Cavaliers Season Preview for Cavs News
I just wrote a Cleveland Cavaliers season preview exclusively for Cavs News. The preview that I did for the blogger previews project
conformed to a standard template provided by Jeff Clark of Celtics Blog, who is doing a fine job coordinating that endeavor; the Cavs News preview is a scouting-report style article that not only discusses the team as a whole but also looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the main rotation players (6/17/15 edit: the link to CavsNews.com no longer works, so I have posted the original article below):
The Cavs have
been a strong playoff team the past three years, twice making it to the Eastern
Conference semifinals (2006, 2008) and once reaching the NBA Finals (2007).
Only San Antonio and Detroit
have won more playoff series than Cleveland
during that time span. In 2007 and 2008, the Cavs were eliminated by the
eventual NBA champions. Cleveland
fans can therefore either be amused or annoyed that their team is consistently
underrated by outside observers.
offseason, General Manager Danny Ferry attempted to strengthen the team’s most
obvious weakness by acquiring veteran point guard Mo Williams; now the Cavs have
someone other than LeBron James who can create shots for himself and his
teammates. Holdouts and injuries slowed the Cavs down for much of last season
but this year the Cavs appear to have all hands on deck.
The Cavs have
three former All-Stars--Zydrunas Ilgauskas (2003, 2005), Ben Wallace (2003-06) and
Wally Szczerbiak (2002)--but LeBron James is the team’s only current All-Star
level player. However, the eight man rotation is solid, versatile and performs
very well as a unit, particularly in the postseason.
Team Scouting Report:
is a breathtakingly talented player who is still improving but there is no such
thing as a one man team in the NBA—at least, there is no such thing as a
successful one man team. Michael Jordan played on three sub-.500 teams,
including the year that he scored 37.1 ppg, the highest non-Wilt Chamberlain
average in NBA history; individually, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen
each missed the playoffs in 2006-07 but collectively they led Boston to the 2008 NBA title. Cleveland’s success is
built on three foundations: James’ individual brilliance is certainly one of
those cornerstones but rebounding and team defense are also crucial. Coach Mike
Brown’s challenge this season will be to make sure that Williams plus the
youngsters (J.J. Hickson, Darnell Jackson and Tarence Kinsey) understand and
accept the team’s defensive mindset. It is very important that James continues
to lead by example in this regard; like most young players, he was not a good
defender initially but now he willingly accepts the challenge at that end of
This is the area that
most exasperates fans and commentators alike; the general consensus is that the
Cavs should play at a faster tempo and be more creative. By his own admission,
Coach Brown focuses more attention on defensive game plans than offensive
schemes. Also, prior to the acquisition of Williams, the Cavs did not have
anyone other than James who could push the ball up the court and make good
decisions. The Cavs will most likely play at a faster tempo this season but the
Cavs simply do not have enough dynamic finishers to really thrive in the
uptempo game—and Brown, like most defensive-minded coaches, will always want to
control the tempo to some extent to make sure that the Cavs can set up their
half court defense and not give up easy baskets.
In the half
court set, the pick and roll play is a staple for the Cavs (as it is for many
NBA teams); James is usually the ballhandler, though this season he will be
able to play off the ball at times when Williams is in the game. Ilgauskas generally
fades to the wing after setting a screen and he has a nice shooting touch in
the 15-18 foot range. The Cavs also like to use Anderson Varejao as a screener;
even though Varejao’s effective shooting range is confined to the paint, this
play is still successful because he sets solid screens and rolls very
aggressively to the hoop. Daniel Gibson, Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West and
Sasha Pavlovic will mainly be expected to nail outside shots when the defense
collapses into the paint, though West, Pavlovic and sometimes even Gibson can
also drive to the hoop, particularly if they catch the ball on the wing with a
rotating defender running out toward them. Szczerbiak can use his size to post
up smaller shooting guards.
James has the
size and athleticism to be a very good post player but has yet to show the
inclination to consistently punish smaller defenders by taking them down on the
block, preferring instead to face up defenders on the perimeter and bull his
way to the hoop off of the dribble. If James had a more reliable jump shot then
he could incorporate that into his post game by backing his defender down and
then turning away from the help defense to shoot a midrange, fadeaway jumper;
that became Jordan’s bread and butter move during his first comeback (1995-98,
when he led the Bulls to three straight titles) and is also a part of Kobe
Scouting Reports (Starters/Key Reserves):
Strengths: James is a physically imposing player
whose powerful drives to the hoop are almost unstoppable. His court vision is
remarkable and his ability to throw accurate, cross court passes punishes
trapping defenses. His defense used to be a weakness but that is no longer the
case; not only is he very adept at jumping into passing lanes to get steals as
well as helping out in the paint by blocking shots but his understanding of
team defensive principles has greatly improved. James is on the verge of being
an All-Defensive Team caliber player.
