Andre Drummond? Sure

Andre Drummond, Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Cavaliers News

Andre Drummond will not change the fortunes of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Should they have made the deal? Absolutely. Drummond is a two time former All-Star, the league leader in rebounding, and an upgrade at the center position. The second-round pick used to acquire him will fall at the end of the 2023 draft. The money the Cavs will pay him this year and next, if he picks up his $28 million dollar option (almost a guarantee), is of no use to the organization this summer. Drummond’s contract will be of the expiring variety in 2021 and will be an asset at next year’s deadline to swap short term money for longer contracts if cap strapped teams are looking to clean their books ahead of summer 2021 and a stout free agent class. A year and a half look at one of the top five centers in the game is worth the price Koby Altman paid for an organization in the early stages of a deep rebuild. Still, don’t expect Drummond to turn this ship around.

The Cavs’ biggest weaknesses are youth, transition defense, half-court defense, rim protection, ball movement, and turnovers. Drummond has been in the league eight years and may provide strong leadership to the young guys, but he helps little in the other deficient categories. While he averages 1.7 blocks per game, Drummond allows opponents to shoot 65% against him in the restricted area (NBA.com), ranking him in the bottom half of the league. His overall defensive rating is 110.9, worst of his career. He does, however, rank third in the league in steals (2 per game). While his size is an asset, he isn’t a stout defender and won’t improve the Cavs on that end of the floor.

On offense, Drummond leads the league in offensive rebounding. He positions himself well and can use his size and athletic ability to clean up after his teammates. The Cavs now have the 1st and 3rd ranked offensive rebounders in the league (Tristan Thompson). He’s a good pick and roll screener (14th in screen assists, 17th in screen assist points) and will clear space for Sexton and Garland in the half court. He’s improved his passing, and he and Love can have success off each other in high-low actions. After that, it gets murky. He shoots less that 40% outside 3 feet, ranks 466th in the league with a 15.7% turnover percentage, and shoots 58% from the line.

This is the stuff Drummond will do for the offense. Can the guards can get him the ball?

Drummond will have some gaudy stat lines; expect a few 20/20 games. But will his skill set produce victories? From Detroit’s perspective, he wasn’t leading their team to wins and makes a pile of cash. They thought it best to cut bait now for nothing in fear of him picking up his $28 million player option next season. They preferred cap space over Drummond.

Is he an upgrade over Tristan Thompson? This trade signals the franchise’s desire, or Thompson’s, to separate after the season. They pay Drummond 10 million more per, but their skill sets are the same. Thompson has been a hard worker throughout his career, stepping into a leadership role after the departure of LeBron James. Will Drummond do the same?

The tough reality for NBA old schoolers to accept is that one-dimensional centers in an era of pace and space are obsolete. The Cavs played Drummond off the floor in 2016 during their first round match-up in the playoffs. Drummond couldn’t guard anyone in the James/Irving/Love/Smith/Jefferson closing lineup and wasn’t good enough offensively to justify court time down in fourth quarters. With so many teams forsaking offensive rebounding for transition defense, they procure rebounds in other ways, without a behemoth inside. Still, with Drummond’s obvious flaws, it was a price worth paying for Cleveland. Maybe Drummond can add to his game and become a winning player. Maybe his leadership skills will develop and he’ll be a positive influence on the young guards. Maybe he’ll develop a friendship with Kevin Love and settle Love’s frequent outbursts. Doubtful, but in the position the franchise is in, this was a chance worth taking. (Just don’t sign him to a multi-year extension. Yikes.)

What’s What Around the League

1.The sight of Houston’s small ball lineup on the floor shocks the system. With no one on the roster over 6’7” slated to get meaningful minutes, this experiment, executed by Daryl Morey, was the next logical step in the Rockets’ push to the edges of analytics. Will it work? Clint Capela didn’t make them a Finals contender; this risk is more a Hail Mary than another significant shift in the way teams play the game. They will get destroyed on defense, the size mismatches they’ll face in the Western Conference are significant. The Lakers, Nuggets, and Jazz will feast in the paint, wearing out the likes of P. J. Tucker, Thabo Sefolosha, and Robert Covington over a 7 game series. But wow, do they get the looks on offense. Surrounded by mismatches at every position, Houston gets open corner 3s and layups off isolations with ease. The spacing is ridiculous, and James Harden and Russell Westbrook are the perfect duo to take advantage. Listen, the Rockets aren’t making the Western Conference Finals, and were never going to. But their quirky new take on team building is something to gawk at.

2. My do the Andrew Wiggins takes change when a respected NBA franchise trades for him. The shock of the Warriors trading for an inefficient scorer and subpar defender still hasn’t worn off. Since Bob Myers has gained clout around the league for building champions, however, he receives the benefit of the doubt. This is the best he could have gotten out of D’Angelo Russell? The positional fit is better, but Russell is a more talented basketball player. Russell isn’t perfect, but has more worth around the league than Wiggins. Why not keep Russell until next season’s trade deadline, testing his fit next to Steph Curry and Klay Thompson after they get healthy? Minnesota has been salivating over Russell since the summer; this trade wasn’t going anywhere. Hell, the T-Wolves would’ve gotten more desperate to make this move as the losses mounted and Karl-Anthony Towns’ frustrations grew. Is it possible Wiggins blooms under a competent NBA franchise? Sure, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

3. There is no better organization at finding and developing talent in the league than the Toronto Raptors, and it isn’t close. Winners of 15 straight, the Raps continue to plug 2nd round picks and undrafted players into the lineup, turning them into contributors.
Pascal Siakam– 27th overall pick
Norman Powell– late 2nd rounder
Fred VanVleet– undrafted
Terence Davis– undrafted
Chris Boucher– undrafted
All key cogs in Toronto’s excellent season; all virtual afterthoughts on draft day. With strong veteran leadership and championship pedigree, the Raptors have has good a chance as anyone in the East to upset Milwaukee. Siakam can bother Giannis defensively and no one on the roster fears the Bucks. Masai Ujiri has built a masterpiece in Toronto.

4. Though a huge disappointment in his career, seeing the Hornets buyout Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was another lesson in the direction the league has taken. 15-20 years ago, a perimeter defender of Kidd-Gilchrist’s ilk was still useful; Bruce Bowen and Tony Allen had successful careers in the role. There just isn’t a spot on the floor for non-shooting wings anymore, regardless of how well they lock up their man on the other end. The spacing issues they create shrink the floor; throw in a poor shooting big man and your offense is toast. The speed and pace of the league is fun, though the amount of 3s being taken is reaching a tipping point. Here’s hoping lock down perimeter defenders don’t go the way of the center position.

5. Gordon Hayward seemed to be returning to All-Star form before an injury early in the season cost him a month. Though still playing well, his scoring, rebounding, and shooting numbers are all down since his return. The Celtics are in the mix for the 2 seed in the East along with Toronto, Miami, Philadelphia, and Indiana, but seem to lack that something needed to go toe-to-toe with Milwaukee in the playoffs. Kemba Walker has established himself as the leader, and Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were both All-Star worthy after subpar years alongside Kyrie Irving last year. Still, Boston needs Hayward. His shooting and size on defense will be key in the playoffs; he must help Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter rebound against bigger squads. The Celtics are talented, and Kemba knows how to hit big shots in pressure moments. Still, they’ll need peak Gordon Hayward to advance.

6. Marcus Smart’s flopping will get him injured.

7. Memphis didn’t waste any time cutting Dion Waiters after acquiring him from Miami, and who could blame them? Waiters’ act would be toxic in that young locker room. Desperation in L.A. has earned him a workout with the Lakers, however. With zero path to improvement because of the assets given to trade for Anthony Davis, the buyout market is the only way for the Lakers to add talent. Still, Dion Waiters? No one loves the roller coaster ride Waiters provides more than I, and LeBron has a way of integrating troubled players into his orbit, but he failed with Waiters once already. When J. R. Smith got shipped to Cleveland, he knew it was his last chance and fell in line. Waiters still seems to think he’s the best player in the league, itching for a chance to prove how wronged he’s been. For the Lakers’ sake, they should stay away. For entertainment purposes, sign Dion up ASAP.

