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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Evolution of Cleveland's Roster Since 2007

The Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to the NBA Finals in 2007 but GM Danny Ferry did not rest on his laurels; instead, he traded away starters Drew Gooden and Larry Hughes plus reserves Donyell Marshall and Shannon Brown in exchange for Ben Wallace and Joe Smith. That move made the Cavs older but added frontcourt depth and versatility. Holdouts by Anderson Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic--and Pavlovic's subsequent injuries--prevented the Cavs from completely jelling in 2008 but they still pushed the eventual champion Boston Celtics to seven games in the playoffs. Ferry then acquired point guard Mo Williams and the Cavs raced to the best record in the NBA in 2009, only to fall to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals. Ferry promptly reloaded for the 2010 season by acquiring Shaquille O'Neal and Anthony Parker, while signing an offer sheet for restricted free agent Jamario Moon (the Miami Heat still have the opportunity to match that offer and retain Moon).

In my newest CavsNews article, I examine just how much Ferry has upgraded Cleveland's roster in the past two years (6/19/15 edit: the link to CavsNews.com no longer works, so I have posted the original article below):

In 2007, the Cavaliers surprised many pundits—but not this writer—by making it to the NBA Finals, where a veteran San Antonio Spurs team promptly swept them. The Cavs had perhaps reached the championship round “a year early,” but rather than stand pat to see if that group could return to the Finals, General Manager Danny Ferry soon blew up the roster, adding more depth and versatility. Injuries and holdouts prevented the Cavs from completely jelling in 2008 but the new unit--buoyed by the addition of Mo Williams—posted the best record in the NBA in 2009 and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.

True to form, this summer Ferry has again made aggressive moves to strengthen the roster, acquiring Shaquille O’Neal and Anthony Parker while discarding Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic. Joe Smith and Wally Szczerbiak are not certain to be back; youngsters J.J. Hickson, Tarence Kinsey and Darnell Jackson could work their way into the rotation and/or Ferry may yet make additional trades/free agent signings.

Now is a good time to take a detailed look at exactly how significantly Ferry has changed Cleveland’s roster since the team’s 2007 trip to the NBA Finals.

Here are the top 10 players in Cleveland’s playoff rotation from the past three years (based on mpg):

2007 Playoffs

LeBron James 44.7 mpg
Larry Hughes 35.5 mpg
Zydrunas Ilgauskas 32.5 mpg
Sasha Pavlovic 30.8 mpg
Drew Gooden 30.3 mpg
Anderson Varejao 22.4 mpg
Daniel Gibson 20.1 mpg
Eric Snow 12.8 mpg
Damon Jones 12.6 mpg
Donyell Marshall 10.7 mpg

2008 Playoffs

LeBron James 42.5 mpg
Delonte West 34.8 mpg
Zydrunas Ilgauskas 30.2 mpg
Wally Szczerbiak 28.8 mpg
Daniel Gibson 25.8 mpg
Ben Wallace 23.4 mpg
Joe Smith 20.2 mpg
Anderson Varejao 18.5 mpg
Sasha Pavlovic 13.9 mpg
Devin Brown 11.5 mpg

2009 Playoffs

Delonte West 42.2 mpg
LeBron James 41.4 mpg
Mo Williams 38.6 mpg
Anderson Varejao 30.0 mpg
Zydrunas Ilgauskas 29.1 mpg
Joe Smith 16.7 mpg
Wally Szczerbiak 12.8 mpg
Ben Wallace 12.6 mpg
Daniel Gibson 12.3 mpg
Sasha Pavlovic 8.3 mpg

Cleveland’s increased depth has enabled the coaching staff to give more rest to LeBron James, whose playoff mpg decreased from a team-high 44.7 mpg in the 2007 playoffs to 42.5 mpg in the 2008 playoffs to 41.4 mpg in last season’s playoffs, when James ranked second to Delonte West. Starting center Zydrunas Ilgauskas has also seen his minutes decline slightly as forward/center Anderson Varejao assumed a much more significant role. Daniel Gibson made a name for himself with his clutch shooting in 2007 and moved up to fifth in playoff mpg in 2008, but injuries—and the addition of Mo Williams--limited Gibson to just 12.3 mpg in the 2009 playoffs. James, Ilgauskas, Varejao and Gibson are the only players who ranked in the top ten in playoff mpg for the Cavs each of the past three seasons.

Larry Hughes was James’ “sidekick” in 2007, first playing shooting guard and then shifting to point guard so that Sasha Pavlovic could start at shooting guard. When injuries sidelined Hughes in the last two games of the Finals, Gibson started at point guard. Just two years later, both Hughes and Pavlovic are no longer on the roster and Delonte West is firmly entrenched as the starting shooting guard.

