Tag Archives: Joe Harris

Is Virginia Basketball the Bitcoin on the NCAA Basketball?

Has anyone but the most ardent Virginia basketball fan heard of Kihie Clark and Kody Strattmann? For those with better things to do, that is your UVa 2018 basketball recruiting class. Any guess where this recruiting class is ranked in the ACC? Don’t bother looking it up. It’s last. There is a chance Virginia could add a name or two to the ’18 class, but don’t bet a week’s pay on it. Worried? Don’t be.

If anyone is concerned about the future of Virginia basketball, please watch Devon Hall play this year. Hall is not only a a top statistical performer for the team, he is a floor leader, a general who knows what Coach Bennett wants at all times. He is like having an assistant coach running the offense and setting the defense in real time. Not many top programs have this type of player anymore. Virginia makes a living off of guys like this and will continue to do so in the future.

Let’s face the reality of Virginia basketball – Tony Bennett runs a different program compared to most of the other top tier teams in the country. Virginia’s defense grabs most of the headlines from the national media who generally are too simple-minded to appreciate the skill and teamwork of great defense. They want all icing & no cake, so when Virginia basketball fails to look like the mind-numbing NBA, they complain that they are bored. Too bad for them. Like good scotch, Virginia basketball is a taste worth acquiring.

However, where Tony Bennett really excels, where he is radically different in his program strategy, and where he makes his bones winning lots of basketball games is in his roster management and player development.

It is hard to argue with CTB’s results bringing Virginia back to the conversation of the elite teams in the country. It is just an unusual path. Like the value of bitcoin, fan confidence in the future success of the Virginia program is based on trust. And like bitcoin, there are likely to be spikes and crashes in the public perception of his roster management and his recruiting. The results to date are stellar however, so fans should trust his system, trust his eye for talent, and trust his ability to develop talent over a college career. Ahhh…. the multi-year college career. We don’t hear much about that anymore, with the exception of UVa and maybe Wisconsin & Villanova, but it is a crucial part of Tony Bennett’s strategy and Virginia’s success.

It is important to get two things out in the open that will not change for Virginia basketball:

  1. Virginia will never land top 15 recruits who are likely “one & done” players. Nor will Virginia land top 40 recruits who think they are one & done, but really aren’t. In Tony Bennett’s system, a top 40 recruit, pretending to be a college student for 6 months, who is not committed to intensely effective defense will sit on the bench. Think that is an attractive option to prima donna kids who think they are the next LeBron James?
  1. Malcolm Brogdon winning the NBA rookie of the year will do nothing to help Virginia’s recruiting with top 40 kids. Brogdon is the poster-child for Virginia athletics. Virginia fans love Malcolm Brogdon, but that carries no weight with high school kids looking for a basketball home. A true student-athlete, had he not made it in the NBA, Brogdon’s fall back was likely medical school. He went to college for 5 years and finished with 2 degrees. How appealing is that to hot-shot high school kids who have no real interest in 5 months of college education, much less 5 years and 2 degrees? Not very.

This is not to say that the Virginia program is void of ACC talent. Quite the contrary. It is just different than any other program in the ACC and most programs in the nation. CTB and his staff find the right “fits” for the program and develop that talent over time. London Perentes anyone? Joe Harris? Both of these recruits garnered collective yawns from the recruiting services and did little to boost the “ranking” of Virginia’s recruiting classes – yet both were All-ACC performers and are playing professionally in the NBA (Perentes making his debut with Cleveland last week)

The tough reality for Virginia fans is that recruiting for Tony Bennet is going to run in cycles.

Scan Virginia’s roster and you will find 5 active redshirt players (Devon Hall, Mamadi Diakite, Jack Salt, Jay Huff, & De’Andre Hunter), with a 6th (Francesco Bodocci) in progress. Intermixed with the redshirt players are talented recruits who have played since their arrival in Charlottesville.

A couple of interesting points about the redshirt strategy at Virginia besides the fact that I love it: First, if CTB can get kids with the maturity and foresight to see the advantages both athletically and academically of taking a redshirt year, Virginia is already ahead of the game. The second key point – not all of the redshirt players are off the radar “fliers”. Diakite, Huff, Hunter, and Hall were all top 40-100 recruits. In each of these instances, Tony Bennett has taken talented, highly recruited kids and taken their least productive years in Charlottesville as overwhelmed freshmen adjusting to the speed of the game and learning Virginia’s stifling pack-line defense and traded it for their most productive year as a 5th-year senior. Devon Hall is the classic example of why this is an outstanding strategy – if you can find the right kids.

The redshirt strategy is also why Virginia’s recruiting will run in maddening cycles. Top 40 kids with talent enough to crack any line-up in the nation aren’t coming to Virginia. Top 40-100 recruits in 2018 look at the Virginia roster and see it is packed with talented players, 4 of whom have a redshirt season under their belts and lots of eligibility remaining. From their view, Virginia might be a 2 year wait before they garner significant minutes. Is anyone shocked those kids have, thus far, decided to start their college careers elsewhere? So for his ’18 class, Coach Bennett made the best pitch he could for kids who would light up the recruiting rankings and missed. Top 100 recruits can look at a roster, watch the steady progression of current players, and decide if Virginia is the right fit for them. In 2018 they decided it wasn’t.

2019 will be a different story. Significant minutes will be up for grabs when Devon Hall, Nigel Johnson, and Isaiah Wilkins graduate. There might still be a wait (or hopefully a redshirt year) in the future for top 100 kids coming to Virginia in the 2019 class, but there are more routes to playing time and the wait for significant minutes might be one year away instead of two.

All of this is not to say there is not risk in Tony Bennett’s strategy. His last two recruiting classes are more “London Perentes” than “Kyle Guy”. Sometimes Bennett misses on a recruit – a player does not develop like we all hope or runs out of patience competing for playing time. From the 2017 & 2018 recruiting classes, I will be shocked if all 4 turn out to be strong ACC players. Maybe he has found the next Jared Reuter instead of the next Joe Harris. We just don’t know yet, but it is highly unlikely that CTB whiffs on all 4 players. It is more likely that CTB found at least 2 more London Perentes or Jack Salts who can help Virginia stay at or near the top of the toughest basketball conference in the nation.

The most important reality for Virginia fans is that there is not another path to basketball relevance. I have not spoken to any fans who want to play the one & done game. That space is already occupied. Kentucky, Duke, and uNC have sacrificed their academic integrity for the right to remain basketball blue bloods. I don’t fault them for it, but it is just the stark reality. Virginia does not have a history and a story to compete for top 15 recruits with these programs, so a head-2-head strategy to “out-Duke” Duke is doomed for failure. So CTB and his staff will compete for kids in the bottom half of the top 100, look for hidden gems, and redshirt as many as possible.

The 2017-18 season is just underway and Virginia has already climbed the polls based on their performance to date and history of quality play the past 6 years. Virginia’s ranking may be a little lofty this early in the season, but this team is packed with talented players many of whom have an extra year of development and maturity under their belts. When March madness rolls around, I expect Virginia to be in the thick of it again – playing maddening defense that will confound opponents and irk journalists. If Virginia is going to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament in March it will be on the backs of redshirt players augmenting the production of Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome.

Virginia won’t have as many NBA players on the roster in 2017-18 as Kentucky or uNC, but they might win as many or more games. Winning is the best and Virginia basketball does it a lot. Winning differently and I would argue in better fashion, is what makes Virginia a truly standout program. We can thank Tony Bennett and his staff for the return to the top of the basketball pyramid, but we have to endure the recruiting realities of being the different kid on the block. My best advice for Virginia fans, trust Coach Bennett, trust the system, trust the recruiting, and strap in, its a good ride – maybe not as good as the bitcoin ride, but it likely has a higher probability for sustained success.

What the Cavs Should be Thankful For

Thanksgiving is upon us. Here at More Than A Fan, we’re thankful for many things including family, friends, and sports. As Cavs writers for the site, Demetri Inembolidis, Eddy Jansen, and yours truly, we wanted to bring you a special Thanksgiving Cavs article for all of you.

We reached out to the fans, asking them what the Cavs should be thankful for.

They’re unlike regular people, but athletes, coaches, and members of the front office all have blessing to count. Luckily, we know exactly what members of the Cavs should be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

The Big 3

Kevin Love Kyrie Irving LeBron James Cavs

Eddy Jansen: LeBron James should be thankful for the fans welcoming him home with open arms. It was by choice, not because of a poor record after the era in which he left. Could the Cavs have built an NBA champion without its superstar like owner Dan Gilbert had foreseen? Probably not, but they could have become a contender by drafting the right players and finding the right coach. Neither of which happened, but that played a minimal role in Clevelanders’ warm welcome for James.

Demetri Inembolidis: Kevin Love should be thankful for being in the perfect situation. Sure, he hasn’t been playing up to his standards. That will come with time if he lets the game come to him. He hasn’t once scored 26 points this year, which happened to be his season average last year. That doesn’t matter so much because he is too talented and too perfect of a fit for this roster to not have everything fall into place.