8. With All-Star Weekend on the horizon, let’s pay homage to the greatest dunk contest performance of all time.

9. What to make of Kristaps Porzingis? Luka has missed six straight, and Porzingis has averaged 27 in those games, though he’s missed 2 himself. The fit with Doncic hasn’t gelled as expected, however, and the Mavs have fallen to 7th in the West, losers of 5 of their last 8. Porzingis/Doncic lineups outscore opponents by 4.2 points per 100 possessions, a ‘meh’ number considering both of their net overall ratings is 6.3. They are too young and have played too little together to make sweeping judgments on them as teammates, however. Injuries have cut into their time together on the court. The pick and roll between them should devastate in time. Let’s see how they fare when they get healthy in the playoffs.

10. Now just two games behind the Rockets and breathing down their necks for the 5th seed, the play of Oklahoma City this season defends Chris Paul’s career. Paul is one of the great point guards to play the game. He’s elevated so-so supporting casts throughout his career, getting rosters into the playoffs that otherwise would have languished deep in the lottery. He made those above average Rockets’ teams great; his injury likely cost the franchise a title in 2018. Paul’s failures in the postseason and lack of a title hurts his resume, but he never shared the floor with the same talent as his peers. This season’s Thunder squad puts last year’s, with Russell Westbrook and Paul George at the helm, to shame, all because of Paul’s brilliance. Give the man his due.

 

It's Always Dysfunctional in Cleveland

Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Cavaliers News, Kevin Love, NBA, Trade Deadline, Tristan Thompson

The Cleveland Cavaliers are teetering. An inept franchise for most of its existence, a lucky bounce of a few ping pong balls and LeBron James’ desire to win a championship in his home precinct gave Cavs fans a brief sniff of success. The four straight Finals appearances and the 2016 title are over, however, and the remaining players from those glory days are unhappy with the organization, not long for Cleveland.

Kevin Love’s dissatisfaction with the Cavs franchise has been no secret. He’s pouted on the court and off while sporting a fluctuating effort level. His contract makes him nearly untradeable, as does his attitude. Woj reported on Sunday a trade wasn’t happening; the gulf between what the Cavs feel Love is worth versus how the rest of the league views him is too large. If Love was supportive of the front office and his teammates, I’d suggest keeping him and holding out for top dollar. He isn’t, however, and his poor attitude and disinterested demeanor are hurting everyone involved. The young guys are watching; it’s time to cut bait. Love is poisoning his impressionable teammates. The front office waited to trade Love, hoping he’d help their young core develop and add wins. He’s done neither. The move backfired, and they’re forced to either sell low or deal with his poor attitude for the rest of the season.

While he’s been a good soldier, Tristan Thompson has now voiced his desire for a trade, according to Joe Vardon of the Athletic. Thompson has defended his coach and teammates while giving maximum effort on the court. He sees an escape hatch, however. He’s played well this season and could help a contender with his hustle and championship pedigree. Will the Cavs agree to his demands? The organization covets 1st round picks, but Thompson is unlikely to bring one back in a trade. Will they settle for two second rounders? Can they pry a young player from someone? Since Thompson is a free agent at the end of the season, expect little in return. Chris Fedor reports the Cavs will hold firm with their desire for a 1st rounder. He’s leaving at the end of the season, however. Will Koby Altman stand his ground?

What happened? Two vets who wanted to remain in the organization are running from it. Though the front office expressed a desire to remain competitive after LeBron left, Thompson and Love knew a long rebuild was a possibility. Perhaps they overrated their abilities to produce wins on their own. Maybe, however, this organization is a mess behind the scenes. Dan Gilbert’s best season as an owner without LeBron is 33-49. He’s employed nine coaches in 17 years. Koby Altman was his first GM to get a second contract. Now rumors have surfaced that John Beilein won’t see another year.

This is absurd. The Browns’ organization is the gold standard for ineptitude in all of pro sports, yet the Cavs are begging for consideration. Kyrie Irving, LeBron James twice, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson have run or are running from Cleveland. Players who should be pillars are mere tent poles. Dan Gilbert had eleven years of LeBron James and won 1 title. A consensus top three player of all-time led the Cavs for eleven years and the franchise produced ONE title. Breaking down Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, and Kevin Porter may be a fruitless exercise. Regardless of how good they are, or how good they’ll become, they’ll never overcome a rudderless organization. The championship years supposedly taught them how to be a stable and consistent franchise. No signs of competency exist, and if Beilein gets canned after one season, just the second season of an arduous rebuild, forget about the Cleveland Cavaliers being anything more than an NBA laughingstock for a long, long time.

What’s What Around the League

1.When viewing Hawks’ games early in the season, one needed to overt their eyes to avoid the disaster that was Cam Reddish. Thrust into the starting lineup at first tip, Reddish lacked confidence, aware he wasn’t ready and didn’t belong. In his first ten games in the league, starting 8 and averaging 23.5 minutes per, he averaged 5.5 points on 25% shooting, 19% from 3, and dished less than 2 assists per. Reddish contributed to the horrid start by Atlanta, predicted by some to contend for a playoff spot. The third wheel last year at Duke behind Zion and R.J. Barrett, Reddish’s reputation as a passive, willing bystander held. Fast forward to last week against Philly, an impressive Hawks’ win. Reddish was key in the victory, canning a 3, scooting back door for a dunk, and dishing to John Collins for the game-sealing slam, all in the last three minutes. His numbers over the last 10 (14 points, 3.8 assists, 1.4 steals, 43% shooting, 45% from 3) represent a drastic change. His confidence is surfacing, and he’s flashing the talent many saw from him in high school. The Hawks have disappointed, but their young quartet of Trae Young, DeAndre Hunter, John Collins, and Reddish at least show a path to relevancy. Last night’s trade for Clint Capela adds interior defense and rim running on a good contract to the young quartet. Atlanta is getting there.

2. Has Russell Westbrook changed his game? The talk after his trade to Houston centered on his 3 point shooting, or lack thereof. Through Christmas, Russ was bad, shooting 23% on 5 a game from deep. Houston loves 3’s, but analytics adores other shots as well; those in the restricted area. While Westbrook can’t shoot, he sure as hell can get to the rim. Since December 25, he’s only taking 2 from deep per game, but is on the attack. In January, 63% of his shots are at the rim, 69% from within 10 feet. He’s shooting 52% from the field and averaging 32 during one of the most efficient stretches of his career. While he’s flourishing, however, his partner has struggled. Over that same span, James Harden is shooting 35%, 27% from 3. Can these two get on the same page? Both are outstanding, two of the greatest with the ball in history. If they can’t meld their games though, another disappointment awaits them in May. Russ has adapted to Houston, no longer being the alpha dog, and their playing style. Is it time for Harden to give a little?

3. This Lonzo assist. Though they’ll struggle to make the playoffs this year, the excitement in New Orleans is palpable. Ball’s game is the perfect complement to Zion.

4. One ancillary effect of referees’ quick whistle on jump shots is the horrid flopping and side jumping of shooters into defenders trying to draw fouls. It’s ugly to watch and embarrassing for the players. Just shoot the ball. Untouched players, humiliated after watching a one-armed heave from the hip careen off the side of the backboard, make themselves look worse by over complaining to the refs for a foul that never occurred. Quit flailing and shoot the ball to make it, not get fouled.

