Splitting up the Cavs’ Dueling Banjos

Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Cavaliers News, Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, NBA

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.

 

Cavs Problems, Beilein Solutions

Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Cavaliers News, NBA

The Cleveland Cavaliers are in the weeds. They’ve lost six in a row and 12 of 13. After a respectable start, they now rank 29th and 27th in offensive and defensive ratings. The sniping has started, according to the Athletic, and questions about the makeup of the roster are growing louder. Who is talking? Do any of the guys other than Kevin Love have value on the trade market? How do you form cohesion between 19-year-olds and vets with rings?

It’s best to ignore the comments made last week by anonymous players to the press. Beat downs create frustration, and the Cavs have endured plenty of them. Twenty games in, the players quoted are grasping at something to blame for their poor play. A college coach dipping his toes into the NBA waters makes for a perfect scapegoat. Long film sessions and practices, lack of communication, and a better rapport with the head assistant are standard complaints made by excuse makers unwilling to take responsibility for their current situation. Who on this roster will be around when the Cavs are good again?

The struggles reveal who doesn’t belong as much as who does. Any player or coach or front office member unwilling to shoulder their share of the problems can go. Subtract LeBron James. What success has anyone involved with the Cavaliers’ organization experienced?

John Beilein has proved over a 40 year career that he can rebuild basketball teams. His experience at molding players is all that matters at this stage. Anyone unwilling to accept him as the voice of the franchise doesn’t belong. If good players get traded or cut, so be it. No player on a 5-17 roster is indispensable.

This would never be a quick rebuild. Owners and execs preach patience, but is it practiced? The young guys show flashes, but overall have been bad. There’s no guarantee Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, or Kevin Porter Jr. will be here when the team is competing for a playoff spot. Establishing a culture of responsibility is imperative. Look at Miami. And Dallas. Those organizations have won titles and lost icons. They’ve struggled through disappointing seasons, yet the voices at the top are the same. Rick Carlisle and Erik Spoelstra remain because they provide stability regardless of the players on the floor. They’re running the two most surprising teams in the league because they’ve built a sustainable system. Look at the NBA landscape. Player movement is rampant. Counting on players to steady the franchise is fruitless.

Beilein is this guy for the Cavs, and the front office and fans must put their trust in him. For however long his age and drive allows, he needs to be the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Nothing on the floor works right now. A few quick hits of things in need of improvement.

Matthew Dellavedova is shooting 11.4% from three. He averages 1.5 fouls and a turnover in 13 minutes a game.

No one stops the ball on defense, whether in transition or in the half court. The lack of athleticism and length is a factor, but the scheme isn’t helping. Defenders are sagging too far off their man when providing help. When the ball swings, defenders are out of position, can’t recover, and are giving up layups. Another factor is the Cavs’ on ball defense. They’re shading guys to their weak hand, giving them driving lanes. NBA ball handlers are unfazed by defenders forcing them left and take advantage of the free space. Guard guys chest to chest.

The offense is stagnant. Too often, one action gets run early in the shot clock, then the team stands and watches as the ball handler prods at the defense for 8-10 seconds, searching for a nonexistent opening to attack. Beilein preaches ball and player movement, but neither is happening. While simplistic, the Cavs would be better served running pick and roll over and over. And over. They have quick ball handlers and three capable screeners in Love, Tristan Thompson, and Larry Nance Jr. Love and Nance can shoot, while Thompson and Nance are capable rim runners. The action will move defenses, opening cutting lanes on the weak side and providing open shots. It isn’t sexy, but there’s a reason pick and roll is the bread and butter play for NBA teams.

4 guys standing behind the 3 point line watching Thompson dribble isn’t ideal

What’s What Around the League

1. The jokes centering on Nikola Jokic’s fitness level are abundant and on point. The Joker neglected to hire a personal trainer last off-season and his game is suffering. Shooting percentages -from 2 and 3-, points, rebounds, assists; they’re all down. The fourth place finisher in last season’s MVP vote, Jokic expected to lead the Nuggets deep in the playoffs. Denver is third in the West without his best, however, getting strong contributions from the rest of the roster and sporting the second best scoring defense in the league. Denver’s task is tall; the Lakers are a juggernaut; the Clippers haven’t hit their stride yet, and Luka Dončić has the Mavericks ahead of schedule. Jokic needs to return to form, and soon.