Dan Armelli: Kyrie Irving should be thankful that he’s not “the man” anymore. He seems as relaxed as he’s ever been as a Cav. Even though he may not have less pressure than he’s had in the past, he’s not the one that has to answer to all of the Cavs’ struggles anymore. He doesn’t have everyone looking up to him and he doesn’t have to carry this team to wins every night. He has loads of help now and he can just go out and play, which is what he’s been doing.

Other Cavs

Jansen: Brendan Haywood should definitely be thankful for his salary. While his acquisition was clearly intended as a trade asset, Haywood in the meantime has logged a grand total of 19 minutes this season. Per hour, he is receiving more income than most full time emploWill Cherry Cavsyees make. And he is Brendan Haywood.

Inembolidis: Joe Harris and Will Cherry should be thankful for the opportunity that they have. Much like the Heat were, the Cavs are a top-heavy team. Miami rounded out the roster using ring-chasing veterans who were on their last leg. The Cavs are also doing that, but they have real rotation minutes available to guys like Joe Harris and Will Cherry. If they can play on this stage, it will do wonders for their careers.

Armelli: Dion Waiters should be thankful for Dion Waiters. This probably seems fitting to a lot of you, but I think it’s true. Dion gets criticized left and right, in wins and losses, in good personal performances and bad. Sometimes he deserves it, sometimes he doesn’t. But he’s had four different head coaches in four different years and it doesn’t seem that anyone hesitates to bury the guy. Thankfully, Dion is the type of player that will stick to his game – sometimes to a fault – but also tries to adjust to what his team is trying to do. Under so much scrutiny, I’m not sure many other guys could handle it.

 

Cavs Personnel

Milwaukee Bucks v Cleveland Cavaliers

Jansen: David Blatt could be thankful that LeBron is more or less a player coach, but truth be told, when power is taken away from a coach, the results can be undesirable. One of the great attributes of the San Antonio Spurs’ small market heroes Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli is that they let coach Gregg Popovich run the controls. LeBron seldom does that. But whether Blatt is thankful for that, is truly up to him.

Inembolidis: Dan Gilbert should be thankful for second chances. I’m older than LeBron James, yet I don’t think I would carry the level of maturity necessary to forgive Dan Gilbert for things that he said in the letter. I have consistently maintained that people are unfair to Dan Gilbert for the letter while completely glossing over the fact that the local-kid-turned-star-player left on reality TV. Having said that, there was some scathing stuff in that letter. LeBron James is a bigger man than I and I am glad that they were able to bury the hatchet. It seems obvious now that it happened, but having LeBron James return seems like the biggest of long shot odds if you take a step back and look at the situation.

Armelli: David Griffin should be thankful that patience is a virtue. This is a guy that stayed in the Cavaliers organization under Danny Ferry and Chris Grant, even though he had other offers elsewhere. Even after all the hell the organization went through after LeBron left, he stayed. This move paid off, as now he’s the GM of a championship contending team, with Griffin being a big reason for that. As a cancer survivor, we probably really shouldn’t be surprised that he made it through the toughest times with the Cavs. Thankfully for us, he’s here and has built a great team.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Jansen: The Cavs will be thankful for Matthew Dellavedova when he returns from an MCL sprain. No one figured his absences would through things this far out of the loop. Shawn Marion was forced into the starting shooting guard role; a position he has not played for almost a decade. Blatt has experimented with Dion Waiters, Will Cherry, Joe Harris, and Mike Miller at the two guard spot, but Delly should start immediately when he is healthy enough.Anderson Varejao dunk Cavs

Inembolidis: The Cavs should be thankful for the season being young. Their record is less than ideal and they are only beating teams by an average of 1.6 PPG after 13 games. Luckily for them, they are creeping up the ladder statistically in the defensive department. A few weeks ago, they were the 2nd worst defense in the NBA (ahead of only the Lakers). They are currently ranked 20th. The goal was always to be a respectable defensive team. The chemistry is improving and they should be able to get to a level of play that has mediocre defense and elite offense sooner than later.

Armelli: The Cavs should be thankful Anderson Varejao is staying healthy (KNOCKS ON WOOD/FINGERS CROSSED/THROWS SALT OVER SHOULDER). Andy is a guy that has connections to the old Cavs, like Kyrie, Dion, and Tristan, as well as the new Cavs – LeBron. Andy’s able to bridge the chemistry gap, and it’s shown. He’s been the primary pick-and-roll partner with both Kyrie and LeBron this season, and he was shooting 59.2% (2nd in the East among qualifiers) going into last night’s game against the Wizards. He’s not the rim protector the Cavs need, but he’s a reliable offensive player who makes the hustle plays and still provides that patented Varejao energy.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and thanks for choosing to spend part of your holiday on More Than A Fan.

Cavs Need Help on the Perimeter

It’s been a mixed bag to start the season for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They’re 5-4 in the first nine games of the season. They lost their highly anticipated home opener, but they responded by beating a division rival on the road. They lost two in a row on the road, and then won all four games after that. They’ve been blown out but they’ve also blown out their opponent. On the surface, it pretty much has gone as some expected; it’s tough to blow the doors off every team with a team that was mostly assembled in the matter of a couple months.

It’s obvious this team has a ton of talent. After a roller coaster start, the Cavs have had great moments, but they’ve also had some downfalls. Some expected, some unexpected. A lot of people figured the weak link of this team would be its defense. But it’s possible they’re playing worse on this side of the ball than anyone predicted.

The number one thing people talked about preceding the season as the missing link of this Cavs team was a rim protector. About three weeks into the season, and people still understandably feel this way. The post defense hasn’t been great, as witnessed Monday night in the Cavs surprising loss to the middling Nuggets. Starting bigs Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao struggled handling Denver’s bigger post players, leading the latter to play only 18 minutes, his lowest output as a starter since December 4, 2010 (a game in which Kevin Love scored 28 [5-5 from 3-pt] and grabbed 19 rebounds).

Anyway, while the struggles of the bigs on defense will take up a lot of the focus, the backcourt has struggles as well. With Shawn Marion coming on defensively as of late, this mostly includes LeBron James, Dion Waiters, and Kyrie Irving, as well as reserves such as Joe Harris and Mike Miller. Looking at that list, all of them, with the exception of Mike Miller, are capable of playing at least good defense. The rest have been somewhat of a quagmire thus far.

Everyone knows what LeBron is capable of. I don’t have to go into great deal to explain what he can do on both ends of the floor. However, the effort he’s shown sometimes is just inexcusable. I get not having the chemistry to be able to be a great consistent defense from night-to-night or even possession-to-possession. But a lack of effort wasn’t something I was prepared for when I was thinking about what would be the downfall of this team. LeBron, as the best player on the team and someone these guys all look up to, needs to start giving his all as much as he can. Part of this may be his minutes, as he’s 3rd in the NBA in minutes per game played. Still, it’s early in the season, and if he’s going to talk about his teammates’ bad habits, he needs to show them the right way to play the game.

So far, as LeBron goes, so has the team. This isn’t necessarily a good thing either as when LeBron has struggled, whether it has been on offense or defense, the rest of the team has followed, especially in the second meeting versus Denver. Whenever LeBron looks disinterested, which has been too often, a lot of his teammates have followed suit.

Moving on from the effort, Kyrie and Dion do seem to be giving a more concerted effort on defense. This is great for both players, as over the past few years they have been lackadaisical on that side of the floor. However, sometimes it’s still not enough.

After the Denver loss, ESPN’s Tim Legler did a tremendous job picking out the problems in the Cavs defense from that night. This is something I wish ESPN would do more of instead of just having talking heads bicker at each other and threatening athletes just to get ratings. Legler noted the Cavs inability to consistently guard the pick and roll as well as them falling asleep at the wheel. Some of these things the Cavs can fix and some – like effort – are things the Cavs need to fix.

I think the Cavs can better their situation internally. As mention earlier, it is possible LeBron has been saving himself because of the amount of minutes he’s played so early in the season. The injury to Matthew Dellavedova, forcing LeBron’s backup Shawn Marion to be the starting shooting guard, may have impeded David Blatt’s desire to have LeBron sit more. Even still, LeBron was played over 40 minutes in the first two games when Delly was healthy.

Another way, internally, the Cavs can fix their defensive problems is just by osmosis. Playing together and knowing where each of their teammates are on the floor, where they’re going to be, and what their responsibilities are will help their defensive process. Two of these examples are in the Legler video. A month from now, I’m guessing we won’t be talking about Kevin Love helping on the wrong side of a pick and roll. And hopefully we’re not talking about Joe Harris leaving his man open to help on a drive that he should have no business helping on.

The Cavs best chance to “fix” the defense on the perimeter is acquiring a piece from another team.

I’d like this move for the Cavs. Corey Brewer is a player that I’ve had fun watching, albeit not regularly (opinions of players can change once you watch them 82 times. See: Jarrett Jack.) Brewer’s not a tremendous player, but he’s one that fits with what the Cavs need right now, save for a big man. One of his best qualities is his defensive ability. If the Cavs brought him in, Brewer could help guard in-conference players like Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, DeMar DeRozan, Bradley Beal.