5. The Timberwolves are a disaster, and after trading away point guard Jeff Teague to Atlanta, Shabazz Napier was a big part of the problem. Once drafted by the Heat in a desperate attempt to re-sign LeBron James (oof), Napier took over the starting point guard role after Teague’s departure and the Wolves haven’t won since. Napier misses wide open cutters, takes ill-advised shots, can’t shoot, and is too small to guard anyone. Anything else? Minnesota should be a Western Conference force by now, yet haven’t been able to teach Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins how to play defense, nor have they built a stable roster around them. An effective point guard is a must, yet they handed the reins to someone in danger of being out of the league. The Wolves traded Napier away in the big four teamer last night along with Robert Covington. Perhaps a move to acquire……

6. All the injuries pushed Golden State to the bottom of the standings, but they won’t be there long. Steph and Klay will be back next year, so what will become of D’Angelo Russell? A good scorer and playmaker, this year was a test to see the fit alongside Curry. The injuries nixed that plan, however. The team above, Minnesota, tried signing Russell last summer, but got usurped when Brooklyn swapped him in a sign and trade for Kevin Durant. Now at the trade deadline the rumors are swirling again. Russell and Towns are friends; he would solve their point guard situation. What does Minnesota have that G.S. wants, however? Andrew Wiggins? Please. Minnesota is the desperate party here. The Warriors plan to re-enter the title mix next year with a healthy roster, does Wiggins seem like a championship level player? They’ll need a third team to satisfy all parties. Stay tuned.

7. Kings

8. Julius Randle is a good player and could be an important piece on a contender one day. His focus is lacking, though. He’s chasing numbers instead of wins, which is fine; most young players do. On the court, he’s scatterbrained. In the first half in Cleveland Monday, he twice asked coach Mike Miller to review obvious calls against him, stopped playing to complain to a ref and allowed a Collin Sexton offensive rebound and score, and airballed a 3 with no one around, yelling toward another referee. Randle can be a useful NBA player, maybe even a difference maker. First, he needs to get his head right.

9. The Memphis Grizzlies and Andre Iguodala agreed after they traded for him he would sit out until the Griz found a contender to send him to. Nothing has materialized, and all parties are antsy ahead of the deadline. Iguodala wants to play for a title, and Memphis has stated they won’t release him if a trade doesn’t happen. Memphis’ young guys have spoken on Twitter.

Then Steph Curry clapped back.

10. The NBA, home of expert level pettiness. I understand the young guys feel unwanted, but let’s settle. The team and player were fine with this arrangement in the off-season. No one saw the Grizzlies in the playoff hunt this year. Still, they aren’t winning a title and regardless of how much money he’s being paid, asking a 36-year-old who’s played in the last 5 Finals to hitch up to a rebuild is a tough ask. Here’s hoping a trade to Philly comes to fruition.

 

NBA Trade Season

Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Cavaliers News, NBA

This may very well be the worst stretch of basketball the Cleveland Cavaliers have played all season. In late November-early December, they lost two games by 40, on the road against playoff teams in Dallas and Philadelphia, however. They dropped three in a row last week, all at home to bad Eastern Conference teams (Knicks, Wizards, Bulls), all by double digits.

The turnovers are grotesque. They’re averaging over 16 a game. Combining passivity with the ball, confusion with what to do with the ball, and the wrong guys handling it contribute to a looseness that is unacceptable. Certain guys shouldn’t be dribbling. Better offensive design would help. Run sets that don’t put players in a position where they’re forced to do too much. And get into those plays faster. The Cavs have a blasé attitude on offense until the shot clock reaches single digits. Too much confusion and too little movement leads to over dribbling and rushed shots. The Cavs must develop a sense of purpose on the offensive end if the turnovers are to subside.

With the team fumbling along and the trade deadline nearing, the attention turns toward Koby Altman and the Cavs’ front office. Will anyone get flipped? Who is most valuable to teams looking to strengthen their playoff chances? Who do the Cavs want to move?

Not Getting Traded

Darius Garland
Kevin Porter Jr.
Dylan Windler
The three rookies drafted last year have shown the most promise, save Windler, who hasn’t played a down and won’t; he has no trade value and the Cavs want to see him healthy. Porter has shown flashes of star quality, as has Garland. If anyone on the current roster makes an All-Star team, it’ll be someone from this group. The Cavs will hold on to these three.

Not Getting Traded, But…..

Collin Sexton
Larry Nance Jr.
Nance is a young, athletic big who shows well in all aspects of the game, and he wants to be in Cleveland. He’s making 12 million this year and his contract deescalates, down to 9.6 million in 22-23. Nance isn’t going anywhere unless a team approaches them with an absurd offer (not happening). Sexton is a bulldog who can score. His shot selection is iffy, he sometimes plays selfishly, yet he’s the best player on the team scoring with the ball in his hands. He’s young, so the Cavs will allow him to grow, hoping he continues to improve. Playoff teams would like his scoring off the bench, but won’t offer enough to entice the Cavs.

What will you give us?

Cedi Osman
Dante Exum

Capable NBA players, Osman and Exum have little value outside Cleveland. Exum has dealt with injury the entirety of his career, but shows flashes defensively and scored 28 earlier this month. Osman is best fitted as a 7 or 8 man on a playoff team, giving solid D and decent 3 ball shooting for 15-20 minutes per night. Each has a role in the league, and the Cavs would move them, especially as pieces in part of a bigger deal. They won’t bring anything on their own, however, and will probably still be in Cleveland after the deadline.

The Assets

Kevin Love
Tristan Thompson

The two vets with rings, both rumored to be on the block since training camp, are the obvious trade pieces. Both could help playoff teams. Are there fits anywhere? Love’s massive contract is a sticking point; he’s due another 91 mil after this year. The Cavs have held out for a 1st rounder and another young player so far, but have Love’s actions changed their stance? Love seems disinterested and is no longer setting a good example for his young teammates. He has some instance once a month, apologizes, plays well for a week, then becomes dispassionate again. Lather, rinse, repeat. I felt all along the Cavs should hold out for as much as possible and were in no need of trading Love. His behavior has changed that, however. Love wants to play for a winner and his attitude yo-yos. Perhaps both parties need to move on. Will his contract allow the team to move him? Hard to see the Cavs giving Love away without that 1st round pick.

Thompson’s situation is different. In the last year of his contract, TT can walk with no compensation in the off-season, so the Cavs need insight on his thought process. Thompson plays hard and seems invested in the rebuild. He sets a good example for his young teammates. He’s defended rookie head coach John Beilein multiple times. Does he want to be in Cleveland? If the answer is yes, the Cavs should do whatever it takes to sign him. He’ll provide leadership that young teams need to learn how to win. If he wants out, however, Thompson might provide the most return. His expiring contract won’t hurt his new team’s books, and his hustle, rebounding, switchability on defense, and postseason experience would be a boon for any contender. This is Altman’s trickiest decision.

Please, Help Yourself

Matthew Dellavedova
John Henson
Brandon Knight
Ante Zizic

All players on the last year of their contracts, the Cavs front office would love to use these expiring deals to flip to cap strapped teams, taking back longer contracts with more money attached in exchange for draft picks. This strategy has worked well in the past, but a weak free agent class this summer may cause teams to hold still. There aren’t an abundance of bad deals around, and teams aren’t looking to clear space for max slots this summer. They’ll scour the league, looking to jump into multi-team deals if another franchise needs a place to dump money, but the likelihood any of these guys gets moved is low.

What’s What Around the League

1.Zion’s first week has lived up to the hype. Athletic, smooth and smart, Williamson will change the league. His instincts are honed; he sees the game at a high level. His first assist as a pro showed his skills as a passer. He knows the right moment to provide help on defense. His size, speed, and strength allow him to get where ever he wants on the floor. It’s the reason he’s shooting 63% from the field and why he’ll always be an efficient player. The Pelicans are plus 16 per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor. So why is he only playing in short bursts? They aren’t pulling him because he’s winded, it’s a load management play. If he’s healthy enough to play 20 minutes in an NBA game, he’s healthy enough to play 28-30. No study exists that suggests an extra 8-10 minutes on the floor leads to higher injury rates. New Orleans needs him on the floor; he makes them better, plus Zion needs minutes to get comfortable with the NBA game. His teammates need to play with him for their benefit. Get Zion on the floor and keep him there, New Orleans.