One obvious indicator of just how much depth Ferry has added to the roster is that Pavlovic and Gibson combined to average more than 50 mpg for the 2007 Finalists but barely played 20 mpg in last year’s playoffs. The 2007 and 2008 teams did not have a legitimate, top flight point guard, but the 2009 squad featured Mo Williams, who earned his first All-Star selection; Williams may not be a prototypical pass first point guard but—unlike Hughes—Williams is not playing out of position and he is a much better long range shooter than Hughes.

Three of the top six players from the 2007 playoff rotation—including Hughes plus two players who started in the Finals, Pavlovic and Gooden—are no longer on the team; in 2009, their roles were filled by Williams, West and Varejao. The signing of free agent Anthony Parker means that the Cavs are deeper than ever on the perimeter, as Williams, West and Parker are all proven shooters. West and Parker are also good defenders, while Williams—who was not previously known for his defense—earned raves from the coaching staff last year for his work at that end of the court.

The Cavs’ three man rotation of bigs changed from Ilgauskas-Gooden-Varejao in 2007 to Ilgauskas-Wallace-Smith in 2008 to Varejao-Ilgauskas-Smith in 2009. With the addition of Shaquille O’Neal this summer, Cleveland’s new three man rotation of bigs will be O’Neal-Ilgauskas-Varejao. The talent upgrade since 2007 is clearly evident: O’Neal will have more of an impact than Gooden did and Varejao is a better player now than he was in 2007, while Ilgauskas has remained consistently productive for the past several years. The only cautionary note regarding the frontcourt is that under Ferry’s watch this group is getting older (Ilgauskas-Gooden-Varejao had an average age of just under 27 in 2007, while O’Neal-Ilgauskas-Varejao have an average age of more than 32); it remains to be seen if Ferry will be able to draft/acquire/develop adequate younger replacements for O’Neal and Ilgauskas.

During last year’s playoffs, TNT commentator Mike Fratello noted that the Cavs had at least 10 players on their roster who had been starters for playoff teams at one point in their careers. That statement is still true now but the current Cavs team matches up better—at least on paper—with the league’s other top contenders such as the Lakers, Magic and Celtics. If Ferry succeeds in prying restricted free agent Jamario Moon away from the Miami Heat, then the Cavs will add yet another player to the mix who has started for a playoff team and has the length and athletic ability to defend top notch wing players.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:26 AM


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At Wednesday, July 22, 2009 3:30:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good work!

By the way, how about an article concerning AI? Whem you wrote about the repercussions of his trade to the Pistons i always got the impression that you are one of the few sportswriters who don't just see him as a lost case. That's why i would be really interested in your opinion on the question if there still is a situation in which Iversen can be a valuable part of a team. Is he really such a bad fit if erverything doesn't revolve around him? If not, which team might profit from signing him?
Of course, that's just a proposition. I know that's a lot of work for next to nothing...

Best regards, DB from Germany

At Wednesday, July 22, 2009 4:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


In the 2008 season, Iverson averaged 26.4 ppg (third in the NBA) for a 50 win team while shooting a career-high .345 from three point range and .458 (second best percentage of his career) overall from the field. It is silly to think that Iverson cannot still be a highly productive scorer.

However, Iverson's value in the marketplace was damaged last season. Part of that is Detroit's fault and part of that is Iverson's fault; Dumars brought in Iverson and said that the Pistons would take advantage of Iverson's ability to create shots for himself and others, using that ability to make their offense more potent than it had been previously--but the Pistons rarely did that (the few times that they did it, Iverson played well and the Pistons won, including a victory over the eventual champion Lakers). The Pistons are fixated on the idea that Stuckey is their pg of the future, so they decided that either Hamilton or Iverson had to come off of the bench. Both players balked at this idea but Iverson is the one who got widely criticized and ultimately sent home. The Pistons completely misused Iverson and never took advantage of his skills but Iverson should have probably kept his mouth shut, been a good soldier and then signed with someone else. Instead, Iverson has repeatedly said that he would rather retire than come off of the bench, which has made a lot of teams leery about signing him. Former MVPs Bob McAdoo and Bill Walton came off of the bench for championship teams, so Iverson should not have dismissed out of hand the idea of doing this, though I can understand why he did not want to play behind an unproven player like Stuckey, who the Pistons have vastly overrated.

At Wednesday, July 22, 2009 6:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your analysis. Maybe one should add that he might be a victim of the economic situation, too. After all, Iverson probably doesn't want to play for something like the MLE and most teams obviously are extremely reluctant to spend money on really big contracts - especially for a veteran who is said to have disciplinary problems...

Anyway, thanks for your efforts.

Best regards DB

At Wednesday, July 22, 2009 10:58:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, there is no doubt that the economic situation not only is impacting Iverson but also many other players and teams.


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