I was ambivalent about the Cavs’ direction heading into last night’s game against the Knicks. Sure, they went 1-4 over a homestretch in which they could have easily changed the complexion of the season by winning just three of these very winnable games.
Maybe they hit a funk. I don’t know. But then the Cavs got up on national television, against a terrible team, and proclaimed their entrance into the Andrew Wiggins Sweepstakes. There was a little bit of everything on display; a smorgasbord of ineptitude, if you will.
With Anderson Varejao out these past two games, we saw a glimpse of the core that’s supposed to usher in the new era of Cavaliers basketball. That core simply isn’t that good, from players to coach.
Mike Brown certainly plays as big a part as any. Offensively, the team generally doesn’t have much going on; you usually see one action, and after guys finish their action, they just stand around and hope that first option they performed their action for works. The team generally thrives off the natural basketball talent and/or high IQ of Deng, Dion Waiters, C.J. Miles, Kyrie, and God Varejao creating something out of nothing after broken sets.
He has a starting lineup with five players all above a 15 PER (the average PER), and one of the best bench scorers in the NBA. As a coach in a terrible conference, you should be able to play mediocre ball with that squad. Even Tyler Zeller, Varejao’s replacement for these past two games, has put up a very solid 14.16 PER this season.
One of the five players with an above-average PER, Miles, is only playing 20 minutes per game since the arrival of Deng, despite averaging nine points on 46/41/100 shooting splits.
Jarrett Jack is logging half a minute more than Miles. He’s averaging six points per game on 35/39/88 shooting splits. His time on the court has not only cut into Miles’ playing time, but Waiters’ also– who carried the team’s bench this season, and is among the best bench scores in the league.
Waiters is down from 30 minutes per game, to 25.7. He’s logged 30+ minutes three times since the trade, just once more than he’s logged sub-20.
Designing the rotation is one of the million dollar decisions the Cavs pay Brown to make, and much to our chagrin, he’s failed.
Not only is Jack posting terrible numbers, but somehow his personal basic stats are the highlight of his season.
Jack has the worst court-vision of any guard on the team, yet when he plays, he’s almost always the primary ball-handler. This leads to a lot of open guys in the corners/wings getting snubbed, and a lot of forced passes into a packed paint. He’s also the most selfish player on the team, which earned him the nickname “Jacking Jumpers”. Jacking Jumpers is partially a nickname, partially an alter-ego, and ultimately a name for the period of the game when Jack checks in and chucks contested mid-range jumper after jumper– engulfing the momentum of the Cavs like an arrhythmic, unconscionable black hole.
The result of Jack playing for 20-30 minutes on any given night is Kyrie ranking 15th in both touches per game and time of possession.
Jack’s chemistry with Waiters is just as bad. The numbers are favorable, but it’s mostly due to Waiters’ huge bursts with bench units when he’s the ball-dominant player in lineups where Jack, Dellavedova, and others simply act as floor-spacers to the Waiters show. Whenever a wild Jacking Jumpers appears, Waiters’ production usually falls off. Evidence of this lies in the top-3 3-man units that have received >25 minutes this year all include Waiters with Miles and/or Dellavedova and no Jack– lineups that are almost exclusively used with bench units.
The collection of guards has made it pretty clear who deserves playing time.
I’ve killed Jack this year, I’ve killed Brown for playing Jack this year, but this commitment to playing Jack is reaching Kendrick Perkins levels of incongruity.
Brown has also, judging by the product on the court and reports, lost control of the team for the third time this season– marking the sixth time in his career he’s lost control of a team. I know this is completely subjective, but there is no way Lionel Hollins or George Karl lose control of this team, nor coach a team to this… just saying.
If the Cavs split games with the Bobcats (without Al Jefferson), Pelicans, Celtics, didn’t blow a game against the Bucks without four key players, beat the Bulls without Rose and Deng, and didn’t get embarrassed on their home floor by Detroit or Washington, they would be a playoff team. If they went 6-4 in 10 of the easiest games of the year, they would be the 7th seed in the playoffs with an eye on 6th. With a team that’s not terrible talent-wise, I can’t help but place a lot of blame on the coach.