Excellent find for Zion’s 1st assist

2. Rumblings out of L.A. suggest some Clipper players are unhappy with the preferential treatment stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George receive from the coaching staff and management. Guess what, grow up. Stars have been and will always receive preferential treatment. How did the Clips fare without those two? The eight seed and a first round loss against the Warriors in the playoffs. Now they’re title contenders. Anyone else on that roster capable of putting a team on their back and leading it to a title as Kawhi did in Toronto last year? Thought so. If the Clippers make a deep run in the playoffs, it’ll be because of Leonard and George, and everyone on the team will get more recognition and cash. Get in your lane and stay in it.

3. What other player in the league’s history makes this pass? Few possess the size, let alone the instincts and vision to pull it off. Magic, maybe.

4. Christian Wood is one of those guys; stock dropped leading up to the draft, went undrafted, bounced from team to team, up and down from the G-League. Can he stick in the league? Wood is now 24. 6’10’, athletic with range, he’s getting a chance in Detroit to play steady minutes and has shown NBA rotation player talent. Since Blake Griffin’s injury, sidelining him for the season, Wood averages 11.5, 6 boards and 1 block in 21 minutes per, shooting 53% from the field and 38% from 3. He gets to the line, taking 4 free throws in those 20 minutes. The Pistons future is murky; Andre Drummond trade rumors have swirled for a while; will Blake Griffin ever be healthy? Derrick Rose is a nice story, but is he in Detroit’s plans? They need guys like Wood to change the trajectory of the rebuild. Finding and developing guys who have slipped through the cracks is a necessity for a franchise that isn’t a free agency destination. Is Wood one of those players? Too early to say, but length and athleticism from someone who can shoot the 3 isn’t a bad place to start.

5. Michael Carter-Williams, ugh. A former Rookie of the Year in Philly during The Process, Williams just doesn’t have it. His size is nice, he makes for a switchable asset on defense. He can’t shoot, however, and has zero feel. He’ll miss an easy oop to Aaron Gordon, either afraid to throw it or unable to see it develop. An airballed 18 footer, an ill-advised 3. When shooting 39% from the field and 23% from 3, you better be a lockdown defender or a capable playmaker. Williams is neither.

6. Who doesn’t love Kyle Korver? One of the top five shooters in NBA history, Korver fits in Milwaukee, giving the Bucks knock down 3 point shooting in 17 minutes per game. 161 of Korver’s 201 shots on the season have been 3’s, and coach Budenholzer calls beautiful sets to get Korver open looks. Will the Bucks be able to play Korver in the postseason, however? He’s an extreme liability defensively. Smart on that end, he has to cheat so blatantly to make up for his lack of athleticism that he gives up easy stuff to smart offenses. Korver could be handy if the Buck offense needs a boost for 3-5 minutes in the postseason, but he’ll be a spectator in May and June. His 3 ball shooting could swing a postseason game, however, and here’s hoping he gets a ring to cap off an outstanding career.

7. Go easy on’em, DeAaron.

8. It should scare NBA players to put the ball on the floor anywhere around Jrue Holiday. Other than Kawhi Leonard when he’s engaged, no player in the league gets his hands on more balls defensively than Holiday. He leads the league in deflections (4.5 per game), is 6th in loose balls recovered (1.5) and 7th in steals (1.7). Holiday disrupts opposing offenses at the most important position; he defends and frustrates point guards like no other. He and Lonzo Ball, each with great size and instincts, make getting into sets hell for the opposition.

9. Since two of his draft mates are starting the All-Star game, it’s easy to dismiss DeAndre Ayton as a mistake by the Phoenix Suns. While they would draft Luka Doncic or Trae Young over the 7 footer if they got a do-over, Ayton has played well since his return from a 25 game drug suspension. He has good footwork in the post, allowing him to get buckets around the rim with ease. Ayton’s improving as a rim protector as well(1.4 blocks per compared to 0.9 last year), and the Suns are 4 points better defensively when he’s on the floor. Over his last seven contests, he’s averaging 20 and 13. While he isn’t Luka, don’t label him a bust just yet.

10. RIP Kobe, Gianna, John, Keri, Alyssa, Christina, Ara, Sarah, and Payton. There aren’t words capable of soothing hearts after tragedy, only love. Be kind to your fellow man, flaws and all. The world is tough and unforgiving, impossible to understand. Always, always choose love.

All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com

 

Collin Sexton is Russell Westbrook*

Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Cavaliers News, Collin Sexton

Collin Sexton is a year and a half into his NBA career and the questions have plagued him since his first dribble. Who’s game does his most resemble? Can he become Player X or Player Y? The public compares no professional athletes to their counterparts like those in the NBA. Sexton’s game doesn’t allow for a straight one-to-one comparison, however. Still, he looks an awful lot like Russell Westbrook.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Sexton will never be Westbrook. He will not win an MVP, and he’ll never average a triple double. Chances are he won’t make even one All-Star game. Sexton’s lack of size compared to Russ prevents him from being as good a rebounder from the guard position. He doesn’t possess Westbrook’s abilities as a passer, either. For comparison’s sake, lets use Russ’ second year as a pro to compare to Sexton this year. That season, Russ averaged 8 assists. Sexton averages 2.3 to this point in the season. Westbrook played with Kevin Durant and Sexton has never shared the floor with anyone close to that talent level. Still, Sexton plays with blinders on. He has one goal, and that is to score.

So why make this comparison? Simple. Both are bulls on the floor. They’re players you want to go into battle with. Sexton is the hardest working player on the floor every night. He’s diving for loose balls. He goes hard at the rim, regardless of who is in his way, sometimes to his detriment. No one can accuse Sexton of not caring or not wanting to win. When he takes the floor, he believes he’s the best player on it. He backs down from no challenge; he’s unafraid to play the game his way. Sound familiar?

Sexton is one of, if not the quickest, players in the league, a title Westbrook owned for many years. It’s Sexton’s greatest strength. He’s lethal in the open floor and attacks if given space in the half court. If he sees daylight off a pick and roll, he’s at the rim. His speed frees him for most his shots. It’s his one elite level skill. While he doesn’t have the athleticism to unleash the rim rattling dunks Westbrook is known for, both end up at the rim because of their quickness with the ball in their hands.

Sexton and Westbrook also love the mid-range shot, a habit the Cavs have weaned Sexton from. The Rockets, a team that detests mid-range jumpers, only allow Russ these shots; he hoists most of his team’s unanalytic jumpers. In the first half of his rookie year, Sexton shot too often from mid-range before the Cavs organization steered him toward more advantageous spots on the floor. Last year, 21% of Sexton’s shots were from the 16 foot-3 point line range. This year that number is 6%. In Russ’ second year, 38% came from there; it’s the same percentage this year. While Westbrook got caught in the switch from mid-range jumpers to 3 pointers, Sexton’s push away from the basket came early in his career.

Both attack the rim. Sexton takes 32% of his shots at the rim; Westbrook took 39% his second season. The difference is their 3 point shooting. 9% of Westbrook’s shots were 3’s, making 22% of them. Sexton takes 3’s at a 21% clip, canning 32%. Neither is a great shooter; the NBA game calls for Sexton to take more shots from behind the arc. Shooters shoot, however. Sexton averages 16 attempts per game and shoots 45% from the field, Westbrook averaged 21 on 42% shooting. Both are inefficient scorers, though the Cavs and, to his credit, Sexton, work to get him shots either from 3 or at the rim.

A Westbrookian possession

A frustrating part of Sexton’s game continues to be possessions in which he dribbles, dribbles, and dribbles before hoisting an 18 footer. Think back to the rise of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden on the floor at once. How many times in close games would Westbrook grab a rebound, dribble up the floor, probe, probe, probe the defense, wave off a screen, beat his man off the dribble, then pull up for a foul line jumper? Frustration from fans and media never deterred Westbrook, however, proving his strength and self-confidence.