Weaknesses: James is a below average free throw
shooter and his jump shot is very erratic. For that reason, the better
defensive teams in the league concede the jump shot to James while building a
wall around the paint. As a last resort, teams foul James to make him earn his
points at the free throw line.
Strengths: Ilgauskas is a very good perimeter
shooter who can also score in the paint with awkward-looking but effective post
moves. He is not much of a leaper but he uses his 7-3 height and long wingspan very
effectively to block shots and rebound, particularly on the offensive glass. He
has shot better than .800 from the free throw line the past three seasons and
is a career .781 free throw shooter.
Weaknesses: Ilgauskas is not very mobile. He
suffered several foot injuries early in his career, so even though he has been
healthy in recent seasons there is always an underlying concern that those
problems could flare up again as he gets older.
Strengths: Wallace is an energy player who
rebounds and blocks shots. It is sometimes suggested that his teams have to
play four on five offensively because he is not a scoring threat but that is
not really a fair assessment; the defense must be aware of Wallace on the
offensive boards and even though he does not get a lot of assists he is a
capable passer, particularly against defenses that initially leave him
uncovered and then are in scramble mode once the Cavs begin reversing the ball.
Weaknesses: Wallace is an atrocious free throw
shooter who cannot reliably make a shot outside of five feet from the hoop. He
is an undersized inside player who used to rely on athleticism and conditioning
to outperform bigger and taller players but he has lost a step, so it is more
difficult for him to be a dominant rebounder and defender. As he has gotten
older he has naturally become more prone to suffering nagging injuries, most
notably to his back.
Strengths: Williams can create open shots for
himself and others.
Weaknesses: Williams has been a subpar defensive player
so far during his career and that will have to change in order for him to play
heavy minutes for Coach Mike Brown.
Strengths: Although he has yet to consistently
show this during his brief time in Cleveland,
Szczerbiak is a deadeye shooter from all distances (two point range, three
point field goals and the three point line).
Weaknesses: Szczerbiak is a below average
rebounder, passer and defender.
Strengths: Varejao’s energy, mobility, defense
and rebounding are very important for the Cavs; they simply were not the same
team in any of those areas when he held out. Varejao’s playing style tends to
annoy opponents and throw them off of their games.
Weaknesses: Varejao has little offensive game
outside of the paint but at times he seems to not understand that.
Strengths: West is a steady pro who does not
necessarily excel in any one particular area.
Weaknesses: Just as West does not have one area
in which he excels, he also does not have one area in which he is seriously
deficient. One quibble would be that he could draw more fouls but that depends
a bit on whether he is used more as a spot up shooter or as a point guard; when
he is playing point guard he should be able to get into the paint, initiate
contact and create more free throw opportunities than he has so far during his
Strengths: Gibson is a very gifted outside
shooter who has proved that he can nail big shots in clutch situations. He is
more athletic and stronger than he appears to be at first glance, sort of a 21st
century version of B.J. Armstrong.
Weaknesses: Gibson is small for a shooting guard
but does not possess top flight ballhandling or playmaking skills; he can play
point guard for spot minutes, particularly against second unit personnel, but
in general he needs to be on the court with someone who can be the primary
ballhandler, such as James, Williams and/or West.
Strengths: Pavlovic can make outside shots or
drive to the hoop. He has the size and athletic ability to play shooting guard
or small forward.
Weaknesses: Defense used to be a major
weakness—at one time, he told Coach Mike Brown that his offense was his
defense, an attitude that resulted in Pavlovic being glued to the bench for a
while. However, Pavlovic has improved defensively. The big problem now is that
ever since his holdout early last season he has not been completely healthy.
The Cavs hope
that rookie J.J. Hickson will provide frontcourt depth. His playing time will
be directly linked to how effective he is defensively. Tarence Kinsey started
12 games for the Grizzlies in 2006-07 but only played in 11 NBA games last
season before signing with Fenerbahce Ulker of the Turkish Basketball League; he
is a young, athletic player who could develop into a valuable reserve. Lorenzen
Wright’s production has steadily declined since he nearly averaged a double
double in 2001-02 and he figures to be little more than a practice player at
this stage of his career.
serious injury problems, the Cavs will once again perform better than many
“experts” expect; the Cavs are fully capable of winning 55 games, contending
for the best regular season record in the East and making another deep playoff
run. The Boston Celtics have to be considered the best team in the East as the
season begins but the Cavs are certainly capable of posing a serious threat to
the defending champions.
Labels: Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James, Mike Brown, Mo Williams, Zydrunas Ilgauaskas
posted by David Friedman @ 1:47 AM