation is interesting. Rose and Kirk Hinrich at the guard spots, Jimmy Butler, Tony Snell and the rookie Doug McDermott at the wings, and Gasol, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson up front. They need to stay healthy or add a little depth, but they sound terrific on paper. The offense can’t be any worse than last year, and if the defense holds, they stand to improve. But Rose has to show us what he’s got before we can put them ahead of the pack.

Cleveland by virtue of LeBron is immediately a Finals contender. People who are concerned about his fit with this relatively young team need to relax. James can fill any skill gaps. We got used to him operating in that Hakeem Olajuwon mid-post, but if the Cav shooters aren’t up to spacing the court for him, he can do other things. Put him in a high pick and roll / pop set with Kyrie Irving, and good things will happen. Let him set a strong down screen for a curling Dion Waiters, and force the defense to switch a guard onto him on the block or leave Waiters open on the wing. He’s a man-mountain with all the skills the modern NBA has to offer. He’ll fit. Especially if they pull a trade and bring in Kevin Love to clear up that big man shooting issue.

Atlanta is interesting because people are probably not paying enough attention to their under-the-radar All-Star center pick up of Al Horford. This was a very well-coached team with great chemistry who competed at both ends last year, and they were missing their best player for most of the season. They are the Chicago of the South East division with much much much better shooting and not as much continuity and defensive dominance. Okay. They are nothing like the Bulls. But they are getting their best player back from injury, and they do have the potential to make a huge leap this season.

Washington lost Trevor Ariza, which I think will hurt them because he was doing a really good prime Bruce Bowen impression for them with more athleticism to boot. My main man Paul Pierce has lost a step and isn’t up to defending guards any more which means Bradley Beal and John Wall will have to guard their position every night instead of handing off the best opposing perimeter player. This is a very solid team with a spectacularly talented point guard and solid players at every position. Depth could be an issue, but they will be a tough out in the playoffs.

Toronto stayed the course, holding onto all the chief assets from last year’s run. They should be better with more experience together. Kyle Lowry was a top 4 guard in the East last year and may be again, and his back up is very solid as well. I don’t know if the overall talent level is high enough (what positions do they “win” against say the Wiz or Cavs?), but they have continuity and they compete hard, so in the upheaval of the Eastern Conference, you can’t write them off completely.

The Nets are headed downhill unless they get a remarkable return to form (from five years ago) from Deron Williams. That is really their only hope for getting better after losing Pierce.

The Knicks are looking to 2015 and don’t even want to be great next year. I keep hearing from New York representatives that Andrea Bargnani is going to have a bounce back year, and I keep asking myself “bounce back to what?” Hasn’t the mystique of being a #1 pick worn off yet? Carmelo Anthony came back, and they picked up Jose Calderon for a respectable PG presence. Those two factors coupled with the institution of a system offense by Derek Fisher might be enough to make the playoffs, but they aren’t contending.

The one other playoff team from last year that looks to be improved is Charlotte. The HORNETSNOTBOBCATS picked up Lance Stephenson which adds a lot of strength and versatility to their wing rotation. They can roll out Lance, Gerald Henderson, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with each playing in the low thirty minute range. That could make for some very nice perimeter defense and very shaky shooting. Losing Josh McRoberts will hurt as he was a legit 6’ 10” and could pass and shoot out of the high post. They need to find another complementary big to pair with Al Jefferson. Speaking of Big Al, he needs to come back healthy and repeat his excellent performance from last season. If Kemba Walker continues his upward trajectory, and they can plug a couple holes, this is a very solid team. Probably not a contender, but who knows. If Lance makes a leap, they could be a threat. Maybe. Unless Lance does something insane and Michael Jordan clubs him to death with a Brand Jordan 7-iron.

NBA’s Best Draft Picks – Active Players (Lottery only)

June 27, 2013

In honor of tonight’s 2013 NBA Draft, I’ve compiled a list of the very best lottery picks at each overall draft position for currently active players. Enjoy telling me how wrong I am!

#1 Tim Duncan – I have to give this one to Tim over LeBron James because of longevity, and because Tim is still a Spur. The team that drafted LeBron is still hoping to replace his splendiferous presence with another #1 overall pick tonight. Tim’s MVPs, titles, and shocked at the officials faces make him unquestionable in their own right.

#2 Kevin Durant – There have been a lot of #2 overall picks that bombed out, but KD is the real deal. I don’t think there’s really a case to be made against him right now. Unless somebody loves Marvin Williams.

#3 Carmelo Anthony – Melo’s not with Denver any longer, but he did give them 7 great years and a conference finals appearance which is as far as they’ve ever made it in the playoffs. Deron Williams would have stolen this one, if he hadn’t left Utah.

#4 Chris Paul – Here’s another guy who didn’t last with his original team but did keep them on the map while he was there. Russell Westbrook would be a good option at this spot if CP3’s exodus from New Orleans is too onerous.