These possessions I could do without

Again, Sexton does not play with the same talent as a young Westbrook, but the complaints are the same. Too often, Sexton takes control of the offense, leaning on his own talent instead of attempting to include his teammates. If he scores, great. If he misses, he’s selfish and unable to read the situation and involve his teammates. Sexton’s self-confidence can hold him back.

The confidence, hustle, and self-belief in both Collin Sexton and Russell Westbrook make for a good comparison. Each leaves every ounce they have on the floor, using devastating speed and hard work to their advantage. They need their confidence and ability to handle criticism to withstand the noise directed toward their unorthodox games. Both are frustrating, yet marvelous players to watch. Sexton will never reach the All-Star, MVP level of Westbrook, but he’ll continue to fight his way through the league. A poor man’s Brodie.

What’s What Around the League

1. The Ballad of Andrew Wiggins in Minnesota took an upbeat turn at the start of this season, yet the old tune has returned in 2020. A fun start, he’s regressed to the mean. His shooting percentages are now lower than his career averages and the T-Wolves are back to their old, haphazard ways. A thwarted comeback in Indiana showed his shortfalls. Wiggins helped lead the squad back from a 10 point 4th quarter deficit, attacking the basket for layups and drawn fouls. In the last two minutes, however, he missed 2 shots at the rim and stepped out of bounds, turning the ball over in a crucial spot. While some players step up during crunch time, Wiggins retreats.

2. No matter who Milwaukee runs onto the floor, Mike Budenholzer’s squad doesn’t miss a beat. A hodge podge of youngish players mixed with seasoned vets have coalesced around Giannis Antetokounmpo, complementing the MVP perfectly. George Hill leads the league in 3 point shooting at 53%. The Lopez twins play outstanding interior defense, masking the deficiencies of their teammates. But at the center, Giannis dominates, sucking the air out of opponents. While Miami is feisty, Philly talented, and Boston and Toronto lurking, the Bucks have no excuse but to cruise to the Finals. Can they win it? The pressure then will fall onto Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe. Miscast as 2nd and 3rd options on a contender, each would be better off a rung lower on the hierarchy. Will they step up in the playoffs, giving Giannis the smidge of help he’ll need for Milwaukee to hoist the trophy?

3. This is nothing more than a Ja Morant stan account at this point.

4. Though his teammate owns the award, here’s a vote for Montrezl Harrell for sixth man of the year. He averages 19 and 7 for the Clips, giving them a presence inside on an otherwise perimeter heavy team. While Ivica Zubac starts, it’s Harrell who plays the important minutes. He forms an unstoppable pick and roll combo with Lou Williams; his mixture of quickness, strength, and touch around the rim makes him unguardable for most bigs in the league. While Williams can gyrate from scorching to ice cold, Harrell is a rock. Doc Rivers knows what he’s getting when Trez steps on the floor. Will his defense hold up in the playoffs, however? Match-ups with Anthony Davis, Rudy Gobert, and Nikola Jokic await. L.A. will count on Harrell to guard these All-Star bigs in crunch time. How he performs on that end will determine the Clippers’ fate.

5. The Grizzlies are on fire, having won 7 in a row and 9 of 11, taking over the 8th seed in the West. Ja Morant leads the charge, but don’t overlook the success of his backcourt mate Dillon Brooks. The Griz have just one loss when he scores at least 20, and during the winning streak he’s averaging 21 on 46% shooting, 48% from 3. Brooks makes a perfect safety valve for Morant, a spot up shooter he can find when other avenues close. The most help he gives the rookie, however, is on defense. Ja is just 6’3” and a wiry 175 pounds. At 6’7”, 200, Brooks possesses the size to guard bigger, stronger wings Morant struggles with. The Grizzles have the look of a franchise that will contend for the next decade. Configuring the correct pieces around Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. will decide how much of a force Memphis will be. Brooks is a free agent after the season, and a must re-sign for the Grizzles front office. He’ll get a large raise from the 1.6 million he’s making this year, but with just 57 million on the books for 2020-21, the time for Memphis to pay up is now, before Morant and Jackson Jr. are due.

6. The definition of a bad NBA shot.

Wide open 3, two dribbles into a contested 18 footer

7. Zion awaits, and the NBA world is atwitter with excitement for his debut. The Pelicans have warmed the seat for him, winning 10 out of their last 15 to pull closer in the race for the West’s final playoff slot. Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball are playing well, so how will the rookie fit? Williamson is unlike any player to enter the league. His size and explosiveness allow him to get whatever he wants on the floor offensively and defensively; his 71% shooting from the field during the preseason attests to that. Still, entering the lineup for a hot team in the middle of the season with roles already defined will be a challenge. As great as Zion is and will be, his first few weeks may be more difficult than some expect.

NBA fans on Zion debut day

8. Why is Milwaukee so good? The hustle and ball movement on this play highlights the great cohesiveness Mike Budenholzer has instilled.

9. Whenever Kyrie Irving opens his mouth, controversy follows. This week’s media uproar surrounding Irving involves him mentioning after a loss to the Sixers that the Nets were “1 or 2” players short, inferring that Brooklyn wouldn’t be title contenders until Kevin Durant returns. Is he wrong? Kyrie mentioned a few of his teammates’ names as good NBA players, but left others out. I doubt he meant to disparage anyone, however. Irving has crossed a threshold; everything he says -or doesn’t say- causes a stir. Yes, media members are important. Yes, players talking to them adds interest in the league. But does everything have to be something?

10. Kyrie doesn’t spit out typical player speak. Everyone claims to love candid interviews until they hear one. Like him or not, Kyrie speaks about how he feels at that moment. The backlash he receives will change how he interviews at some point, however. A person can only take so much criticism. If you respect the player’s right to his opinions, don’t chastise him for it when he expresses them or nitpick a name put on or left off a list given in a post-game interview. Though Twitter would disagree, you don’t have to voice an opinion on everything.

 

Cleveland Cavaliers Midseason Report

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After last night’s beat down against the Clippers, the Cavaliers have reached the halfway point of their season. The team resembles their makeup in every sense. The young ones dazzle and frustrate. Seasoned vets are at once having career years and boiling over in frustration at the losing and dumb mistakes. John Beilein, the 66-year-old rookie head coach, must be spinning. His team started well, drawing praise as a scrappy, play hard bunch. The valleys have been low, however. Criticism of Beilein early for hosting long film sessions and being a fundamentals stickler ruffled the team. Last week, the slug/thug controversy led to questions of whether he would keep his job. Throw in Love’s tantrum directed at Collin Sexton for missing him being guarded in the post against Chris Paul, and the team has faced a season’s worth of adversity to this point. The thing to focus on is what hasn’t happened.

The Cavs haven’t splintered. It would have been easy for Tristan Thompson to demand a trade or for Kevin Love to head home, refusing to play another game for the organization. Collin Sexton and Darius Garland have had every opportunity to throw their coach under the bus and brush off the old heads as past their prime. As a whole, the team blows leads late with turnovers, poor shot selection, and shoddy defense. Through the nonsense, however, strong leadership has won. Beilein deserves credit, as do Love, Thompson, John Henson, Matthew Dellavedova, and Brandon Knight. Too much controversy has reached the hands of reporters, yet the bad seems only to have brought them together.

Monday night against the Lakers, the team played an excellent first half, especially on the defensive end. In the second quarter, John Henson drew a charge against Dwight Howard and the bench erupted. The Lakers’ announcing team chuckled at the reaction, commenting that it was as if the Cavs had just won the title. While funny on the outside, it represents the strength within the team. They are a tight bunch and prove as much on the floor, infighting be damned. They’ve faced their share of adversity, caused by everyone in the organization throughout the season. The Cavs are playing better, but with the trade deadline looming, face the real possibility of losing Love, Thompson, and a few late season victories. What remains, however, will be most important. If they’ve instilled at least a bit of their championship knowledge, mentality, and work ethic into the young players, their legacy will last far longer in the locker room than they could have imagined.

