Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cavs Midseason Report


That is a pairing of numbers that is virtually unrecognizable to fans of Cleveland basketball. They represent the Cavaliers' pace exactly halfway through the season. At 33-8, the Cavs are neck and neck with the Lakers, Celtics and Magic for the best record in the NBA.

The Cavs finished the first half in impressive fashion, taking 3 of 4 on a west coast swing that saw them win in some of the Western Conference's toughest arenas. The Cavs were missing 40 percent of their starting lineup and were battling colds and nagging injuries to escape a grueling swing that could have easily been 0-4. After all, their 3 wins came by a combined 12 points.

So, now that the most scintillating half season in Cavs history is over, McBone has prepared a report card. It was rather hard to find much to complain about.


PG: Mo Williams. When Danny Ferry made the deal to acquire Mo Williams for Joe Smith and a box of scraps (Damon Jones), most agreed that the Cavs had made a major upgrade at a position that had been a weakness since the departure of Andre Miller about 100 years ago. Since then we've seen a lot of junk come and go, mostly spare parts like Kevin Ollie, Jeff McInnis, Milt Palacio, Bimbo Coles, and, of course, year after year after year of Eric Snow. Mo came to town with a reputation for scoring in bunches and playing little defense. His pledge to fill whatever roll was asked of him has proved not just empty rhetoric. Mo has been everything the Cavaliers needed and more, a masterful scorer, a capable defender, an adept ballhandler and a skilled passer who has meshed perfectly with his teammates. Mo deserves to be an all-star this year. He probably won't be, which is a damned shame. Grade: A

SG: Delonte West. As important as the trade for Williams has been, Delonte West's move to the two has been just as critical. Now playing his natural position, West is playing by far the best ball of his career. Never forcing a thing, his jumper has become a dagger and his defense is dogged enough to make fans forget he is undersized. He's also proficient enough at the point to give the Cavs three playmakers in the starting lineup. It's no coincidence that the Cavs have lost a few road games since he broke his wrist in a nasty fall. Luckily, he won't be gone too long. West gets extra points for confronting his bouts with depression and being ready to start the season in a good state of mind. Grade A.

SF: LeBron James. For much of the season LeBron has been playing in a state of athletic grace. Aside from a couple of clunkers, he has been far and away the best player in the league on any given night. His jumper is looking better than ever and his free throw shooting is way up as well, a testament to the hard work he puts in with assistant coach, Chris Jent. As ever, his passing and rebounding have been superb, and his defense merits first team recognition. What really has been off the charts however, are his leadership skills. LBJ isn't afraid to give it to his teammates when he doesn't like something, and often he leads the huddle during timeouts. Grade: MVP

PF: Ben Wallace. I was one of many who thought Ben Wallace was done. Watching him was painful at times last season, when he seemed earth bound and open dunks were routinely swatted away by the rim. And yet, what a difference a healthy back makes. Now that his minutes are closer to what a backup would play, around 25-28 per game, Ben is once again rebounding, blocking shots and generally making life miserable for would be scorers. His reemergence in the low block, along with West's perimeter defense, is the biggest reason why the Cavs are playing the best defense in the league. Still, there are nights when Ben looks a little old out there, especially on the second night of back to backs. Grade B+

C: Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Like a fine wine. His rebounding is down, but his jump shooting has elevated to a new level. No one complains about Big Z's heavy contract anymore. Now people talk about how many more years he will play. Well, I'm here to say that if Ilgauskas can continue shoot like was before his ankle injury, even taking and making three pointers, he can stay in the league for a long, long time. He will always be 7 feet tall with a knack for offensive boards. He will always make his free throws. He will always bother anyone trying to get to the rim. Give him an extension now. Grade: A-


F/C Anderson Varejao. He's the most valuable reserve big man in the game, and not just for his defense anymore. Though he may look slightly ungainly in the pivot, his footwork is superb. His 54 percent shooting leads the team and even his free throw shooting isn't the disgrace it once was. Still, defense is Varejao's calling card, and he's a complete master of getting under his opposite number's skin. This guy will want a big contract after this season. Give it to him. He could easily be a 10 and 10 guy as a starter. Grade: A-

G Daniel Gibson. No one can fault Boobie's effort, but, a few clutch shots aside, his lights-out jumpshot just hasn't been there all season. A mediocre ballhandler at best, he's an even worse one-on-one defender who simply can't seem to stay on his feet when his opponent throws a headfake. He's a fairly decent team defender, but really, if Gibson can't shoot better than 39 percent from the floor, he's very limited. His free throw shooting has been spotty at best this season too. Grade: C.