Brewer would help in so many areas. He’d probably be the best defender coming off the bench for the Cavs. Having him on the team would enable LeBron to sit more and hopefully let him play hard every play. This would also save him from being overworked before the playoffs even start.

Kevin Love and Corey Brewer

Another aspect I would… “love” about bringing Brewer in is the four and half seasons (two stints) playing with Kevin Love as a member of the Timberwolves. Brewer and Love made up arguably the best transition offensive batteries in the NBA. Love’s outlet passing ability and Brewer’s athletic prowess helped the Timberwolves finish in the top ten in the league in fastbreak points per game in 2009-10 (8th in the NBA, 15.1 points per game), and last year in 2013-14 (7th, 16.0), according to teamrankings.com. The Cavs already rank 4th in this category at 15.8 points per game, and adding Brewer should help them get more easy buckets on the run.

As Marc Stein said, it should take a (second round) pick or two to get Brewer on the Cavs. Anything higher than that and it probably wouldn’t be worth it. Though the Cavs’ own first rounders won’t be high picks, they could still probably be used in a better capacity. Brewer’s a fine player, but probably not worth even a late first rounder. Besides, the Timberwolves has wings to spare and with Brewer set to have a $4.9 million player option after this year, it’s doubtful the Wolves would want that on their hands. They’re going to want to get something in return. Brewer’s $4.7 million he’s owed this year fits nicely into the Cavs’ $5.3 million (roughly) trade exception they got for trading Keith Bogans.

I’m for acquiring Corey Brewer, as long as the Wolves aren’t asking for anything more than what we’ve been told they’d be getting. Along with reuniting the Brew Crew and the Love Machine, time and the Cavs learning how to play with each other as a unit should be able to improve their perimeter defense.

Who Should Start When Dellavedova Returns?

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova will be out 4-6 weeks with a sprained MCL, reported ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. Delly suffered the injury in the Cavs’ road loss to the Trail Blazers last week.

With the Australian point guard out of action, this left David Blatt to bring Dion Waiters off the bench. This enabled the Cavs to fill the backup point guard position. This also meant Shawn Marion would start in Waiters’s place.

It seems ever since Dion was drafted fourth overall by the Cavs in 2012, it’s been a raging debate as to whether or not he should come off the bench. He came off the bench at Syracuse. He was benched by Byron Scott. And last year, he was benched by Mike Brown. Now, albeit under very different circumstances, Waiters has been sent to the bench by his fourth coach in as many years.

With this in mind, and with Waiters scoring his season high 17 points off the bench in a win versus Denver, I think it’s fair to have a conversation about who starts once Delly comes back from injury. Let’s take a look at the possibilities:

Dion Waiters

Currently, Dion is dealing with his own injury, a minor one compared to Dellavedova’s projected rehab time. Blatt said he’s hopeful Dion will come back from his back injury suffered in the Denver game by Friday’s game in Boston.

Anyway, it makes sense that Dion would return to his starting role once Delly comes back, considering the latter’s injury is perceivably the only reason Waiters was moved to the bench.

However, Dion’s best game in this young season came off the bench versus the Nuggets. In his career, he’s played more games as a starter (75) than coming off the bench (61) – including games this season. However, it’s arguable that he’s been a better bench player throughout his career. As a bench player, he sports a better field goal percentage (42.9% to 41.6%), 3-point percentage (35.1% to 33.7%), and true shooting percentage (50.8% to 49.2%) than when he starts. There isn’t an incredible difference between these percentages, but there is consistency.

dion-waiters-92f3795f43d72870

Even if you throw out those stats, I still think Dion would be better suited coming off the bench. This wasn’t my initial opinion going into the season, but his game against Denver showed me he can accept the bench role, thrive in it, and help the team win.

Dion’s kind of in a tough place if indeed his main goal is to start again (which I hope/don’t believe is true). If he starts to play worse coming off the bench, it’ll be hard for David Blatt to trust him in a starting role again. If he thrives like I expect him to off the bench, then why mess with that?

Dion should still get plenty of opportunities to play with LeBron as a reserve. I also don’t think it helps Dion or the team if he’s the best player on the floor for the Cavs at any given time. Having LeBron/Kyrie Irving/Kevin Love on the floor with him should give him more incentive to distribute the ball. This will be crucial when Delly is out and hopefully will carry over when Delly comes back.

Shawn Marion

The 36 year-old in his 16th year has filled in as the Cavs’ starting 2-guard these last few games.

I was pretty surprised Blatt chose Marion as Dion’s replacement for a couple reasons. First, Marion struggled to start the season, both on offense and a little bit on defense. It was somewhat of a surprise, but still, he’s at the end of his career on a completely new team. It was probably logical to think he’d struggle some right off the bat. Second, he’s not known as a shooting guard. According to basketball-reference, Marion’s played shooting guard 3% of the time in his entire career. In his 129 minutes with the Cavs this year, he’s played 2-guard 66% of his minutes.

The swap of Waiters for Marion looks like it’s paying off as the Cavs are 2-1 since Marion’s been the starter. Both of them have looked pretty improved as well, especially Marion. He was okay in his first start, collecting 3 blocks in the loss against Utah. After that, he had his two best games of the season. He finished the Denver game as the Cavs’ power forward, defending former Cavs great Alonzo Gee and Wilson Chandler. Late against the Pelicans, the Cavs had Marion guard Anthony Davis. This just shows how his defensive versatility allows the Cavs to mix and match their lineups to their favor.

Marion also is a great fit with the starting lineup, which is why I think he’ll continue to start when Delly comes back. Playing with Kyrie, LeBron, Love, and even Anderson Varejao, the Cavs don’t need the 2-guard to be taking shots. This fits well with Marion, as a lot of his value will and has come on the defensive end. That’s not to say Marion can’t help the Cavs on offense, because he’s already shown he can with a pair of 3-pointers and eight offensive boards. But the Cavs don’t need to force the issue when Marion is the fourth/fifth option on the court.

Mike Miller

Cleveland+Cavaliers+v+Denver+Nuggets+VFfT4iCBlJPl

Miller is who I thought the Cavs would’ve started over Waiters if it came down to bench him to be the backup point guard. Again, Marion’s lack of time as a shooting guard made it more feasible that Miller, who’s played 31% of his minutes at the 2-guard position, would get the nod as the starter.

Most of the things that I’ve said about Marion fit with Miller as well. There’s no need to force him the ball, but if he’s left open, which could often happen with The Big 3 out there, he can make defenses pay with his sharpshooting abilities. He also still has some defensive ability left in him, though it’s not what it once was and he doesn’t offer the versatility Marion does. Miller will have the same role no matter who’s on the court: he’ll be out there to knock down deep shots, keep the offense flowing, and play decent defense. That’s why having him come off the bench and having Marion begin with the starters makes more sense.

Also, Miller has enough competition to worry about. I’m talking about rookie Joe Harris, who played a minute more than Miller did in the win over New Orleans on Tuesday. Harris came in for Miller in crunch time with over five minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Cavs up by three.

Harris won’t start, but he’s a guy that has impressed me since he was drafted, when GM David Griffin raved about him. After playing only seven minutes in the Cavs’ first five games, his playing time soared to 20 minutes against the Pelicans. He was impressive as well, scoring five points. And although he was 1-4 from 3-pt land, he never seemed timid when he got the ball, an extraordinary trait for a rookie.

Harris almost certainly won’t start this season, barring a ridiculous string of injuries. It’d be best if he learns how to play as a reserve and earn the team’s trust before he gets a big promotion and starts with three All Stars. However, he could cut into Miller’s time since he has the potential to be a better version of present day Mike Miller.

2014-15 Cavs Roundtable Preview

The 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers season is upon us, ladies and gentleman, and we here at More Than A Fan: Cleveland could not be anymore excited. We’re so excited, in fact, that we just had to put a roundtable preview together for all of you to read. We want you to be as ready and excited for what is supposed to be an epic season as we are.

Contributing to this preview with me are fellow MTAF Cavs writers Demetri Inembolidis and Eddy Jansen. If you haven’t done so, make it a point to check out what they write. I know I enjoy reading their work and you will too.

I think I can speak for all of us when I say this was a fun project to work on. There are obviously enormously different aspects of this year’s Cavs team than in the previous four years. This includes everything from LeBron James coming back to the absurdly humungous new scoreboard Owner Dan Gilbert is spoiling us with.

Here, we’ll talk about what to expect from the team as a whole and from the individual players. Also, we’ve added some quick predictions for this upcoming season throughout the NBA including awards and who will be in the Finals.

Without further ado, here’s what we think you should watch for as this Cavs season begins.

Cavs Preview

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dROfopwKxOI

What is the Cavs’ biggest strength?

Demetri Inembolidis: The obvious answer is offense. They will have answers for any defense that is thrown at them. They have elite three point shooters, great passers at multiple positions and high basketball IQ guys. A LeBron James/Kevin Love pick-and-roll with Kyrie Irving and any combination of Dion Waiters, Mike Miller or Matthew Dellavedova lurking beyond the three-point line has so many potent options.