This Darius Garland dish made me scream out loud. Just a beautiful look and excellent awareness of all bodies on the floor. Garland is coming as a point guard. He posted his first career double-double against the Clippers, 14 points, 10 assists. His reads are quicker. He’s more decisive when passing versus shooting, and he’s finding open teammates by probing opposing defenses. The game is slowing down for him; the six assists he’s averaging since the New Year proves as much. He’s taking a YOLO 3 or two per game, which is a positive; he’s a good enough shooter to knock a few of those down. Once he does, the seeds of a good NBA player will have sprouted.

What’s What Around the League

1.Luka Doncic’s rise to the superstar level is complete. Doncic has turned into a clone of his elite level brethren, wasting no opportunity to complain, demean, and badger the referees throughout games. He’ll flop on either end of the floor, exaggerating contact, then approach the refs hands out and whiny when he doesn’t get a call. One of the league’s biggest problems, the NBA should allow refs to be more judicious when handing out technicals for complaining. The league flirted with this a few years ago, but after a spike early in the season, T’s fizzled. Superstars will get calls. Are they so conditioned to get every whistle that anything missed is an affront to them as a human being? Just stop.

2. Players who excel in the post are a rarity these days, but Domantas Sabonis does just that for the Indiana Pacers. He possesses a smooth hook he can get off against defenders of any size, PhD level footwork, and superb vision and passing skills that allow him to swing the ball to open teammates. Sabonis averages 4.3 assists per game, a high number for someone who also leads the league in possessions as a screener. He and Malcolm Brogdon have developed chemistry in the pick and roll and form one of the most lethal duos of the league’s bread and butter play. Sabonis is second in the league in screen assists (6.8), and one assumes he’ll see that number increase when Victor Oladipo returns from injury. Throw in the 13.1 rebounds per game he averages and Sabonis is invaluable to the Pacers and their outstanding start to the season. If Oladipo resembles the player he was before getting injured last year upon his return, the Pacers will be a threat in the playoffs.

3. Sekou Doumbouya made Tristan Thompson question his existence.

4. It must disappoint the Nuggets that Gary Harris’s offense hasn’t developed as hoped. His three percentage has dropped to a career low 32%; he shoots just 42% overall. His 11 points per game are 6 off the 17.5 he averaged in 2017. Denver has a plethora of options to replace Harris’ lack of scoring, however, and his team is getting their money’s worth from him defensively. Harris befuddled Luka last week during the last five minutes in the fourth quarter. The MVP candidate was 0-3 from the floor with just 1 assist in crunch time, unable to shake Harris despite running him through a myriad of screens. In the playoffs, Harris will be on the floor in the closing minutes as a defensive stopper. Will he be able to knock down important shots on the other end?

5. The Sixers have ebbed and flowed through the season, causing them to spiral to 6th in the Eastern Conference standings. Now they’ll miss Joel Embiid for at least a few weeks with a torn ligament in his finger. Will they be able to hold their ground? No one will ever consider Embiid an Iron Man; it’s one reason the team signed free agent Al Horford. Philly performed without their star against Boston on Thursday, improving to 3-0 on the year against the Celtics. Horford, who’s struggled, had one of his better games this season, Josh Richardson put up 29, and Ben Simmons played more aggressively. Philly resembles the old Cavs, floating in and out of consciousness as the season rolls along. They have won nothing, however, and can’t afford to be on the road throughout the playoffs. Maybe Embiid’s absence will help, forcing all to take a step up on the responsibility ladder. Though they’re the most talented team top to bottom in the East, something needs to shock them into coherence, or else they’ll watch the Conference Finals from home.

6. A funky release draws criticism to Lonzo Ball’s shot, but his 3s are dropping. 35% on the year and 40% since Christmas, a Lonzo Ball who can bury jumpers is an interesting NBA player. Ball is a good defender and a capable passer and playmaker. With Brandon Ingram taking a leap and Zion Williamson’s return imminent, Ball need not be a high volume scorer or a team leader. Lonzo may never make an All-Star team, but a big guard who averages 12-15, rebounds, sees the floor, and plays superb defense is a necessity for teams looking to advance in the playoffs. The Pelicans are on the rise, and Ball and Ingram are leading the charge.

7. Each NBA team has 3-4 capable ball handlers on their roster, at most. Coaches should bar anyone else attempting to take over three dribbles at a time from the court. Dribbling the basketball is a high level skill that most players, even at the NBA level, aren’t good enough to be doing regularly. Defenders are too adept at swiping the ball loose from anyone whose handles aren’t tight, and high turnover teams are allowing too many dribbles from unskilled players. Coaches need to be more proactive about who may put the ball on the floor and what each player’s purpose should be once they do so. Passes are your friend.

8. Your weekly Ja Morant highlight.

9. Utah’s second half surge seems to have begun. A disappointment early, the Jazz have won eight in a row and are resembling the contender most thought they were in October. Now the second seed in the West, Utah’s defense has stabilized. They’re only allowing 102 points per game during their win streak on 43% shooting, numbers which would rank 1st and 3rd overall on the season. Joe Ingles has played well in the starting lineup alongside Bojan Bogdanovic while Mike Conley has battled a hamstring injury, but if the Jazz hope to compete with the L.A. teams, they’ll need Conley to return to Memphis form by the playoffs.

10. The Wizards made a semi-panicky move last December, trading Kelly Oubre Jr. to Phoenix for Trevor Ariza, an ill-fated transaction. Washington was hoping to make a playoff run and needed shooting and defense they weren’t getting from Oubre. John Wall injured his Achilles, however, and the young for old trade, foolish at the time, is now downright unforgivable. Oubre has been plucky for the Suns, averaging career highs across the board while boosting their defense by 6.4 points when he’s on the floor. He’s dynamic in transition and gives his team an energy boost upon entry with his quickness, explosion, and bounce. When the Suns make a run it involves Oubre, swiping passes on defense, hitting corner 3s, and hammering home thunderous dunks on the break. Phoenix has plateaued after their hot streak to start the season, but Oubre seems to be a block they can build around with Devin Booker. The bottom of the West is jumbled, with seven teams, including the Suns, within 4 games of the eight seed. Oubre’s athleticism and Swiss army knife style game gives Phoenix an important weapon in the battle.

 

Splitting up the Cavs’ Dueling Banjos

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Point guard is the most important position in the league. Good floor generals control every aspect of an NBA game; they define winners and losers each night. The Cleveland Cavaliers have invested in lead guards over the past two drafts, but does either fit the position? They have to score, find teammates, and defend opposing ball handlers every night. No playoff team is deficient at the position. Have the Cavs found their leader?

Darius Garland’s game shows signs. The process has been slow; the rust he accumulated from not playing basketball for a year was clear over the first two months of the season. Unsure of himself and inefficient, Garland too often has been passive with the ball and hesitant to shoot open jumpers. He’s played an apologetic style, wanting only to stay out of the way to his teammates happy. The uneasiness is wearing away, however, buoyed by a growing confidence in his shot. Before Thanksgiving, Garland shot 34% from 3 on 4 attempts per game. Since then he’s at 39% on 5.5 shots from behind the arc. Garland’s NBA ready skill was shooting; Cavs operatives marveled at the pre-draft clinic he put on in Los Angeles from deep. His form is more consistent, and he’s getting shots on the rim quicker than earlier in the season.

His vision shows flashes. He’ll mix in a 5 or 6 assist game bunched around 1 or 2 dish contests. Garland will always shoot well; his playmaking will make or break him in this league. If he can hand out 7-8 assists per game he’ll become a potential All-Star. Against Charlotte last week, Garland had 8 assists and 1 turnover. The Cavs lost by 3, yet Garland was the only starter with a positive plus/minus at +17.

