Category Archives: Cleveland Cavaliers

Why Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters remind me of a backcourt duo from the 90s

Erik Drost | Flickr

Erik Drost | Flickr

Lately I’ve been getting my cavalier on, both with a more-lazy-than-usual weekend and a couple of my latest posts featuring the rebuilding, possibly playoff-contending franchise out in Cleveland. It wasn’t my intention to continue discussing them through this week, but the young backcourt of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters felt worth looking at.

Irving and Waiters arrived in Cleveland through the 2011 and 2012 NBA Drafts, respectively. The former went first overall and the latter sparked a lot of discussion about going fourth, drafted when Cleveland also could’ve used a small forward or center for the future. Nevertheless, Cleveland locked up their backcourt.

But the Cavaliers continue to struggle, 11 games under .500 as they approach the halfway point in the season. (They were 9-28 through 37 games a year ago.) Waiters is no longer in the starting lineup (not a terrible thing, to be fair), and he’s had a few words about his difficulties playing with both Irving and Tristan Thompson. He’s floated around in trade rumors since last summer, and it’d be no surprise if he’s playing for a new franchise by the end of his rookie contract.

It all reminds me of a backcourt duo from over 15 years ago, back in the mid-90s when the Philadelphia 76ers retooled their backcourt with the third and first picks of the 1995 and ’96 drafts, respectively. Jeff Malone and Dana Barros were out and replaced with Jerry Stackhouse and Allen Iverson.

Since ‘Stack’ was drafted before Iverson, it’s a little hard to make statistical comparisons between the Sixers’ ’96 and ’97 backcourt and Cleveland’s the last two seasons, which was built with the point guard first. Here’s my best shot though, with the help of Basketball-Reference. As always, you can click to enlarge each screen shot:

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There’s a lot to discuss from there. (If I missed something you’d like to include, feel free to use the comment section.)

First, I’m not comparing Waiters to Stackhouse or Irving to Iverson, though Cleveland could build around their point guard much like Philadelphia did with theirs. I’m grouping them together mainly because of their unique situations: two young, ball-dominant guards on the same team. Already mentioned was Waiter’s issues with Irving and Thompson, but Stackhouse had his own reported problems with Iverson that you can find here and here from the SI Vault. Bad things happen when backcourt duos consist of each wanting to score. Speaking of that…

Another reason I compared the two duos was because of their usage rates. Iverson and Stackhouse were the only starting backcourt in 1997 to each use up over 25 percent of their team’s possessions, according to Basketball-Reference. The same went for Waiters and Irving in 2013. Backcourt combos with similar high usage rates can succeed as long as they complement each other well, like Ray Allen and Sam Cassell for the 2001 Milwaukee Bucks and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili for the 2010 Spurs. More often than not, however, guards with similar usage rates feature one starter and another as a spark off the bench, like how the Spurs have often used Ginobili.

That wasn’t the case for the ’97 Sixers or the 2013 Cavaliers, though, and neither team won all that many games as a result. That’s not to say those four players were solely responsible for so many losses, but a team isn’t going far with two players taking over a combined 30 field goal attempts per game while recording effective field goal percentages (EFG%, when accounting for threes worth more than twos) below league-average, which usually ends up between 47.5 and 50 percent. In particular, Iverson and Stackhouse couldn’t spread the floor, shooting around 30 percent from the arc and playing an average of nearly 40 minutes per game. Bad times all around.

Cleveland has since put Waiters in the role of a sixth man rather than pull the trigger on a trade. Philadelphia eventually scrapped their backcourt pairing and surrounded Iverson with players known more for their defense, starting when Stackhouse was sent to Detroit in December of ‘97 with Eric Montross and a 2nd round pick for Aaron McKie, Theo Ratliff, and a 2003 first-rounder. That first rounder, with the help of hindsight, was treated pretty unfairly. 25 months after trading Stackhouse, that pick would be sent to Houston for Mirsad Turkcan. (Turkcan didn’t do much at all in the NBA, but in fairness he ended up being a force of nature overseas. He was a nominee for the 2001-2010 Euroleague All-Decade team, but did not make the list.) In June of 2001, the first-round draft pick was then traded from Houston to Atlanta for Terrence Norris, then traded to Sacramento for Dan Dickau, and finally sent back to Detroit with Jon Barry for Mateen Cleaves. The draft pick ended up being Carlos Delfino, but treating a pick like that in the one of most loaded talent pools could’ve led to disastrous results.

