Tag Archives: Russia

Getting to know: Sasha Kaun

Casual Cavalier fans know and recognize names like James, Irving, Love and even Dellevadova. Today my goal is to introduce a name into the conversation that otherwise has been left out: Kaun

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 5: Sasha Kaun #14 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots the ball during the game against the Miami Heat on December 5, 2015 at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images
MIAMI, FL – DECEMBER 5: Sasha Kaun #14 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots the ball during the game against the Miami Heat on December 5, 2015 at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Sasha Kaun is a 6’11”, 250 pound center from Russia that signed with the Cavs late in the summer of 2015. He most recently played for CSKA Moscow winning five championships with them.

He has other connections to this team as well. He played for Coach David Blatt in the 2012 London Olympics where they finished with the bronze in basketball.

The casual fans are now thinking “I know that guy! He is tall and doesn’t talk a lot and rides a bear in that commercial!” Sorry, we are talking about the other Cavs center from Russia this time.

The primary reason you have not heard of Kaun is because he has only played in a handful of games during this regular season. He DID get some regular playing time in the preseason but that feels like a lifetime ago at this point.

After playing several years overseas, there are aspects of the NBA game that Kaun has struggled with adjusting to. Certainly the speed and size of the opponents are enough to throw off anyone coming from the European style of competition, but even things such as the size of the court (which is wider in the NBA than Euroleague) and the fact that the three point line is further from the basket, have frustrated the near seven footer.

Kaun is accustomed to running the pick and roll from his previous team but he has acknowledged that he is used to being closer to the basket after setting his pick and has had to retrain his brain to match the required timing of the new distance.

At the start of the season, Timofey Mozgov (the aforementioned bear jockey) was the starting center for the team. He has not been sharp and reliable since that time and has been replaced, rightfully so in my book, by the more versatile Tristan Thompson.

Mozgov is losing value nearly every time he steps on the court. I think it would be wise to give those minutes to Kaun, if only to see what you’ve got to work with.

I’m sure he is getting plenty of reps at the training facility in Independence, but I also think that we can agree that playing in an actual game is much more telling of a players potential. Like Mozgov, I am sure that Kaun is benefitting from some mentorship from former Cavalier big, Vitaly Potopenko.

Perhaps it is time to shift some of Potopenko’s focus to Kaun in lieu of Mozgov. Kaun was signed to a fairly meager deal compared to the rest of the roster so what do we have to lose?

I hope that Blatt can look past the adjustments that Kaun needs to make and see that over many seasons in Russia he shot 70.4 percent and even in the meager amount of minutes and opportunities during this season he has shot 60 percent.

Kaun may never be a starter in this league but I think he can be a solid contributor off of the bench after he works out some of the kinks. Here’s hoping the Cavaliers invest some minutes in the big man and try to get a good return on their investment.

Cavs Get Blatt

Precisely 39 days after Mike Brown was let go for the second time, the Cleveland Cavaliers have named former Maccabi Tel Aviv head coach David Blatt to the same title. He also coached Russia’s national team from 2006 to 2010, coaching NBA players such as Andrei Kirilenko (who likes Blatt over Phil Jackson, for what it’s worth), Alexey Schved, and current Cavalier Sergey Karasev. He also coached former Cavalier Anthony Parker. Blatt becomes the 20th head coach in Cavs history, and the third one in as many years.

The 55-year-old’s name may be unfamiliar to many NBA fans, which is more than reasonable. He’s never played or coached in the NBA before. It wasn’t until June 5th when his name started to surface as a potential assistant coach on Steve Kerr’s staff in Golden State. But his name has been known and respected for much longer than that by NBA people.

(Notice the date on that tweet)

A day after news broke that Blatt was being courted by the Warriors, it was rumored that the Cavs were looking at him, among others, for the Cavs’ head coaching vacancy. The list would grow and included Bills assistant Adrian Griffin, Clippers assistants Tyronn Lue and Alvin Gentry, and former Cavs player and current Bobcats assistant Mark Price. In the end, it reportedly came down to Blatt and Lue, with Blatt edging out Doc Rivers’s four-year protégé.

Coming into the Cavs coaching search initially, my top guy was Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg. I highlighted why I thought he, among other newbie NBA head coaches, would be a good hire for the Cavs. After he and other college head coaches were shot down, I was basically willing to settle with any assistant they were looking at, namely Griffin and Lue. But when the report came out on June 6th that Blatt was in consideration, that sealed it for me. The more I read about the guy, the more I liked him and the more I thought he was the perfect fit for this team. My only hope then was that David Griffin had enough leash from Dan Gilbert to be able to make such a “bold” hire.

Some will be concerned about Blatt never being involved with the NBA, playing and coaching his whole pro career overseas (he played in college at Princeton). Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnorowski started the foundation of my Blatt interest, when he broke the news that Blatt was being considered in Golden State. From the article: “As one major college coach who has studied Blatt’s offense this spring told Yahoo Sports recently, ‘I am not sure there is anyone in the U.S. with the kind of creative efficiency or ability to change constantly like David Blatt has. He utilizes what his players do as well as anyone I’ve ever watched.’”

The next piece on Blatt I read was from Sheridan Hoops writer and Israel’s Maccabi Rishon Lezion assistant coach A.J. Mitnick. It was actually an open letter to New York Knicks president Phil Jackson about considering Blatt for their then opening at head coach before former Laker/Jazz//Thunder player Derek Fisher was hired. Though it was specifically for the Knicks, there were still a lot of points that he made that would be a great case for many team’s openings.