The ball fake, drive, and dish. Reads the defense perfectly. Superb by Garland

Garland sharing the floor with good defensive players has been beneficial for the Cavs. Though they’ve played only 14 minutes together, the Garland/Exum/Porter/Nance/Henson lineup has shown promise, outscoring opponents by 13.9 points per 100 possessions. The Garland/Henson pairing is being outscored by 4.2 points per 100 possessions in 130 minutes, the best net two man combination for the rookie. Not great, but it proves he’s better with a plus defender on the floor with him. The Cavs have two competent defenders in Dante Exum and John Henson. Allowing Garland to play minutes with those two will take pressure off defensively and give him more control on offense.

Though still early in both players’ careers, these numbers point to a need to stagger more of his and Collin Sexton’s minutes. Sexton is great in transition and has improved on defense. He’s a valuable NBA player. Sexton’s focus is on scoring. That’s fine; there’s a spot for him and his skill set on this team. Garland has a higher ceiling, however, and fits better with a broader range of players. In time, Sexton will be more valuable off the bench in the Jordan Clarkson role. The lead guard on a playoff team cannot be as one-dimensional offensively as Sexton. Too many Cavs’ possessions consist of Sexton dribbling the duration of the shot clock, the only player to touch the ball. He doesn’t purposely ignore his teammates, but he isn’t hunting them or identifying mismatches, either. The Kevin Love blow up from Saturday night resulted from Sexton being oblivious to Love’s mismatch in the post against Chris Paul. John Beilein took responsibility, but Sexton is the culprit here.

Garland’s skill set includes a wider range of talents. He sees the floor better and seeks his teammates. He’s a better shooter and is just as capable of getting to the rim in the half-court. Are they franchise changers? It’s too early, but both can grow into valuable pieces on a good team. This is the test for the higher ups in the franchise. Can they develop the talented young players they’ve drafted and set complementary pieces around them?

What’s What Around the League

1.The buzz for Michael Porter Jr. started over the summer, when reports from Denver raved about the Nuggets’ 2018 1st round draft pick. Back surgery caused him to miss the 2018-2019 season, but insiders claimed he would break out in 2019. Then nothing. He received 9 DNPs during Denver’s first 21 games and averaged 8 minutes per when he stepped on the floor. Something has changed over the past week, however. In the Nuggets’ last four games, Porter is averaging 20 minutes, 15.5 points, and is shooting 74% from the field, 50% from 3. A 25 point outburst in Indiana last Thursday on 11-12 from the floor has made the league take notice. Is this the Michael Porter we’ve been waiting for? If so, Denver is a title contender. Nikola Jokic has rounded into shape over the last month and looks like the Joker of old. They’ve won 17 of 24 and sit just 3 games below the Lakers in the West. If this Porter continues to show through May, the West becomes a three team race.

2. Zach LaVine is an NBA scorer. He averages 23 a game and has improved his 3-point shot throughout his career, from 34% as a rookie to 39% this year on 8 attempts per. But…… man, he just isn’t a smart, winning player. Down two against Utah with 30 seconds left and a full shot clock, LaVine buried his head and attacked the basket, only to find Rudy Gobert waiting for him at the rim. Next possession, down 4, LaVine takes an abhorrent step back 3. No chance, game over. LaVine is polarizing. His scoring and increased efficiency give some hope, yet he isn’t improving on defense. The Bulls are 9 points better on that end when he sits. Add it up and you have a losing player who the Bulls owe 39 million to in 2021 and 2022.

Attacking Gobert at the rim is a fool’s errand

3. Ja Morant puts asses in seats.

4. A win Thursday at home against Memphis snapped an 8 game losing streak for Sacramento. The Kings are the latest example why it’s foolhardy to trust poor ownership, no matter the talent level. While De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley have missed extended time because of injury, dysfunction in the Kings’ organization remains the primary culprit of their continued losing. Dewayne Dedmon, a nice free agent pickup over the summer, has fallen out of Luke Walton’s rotation and requested a trade through the media, resulting in a $50,000 fine. Buddy Hield complained last week about trust issues creating problems in the locker room. This coincided with a horrid 7 game stretch for Hield in which he shot 26% from 3. The Kings have the most talent on their roster since the Chris Webber days. If Fox can stay healthy, they’ll have a shot to make a run at the last playoff spot in the West, but the sniping and losing culture in Sacramento seems too strong to overcome.

5. It’s a make or miss league, and no one epitomizes that more than Mike Scott. The 76er bench is more beholden to Scott to score than it should be, and they’re vulnerable to the unpredictability of his 3-point shot. He’s shooting 35% on the season from deep, a respectable number, yet isn’t reliable game to game. In 12 contests he’s made zero threes; in 12 others, he’s shot 50% or better from behind the arc. Philly’s offense can’t get consistency from anywhere. A steady Scott would be a huge boost in the playoffs but, like everyone else on this roster, he’s impossible to predict.

6. The Rockets are fascinating to watch. Their energy and effort level leaves Mike D’Antoni wanting many nights, then James Harden starts cooking, and the show begins. A step-back 3 over an excellent defender in Al Horford, net. Guarded one-on-one by possible All-Defensive selection Ben Simmons, an easy blow by and layup. Jason Richardson’s up next, a long, quick, capable defender in his own right. Another layup. And another step-back dagger. Harden is one of the greatest scorers in the history of the NBA, and he carved an outstanding defensive team in Philly with ease on his way to 44. The Rockets aren’t always fun to watch, but sitting back and enjoying a dialed-in Harden is.

7. It’s a minute detail, but why is getting someone to in-bound the basketball after a made basket such a chore? If the point guard is the first one to the ball, forget about it. He’ll motion for a teammate to do the task instead of throwing the ball in play and calling for it back. Big men are busy trying to get back on offense. Wing guys are sprinting to position themselves in the corners. Good transition teams seem to have a better plan of action for this overlooked play, realizing they can take advantage of a sleepy opponent 3-4 times a game. Have a plan to start the offense as quickly as possible is all.

8. There isn’t a number that can define how important Marcus Smart is to winning. His shooting numbers are bad: 37% overall, 32% from 3. 11.5 points a game is fine, as are his 4.7 assists. His on/off numbers are even bad; Boston is 5.4 points better offensively and 1.1 better defensively when he’s on the bench. If there’s a loose ball, however, Smart gets it. Need a big stop on defense? Smart is there with a steal or a drawn charge. He’ll clang ill-advised 3’s off the back of the rim most of the night until he drains one with less than a minute left. The little things are an abstract measurement meant to describe the indescribable, and Smart is a little things poster child. Here, the numbers lie. You need Marcus Smart on your team.

9. What in Sam Hell is this guy doing?

10. Steven Adams is a bull, a one man road grader. Dig into the hustle stats; his name litters the leaderboards. He’s ninth in loose balls recovered per 36 minutes. Fourth in screens set, fifth in screen assists. He gums up opposing offenses, sitting fifth in contested twos per game (NBA.com). Oklahoma City has surprised this year and sits 7th in the West, comfortably in playoff position. Would they consider trading Adams, however? His contract is huge (25 mil this year, 27 mil next), and his timeline doesn’t match with the franchises’. A salary match makes a trade difficult, but if OKC moves him, watch Boston. Thin on the front line, playoff match-ups with Giannis, Joel Embiid and Al Horford, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, and Bam Adebayo loom. The Celtics are close, a threat to make the Finals, but size is lacking. A wall of a screen setter and elite rebounder could be the piece they need to push them deep into the playoffs.

 

Cleveland Cavaliers: Trading for Defense and the Youngn’s

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The Cleveland Cavaliers have strung some wins together, victorious in 4 of their last 5. The schedule has softened and the young talent is becoming more assertive on the floor. A need to free up minutes for Kevin Porter while also netting a return on a soon-to-be free agent allowed the Cavs to make a deal with Utah last week.