G/F Wally Szczerbiak. May be the team leader in enthusiasm. Like Gibson, Wally is a limited player who needs to make shots. He is routinely attacked on the defensive end, and with good reason, because his feet are like cement blocks when it comes to lateral movement. He's still got a few tricks left on offense though, and at times he's been a valuable reserve. But unlike in past seasons, when he wasn't a Cavalier, he never really seems to get very hot. Definitely on the downside of what was a pretty decent career. Look for him and his mammoth, expiring contract to be traded before the deadline, though this team has such good chemistry, Danny Ferry may not risk it. Grade: C

G/F Sasha Pavlovic. Sasha, who every season finds himself in Mike Brown's doghouse, is probably the most talented reserve on the roster. A strong, quick, explosive athlete, it seems the only thing keeping him from becoming a really excellent player is his head. Delonte West's broken wrist has meant extended minutes for Sasha, and he has come through in a major way. In five games since being inserted as a starter, he's averaged 11-4-4 and shooting better than 5o percent from the field, helping his team go 4-1. His defense, as always, has been exemplary. This is my annual plea for this guy to get 25-30 minutes a night and live with his occasion disappearances on offense. On a team that preaches defense as holy, I don't see any reason why he can't steal all of Wally's minutes, and some of Boobie's too. Grade: B (and rising)

J.J. Hickson. This is one hell of a talented and athletic big man, a born scorer and shot blocker that has only to improve his fundamentals to become a major impact player. I give him two seasons before he explodes into the athletic forward he is destined to be. What needs most improvement is his footwork (he travels EVERY time he gets the ball in the post, which is whistled about 1/4 of the time), his team defense and his boxing out. When all that comes together, watch out. Grade: C

F Darnell Jackson. A bruising, burly power forward who will be a fine rebounder/defender one day. Jackson also has what looks to be an accurate jumper from within 15 feet. He's nowhere near the talent that Hickson is, but is a hard worker and should be a fine backup big man for many years, sort of in the Mark West mold. Grade: C-

F/C Lorenzen Wright. Completely washed up in every way. Lorenzen's value has been primarily as a cheerleader, where he actually has been quite valuable. Grade: D (would be an F if not for his enthusiasm and excellent taste in clothes)

G Tarance Kinsey. Kinsey has shown flashes of why the Cavs rewarded him with a two-year deal. He's quick and can get the ball in the hoop. Still, if he's getting extended minutes, there's either a blowout or an injury going on. Grade: C

G Jawad Williams. A hard-working, local-boy-makes-good story. I have no idea what kind of player Williams is, and I sure hope I don't find out anytime soon. Grade: NA

Coach: Mike Brown. Quietly, Mike Brown has put the offense into the hands of his assistant coaches. That shows signs of maturity as a coach and he has been rewarded by his players with the best record in the NBA and the best half-season in Cavs history. More than ever, his defensive mindset has paid off. The Cavs are holding opponenets to 90 points per game, best in the league. They are also beating teams by an average of 10 points, also a league best. Brown has taken a lot of heat in the past that he didn't deserve, now he should get some of the praise that he has earned. Grade is bumped a notch for favoring Wally over Sasha. Grade: A-

GM: Danny Ferry. Bringing in Mo Williams this year, and Delonte West and Ben Wallace late last year has been a bigger coup than I could have ever imagined. I'm not sure Ferry needs to do anything this year for the Cavs to win a title (another scoring big man wouldn't hurt), but I'm confident that if he does do something, it will be for the good of the team. Grade: A

I still think the Cavs will make the finals, beating Boston to win the East. However, my preseason prediction that New Orleans would be their opponent was way off. It will take a serious injury or maybe the San Antonio Spurs to beat the Lakers in the West. However, if the Cavs are to win the title, as predicted here, they will need to get healthy and stay healthy. They are a deep team, but they need their starters back if they are to survive the grueling path to a title.



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good post, Nate.

Better hope Delonte comes back 'cause you're gonna need 'em come playoff time.

We'll be ready come March 6th. In the meantime, I'll be rooting for the C's against the Lakers in the TD Banknorth Garden come Thursday night. There will be no Kobe thrown' down 61 on that night, I can guarantee.