After reading this, I came away thinking that Blatt was a coach who’s able to adjust to adversity, uses his players in a way that maximizes their strengths, and has a strong team concept. “This season in Maccabi, Blatt has led a group that over 60 games into the season (the Israeli league playoffs are still going on) has a leading scorer averaging 11 points a game, but a whopping 11 players averaging 6 points or more.

“Throughout Blatt’s time with Maccabi, it has been abundantly clear that his players have little interest in their stats or individual glory, and have organizationally embraced valuing the success of the club over individual achievements.”

Obviously going from a head coach in Israel to a head coach in the NBA will require some adjustments, but coaching is coaching. On top of that, all the information from basketball people I’ve seen on Blatt has been overwhelmingly positive, dating back all the way to 2012, as you can see above.

Here are some examples of how Blatt is seen throughout the league:

Also, here’s a nicely done article by Stepien Rules’s Brendan Bowers and an interview he had with one of David Blatt’s former players and former Ohio State point guard Scoonie Penn.

The great thing about the Blatt hire is that we will most likely be able to see a more balanced team, with him being known as a great offensive mind and the “architect” of Maccabi Tel-Aviv’s defense, as Bowers touches on in his article. I’m a big proponent of letting a young team, which the Cavs are, run the floor when they have the ball and taking open shots. Too many times last year they were taking long, contested jumpers deep in the shot clock. Should the Cavs players take to Blatt’s coaching, we should see an emphasis on both sides of the court, instead of just one.

My hope for the Cavs going forward with Blatt is that he can finally get Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters to mesh together. Though, when we get to the first game of the season that may not be possible.

Regardless of what happens with Waiters, after Irving’s relatively down season, Blatt seems like the perfect guy to bring out the best in Irving, given he and the Cavs get an extension done this offseason. Speaking of the offseason, there’s still more moves to be made, including June 26th, the NBA Draft. I’ll have more on that and who the Cavs could pick on Tuesday.

And if you’re still not sold on Blatt…

A look at the Cleveland Cavaliers new head coach, David Blatt

The David Blatt NBA era has officially begun. One of the most successful coaches in Europe has agreed to become the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Blatt hiring will initially be questioned–and critiqued by some casual fans–because of his non-existent NBA coaching experience, but Blatt’s coaching style and philosophy fits exactly what GM David Griffin is looking for.

Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 2.13.17 PM




The hiring of Blatt also makes it clear that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is allowing Griffin to do his job. Gilbert has been accused of meddling too much in the basketball decisions of the franchise and overruling the GM and front office, but it appears that Griffin was able to go out and get his guy. Griffin has preached how he wants the Cavs to have a certain “fit” and “system” in place, so this hiring bodes well for that if the Cavs can add the right pieces through the draft and free agency.

Most NBA fans probably just heard the name David Blatt for the first time this month, so let’s take a look at the Cavs new head coach. The 55-year-old Massachusetts native played basketball at Princeton from 1977-1981 under Pete Carril. He also won a gold medal with the USA national team at the Maccabiah Games in 1981. Blatt then went on to play in Israel’s Super League. He played professional basketball from 1981-1993 before embarking on his illustrious coaching career.

Blatt won Israeli Coach of the Year in 1996, 2002, 2011 and 2014. He’s a six-time Israeli Cup Champion (2002, 2003, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014). He’s a five-time Israeli League Champion (2002, 2003, 2011, 2012, 2014). He’s also been a FIBA EuroChallenge Champion (2005), Italian League Champion (2006), Italian Cup Champion (2007), Adriatic League Champion (2012) and Euroleague Champion (2014). In Blatt’s past four seasons with Maccabi Tel Aviv, he’s posted a record of 222-55, and coached the Russian national team to a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics.

Blatt has had a longtime goal of coaching in the NBA and is the first coach to make the transition from Europe to the NBA as a head coach. Blatt beat out Los Angeles assistant coach Tyronn Lue for the head coaching position. It was reported that new Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr wanted Blatt as his assistant, so the Cavs had to act fast yesterday in order for Griffin to get his guy.

Seemingly everyone who knows or has played for Blatt refers to him as an offensive genius. He incorporates the Princeton offense that he orchestrated as the point guard at Princeton and adds his own variants to it. His teams prioritize ball-movement–with and without the ball–and getting the optimal shot. You may have heard of the San Antonio Spurs; a team who has perfected a similar offensive philosophy. One could almost say that Blatt has been the Gregg Popovich of Europe. Almost.

Blatt has also been known to get the most out of his players and command respect. I have yet to see any of his former players, colleagues or basketball acquaintances say one negative thing about him. Blatt has built a career out of getting the most out of his rosters, no matter the talent. It will be very interesting to see what he can do with a team of NBA talent, led by Kyrie Irving. This should also be a welcomed change for the Cavs players, as they should be able to play more freely and get open shots within the offensive system.

Another positive is that Blatt isn’t just an offensive-minded coach. His defensive has been mightily praised as well. During FIBA competition, Blatt’s Russia teams were said to be stronger defensively than offensively. It’ll be nice to have a coach who values both ends of the floor for a change.

Even though Blatt has had tremendous success in Europe and is highly regarded in every basketball circle, he will still have to prove himself in the NBA. Taking over a very young team full of rich NBA players might be his toughest task yet, but if he can get everyone to buy into his system, it could also be his best.

Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Blatt and the Cavs agreed on a four-year, $20 million deal. Although ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that the fourth year is a team option.

Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 2.12.43 PMScreen Shot 2014-06-20 at 2.14.25 PM