The Cavs traded Jordan Clarkson to the Utah Jazz for Dante Exum and two second round picks. A logical trade for each team, the acquired players better align with the timelines of their new teams. Clarkson provides the Jazz with much-needed scoring from their second unit. The Jazz rank 29th in the league, getting 26.7 points off the bench (NBA.com). A team with realistic title hopes entering the season, Utah has underperformed. Mike Conley has struggled with his new team, Rudy Gobert’s defense is ticking downward, and Donovan Mitchell’s ascendancy has plateaued. The Jazz have shown themselves to be a second half team under Quin Snyder, however, providing hope they’ll still be a force in April and May. Clarkson should help, and his expiring contract adds flexibility for the front office next summer.

The acquisition of Exum for the Cavs was the proper decision for multiple reasons. On the floor, Exum adds length and a defensive presence to a small backcourt. Friday in Boston, Cleveland’s lack of size was obvious. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward took advantage of Darius Garland and Collin Sexton, shooting over the smaller guards and bullying them in the post. Exum showed upon checking in the effect he’ll have on his new team. A lineup of Nance/Exum/Porter/Henson/Dellavedova showed promise as a unit John Beilein can go to for defensive stops. An athletic five, the length of that lineup shuts off passing lanes and provides rim protection. The scoring, however, is suspect. For that five to get buckets, Kevin Porter will need to provide offense, and he’s still erratic. It’ll be an interesting lineup to watch.

Exum will help Garland and Sexton too. Splitting their minutes by placing either alongside Exum relieves pressure on the defensive end. He’ll guard the more dangerous offensive threat and should provide resistance to opposing offenses, something that’s nonexistent now. John Henson’s return from injury has caused a dramatic change in the Cavs’ defense when he’s been on the floor; Exum should provide the same.

Off the court, Dante Exum’s acquisition helps the books. The difference in the money of his contract compared to Clarkson’s (9.1 million vs. 12.5 million) gives the Cavs an extra 3.4 million cushion to play with in future trades. Just 1.7 million under the luxury tax level before the trade, the swap gives them extra cash to play with. Cleveland won’t go over the taxpayer level for a 25 win team. They need to avoid the tax line, or they’ll be subject to repeater penalties, costing Dan Gilbert even more money. This trade gives Koby Altman a touch more breathing room when discussing Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, or anyone else on the roster with other GMs.

The second round picks acquired give Altman another tool in his chest to grease the wheels on trades. He used 4 second rounders to trade back into the 1st round to draft Porter. Another interesting element is the years the picks fall, 2022 and 2023. Most expect the NBA to revoke the age limit for players eligible for the draft in either 2022 or 2023. There will be a college freshman class eligible and the first high school senior class available for drafting, doubling the talent of the pool. The value of picks in those drafts should only appreciate.

These are the trades and returns to expect from the Cavs in the coming weeks. While they’ll hunt for young players and 1st rounders, the pieces Cleveland can trade likely will bring back 2nd rounders and draft busts or oft injured players teams have lost patience with. Other than Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, the Cavs have no one of help to a contender. They don’t seem to be in a rush to trade those veterans, and shouldn’t be. Unless a team is willing to meet their high demands, keep both and allow them to continue molding the young talent.

What’s What Around the League

1.The L.A. battle on Christmas Day only re-emphasized the fact the Clippers are the Lakers’ biggest threat to the title. While the James-Davis duo is devastating and capable of carrying the team themselves, Doc Rivers’ squad matches up well against their arena mates. Patrick Beverley proved his determination on the defensive end again, blocking LeBron James’ final shot attempt despite giving 8 inches and 65 pounds to him. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George’s defensive reputations are beyond reproach, Mo Harkless is 14th in the league in Defensive Box Plus/Minus (3.5), and Montrezl Harrell has improved each year on that end of the floor. The fifth best scoring team in the league can lock anyone down and has the reigning Finals’ MVP in tow.

2. The 76ers also won on Christmas, but their future is murkier. Joel Embiid was fantastic, yet the team’s offense is too reliant on the whims of their 3 point happy center. Embiid hoists 4 threes a game, makes 33% of them, and has shot 2 less 2’s per game this year over last. Teams running an offense through a traditional center are clunky, yet it’s Philly’s best option. Embiid needs to work as hard each night as he did on Christmas. The Sixers are a unit that has never made an Eastern Conference Finals, yet flows in and out of games. They’re too inconsistent. Milwaukee failed to show on Wednesday, and Embiid defended Giannis superbly. In a seven-game series, however, I doubt those results hold.

3. Nikola Jokic made himself an easy target by coming into the season out of shape, but the Serb’s game is picking up. His vision and covert ball handling skills are exquisite.

4. Another byproduct of the NBA’s new challenge system is the annoying habit of players spinning their finger in the air after a questionable call, pleading with their head coach for a challenge. Coaches feel obliged when star players are making the request, and Nick Nurse succumbed to Kyle Lowry on Saturday night on a meaningless play in the first quarter. Toronto led by 7, and though the Raptors won the challenge, saving Lowry a foul, this isn’t the best use of the system for coaches. They need to implement a “no challenge until the fourth quarter” rule to keep the players off their backs. Since they’re permitted only one challenge per game, using it in the 1st quarter is a waste. Save them for crunch time.

5. While we’re on pet peeves: how come when a defender brushes a shooter’s elbow during a jump shot, referees have a quick whistle, yet if a player is on the ground with the basketball, defenders may jump on, grab, shove, and fight to procure a jump ball call? Once there’s a chance of a loose ball, anarchy ensues. The court turns into a football scrum after a fumble. Jumping unto a player already on the floor should result in a foul call, not a reward.

When there’s a loose ball

6. The Oklahoma City Thunder used an unprecedented amount of leverage against the Clippers in the Paul George trade, bleeding them dry of 1st round picks for the next half decade. The best asset acquired in the heist, however, was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. A long guard capable of causing havoc on defense (1.2 steals per game), Gilgeous-Alexander has found his scoring touch. He shoots 36% from three and has raised his scoring average this year from 10.8 as a rookie to 19.8. He’s averaging 27 over his last 5, and he and Chris Paul have the Thunder comfortably in the Western Conference playoff bracket, sitting 7th with a 3.5 game lead on the 8th seed. SGA (that name sucks to type out over and over) is a franchise changer and, paired with Paul, has made the Thunder rethink the tank. While they’ll trade Paul to any taker (he’s due 123 mil over the next 3 years), the knowledge SGA is siphoning off Paul is invaluable. With the picks and Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder’s 5-10 year future is brighter than anyone else’s in the league.

7. Derrick Jones Jr., murderer of Defensive Players of the Year.

8. The Heat aren’t fading. Winners of 5 in a row, Miami is the second best team in the East. With a go to crunch time superstar in Jimmy Butler, a championship winning coach in Erik Spoelstra, and a do everything center in Bam Adebayo, the Heat match up with any other team in the league. They do almost everything well. Second in three point percentage (38.5%), seventh in defensive rebounding, eight in scoring, second in free throw attempts, eight in assists, fifth in field goal percentage, 10th in field goal percentage defense, and 12th in scoring defense, the Heat’s roster has few holes. They play hard each night and never get out-toughed. Other than against Milwaukee, it would be difficult to pick against them in a seven-game series in the East.

9. If you don’t already love Giannis and the Bucks, your tune will change after viewing their pre-game routine.

10. Trae Young’s offensive game is jaw dropping; a marvel to watch. Atlanta has 6 wins, however, worst in the league. If Young can’t at least try on defense, his wizardry with the ball will be for naught. 440th in the league in defensive rating (115.6), the only players lower are fellow Hawks’ teammates, injured guys, and a boatload of Wizards unaware that there are two ends to the court. Young should make the All-Star team for his offensive exploits, but will he ever pilot a playoff team? His size will never allow him to be a great defender, but his effort level and awareness have to improve or he’ll never be more than a fun sideshow.

Young (11) with little desire to stay in front of Sexton

All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com.