But trading Stackhouse deserves a ton of credit when the Sixers’ front office had top-10 draft picks each year from 1992 and 1998, yet only kept two of them – Iverson and Larry Hughes – by 1999, when Philadelphia finally made the playoffs. They too logged usage rates of over 25 percent each, though Hughes came off the bench instead of starting. He was traded the following season for Toni Kukoc.

This all actually makes it a little more interesting that, despite the results from the Stackhouse-Iverson combo, Denver made the trade in 2007 to pair Iverson with Carmelo Anthony. Denver had a better supporting cast than Philadelphia in the mid-90s, and the Nuggets played 10 points better/100 possessions when Iverson was on the court in 2008 (according to Basketball-Reference), but it’s hard to expect two mediocre perimeter defenders and outside shooters like themselves to go deep in a loaded Western Conference.

In Cleveland, Irving remains relatively safe from trade rumors while Waiters, like Stackhouse, has been thrown around in plenty. The Cavaliers still have plenty of trade assets left over even after acquiring Luol Deng, so it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Waiters is eventually moved before his next contract. The value of rookie deals in today’s NBA is so different from when Stackhouse and Iverson entered the league, though. Both trading and keeping Waiters feel like gambles, but at least Cleveland still has time to decide which decision is better for their long-term future.

The trickle-down effects before and after the Luol Deng trade

Keith Allison | Flickr

Keith Allison | Flickr

I told myself I was going to sleep last night, but then the latest trade in the NBA shook up the Twitterverse. It’s already widely known what Cleveland and Chicago each got in their trade last night, but I’ll list the details anyway:

Chicago receives: Andrew Bynum (who has since been waived), Sacramento’s first round pick (top-12 protected this season and top-10 protected through 2017 then turns into a second-rounder), rights to swap 2015 first round picks with Cleveland (if the Cavs make the playoffs), and Portland’s second round picks in 2015 and 2016.

Cleveland receives: Luol Deng

There was immediate backlash about Cleveland sending three, possibly four draft picks for a small forward with an expiring contract, but general manager Chris Grant has a recent history of making savvy trades, ones often revolving around desperation from other front offices. Here’s a quick summary of those trades, including the pieces involved that were thrown into the Deng trade:

2011: Traded Mo Williams for Baron Davis and their 2011 No.1 pick, which landed Kyrie Irving. In June, Cleveland traded J.J. Hickson to the Kings for Omri Casspi and a first round pick.

That’s the Kings’ first-rounder that Chicago received, which looked more valuable back then than it does now. Sacramento has picked fifth and seventh in drafts since then, and they’d be fourth in the 2014 Draft if the lottery balls don’t alter their position in either direction. That doesn’t bring a lot of hope going forward, but Sacramento has both a new owner and another batch of young players that can hopefully rise up from the West’s cellar, or at least high enough to bag roughly 35 wins sometime before 2017. That’s definitely possible with a top-five pick this year, even with the absence of defense displayed by the squad and Rudy Gay‘s player option that makes a rebuilding team more expensive than it should be.

2012: After trading Sebastian Telfair and Delonte West for Ramon Sessions, Ryan Hollins, and a 2013 second-round pick, the Cavaliers shipped Sessions to Los Angeles for Luke Walton, Jason Kapono, and their 2012 first-round pick. The pick became Jared Cunningham, which was then traded with Jae Crowder and Bernard James to Dallas for Tyler Zeller. That didn’t turn out so well, but Cleveland nonetheless traded players with little value in their organization for assets.

2013: The Cavaliers traded Jon Leuer to Memphis in order to take on the salaries of Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, and Josh Selby. The biggest return in the trade, however, was Memphis’ 2015 first round pick. Protection is as follows, according to RealGM:

Memphis’ 1st round pick to Cleveland protected for selections 1-5 and 15-30 in 2015, 1-5 and 15-30 in 2016, 1-5 in 2017 or 1-5 in 2018 or unprotected in 2019 [Cleveland-Memphis, 1/22/2013]

The draft pick looks especially peachy for Cleveland from 2017 to 2019, when Marc Gasol and Mike Conley will either be approaching 30 years of age or into their low-30s if they stick with Memphis for that long. That’s a long time for Cleveland to wait for that draft pick, but it could be a great prize if Memphis goes through a rebuilding phase over those three years. Besides, if Cleveland gets that pick in 2015 or 2016 then it’s in the 6-14 range. It’s yet another high draft pick for a squad that’s had a ton of them lately.