It’s going to be a fun year.

Eddy Jansen: The greatest strength is floor spacing. Whenever LeBron, Irving, or Love goes to the rim, they will always draw a double team. Sharpshooters Mike Miller, James Jones, Dion Waiters, and others will see their 3-pt percentages jump through the roof with so many open looks.

Dan Armelli: Transition offense. The Cavs have a great mix of incredible athletes, smart players, and talented passers. These are all needed in order to be a great team in transition. We all talked about it before preseason, and we saw it on the court: Kevin Love is a tremendous outlet passer on the break. Then you include guys like LeBron, Tristan, Dion, etc. who can finish with a thunderous dunk? It’s going to be something for opposing teams to be cognizant of from possession-to-possession, which could lead to even more defensive rebounds for the Cavs.

What is the Cavs’ biggest weakness?

DI: There is another obvious answer here and that is defense. The Cavs will have to be at least average on defense if they want to contend for an NBA championship. That shouldn’t be too difficult given the talent on the squad. The 2009-2010 Cavs team that started Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, LeBron James, JJ Hickson, and Shaquille O’Neal for most games were able to notch the 7th best defense in the NBA.

If they can work out the potential defensive issues, the only thing that can stop them is health.

EJ: The greatest weakness is lack of cohesion. LBJ has played with Miller, Jones, and Varejao, but that is about it. Plus it will take a while for Love and Irving to learn how to play alongside not one, but two more superstars. The Heat started out 9-8 in LeBron’s first year, the Cavs might have a similar fate.

DA: Team defense. This is another thing we’ve seen in the preseason (see: LeBron “setting a pick” on Delly). Blatt said himself, “Defense is the side of the floor where you adapt less and teach more.” These guys are going to have to learn what Blatt expects, when to switch off on picks, and overall communication on the floor. At some point, hopefully this season, the Cavs will be able to play defense with each other and just know where each guy is going to be on the floor. But, at least to start, it’ll be a big work in progress.

Who will have the easiest transition playing with this new Cavs team?

DI: I know that he wasn’t on the team last year but LeBron James is going to go from a team where he had to do everything to one where he has an elite ball-handler to initiate offense. He is coming from a Heat team that required him to be the best rebounder to one that has Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, and Anderson Varejao. LeBron James will be able to play less games and minutes and will be called on to do less when he plays. Being on this team for the foreseeable future should extend the life of his career.IMG_2337

EJ: LeBron. He has been here before. Some nights he will score 25 on talent alone.

DA: Tristan Thompson. I think with the way this team was put together (h/t to David Griffin), it helps Tristan immensely. In the first three years of his career, as a fourth overall pick, he was expected to do a lot in an ample amount of minutes right off the bat. This is especially true considering the amount of time Varejao spent healing from injuries. Thompson was forced into situations he just wasn’t ready for – even though that might actually help him in the end. Now, he just needs to focus on the things he’s good/great at – getting rebounds, playing gritty defense, and cleaning up around the rim. No longer is it important for him – on on this team – to transform into a stretch four.

Who will have the hardest transition?

DI: Dion Waiters will have a difficult time transitioning. He was the 2nd option on offense last year and thinks of himself as a bigger star than he is. In fact, it is up for debate if he even is one. Having said that, Kevin Love will have the hardest transition. He was The Man in Minnesota. He was able to put up gaudy numbers where the offense ran through him and that simply will not be the case as this team is currently constructed.

EJ: I don’t think anyone will have a hard time scoring with the floor spacing they will have. So the P.R. department maybe?

DA: I hate to say it, but I think it’ll be Dion Waiters. I don’t see many guys on this team having significant struggles; the players fit so well. But Dion is a guy that loves the ball in his hands and taking ill-fated shots. With LeBron, Love, and Kyrie on the floor alongside him, he’ll have to pick and choose his spots. At the same time, I love his alpha-dog mentality, even if he’s the fourth best player on the floor. He’ll need to work on limiting his contested shots, and driving the lane and drawing fouls. Spend some time away from Mid-range Township.

Where will the Cavs rank defensively?

DI: I think that they will be an average defensive team by the time the season is complete. It will be interesting to see how the team performs defensively as every month passes. It’s possible that they are abysmal on defense. The sky is not falling if that happens. They are aware that there are holes in the roster and the front office can and will improve the team using assets that they have accumulated.

EJ: The Cavs have great individual defenders, but several younger players can be liabilities. Assuming LeBron’s tenacious defense rubs off on the less experienced players, the Cavs should be fine on the defensive end of the floor. With Varejao, Love, and Thompson, they should be an excellent rebounding team.

DA: As I said before, there will be some growing pains with this team on the defensive side of the ball. Most of the guys that have thrived on defense are well into their NBA careers; guys like LeBron, Shawn Marion, and Mike Miller. There are also younger vets on this team that have the potential to be good on this side of the floor, but haven’t been consistent: Kyrie, Dion, and Tristan. Optimistically, I think towards the end of the season we’ll see the Cavs start to really click on defense, but throughout the season, they’ll probably be towards the lower middle of the league.

Where will the Cavs rank offensively?

NBA: Preseason-Cleveland Cavaliers at Memphis Grizzlies

DI: They will be the best offensive team by a wide margin. When you have guys like Zach Lowe and Kevin Pelton saying that they have the ability to be a “historically great offensive team,” there’s no reason that they shouldn’t be the best team on that side of the court out of thirty.

EJ: Offensively, you have to double-team three players. That will give five feet of space for any shooter on the floor. They scored nearly 108 points per game in the preseason, look for that to mold into reality in the regular season.

DA: There’s no question this should be one of the top teams in the whole league and tops in the Eastern Conference. On offense, the Cavs aren’t just top-heavy with three All Stars plus Dion and Andy, they’ll have some bench scoring and shooting with Mike Miller, and Shawn Marion. Delly, Joe Harris, and James Jones will also be expected to make a scoring impact at various points in the season. With the amount of championship vets on this team, the Cavs’ basketball IQ and passing is also superior to most teams. The only thing that can stop them from being the best offensive team in the league is how little they’ve all played as a unit.

Which bench player will make the biggest impact?

DI: Whichever center ends up not starting will have the biggest impact. Whether that’s Tristan Thompson or Anderson Varejao remains to be seen. Both of those guys thrive on playing hard and will benefit greatly from having room to operate. Tristan Thompson will never be mistaken for a star player, but he will put up gaudy numbers whether or not he comes off the bench. The same can be said for Varejao. He is going to be asked to do a lot less this year and hopefully that translates into winning basketball and fewer injuries.

(Editor’s note: This was written before Varejao was named the starter. But the point remains; whoever comes off the bench at center for the Cavs should have a significant impact.)

EJ: Depends… if Dion goes back to the bench, it’s him hands down. Other than that, Double-T or whoever doesn’t start at center.

DA: I’m going to go out on a limb with this one and say Joe Harris. I’ve written before that he’ll probably switch back-and-forth between Cleveland and Canton, but that was before I saw him in preseason. I thought the Cavs would take it slow with his development, but it looks like they’re really confident with this rookie. Harris played in six of the seven preseason games, averaging 18.8 minutes per game, 2.5 rebounds 1.7 assists, and 7.8 points on 37.5% (15-40) shooting, including 36% (9-25) from 3. He’s potentially a great fit for this team, possessing the ability to space the floor, distribute, and be a pest defensively.

I think Marion is the safe choice here, but watch out for Harris.

Which new Cavalier are you most looking forward to watching?

DI: LeBron James. We’ve seen this movie before, but this time it will be a lot more fun. He has matured and embraced Northeast Ohio. He’s the best player in the world and has made it known that his presence in the area is bigger than basketball. Watching him dominate on the court is going to be great, but seeing his newfound enthusiasm for representing the Cavs is going to be an emotionally charged experience.

EJ: I guess I only have two choices… I want to watch Love, you know what LBJ can do, and Kyrie has been here for 4 years now.

DA: Hands down Kevin Love. With him on the Cavs, my two favorite players in the league are now on the team (along with Varejao). Love’s been a favorite of mine at least since 2012 when I put out the fanboy tweet below. Love’s skillset is pretty much made up of all the things I would want if I were an NBA player. He can rebound, pass, and shoot with the best of them at his position. I’ve wanted him on the Cavs for so long and for it to actually happen is astonishing. Hopefully he’ll be in Cleveland for a long time.

What would make this Cavs season a failure?

DI: Anything short of the Finals will be a disappointment. The Bulls are a formidable opponent and a worthy adversary, but they simply do not have the star talent that the Cavs have. Losing in the conference finals would not be the same as doing so in 2009. That was considered an upset, but hindsight shows that it was LeBron and a lot of role players. The current Cavs team is stacked with star talent and championship-level veterans to come off the bench.

JE: Selfishness… or the San Antonio Spurs

DA: I think there’s a 5% chance that I actually consider it this way at the end of the season. I think the only way this season is a disappointment is if they get bounced in the first round with all of their Big 3 healthy. Losing to what will most likely be the 7th or 8th seed in the East would be pretty deflating. As long as they advance past the first round, this season won’t be a failure, in part because of all the new players on this team. Like LeBron said, Rome wasn’t built in one day. I’m willing to be patient this year.