Jokic family meal time

2. The Lakers’ length causes huge problems for their opponents. JaVale McGee, Dwight Howard, and Anthony Davis are three of the most athletic big men in the league. With LeBron James orchestrating L.A.’s offense, oops and savage dunks are plentiful. They lead the league in blocked shots, while opponents record the fewest swats per contest. Though the game is being played further from the hoop, paint protection remains vital. Slash and kicks are the most efficient way to get open looks from 3, yet penetrators shy away from the forest of Laker big men inside the paint, making it difficult to generate open looks. With a strong defense to fall back on, the Lakers have catapulted into the favorites spot for the title.

3. The Russell Westbrook experiment in Houston has gone as expected, though Russ’s broken shot is worse than ever. Look at these percentages:
3 point%- 21.6
EFG%- 42.8
3 to 10ft.- 46.6
Hell, he’s only 11-16 on dunks. Westbrook is a bulldog. He plays at light speed with the ball in his hands and competes with a fire possessed by no one else in the league. He’s an alpha, however, on a team already with one. For Houston to be successful, the ball must be in James Harden’s hands. This leaves Westbrook as a catch and shoot player. Not ideal. Westbrook is best leading the fast break and still causes havoc for Houston in these situations. When the playoffs roll around and these opportunities wither, however, the Rockets may as well.

4. Montrezl Harrell is the best bench player in the league. He does everything, including textbook high-low passing.

5. Cory Joseph and the Kings put on a clinic Friday in San Antonio on how to botch the last two minutes of an NBA game. And they did it twice. Up 9 with two minutes left in regulation, Joesph turned it over twice, Harrison Barnes got whistled for a charge and missed a free throw, and the team lost Marco Belinelli with 4 seconds left, allowing him to can the game tying 3. In overtime the Kings missed FOUR attempts in the last seventeen seconds to win the game. Whew. The Kings have rebounded, however, winning back to back tough road games in Dallas and Houston. Sacramento seems to have used Friday’s implosion as a team building moment. When De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley return, the Kings should begin to resemble the playoff team some predicted them to be.

6. The Pistons have won 4 of 5, trying to rebound from a poor start and re-enter the playoff hunt. Derrick Rose has been superb in their last ten (plus/minus of 6.7), forcing the action off the bench while also leading the team in crunch time. He beat the Pacers in the last minute on Friday, sinking 2 clutch baskets while assisting on Blake Griffin’s dagger 3, drawing the defense with penetration before kicking the ball to a wide open Griffin. A game winner Monday night against the Pelicans added to his fantastic week. Rose will never return to his MVP form and will become the first winner of the award not to make the Hall of Fame. He’s proving those who thought he was washed wrong (raises hand), however. He provides scoring and playmaking off the bench; the Pistons are 10 points better offensively when he’s on the court. If the Pistons have any shot of making the playoffs, Rose’s stellar play must continue.

7. The fourth best offense in the NBA? None other than the Washington Wizards. While Bradley Beal is a top 25 player in the league, the rest of the roster is lacking. Scott Brooks, often derided, deserves praise for designing an offense around Beal while extracting every ounce of talent out of his squad. While 30th in the league in defense, the Wizards are “run of the mill” bad instead of “worst team in the league” awful. Washington leads the league in assists and has four players shooting over 38% on threes. Beal has improved his game again, scoring 28 per game while dishing 7 assists. His playmaking skills were unknown with John Wall controlling possessions, yet Beal has showed he’s capable of running an offense. If they add a high pick in this year’s draft and John Wall can return at somewhat the same level, the Wizards become interesting again.

8. Giannis’ dunks are breathtaking to watch.

9. Ben Simmons has canned two three pointers this year, an improvement over his career total of zero. While it’s a step in the right direction that he’s taken a few from deep, his game is still a problem for Philly. He’s taking two fewer shots per game and averaging almost 3 points less than last year. The 76ers offense has no easy button. Their best player is a center. Tobias Harris, who they signed to a 180 million dollar deal in the off-season to be their crunch time scorer, is shooting 30% from 3, lowest since his third year in the league. Philadelphia may have the best roster in the East, and they can lock down teams defensively. Their offense is a slog, however. How will they score in the playoffs, when the transition points disappear? Unless they can keep games in the 80s, it’s hard to imagine a path to the title for Philly.

10. Many picked the Bulls to make a playoff push this year, but nah. Zach LaVine is an inefficient, score only guard best suited for the slam dunk contest. The real problem, however, has been the erosion of Lauri Markkanen’s game. He’s down almost 6 points per game on four fewer shots than last year, shooting worse from in front of and behind the arc, and is even rebounding less. Chicago lacks star power, and while Markkanen may be ill-fitted for the role, he’s the best shot on a roster full of role players. The Bulls should shift shots from LaVine to Markkanen. Jim Boylen should establish a hierarchy in Chicago with the correct player at the top.

LaVine’s specialty

All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com