That’s where Cleveland has gone wrong since The Decision, though. The trades Chris Grant made were fine, but they don’t make up for the draft blunders that have plagued the organization ever since selecting Tristan Thompson fourth overall in 2011. It’s led to a trickle-down effect, one that led to the trade last night when Cleveland finally found a (expensive) small forward to add to their core of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, whatever improvements come from Tristan Thompson, and whatever that makes Anthony Bennett not so horrible.

But Deng will be one of the oldest 29-year-olds in the league when Cleveland has to decide on re-signing him or not. Deng’s played nearly four seasons under Tom Thibodeau, dog years compared to any other coach and he’s been in the league since he was 19. There’s also a fine line between giving a player with his mileage a three-year deal and one that’s four. $36 million for three years sounds a lot more desirable than $45 million for four, as the last of the latter contract could be albatross-like while the former becomes moveable fairly quickly. There’s also the good and bad that comes with an aging player like Deng who, as Zach Lowe of Grantland noted, doesn’t rely on jaw-dropping athleticism but can barely get separation on offense as is. Lowe also makes a good point on a possible four-year contract with Deng in that some of the money in the last season should be non-guaranteed.

Cleveland also has to address their expiring rookie deals, the soonest being Irving’s and Thompson’s. Waiters’ contract looms the following season, though he and Anderson Varejao have been trade chips for a while now and could be gone by February of 2015. The Cavaliers still have plenty of draft picks, one not mentioned already being Miami’s 2015 first-rounder, protected 1-10 through 2016 and unprotected in 2017. It becomes very nice if the Heat break up their core after this season and rebuild, though Miami rebuilding for more than one season seems like a long shot given their franchise history, geography, and if Pat Riley stays with the franchise.

For Chicago, they gave themselves an opportunity to land a top-10 pick, move Carlos Boozer for whatever they can get back in a trade (Chicago, always conscious about saving money despite being in a huge market, probably isn’t up for using the amnesty clause which would pay Boozer not to play for them), and open up playing time for Nikola Mirotic as soon as next season. Chicago’s not rebuilding as much as they are reloading, even if it means losing not just Deng but also Boozer by next fall.

While the haul for Deng was one of Chicago’s best financial ones possible, it isn’t exactly the greatest they could’ve received in terms of value on the court. Sacramento’s pick might be a coin flip on whether or not it ever falls out of its top-10 protection, swapping picks with Cleveland sounds nice until the best they could move up to is 15th overall (still valuable, though), and the second rounders from Portland suddenly look like they’ll be in the 50-60 range in 2015 and 2016.

Chicago might’ve also booted Charlotte from the playoffs with this trade, a big deal when the Bobcats owe them a draft pick with top-10 protection. At 15-20, the Bobcats currently have the NBA’s 12th-worst winning percentage but are seventh in the East. But with Cleveland having the pieces to make a playoff push and New York and Brooklyn resembling professional basketball teams again, both Charlotte and Chicago look like they’re headed for the lottery. That could be as much of a good thing as it is bad, though, as Charlotte’s protection on their pick they owe Chicago is only top-8 in 2015 and unprotected in 2016. It’s another potential ripple effect from a trade that has more long-term risk than short-term.

Overall, you can make a case for either side of the Luol Deng/Andrew Bynum trade being good or bad. Getting the best of their returns is dependent on what happens this summer. That’s when Chicago hopes to rebuild through the draft, all while Cleveland sacrificed their own draft position so they could land a premier wing to play alongside Irving both in the short-term and long-term.

Until then, another chapter in this trade that will occur sooner involves the careers of Carlos Boozer and Andrew Bynum. Each has the potential to swing the fortunes of a contender while Chicago and Cleveland dwell in opposite sides of “mediocrity”.

The moment Tristan Thompson sold me on his right handed shot

There was just over three minutes left in the third quarter of a Monday night game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Minnesota was in the middle of an attempt to string together some sort of run to get within striking distance of a game they were losing by 18. The Cavaliers’ offense had become such a mess to where Tristan Thompson, with one second left on the shot clock, got the ball within a step of the three-point line.

He had to hoist the 22-foot jumper which ended up being an air ball, though partially blocked by Ricky Rubio. It was yet another empty possession from the Cavaliers; one of several disappointing ones that, if not for Kevin Love’s missed three-pointer at the end of regulation, could’ve cost them the game.

But that sloppy execution confirmed what was one of the more unusual stories of the NBA’s 2013 offseason: Thompson going from a left-handed shooter to using his right hand. He used the latter during that 22-foot miss.

Go back to the situation for Thompson. There was only a second left on the shot clock and no time for him to second-guess a shot well out of his range. Wouldn’t anyone else shoot with the hand they’ve used since they first played basketball?