Will the Cavs win the 2014-15 NBA Championship?

DI: My heart says no, but I also find it hard to not talk myself into the Cavs beating any contending opponent. I think that it will take time for things to gel and that the lack of playoff experience for Irving, Waiters, Thompson and Love will be an issue in late May or June. However, this team is too talented to pick against. I am going on record to predict that the Cavs will win the championship in June.

EJ: Just like year one in Miami, I think they will be in it, but some lucky Western Conference team beats them.

DA: I hate to be a downer, but I don’t think so. That’s not to say they don’t have a chance, because they certainly do. But the overriding theme for me when it comes to the Cavs’ “downfall” or whatever their Achilles heel will be is the lack of chemistry on this team. It’s just hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea of a team assembling so many new pieces and going out and winning a championship right off the bat. More often than not, established teams are the one’s that are able to capture the Larry O’Brien trophy.


NBA Predictions

tim-duncan-manu-ginobili-tony-parker-kawhi-leonard-nba-playoffs-portland-trail-blazers-san-antonio-spurs

MVP

Demetri Inembolidis: LeBron James. Voter fatigue is gone, Durant will be injured for a decent portion of the year and the “coming home” narrative is too much to ignore.

Eddy Jansen: Kevin Durant.

Dan Armelli: I have no reason to go against LeBron other than to just be different. He’s the best player in the league and has the most help he’s ever had.

Rookie of the Year

DI: Jabari Parker. He’s going to get all of the shots in Milwaukee.

EJ: Jabari Parker.

DA: As much as I want to say Nerlens Noel, the 76ers are just horrendous. So I’ll go with Jabari Parker. He’ll be the number one option for the Bucks and he’s as polished as they come for a rookie.

Most Improved Player

DI: Lance Stephenson is going to have a bigger role in Charlotte. He is going to be scoring at a higher clip and will likely lead the NBA in triple doubles for a second season in a row. The Most Improved Player award is his to lose.

EJ: Dwight Howard.

DA: For whatever reason, Steven Adams was benched for the majority of the season in favor of Kendrick Perkins. Adams will break out this year and show the league what he’s all about. He has the potential to be a solid all-around center.

Coach of the Year

DI: Stan Van Gundy. David Blatt (who will be coaching the Eastern Conference All Star team in February) is a good bet, but Van Gundy will take a miscast roster of knuckleheads and “me-first” guys and turn them into a playoff David+Blatt+Milwaukee+Bucks+v+Cleveland+Cavaliers+RrgcxZ91l7jlteam. It’s pretty clear that the Pistons were tanking last year to avoid giving up their draft pick to the Charlotte Hornets. If they play hard all year and find organic improvement, the award is Van Gundy’s to lose.

EJ: Doc Rivers.

DA: David Blatt has been well spoken of by his former players and personnel around the NBA. With a plethora of high caliber players to work with, I think he’ll be able to earn the award in his first year in the NBA.

Eastern Conference Playoff Seeding

DI:
1. Cavs
2. Bulls
3. Raptors
4. Hawks
5. Hornets
6. Wizards
7. Heat
8. Pistons

EJ:
1. Cavaliers – Any opposers?
2. Bulls – A healthy Rose is a must, or they could slide.
3. Nets – Lionel Hollins will make them much tougher, Deron Williams should be galvanized by the return of Brook Lopez.
4. Heat – Old and not very athletic, but will surprise people. Wade is healthier than most will admit. Bosh will get more touches.
5. Hawks – Were the #3 seed up until January of last season; Horford’s return is huge.
6. Wizards – Still missing a piece or two for a serious run, Pierce’s experience should help though.
7. Hornets – Al Jefferson continues to be the most undervalued player in the league.
8. Raptors – Hard to envision Kyle Lowry having a repeat season from last year while not searching for a new contract.

DA:
1. Cavs
2. Bulls
3. Hawks
4. Raptors
5. Wizards
6. Hornets
7. Heat
8. Pistons

I think the Wizards will have the better record, but the Atlantic champion Raptors get the higher seed with the Cavs and Bulls already occupying the top spaces for interdivision teams.

Western Conference Playoff Seeding

DI:
1. Spurs
2. Clippers
3. Mavericks
4. Thunder
5. Warriors
6. Grizzlies
7. Rockets
8. Nuggets

EJ:
1. Spurs – Even after all these years, there is still enough gas left in the tank.
2. Clippers – Best rebounding team in the NBA, Paul and Griffin are both MVP candidates.
3. Warriors – Steve Kerr will get the most out of his scorers Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and David Lee.
4. Thunder – Durant’s injury won’t make them slip that far, but they still need help.
5. Mavericks – Still trying to make Dirk’s last few years meaningful; made some nice off-season pickups.
6. Grizzlies – A leaner Marc Gasol gives a tough team a go-to guy offensively.
7. Blazers – Still looking to improve defensively. Lillard will go off after being cut from USA team.
8. Suns – Dragic, Bledsoe, and newcomer Isaiah Thomas make them the most athletic team.

DA:
1. Clippers
2. Spurs
3. Thunder
4. Mavericks
5. Warriors
6. Trail Blazers
7. Grizzlies
8. Rockets

Finals prediction

DI:Cavs beat the Clippers in 6.

EJ: Clippers over Cavaliers.

DA: Spurs over Cavs (hopefully in more than 4).

Possible Specialty Lineups for the Cavs

We’re just over a couple weeks away from the opening night tipoff for the Cleveland Cavaliers against the New York Knicks. Over the past few months, the Cavs, lead by General Manager David Griffin, have been in target acquisition mode and have brought in some crazy good talent – like, an insane amount.

With all these new roster changes come new lineups for Head Coach David Blatt to trot out onto the floor. We’ll be seeing so many new faces out there that I think it will take some getting used to before we take it all in.

Before that even happens, I’ve been wondering about the numerous roster rotation possibilities for the Cavs. This is a much more debatable and relevant topic than it could’ve been in previous years, given the amount of talent and depth on this year’s team.

In NBA 2K’s Gameplay mode, you’re able to change your roster not just by switching out a player for a player, but choosing a skill category that puts the best guys out on the floor who specialize in that certain skill. For instance, you can select a free throw shooting category and your lineup will consist of the best free throw shooters on your team from each respective position.

Since the Cavs basically consist of players you’d only be able to attain in a video game, I thought this would be a pleasurable yet semi-realistic way to look at how the bulk of the Cavs roster would be set up on the court in certain situations.

Here are just some of the possible specialty lineups I think would be entertaining for the Cavs to use. In an effort to make these lineups repetitive, each rotation consists of two projected starters at most (Irving-Waiters-James-Love-Thompson).

Three-point Shooters
Lineup (PG – SG – SF – PF – C): Kyrie Irving – James Jones – Mike Miller – Kevin Love – Anderson Varejao

Last year, one of the weakest components on this team was floor spacing. After the Cavs’ best long-range shooters left via free agency – C.J. Miles and Spencer Hawes – it looked like they were in big trouble on the shooting front.

James Jones 3 Cavs

However, after the Cavs signed LeBron James, they were able to attract two of his former Miami Heat teammates who have been some of the best three-point shooters in the league.

Mike Miller, known for the hashtag #LetItFly, was, and to a degree still is, known as an all-around scorer early in his career. He’s always been good at hitting 3-pointers (40.9% for his career), but as his career progressed, he started taking more and more of them. In the first four years of his career, Miller’s 3-point Attempt Rate (3PAr, or the percentage of his shots that were 3’s) was 37.9%. In his last four years, that number was at 59.3%. When it comes down to it, Miller can do a lot of things to help the team at multiple positions both as a defender and on offense. But his primary impact will be beyond the arc.

The same goes for James Jones, who made over half of his 3-point attempts last year (28-54 in 20 games). Unlike Miller, for the bulk of his career Jones has been a 3-point specialist and is a 40.3% career shooter from there.

Kevin Love wasn’t always a good 3-point shooter, but as basketball in the NBA itself evolved, so did Love’s game. A 36.2% career shooter from deep, his 3PAr has gone up each year of his career, maxing out at 35.5% last year. Not only would Love’s ability to shoot 3’s at his position fit this specific lineup, it will help the team overall with it’s floor spacing and allow his teammates to drive to the hole more often.

And if you’re asking why I included Varejao, here’s a history lesson:

 

Rebounders
Lineup: Matthew Dellavedova – Joe Harris – Shawn Marion – Kevin Love – Anderson Varejao

This lineup is a favorite of mine considering rebounding is at the top of the list for things I personally value in players. It’s not always an indicator of how tall a player is, rather how much hustle and heart a player has.

Matthew Dellavedova epitomizes the definition of those two things. It showed on the stat sheet in his rookie season last year, having a higher offensive rebound percentage (ORB%, 2.5%) than fellow guards Kyrie Irving (2.3%), C.J. Miles (2.0%), Dion Waiters (1.7%), and Jarrett Jack (1.1%).

