Joakim Noah had the game of his young career against the player that once tried to throw him under the bus. Noah finished with 13 points and 20 rebounds against former teammate Ben Wallace. Deng and Gordon also had 20 points+ as the Bulls rolled over the Cavs. LeBron scored 39, but only managed 3 boards and a mere 1 assist. Aside from Devin Brown’s 15, the team struggled to do anything offensively, losing 107-96.
The Cavaliers were again without Zydrunas Ilgauskas, with his bad back. (I feel it necessary to remind Cavalier fans that many were clamoring for a trade of Ilgauskas. Do we see now how valuable he is?) And in his place Mike Brown trotted Andy Varejao to start alongside Ben Wallace, again. There is a serious problem with this starting line-up.
Here’s the problem, and I’ll break it down for you two ways. First, mathematically. Here are the starters for the Cavaliers and their point averages per 48 minutes. LeBron James (36.2) Devin Brown (15.01) Delonte West (14.75) Andy Varejao (12.07) Ben Wallace (11.75). That is a total team score of 89.78 points per 48 minutes. Replacing Andy or Wallace with Joe Smith (18.98) or Wally Szczerbiak (18.38) in this rotation would increase the ‘scoring potential’ by 6 or 7 points. That may not sound like a lot, but the worst offensive team in the league (Minnesota) averages 93.25 points a game. Add Joe Smith instead of Varejao, Cleveland’s number increases to 96.69, which would be good enough to leap frog 12 teams and put them at 20th.
Next, think of this from an x’s and o’s stand point. Wallace and Varejao are screen and pick setters. Under no circumstances should either of them be given the ball in space, asked to put the ball on the floor, or make a critical decision and pass for a championship-level team. Don’t give me the Andy is much better offensively this year argument. When Varejao was scoring in this offense it was as the 5th option, and really close to the basket. Next, Delonte West (4.5 assists/game) is not distributing the ball well enough for this line-up to work. I’m not willing to throw Delonte under the bus here, as he is still learning the system, or….worse yet he does know the system, and the system is inadequate. West’s shot is not what it was before the trade either, at least his long distance shooting.
I like Devin Brown, and obviously he would be better coming off the bench in a 6th man role, but with the injuries we have he probably gives us the best combination of offense and defense at the 2 guard. LeBron James obviously is the main offensive weapon whenever or whoever else is on the floor.
So when those five are on the floor who is supposed to score? They are playing for 8 or 9 minutes together at the beginning of each half. How exactly are they supposed to get off to strong starts? LeBron is supposed to score 15 at the start of each quarter? Look at the numbers for the first and third quarters for the games that Z has missed.
Tonight vs Chicago- 17 points in the first, 16 points in the third. Last night vs New York- 27 in the first and 26 in the third. (Note they scored 31 and 35 in the second and fourth, meaning they averaged -7.5 points with the starters, roughly). The first game against Chicago was better, but in that first quarter of that game the Cavs hit 8 of 12 first half shots.
I know that Austin Carr loves to point out that Ben Wallace is better playing the 4 than the 5, but he is capable of playing the 5, and while Z is out, he needs to log some minutes there. Having Joe Smith available to knock down the 12 foot jumper is important for the team spacing. Watch the game again and notice where Wallace’s defender is when Ben gets the ball at the top of the key. He is below the foul line! There is no fear of Wallace with the ball. If you are defending this line-up you can cheat to LeBron all you want, or for that matter cheat to Devin Brown and wonder where LeBron is going to pass.
For those who argue that the defense Wallace and Varejao bring should make up for the offensive liability, I ask you why are opponents scoring over 100 points a game on this line-up? I know the back-to-back games is a factor. Which would be even more reason to let one of them sit to start each half!
I don’t want you to think that this is a knee-jerk reaction to one game. From last night’s game recap-
Mike Brown, if you’re reading this please, for one game DO NOT play Varejao and Wallace together. Seriously. Use Joe Smith. Use Szczerbiak at the 4 if you have to. I’m serious, Wallace and Andy shouldn’t be on the floor for more than 10 minutes together the whole game.
From the recap of the first Chicago game-
Andy Varejao started alongside Ben Wallace again, and Cavalier fans are left to wonder if the team will ever be healthy enough at the same time to gel as a team before the playoffs.
From the game recap against the Timberwolves-
Though I wouldn’t say Andy had a bad game. He is still getting the ball way too much on the offensive end, and playing too many minutes together with Ben Wallace.
I’ll save you the quote, but it was mentioned after the game against the Celtics, and the game against the Bucks, this one with a quote-
Andy deserves some slack tonight, he obviously isn’t 100%, and he was playing the Ilgauskas role tonight. Speaking of that, why in world did so much of the offense run through Varejao tonight? I’ll tell you why, because lesson #1 is you can’t have Andy and Wallace on the floor at the same time.
In fact, in my first post about the new team, I broke down at length why Andy and Wallace shouldn’t play together.
I don’t claim to be an expert in NBA offenses, or even basketball for that matter. Am I crazy for thinking this? Shouldn’t they at least try a different line-up? I’m satisfied this one has had a chance, and it isn’t working. Please change things up Mike….
UPDATE: Apparently Brian Windhorst agrees with me on some of these points-
Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ absence really showed up tonight. Not just with the rebounding issues, but also on offense. When he gets a putback or scores from the post he steadies things. Even when he misses from the post, it rarely leads to a run out at the other end. Since Ilgauskas has been out the Cavs have had streaks of 1-of-15 shooting and, tonight, 1-of-13. He is the Cavs second-best player and missing him is going to sting and tonight it did.
Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West’s absence from the team has shown up the last two nights, both haven’t been very good. West was been nonexistent. Maybe they are also coming down from a bit of an energy high after the trade.
And his analysis of LeBron’s performance-
LeBron had 39 points and he made a lot of crazy shots and that’s fine, that’s what he does. But he started playing street ball in the second half and that is not his way and it was surprising. All you have to do is look at one thing, his assists. Make that assist. He had one, by far his lowest of the season.
My response to this would be, “Ok, but who’s he supposed to pass too?”