I would imagine only Larry Bird and Andrew Bynum would consider going against that logic. Bird was one of the best shooters in the game, known for shooting with his off-hand more than a few times in the regular season just to keep himself entertained. As for Bynum, we’ve seen him do crazy things before, such as this three-pointer.

It seems plausible he’d take a similar shot with his off-hand as well.

But Thompson went with what used to be his off-hand—his right hand—which now I’m confident is his strong one from here on out. (Didn’t anyone else have their doubts?) Thompson himself showed he was confident enough to use it, despite the possibility of an opposing guard blocking his shot (which happened).

If only there was YouTube footage of this moment I’m sensationalizing. The only proof of it is in a play-by-play log of the game.

Overall, the results of Thompson’s right hand have been promising. He’s eight-for-20 with his jump shots, 40 percent, and an uptick from last year’s 36.3. His free throw percentage has seen a larger jump, up from 60.8 percent to 76.5 with about one more attempt per game.

Thompson’s PER may be five points lower than in 2013, but Cleveland’s been a jumbled mess offensively through four games. At least the promising young forward appears to be one of the few Cavaliers off to a good start.

Luke Walton is in a complicated relationship — with his facemask

Luke Walton’s taken advantage of his extra playing time in Cleveland, becoming a role player for the struggling Cavaliers. In his last 10 games he’s averaged 4.1 points, 4.9 assists, 3.1 rebounds, and shooting 46 percent from three.

But on March 16, Walton broke his nose in a game against San Antonio. He donned a facemask — the fourth time a Cleveland Cavalier has done so this season — in the following game against Indiana. It didn’t last long. Walton removed the mask after only a few minutes.

Things are getting better between Walton and his protective mask, though, even after a recent loss to Miami. From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Luke Walton didn’t want to hurt the mask’s feelings.

When the Cavaliers’ veteran forward was asked how much he hated the clear mask he’s supposed to be wearing to protect his broken nose, he smiled and said, “I’m trying to develop a relationship with it, so I don’t want to talk bad about it.”

Maybe Walton realized the times you think you don’t need your significant other are actually the times you need it most:

All it took was one shot to the nose to convince Walton he had to make peace with the mask.

“I didn’t even get hit that hard and I started to get a headache and my eye was hurting so I’m going with the mask,” he said. “I’m going to keep wearing it until it gets comfortable and familiar. I’ve been wearing it around the last 24 hours trying to get more comfortable with it.

Hopefully the protective mask doesn’t weigh him down. Love’s not supposed to work like that.

Does Cleveland want LeBron James back?

Anger towards LeBron James’ departure from Cleveland has slowly died down since the summer of 2010.

Maybe the excessive coverage last season of LeBron’s failures drove fans crazy enough to gravitate toward LeBron, instead of further away. (At this time a year ago, television outlets still dissected why LeBron passed the ball in the final seconds of an ALL STAR GAME.)

Maybe it died down when LeBron won his first championship only nine months ago.

Maybe it died down last summer when LeBron, despite so much dislike towards him in the summer of 2010, suited up for the Olympics to help lead USA to a gold medal.

Or maybe it died down when he starred in a commercial where he got a haircut despite having one of the most obvious receding hairlines in the NBA since Clyde Drexler.

It’s tough to tell.

Whatever the reason, it’s hard to believe this would’ve happened in LeBron’s first game in Cleveland since “The Decision”.

It’s not just one overexcited fan that wants LeBron to return, either.

According to a poll from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, 52 percent of voters said they want LeBron to return to Cleveland. 35 percent still do not want him to return and, as polarizing as LeBron has become, 13 percent are still undecided.

Over 3,000 votes have already been submitted.

The excitement comes from LeBron’s looming free agency, which could start 17 months from now if he opts out of his current contract. If that happens, the Cavaliers can make a run for the three-time MVP who spent his first seven seasons in Cleveland.

There’s a lot to look at already on why or why not LeBron should stay in Miami, but a lot of it isn’t worth it (yet).

17 months ago, the NBA was in the middle of a lockout that could’ve wiped out the 2012 season, Derrick Rose was the reigning MVP the season before, and a few all stars (Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul) were not in Los Angeles yet.

The same can be said for Cleveland which, 17 months ago, would not have wanted LeBron to return to a place he once left in flames.

Coming to a conclusion right now about where LeBron will or should go is foolish, but it’s still fun to think and talk about.

(Or act on if you’re a Cavalier fan plotting to run onto the court. Don’t be that guy.)

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