Joe Harris, drafted by the Cavs in the early second round in June, is known for his shooting stroke but he also rebounded well as a guard for Virginia’s Cavaliers. He amassed an impressive total rebounding percentage (TRB%) of 7.9% in his four collegiate years. At 6’6, his size helps him as a 2-guard in this area.

Shawn Marion was a double-double machine in his All Star days in Phoenix, averaging 18.4 points and 10 rebounds per game in his nine years in the desert. Even at the age of 35 and mainly playing small forward last year he was still able to average 6.5 rebounds per game with Dallas. For some context with how well he’s still been able to rebound at his age: Over the last four years, LeBron James, from age 26 to 29, has had a TRB% of 12.1. Shawn Marion, over that same time period, from age 32 to 35, has had a TRB% of 13.5. Not only does this show how well Marion can rebound, but also how much juice he still has left.

Love and Varejao have been two of the best rebounders in the league these last few years. We all know about Varejao’s injury history and two years ago before a blood clot ended his 2012-13 campaign, he led the league in rebounds per game with 14.4. In the 25 games he played that season, there was a 12 game stretch in which he grabbed at least 13 rebounds each game. In 15 of those 25 games, he had at least 15 rebounds and was arguably on his way to his first All Star appearance. Overall, he has a career TRB% of 17.5%.

Love’s best season as a rebounder came in the 2010-11 season when he averaged a whopping 15.2 rebounds and grabbed a total of 1,112 boards in 73 games. He led the league in offensive rebounds, total rebounds, and rebounds per game and was 2nd in defensive rebounds, defensive rebound percentage, and total rebound percentage. Love is an elite rebounder; case closed.

 

Transition
Lineup: Kyrie Irving – Dion Waiters – LeBron James – Kevin Love – Tristan Thompson
(Okay, I had to break my rule here. This one was just too fun to leave off.)

Yes, these are the projected starters for the Cavs as it currently stands, though Varejao still has a shot at the starting center position.

To be a great as a group in transition you need to have great athletes and smart, precise passers on the floor.

LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson

The least athletic player of this group is Kevin Love, and he’s no slouch in this department. Also, he’s probably the best transition passer in the NBA. He’ll be the set up man when the Cavs are looking to push the ball up the floor, along with help from Irving.

Waiters, Thompson, and of course LeBron are all guys that can run the floor extremely well, as well as be on the receiving end of alley-oops.

Victory Cigars
Lineup: A.J. Price – Joe Harris – James Jones – Lou Amundson – Alex Kirk

Just for fun, this is the lineup that we could see out on the floor should the Cavs be up 15 points in the fourth quarter with five minutes left; which could happen often this year. The only lock in this lineup to make the roster should be James Jones.

A.J. Price made a mark in Rio and it is conceivable he makes the roster if the Cavs feel like they need a veteran presence at point guard – not that Kyrie isn’t enough of a veteran, but he’s still only 22-years-old to Price’s 28.

Depending on who the Cavs are facing, Kirk and Harris probably won’t even be activated in the same games. If the Cavs are facing a bigger lineup on a certain night, they may go ahead and activate the 7-foot Kirk just in case.

Louis Amundson is a wild card. The Cavs could use some big man depth, but don’t expect any offensive help from Amundson. He’s your prototypical energy guy off the bench and gives good effort on defense. He also has a TRB% of 16%. He’s a perfect fit for this kind of lineup.

Of course, these lineups may not all come to fruition. It’s not 100% full proof that Blatt would go to the Cavs bench and ask for all of his 3-point shooter to go out on the court. He also wouldn’t have a 2-starter limit. But it just goes to show you how deep the Cavs are in certain aspects of the game; not just from a position standpoint, but by individual skills as well.

Who Are the Odd Men Out on the Cavs?

The Cleveland Cavaliers have made some moves over the past couple weeks that may not have moved the needle for most, but could affect how the roster shapes up.

On September 12, the Cavs signed undrafted point guard Chris Crawford, who played with Houston in the Summer League, to a two-year, partially guaranteed contract. On Friday, they signed forward/center Lou Amundson after a workout for the Cavs four days prior. They followed this up by signing guard A.J. Price to a contract on Monday. All of these players could be viewed as nothing more than training camp bodies, which very well could turn out to be the case.

These three acquisitions put the number of players on the Cavs’ roster at 20. Though they have enough bodies to pick from to form their regular season roster, General Manager David Griffin won’t stop looking for ways to add guys to improve the team.

Also don’t forget, as much as it tires me to say this, but Ray Allen is still a possibility. My gut feeling, not that I would know anymore than former teammates, is that he doesn’t retire and plays with the Cavs. And he probably doesn’t make this decision until at least after training camp. A 39-year-old, 18-year veteran with two championships must think the idea of a “training camp” is a little much. Besides, I have little doubt Allen isn’t staying in shape on his own, considering he has a well documented great work ethic.

As we do get into training camp, the preseason and then (FINALLY!!!) the regular season, the Cavs will have some decisions to make as it pertains to who they should let loose into the free agency pool, who they should send to Canton, and who is on the 15-man roster (and 13-man active roster).

Let’s start with the obvious: The currently projected starters are all safe barring… no not barring anything. They’re locks for the roster. This includes Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Anderson Varejao.

That’s five.

Next we look at the bench. To me there are six locks in my mind to make the roster that are currently on the bench: Matthew Dellavedova, Mike Miller, James Jones, Shawn Marion, Tristan Thompson, and Brendan Haywood.

That’s eleven with four more spots left.

At point guard, you have Kyrie Irving and are forced to put in Dellavedova as the backup unless someone overtakes his spot. This isn’t out of the question, considering Delly himself was a long shot to even make the team last year after he went undrafted.

Chris Crawford
Cavs guard and former Memphis player Chris Crawford.

John Lucas III has a non-guaranteed contract with the Cavs and I could still see him being traded or cut prior to the season starting. The final point guard spot might come down to Chris Crawford and A.J. Price, two of the recently added free agents. Crawford is an undrafted rookie like Delly was last year. Price is a 27-year old, 5-year veteran who played in 28 games with the Timberwolves last year. Based on box score scouting, which is sometimes a necessity when you get down this far in the depth chart, the younger Crawford looks like he has a good shot to beat out Price. Crawford had a promising career true shooting percentage of 52% at Kentucky, an improvement in his career turnover percentage throughout his career, and a career assist percentage of 21.7%. However, with nothing but youth at point guard, the veteran Price is probably the favorite for that last spot. Point Price.

Twelve down, three to go.

Let’s look at who gets sent to Canton, at least initially. I think one of the Cavs draftees still left on the team gets sent down to Canton – Dwight Powell. From what I saw in summer league, he has good potential and could still see NBA action this year, but he’s still pretty raw.

Another option for Canton is rookie Joe Harris. He showed flashes during summer league and I think eventually he’ll be a steady NBA player. I remember how much David Griffin raved about Harris in the post-draft presser. Griffin said Harris is a “hell of a pin-down shooter, really good off of screens, a very tough kid, (and) an overachieving personality type.” Guys like this are what the Cavs are looking for. This move has more to do with the current roster than it has to do with him as a player.

With the lack of center depth, this leads me to believe that the Cavs will load up at power forward, leaving at least two more options out of the three guys remaining; Malcolm Thomas, Erik Murphy, and Lou Amundson.

Thomas and Murphy were acquired with Lucas III in the Carrick Felix-to-Utah trade. Lou Amundson right away earns a spot for me. Like James Jones and Shawn Marion, he played with the Suns while David Griffin was in the front office. Not only that, but he’s a solid bench player too. He provides energy and can play center if need be. The last forward spot I think goes to Malcolm Thomas. He’s bounced around the NBA a little bit in his three-year career, but I think he lands on his feet with the Cavs. He’s an athletic player, which is very much welcomed on this team. Erik Murphy has a chance to be involved in a deal before the season starts, just like Lucas III. If not, I think he gets cut.

One more spot left.

Alex Kirk summer league Cavs
Cavs center Alex Kirk.

Alex Kirk is the lone man standing. The last spot for me came down to Kirk and Harris. As I said earlier, this has more to do with the roster as a whole than Harris or Kirk’s respective talents. Kirk has size on his side, something the Cavs don’t have very much of. The two guys in front of him, Varejao and Haywood, are aging players – one with serious injury problems due to too many minutes at the center position. Kirk will most likely be fail-safe in case one of these veteran’s bodies breaks down and will likely be a nightly inactive. Putting Harris in this role doesn’t seem like a good idea since I think he’s more likely to develop into a solid player. Unless the Cavs plan on playing him, I think he’s better off playing in Canton.

With this premature projection, the roster shapes up like this:

PG: Kyrie Irving, Matthew Dellavedova, A.J. Price

SG: Dion Waiters, Mike Miller

SF: LeBron James, Shawn Marion, James Jones

PF: Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Lou Amundson, Malcolm Thomas

C: Anderson Varejao, Brendan Haywood, Alex Kirk

A lot of this is subject to change as training camp and the preseason play out. I expect there to be some shakeup and look forward to watching the competition at back end of the roster.