In other words: The Cavs have faced the league’s easiest schedule, and despite that, are even with the Boston Celtics in the win column.
That’s my riff on Brown. He’s not a good coach, very stubborn, not creative, and should probably be fired.
However, I’m starting to think that his awful coaching is a blessing in disguise.
If you factor out Varejao, who is gone after this season, this doesn’t resemble a team that should make the playoffs in a typical season. Maybe we should be happy with this result.
Clark and Bennett, for the most part, have been inadequate NBA players; Zeller still needs to add strength in order to not get completely muscled out of half the games he plays in; and Jack has been a detriment to say the least.
Thompson is not yet a starting power forward for a good team. He’s a fine player, but this season, he’s roughly the 22nd-25th best starting power forward in the league. He isn’t a rim-protector, can’t shoot, and is an enigma. That’s not to say he hasn’t improved, or won’t improve further. He is 12 & 9 per game with nice hedging, and that is all.
Personally, I don’t know if I’m even convinced he’s the right starting power forward for this team; his combination of awful finishing and inability to shoot is the perfect storm to counter-act the penetrating abilities of Kyrie and Waiters, the team’s best playmakers. There is no telling how ugly things could get if he played next to the rim-protector the Cavs desperately need.
While it’s nice to see a team take off in year-3, the Cavs just aren’t there yet, and they should act accordingly.
They simply aren’t that talented. You look at the roster and see Anthony Bennett, Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark, Alonzo Gee, and we want to say they are average. We have learned this season that those players are well below average.
Coming into the year, we all believed these players would be average. The Cavaliers bought the dream of the playoffs early on based on the incoming talent. Now that it’s apparent no talent came in, this should be a dream deferred.
This is not a pro-tank piece. (If they continue to start Jarrett Jack, they will do so unintentionally). I am still a fan of keeping Luol Deng, if he can be extended for a reasonable price. I am pro adding and retaining talented players, as long as they are building blocks.
I am just saying, the Cavs have reached the point where they should begin planning for next season. That means trading Varejao, deciding if they want to extend Deng, and committing to playing Bennett.
There is no point in putting on airs for free agents anymore. Nobody will be fooled by a playoff berth if we trade Dion Waiters for short-term veteran talent. Ultimately, that would come back to haunt us.
It’s time to cut loose any player who won’t be of value past this season. It’s time to trade vets, experiment with a stretch-4 (who makes shots, i.e. not Clark), evaluate the core, and let the nature of the NBA schedule take the Cavs where it may.
Many people are probably opposed to the waiting for the draft because “young talent has not brought us anywhere.” The key word there is talent. This team has a lot of young players, but not much talent. A team doesn’t have enough young talent after three drafts; a team has enough young talent when they have enough talent.
Of their picks in the past few years, I am confident Waiters and Kyrie will be good enough to play 25+ minutes for a contending team. Thompson looks like he can be a contender’s third-big, Zeller looks like he’ll be a cog with a few more lbs, and Bennett is well… he’s Bennett. That’s not a reliable core, especially since the best two players have some chemistry issues.
This team has major problems at center, small forward (depending on Deng situation), and power forward (somehow) going forward.
The Cavs don’t resemble the Blazers with Batum, Lillard, Aldridge; it’s not the Pacers a year ago with Paul George, Roy Hibbert, and Lance Stpehenson; it’s not even Minnesota with Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, and Ricky Rubio.
Right now, they have a legit young superstar (Kyrie), a guy who is underrated with loads of potential (Waiters), an overrated player who might not be a starter in the long-run (Thompson), a guy who might not be in the league in 2 years (Bennett), a long-term rotation player (Zeller), an underrated, likely irritated shooting guard (Miles), possibly no small forward past this trade deadline, no center past this season, and a smorgasbord of terrible veterans.
Cleveland also has its own pick in a stacked draft, tradeable assets, and a ton of cap space this summer.
A Deng trade makes sense (especially with recent news regarding him), a Varejao trade makes even more sense, and trying to force Jack into a trade would be icing on top of the deadline cake.
They are not good yet, and they should accept it. The whole idea of wooing LeBron by making the playoffs just won’t happen. This team doesn’t need a superficial playoff run.
THEY. NEED. TALENT.