#5 Dwyane Wade – He’s played a decade with the team that drafted him. He’s been the best or second best player on 4 finals teams and 3 champions. His Olympic team collusion helped to secure the services of Lebron and Chris Bosh which led to two of those titles. Kevin Garnett is the best counter for this spot, but the fact that he had his best team success in Boston instead of Minneapolis probably disqualifies him.

#6 Damian Lillard – This is an odd spot for active players. The best would be Brandon Roy, another Trailblazer ROY, except for those injuries. I say stick with the kid and hope he holds up and stays put long enough to pass Roy’s accomplishments.

#7 Stephen Curry – Same as Lillard, we’re going on potential for this pick because the active players picked at this spot don’t stack up to how good he’ll likely become. Sorry to fans of Luol Deng, who probably deserves this spot for his solid career spent entirely in Chicago (though technically he was drafted by the Suns).

#8 Andre Miller – Hey, it’s not his fault the Cavs let him go. He played great for them, and he’s still playing great to this day. No super-uper-duper stars at this spot to contest him either.

#9 Dirk Nowitzki – There are a few contenders at the 9th pick, including Tracy McGrady, Amare Stoudemire, and Shawn Marion, but none of them live up to the longevity, production, accomplishments, or team loyalty of Mark Cuban’s 7 foot German shot-making savant. This one is a no contest.

#10 Paul Pierce – This one is also a no contest. Paul George and Joe Johnson would also be available here… boooo! This is the Celtic captain’s without question. He’s spent his whole career in green, and he was the finals MVP on the only C’s title team since Larry Bird had a functioning spine.

#11 Klay Thompson – Talk about a wasteland of no-stars! The best active #11 I could find was JJ Redick. We already know he’s never going to be great. Thompson still has a chance to develop into something more than a steady starter on a good team, which might actually already make him better than JJ.

#12 Nick Collison – 12 is even worse than 11. Not only are there no active star players picked 12th overall, there aren’t even any players with the potential to become stars. Collison has been a starter and a productive bench player on contending teams for a decade. Not too shabby.

#13 Kobe Bryant – Most overwhelmingly uncontestable pick of all. 5 titles, 2 finals MVPs, 17 seasons wearing purple and gold, and the next best active player chosen with the 13th pick is Richard Jefferson. Really. Richard Jefferson. Undisputed.

#14 Luke Ridnour – Talk about anti-climactic… The #14 pick has not resulted in much of anything from an active player perspective. But hey, now the Seattle Supersonics have 3 active lottery picks that have turned out to be the best at their spots, and the Sonics haven’t had a draft pick in a long time now.

2013 NBA Playoffs – ECF Game 7 – LeBron’s Elimination Game History

June 3, 2013

Is there anything better than a game 7 in a highly competitive, no-holds-barred playoff series between two teams with contrasting styles? Well maybe if it’s a conference finals finale, and the teams played each other tough last year and have developed a real chemistry with each other. Thank the basketball Jesus for nights like tonight! Or at least the anticipation for night’s like tonight.

I’ve been doing some research on LeBron James in elimination games, knockout games, and game 7s. Here’s the basics:

He’s been in 8 games in which his team faced elimination with a 2-6 record, both wins coming last year against Boston in games 6 and 7, games in which LeBron was unbelievably spectacular. LeBron’s basic stats in elimination games for his career are:

45Min, 30.6Pts 55.6%TS, 9.5Rbd, 6Ast, 1Stl, 0.5Blk, 4.5Tov

LeBron has been in 23 knock-out games with a 16-7 record, i.e. games in which his team had the opportunity to eliminate the opponent, Cleveland and Miami have won nearly 70% of the time. LeBron’s basic stats in knock-out games for his career are:

44Min, 28.2Pts 58.2%TS, 9Rbd, 6.6Ast, 1.7Stl, 0.8Blk, 3.3Tov

Not surprisingly, LeBron is more efficient in knock-out games and maybe trying to do too much in games when his team faces elimination (probably because he has to do too much). I ran the same number for Michael Jordan and found the same trend.

Strictly speaking of game 7s, LeBron has played in 3 total, and he has a 1-2 record, losing in Cleveland against Detroit in 2006 and to Boston in 2008 and winning in Boston in 2012. Interestingly, he avenged both losses. He crushed Detroit in game 6 in 2007 to advance to the Finals. Boston on the other hand defeated James’s Cavaliers again in 2010 before LeBron extracted revenge as a member of the Heat in 2011 and 2012. Basic game 7 stats are:

47Min, 34.3Pts 56.2%TS, 8.3Rbd, 3.3Ast, 1.3Stl, 0.3Blk, 2.7Tov

In game 7s, LeBron’s shooting and assists are not great by his usual outstanding standards, but his low turnovers and high point totals are a very good thing, a Jordan-esque, Nowitzki-esque thing.