Love, The Matrix, and Moore

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst first brought it to our attention that the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers had a deal set up to send Kevin Love to the Eastern Conference. Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarwoski then backed this up last Thursday morning – though this deal didn’t include the Philadelphia 76ers as a third team. What does this mean? Well, basically we can’t celebrate or mourn this trade until August 23, 30 days after Andrew Wiggins signed his rookie deal and when the Cavs are officially allowed to involve him in a trade.

A semi-important detail to think about is this trade could possibly be blocked should the NBA find evidence of an agreement between the Cavs and Timberwolves before the 23rd. The Cavs also can’t have any evidence of the Cavs and Love agreeing to an extension after this season, which was in Wojnarowski’s report. No need to worry though, this is something that is pretty rare and hasn’t happened since 2000 when the Timberwolves promised – on paper – Joe Smith a future big contract after he signed one for less money for salary cap relief for the short term. One would think Owner Glen Taylor has learned his lesson and Dan Gilbert and David Griffin are too smart to do something like that.

Anyway, I wrote about my feelings on a Kevin Love trade involving Andrew Wiggins. I still wouldn’t do this deal. Though Kevin Love has been my favorite non-Cavalier to watch since 2012, I’m okay walking away from the deal with Andrew Wiggins because that’s how good I think he’ll be in a short amount of time. Wiggins may not be at his peak in a few years, but that doesn’t mean he can’t contribute heavily by then, which I think he can.

Nonetheless, I’m starting to come to terms with this happening and trying to forget about the possibilities of what Wiggins could have done on both sides of the floor for the Cavs. Getting Kevin Love perhaps gives the Cavs the best [catchy nickname for a trio of three redacted] in the NBA with him, LeBron James, and Kyrie Irving. Love also gives the Cavs a unique skill set of both a perennial rebounder and three-point shooter. The latter is something that’s been a focal point for the Cavs this summer, signing guys like James Jones (career 40.3% 3-pt shooter) and Mike Miller (40.9%). Even LeBron has come on into the late peak of his career, shooting 39.1% from deep in his last two years. Rookie Joe Harris should be able to bring some floor-stretching ability as well – 40.7 career 3-pt shooter in four years at Virginia – even if he spends part of this year with the Canton Charge. Two other players the Cavs have been rumored to be interested in are Shawn Marion and E’Twaun Moore, guys that have had some success stretching the floor in their respective careers.

Shawn Marion dunk

Shawn Marion, aka “The Matrix,” was seen in Downtown Cleveland last week at a restaurant with David Griffin and Head Coach David Blatt, among others.

Marion is a somewhat surprising name to come up for the Cavaliers, but one that’s welcomed. He could go to the in-division rival Pacers and make more money, but he’s reportedly leaning toward Cleveland for obvious reasons.

Marion has had inconsistent success throughout his 15 seasons shooting the long ball. Last year was the first year since the 2007-08 season, when he split time with Phoenix and Miami, in which he had at least 100 3-pt attempts. Last year with the Dallas Mavericks he shot 35.8% from deep and is a 33.2% career long-range shooter.

One of Marion’s best assets as a player has been his defense and versatility on that end of the floor. Though he’s 36 years old, he still has enough juice to make him a reliable perimeter defender and can also guard power forwards with his 6’7 frame. This will be much needed since the Cavs are on the precipice of trading Wiggins. And defense on this team is important, no matter how much people want to downplay it. Though our projected starting lineup should score a lot of points, the defense may be a slight problem with LeBron being the only player that’s above competent in that area. Older guys like Marion and Mike Miller are welcomed defensive players on the bench that can also offer some offensive ability.

E'Twaun Moore shot

Another player that could add depth to the Cavs’ bench is combo guard E’Twaun Moore who they reportedly have serious interest in.

(He added in the comments that he meant Kevin Love instead of LeBron.)

So, where to start with Moore? Well, about the only thing I know about him without having to look him up on Google is that he was a really good three-point shooter in NBA 2K13. In real life, he’s a career 35% 3-pt shooter and shot 35.4% with the Magic last season. He’s an okay defender, but the Cavs are gleefully still looking for shooters and should get one around the time they (probably) get Kevin Love.

A Farewell to C.J. Miles and Spencer Hawes

There has been a good amount of activity and rumors involving the Cleveland Cavaliers since free agency started on July 1. Within a matter of four days, two of their three unrestricted free agents agreed to deals with other teams (they cannot officially sign until July 10). On July 2, C.J. Miles agreed to a four-year, $18 million deal with the division rival Indiana Pacers. Two days later – fittingly on July 4 – big man Spencer Hawes agreed to a four-year, $23 million deal with the Los Angeles Clippers. Both of these players were guys I would’ve liked to have back, especially Hawes who I talked about briefly last week. There have also been rumors swirling about the third and final unrestricted free agent for the Cavs, Luol Deng. Like Hawes, Deng caught the eye of the Clippers and very early on in the process.

Even before Hawes signed with Los Angeles, Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnorowski said the Clippers were interested in the two Cavs (plus Deng) in a possible sign-and-trade deal with Cleveland. This is a point he repeated shortly after Hawes agreed to his new deal.

Deng leaving wouldn’t really bother me, especially with what he reportedly has wanted since the Bulls decided to trade him. He scoffed at Chicago’s three-year, $30 million offer before they felt they had to deal him. It’s been consistently noted that he’s looking to make $12 million annually and even though he may eventually get in the $8-$10 range, I don’t think he’d be worth it. Deng’s struggles with the Cavs may have been a blessing in disguise. Had the Cavs not been able to trade for Deng, they most likely would have been interested in signing him this offseason. Had they signed him to a four-year, $40 million deal (just as an example) and he struggled like he did at the end of last year, it would’ve put the Cavs in a financial bind. The two Cavaliers that did sign new deals are the ones that I will miss the most.

C.J. Miles (aka @masfresco)

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Cleveland Cavaliers

C.J. Miles was arguably Chris Grant’s best free agent signing while GM of the Cavs. Miles came over after he spent seven years with the Utah Jazz. He was drafted right out of Skyline High School in Dallas, Texas as an 18-year old in the second round, 34th overall. For the Cavs, Miles spent time playing on the wing and became their most reliable shooter over the two seasons he was here, shooting 39% from three and a 53% eFG%. These numbers made him a much-needed scoring option off the bench, making 47 starts in 116 games for the Cavs. He wasn’t the best defensive weapon on the team, but he always had good effort and attitude, something that has been echoed by members of the media.

The appreciation of a player who served this team for only two years is outstanding. I saw a lot of Cavs fans on twitter expressing gratitude and best wishes to Miles after he agreed, which speaks volumes since he’s signing with a division rival. I personally had a great time watching Miles play and his three-pointers were some of the highlights of the last two years – especially the 10 he made against the 76ers on January 7th this year. And from a fan’s perspective, he was great to interact with on twitter, if you like that sort of thing (I do).

Going forward, the Cavs drafted Joe Harris to hopefully help their three-point shooting. Now it looks like he’ll have to fill the hole Miles left as an off-the-bench shooter and defensive try-hard. With David Blatt most likely looking to get efficient shots from deep, Miles leaving is a bit devastating but something the Cavs in all likelihood saw coming and were prepared to handle.

Spencer Hawes (aka Steve)

This was the last game Spencer Hawes played in a Philadelphia 76ers uniform before being traded to the Cavaliers right before the deadline. (Both guys getting dunked on in this video, which includes LaVoy Allen, were traded the next day. Best dunk ever.)

Hawes was traded for Earl Clark, Henry Sims, and two 2014 second round picks (Jeremi Grant and Vasilije Micic for Memphis). At this time, a lot of people were focused on a possible deal with Lakers big man Pau Gasol. The Hawes trade came out of nowhere and was a surprise to many, with mixed reactions. (The guys at Fear The Sword had some good input on the Hawes trade the day after it happened.) Some were glad the Cavs added much-needed floor-spacing. On the other hand, he was in a contract year and the Cavs might have just given up picks for a guy that might only play 28 games – which basically turned out to be the case (played 27 games with the Cavs).

Hawes came in and shot the lights out. He was already known to be a great shooter, but shooting 45% from deep (led the team) was probably more than anyone could have hoped for. This dimension from Hawes, as well as his superb passing ability was something that the Cavs needed to keep and he would have fit so well with what David Blatt would want to do. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t in the cards. Hawes took what many thought was a generous deal for the Clippers so that he could play with a contender in the West.

Before I wrote this, I planned to talk about Josh McRoberts or Channing Frye as a backup plan to Hawes. Both of these big men have somewhat of the same skill set Hawes does – great shooting and passing. Unfortunately, both of them were picked up by other teams – McRoberts by Miami (four years, $23 million) and Frye by Orlando – for a surprisingly big four-year, $32 million deal, averaging $2.25 million more annually than Hawes.

There are two gaps left with the loss of Miles and Hawes: shooting and the frontcourt altogether. These were areas that were going to need attention even if these guys stayed in Cleveland. Now the Cavs will have to dig more other free agents and rely on current Cavaliers to step up – namely Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. Miles and Hawes were fun to watch as Cavaliers. Now it’s time to find their replacements.

