Tag Archives: Cleveland Cavaliers

East vs. West Week 1: Strong start to the 2014-15 season for the West

One week of non-conference play is in the books, and the West finished 6-1 against the East. The only loss came on Saturday night when Minnesota lost a close one against a Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson-less Bulls squad. The West did score some key wins, though, like Memphis over Charlotte in a game that felt like 2004 (the dead ball era) all over again.

Below is a breakdown of the first week. It’s much like the ones I did last year but with some new additions relating to Pythagorean record. Like last year, this table will also be updated weekly:

Though a large number through seven games, point differential says the West ran slightly better than expected. That’s probably thanks to Minnesota holding on against the Pistons Thursday night after blowing a 19-point lead in the 3rd quarter.

Week 1 is the last of light non-conference weeks until the all-star break. There will be 17 non-conference games in Week 2 and it will pick up even more after that. The teams most often in the Week 2 matchups are Minnesota, Cleveland, and Miami with three games each. Below are some of the most important games:

Monday:

Oklahoma City @ Brooklyn
Houston @ Miami

Tuesday:

Oklahoma City @ Toronto
Cleveland @ Portland

Sunday:

Miami @ Dallas

It looks like the East has one extra home game in Week 2 than the West, and the five key games listed above feature three of them on East courts. The East will have actually have a nice home-court stretch through Week 5, playing seven more home games than the West by then.

So starting with Cleveland playing three non-conference games this week, this could either be a stretch where the East gains some ground or the beginning of an onslaught by the West.

Looking at the NBA’s 2015 non-conference schedule

Last week’s release of the NBA’s 2014-15 season schedule marks the return of the non-conference posts. Maybe we’ll find something that gives one conference a scheduling edge over the other in their non-conference matchups. For the East, that would be nice.

As a reminder, 450 non-conference games are played each season, basically taking the number of teams (30) divided by those in each conference (15). The matchups last season were historic in several ways, one being that the West outscored the East by 4.09 points per game, the highest ever point differential in the last 17 seasons, according to NBA.com. The 2014 West nearly finished with the highest winning percentage in non-conference play, but fell just short of the mark set in 2004 at 63.33 percent.

Below is a breakdown of point differential, wins and losses, and win percentage in non-conference play since 1998. You can find the same chart in the last East vs. West post last season. All stats are from NBA.com:

It’s probably obvious, but the 450 non-conference games next season are not scheduled at a consistent frequency over the season nor do they all take place within designated weeks. Below is a chart of how many of these games take place in each of the 25 weeks.

2015 non-conf games

19 of those 25 have anywhere from 14-29 non-conference games and the ones that fall below that range are opening week, the week just before and after the all-star break, and the last three weeks of the season. On the other end, weeks 5&6 (11/24-12/7), 13&14 (1/19-2/1), and 20&21 (3/9-3/22) combine to take up over a third of the non-conference games. Those two-week stretches feature 50, 51, and 56 games, respectively.

And though each team has 15 home and road non-conference games, they don’t happen equally either. Below is a chart looking at how many more home games each conference plays versus the other each week. For example, on the first week (10/28-11/2) the West has five home non-conference games versus two for the East, which amounts to +3 in the chart.

2015 non-conf home and road games

The East will have more home games early on, but it will catch up to them as we head into 2015 when the West will have 30 of the 45 games from 12/30 to 1/11 at home. From 1/26 to 2/22, the East will have 10 more home games than the West, but then the West hits another home-heavy stretch from 3/9 to 3/22.

Rest is also a factor in quite a few non-conference games. 238 (52.9 percent) of the 450 matchups will feature teams playing on equal days of rest, with 191 featuring both the West and East team on a one-day breather. Below is a chart of the total games on equal rest and those that feature rest advantages:

2015 non-conference rest

 

The advantage of playing games on more rest than an opponent goes to the East, 108 to the West’s 104, but the West holds arguably the most important rest advantage: Games with rest vs squads on back-to-backs, 69 games to 65 but also a 60 to 49 edge in games at home vs squads on a back-to-back. An advantage for the East is having six more games where they’ll have more rest vs opponents coming off a one-day break, best when an opponent is in the middle of a stretch of four games in five nights or three in four.

Of course, not all back-to-backs are equal. A back-to-back combo of Philadelphia and Boston is less intimidating than 2/3 of the Texas Triangle. Then again, the Knicks went 2-1 through the Spurs, Rockets, and Mavericks. Injuries and mid-season trades also happen, though the latter not nearly as often as in the past.

Predictions for teams and conferences is pointless to me, but I still see a top-5 point differential for the West with the reason as simple as the West remaining lo-o-o-oaded. That prediction isn’t as bold as saying the West will record their best ever winning percentage versus the East, but like last year a ton would have to go wrong for that to have a chance of happening. For the sake of a great season and competitive balance, hopefully Derrick Rose and the Bulls stay healthy, Toronto picks up where they left off since trading Rudy Gay, Chris Bosh returns to a strong #1 option, Cleveland has a hell of a year with LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving, and the middle of the East wins a few more games than last season.

But we’re still over two months away from the regular season, which I struggle to accept. First hopeful thing comes first: Hopefully this off-season doesn’t last forever.

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:

per game wsai

per 36 wsai

adv wsai

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.

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