Overall, I’d predict a Miami win tonight. This Pacers team has never been in a game 7 before (that I can recall); the Heat have home court advantage; James has a history of performing at a very high level in knock-out games in general and game 7s in particular, and for the Heat a 7 game elimination in the conference finals is a horrendous failure, whereas a 7 game elimination in the conference finals is a successful season to build upon for the younger Pacers who had not previously advanced beyond round two.

Then again, you never know. If the Heat go cold from the outside again, Indiana’s defense may be too much for them to overcome.

Either way, one more great game between these two teams is all we can ask for as fans. Go game 7!

2013 Playoffs – Stephen Curry Historical Stats

May 15, 2013

The internet is abuzz with how great Stephen Curry is playing in this post-season.  Zach Lowe’s mind is boggling.  Bill Simmons is beside himself with joy.  The words “best player of the playoffs” and “best player of the playoffs if not for Kevin Durant” have been uttered.  High praise.

So what exactly makes Curry’s current run for the Warriors so outstanding?  Two things really.  Most obvious is his prolific, high efficiency scoring.  He’s putting up 23 points on 19 shots with almost 9 three point field goal attempts per game, shooting 57 TS% on a 25.7 Usage%.  But just as important, Steph is punishing teams that trap him by passing to his teammates for buckets.  He’s dishing out over 8 assists a game with an Assist Rate over 30%, that’s a lot of playmaking for a primary scorer.

To see how many people have ever done what Curry is doing right now, I set the following parameters on our Basketball-Reference playoff statistics search: 10+ games played, True Shooting percentage of 57+, Usage% of 25+, and Assist Rate of 30+

Per Game Advanced
Player Season FGA 3PA FTA AST TOV PTS AST% USG% TS%
LeBron James 2008-09 22.3 5.8 14.2 7.3 2.7 35.3 39.5 36.4 .618
Michael Jordan* 1990-91 22.1 1.5 8.7 8.4 2.5 31.1 36.7 32.7 .600
Michael Jordan* 1988-89 22.9 2.1 13.5 7.6 4.0 34.8 38.0 35.4 .602
Michael Jordan* 1989-90 26.6 3.1 9.9 6.8 3.5 36.7 34.5 36.1 .592
Baron Davis 2006-07 17.4 6.1 6.7 6.5 2.9 25.3 30.3 25.4 .622
LeBron James 2009-10 19.2 4.5 10.9 7.6 3.8 29.1 36.8 30.9 .607
Steve Nash 2004-05 17.9 3.6 4.1 11.3 4.7 23.9 43.9 26.6 .604
Kevin Johnson 1994-95 15.0 1.0 8.4 9.3 3.4 24.8 43.5 26.7 .663
Stephen Curry 2012-13 19.1 8.9 3.5 8.3 3.4 23.5 33.3 25.7 .571
Deron Williams 2009-10 14.9 5.1 11.1 10.2 3.0 24.3 41.0 25.6 .614
Gary Payton* 1997-98 18.3 5.0 5.0 7.0 2.6 24.0 30.4 25.6 .585
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/15/2013.

As with any list of great players doing great things, Michael Jordan and LeBron James headline it and comprise almost half of the applicable seasons including the top 4 by Win Share.  So it is.  After that the breakdown is BDiddy of the We Believe Golden State Warriors, Steve Nash of the pre-Sarver Fire Sale Phoenix Suns, Kevin Johnson of the Uh-Oh Charles Barkley’s Back Is Starting to Go Phoenis Suns, Deron Williams of the Boy I Hope We Don’t Run into Kobe and Pau Utah Jazz, and Gary Payton of the Noklahoma City Seattle Sonics.  And of course, Stephen Curry of the Hand Down Man Down Golden State Warriors who spawned this whole conversation.

Curry stands out somewhat in the way he’s producing.  He barely gets to the free throw line, but he still manages to score efficiently because of his high volume and accuracy from three point land.  Surprisingly, Steph has the lowest TS% on the list.  Everyone else is over 58% and most are over 60%.  But the way he’s scoring is so unique because it is all predicated on his deadeye shooting from range.  He drags the defense out and opens up passing lanes and opportunities just by having the ball in hand around the arc.  It’s fun to watch and very impressive because we’ve never really seen it done before – it’s like watching Reggie Miller play point guard (well), and everyone is still captivated by the process.

The good news for Warriors fans is that this is a damned exclusive list, and you’ve got two point guards (lead guards?) on it, and most of the players’ teams reached the conference finals.  The bad news for y’all Dubs is that the only season on the list to end in a championship is the 1991 Chicago Bulls campaign, a singularly odd playoffs in which Jordan broke the cardinal rule of doing too much to win by also being sickeningly efficient.  Miami seems to be way to good to lose to these Warriors, so it’s not likely Curry is going to have THAT kind of run, but I don’t think the NBA Finals are out of the question, and I don’t think I’ve ever in over 25 years of watching NBA basketball said “I don’t think the NBA Finals are out of the question” for the Golden State Warriors.  Not bad.