How the Cavs’ Rookies Fit into Blatt’s System

Last Thursday night, after months of debate and wonderment, the basketball world finally saw the Cleveland Cavaliers use their number one pick in the 2014 Draft. That pick turned out to be Kansas star wing Andrew Wiggins over Duke forward Jabari Parker or trading down. The Cavs also made two more picks in the second round that resulted in Virginia wing Joe Harris and (unofficially) Stanford big man Dwight Powell via a trade with the Charlotte Hornets – they also acquired center Brendan Haywood for wing Alonzo Gee.

There’s always talk after the draft about value and grades that are handed out. But that doesn’t have an affect on anything going forward, it’s just fun-talk that we like to have. The real question is how these guys fit with the current roster of talent the Cavs have now. Obviously there will be more movement along the lineup as we get into free agency; this involves possible trades (Tristan Thompson/Dion Waiters?), our own free agents (Spencer Hawes, C.J. Miles, and Luol Deng), as well as other teams’ free agents (i.e. Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons). But for right now, we can only focus on what we know.

The next thing we can look at is how these new Cavalier draftees fit with new head coach David Blatt’s philosophy. For that, we have to know somewhat about how Blatt likes to run his offense. Last week, “Coach Nick” (@bballbreakdown) highlighted what Coach Blatt has tended to focus on, on offense:

Since Blatt has coached overseas all of his career, this breakdown was a Godsend to basketball fans and was really well-done. Blatt stated in his press conference “there’s two kinds of coaching: there’s systematic and then there’s learning from what you have.” Blatt said he falls under the latter and just because Pete Carril (his college coach at Princeton) coached him under the Princeton offense doesn’t mean that’s what he’ll be teaching the Cavs. This is refreshing because you’ll see a lot of coaches come in with their own systems, both offensive and defensive, and try to fit the players they have into that specific system. I think in a lot of cases it’s more efficient to mold your system around the players’ strengths, which is what it sounds like Blatt intends to do.

Though it was only a short breakdown, Coach Nick was able to highlight some of the integral parts of Blatt’s offense. Keep in mind; while Blatt says he’ll mold his system to his players, I think it’s likely that he’ll still have ideals he’d like his players to play with. For instance, it looks like the Cavs will be moving away from the Midrange Township (h/t to Ben Cox of WFNY) to taking better shots above the arc and in the paint.

Last year, the Cavs were 2nd in the league in FGA from 10-14 feet away from the rim – 38% FG%, 18th in the league – and 5th in the league in FGA from 15-19 feet – 41% FG%, 11th in the league. While they were okay in the latter category, only teams with guys like Dirk Nowitzki and LaMarcus Aldridge – players who make a living shooting from there – should be focused on scoring from mid-range. Having mid-range poster boy Jarrett Jack heaving 312 long-range two’s for a 39% shooting percentage is not productive in any offense. It seems as if adding Blatt will cut down on mid-range jumpers, especially one’s that are unassisted (Jack’s mid-rangers were 62% unassisted).

Before I get into the fits with Wiggins, Harris, and Powell, I just want to preface by saying I’m not an expert on NBA offenses and I won’t pretend to be one. Does that mean I want to come in and just spew off nonsense? Not at all (or at least I won’t try to). But I look forward to learning more about the types of offenses that are run in the NBA and also what David Blatt has planned for the roster this year.

 How Wiggins Fits

Andrew Wiggins shot At the post-draft presser, GM David Griffin said “if Andrew ever finds greatness in this league, it’s going to be as a very big 2-guard.” I thought this was interesting and may not totally mean anything at the start. This could also spell doom for Dion Waiters, but that’s a whole other discussion for a different week. I’m assuming whether or not Waiters is on the team, Wiggins will split time between the 2 and 3 spots on offense (defensively he’ll most likely be able to guard at least three positions, depending on the opponent’s personnel). I think Wiggins would be able to play the 2 spot in “Two Down” where the 2-guard comes off the screen in the frontcourt to spot up for a 3, if he chooses. As I highlighted in Wiggins’s prospect profile a few weeks ago, one of his strengths was playing off the ball. He’s also a pretty good shooter and I think it would be a smart move if he were integrated into the NBA as spot-up shooter/transition player as his main way of getting points. The more things he can do without the ball in his hands (at least right away), the better.

Something else I touched on in that article was that I’d like to see Wiggins use a ball fake more often. Of course, his shooting ability will only take the effectiveness of this move so far, but it would go a long way in terms of improving his already-solid ability to drive.

Another thing I think Blatt should implement with the Cavs is backdoor passing from the bigs to the wings. Keeping Spencer Hawes, who has a knack for finding open teammates, would make this work. We saw this a little bit with Luol Deng last year, but pairing Hawes with Wiggins could make for some easy buckets.

How Harris Fits

Joe harris shot Virginia sharpshooter Joe Harris was taken 33rd overall with what turned out to be the Cavs’ first of two picks in the 2nd round. I wasn’t entirely familiar with his game, but the name I knew from somewhere. When I looked him up, I remembered. He was the dude that kept taking shots from deep against Clemson (who’s basketball and football programs I follow). Harris shot 4-9 from 3 in that game, one of which put the VACavs (I’ll just call them this to avoid confusion) up by four with three minutes and some change left in the game.

After reading more on Harris, it turns out he was Virginia’s go-to sharpshooter for all four years of his collegiate career. He averaged 4.8 3’s per game for his career, making just about 41% of them. There’s no doubt this is what he was drafted to do for the CLECavs.

David Griffin said Harris was a “hell of a pin-down shooter, really good off of screens, a very tough kid, (and) an overachieving personality type.” To me, that fits the 2-guard in Blatt’s ideology above to a tee. I said Wiggins would be a good contender for being the 2-guard coming off screens, well Harris was in all likelihood brought in to do just that. It would be a huge help to the Cavs’ floor spacing if he could keep shooting at a 40% clip from long-range. Of course there are adjustments that he’ll have to make, i.e. the longer NBA 3, but Harris also has a length advantage if he is to play as a 6’6 guard.

As an aside, it sounds like Harris has great intangibles too, which could help his value as a high 2nd round pick. Nbadraft.net’s “Outlook” on Harris sounds somewhat like CLECavs guard Matthew Dellavedova, who, despite huge athletic limitations, made a name for himself on the team because of his intangibles – I mean, this guy was asked to guard Kevin freaking Durant for crying out loud. If Harris can bring the same intensity as “Delly,” on top of having great shooting ability, he has a chance to fit Griffin’s goal to “under-promise and over-deliver,” just like Delly did as an undrafted free agent.

How Powell Fits

(I know this is just a workout, but man, he moves and shoots like a small forward during it.)

Technically, until July 10th, Dwight Powell isn’t quite a Cav. But draft day trades are almost always approved. With that, I’m going to talk about him like he’s on the Cavs for the sake of this article. The Cavs must really like Powell because they traded away Cavaliers legend Alonzo Gee and also acquired the contract of Brendan Haywood (who most are assuming won’t even play in a Cavs uniform).

As I said in my draft recap a few days ago, the only real exposure I’ve had with Powell was when Stanford beat Kansas in the NCAA Tournament this past year (he had a block on Andrew Wiggins). If Powell ends up making the team, he will have earned it with a log jam right now at power forward with Thompson, Anthony Bennett, and Anderson Varejao (depending on who’s on the floor with him). Although, maybe Blatt could operate under these circumstances by playing the 6’11 Powell at center some. I’ve linked this article by A.J. Mitnick before when Blatt was officially hired. In it he says some things about how he ran his offense at Maccabi Tel Aviv that makes me think there was a good reason the Cavs traded to get Powell: “This season’s Maccabi Tel Aviv team has gone through the season without a traditional power forward in its rotation, playing wing oriented players at the four position. While many viewed Maccabi’s lack of a power forward as a disadvantage, Coach Blatt implemented a system that resembles that of the current Miami Heat, and the Brooklyn Nets since New Year’s Eve.” Ironically, nbadraft.net compares Powell to Nets center Miles Plumlee.

Powell’s strengths seem to be his athleticism, face-up game from the post, and feel for the game. Adam Ganeles of nbadraft.net also seems perplexed at the lack of development from Powell over his 4-year collegiate career. Unless he sees a huge spike in his progression, I think Blatt could get Powell to be a pretty good role player. Though he won’t be a prototypical big man who performs back-to-the-basket post moves or protects the rim, it sounds as if he’ll be able to do the things that will fit this offense – which will likely include passing the ball and spreading the floor. Powell has the potential to have deep range, shooting 35% from 3 in his last two years at Stanford. Powell might turn into a nice consolation prize should the Cavs lose out on Spencer Hawes.

With the NBA Summer League starting a week from Independence Day, I cannot be more excited for “meaningless” scrimmages. Coach Blatt decided he will coach the Cavs during that time as well, so we’ll get to see the initial stages of what he’ll be like at the helm. If Wiggins, Harris, and Powell play, that should be more fun than allowed during Summer League.