August 26, 2014

What Baron Davis Has Meant to the Cavs’ Frontcourt

Editor’s Note: Craig will be coming up shortly with what last night’s Cavaliers win means in the grand scheme of all things crystal ball.  For now, even more from me regarding the Baron Davis Effect.

In late February, Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant pulled the trigger on a deal that had the entire basketball world talking.  Mo Williams, who was to be the Scottie Pippen to LeBron James, was sent packing to the City of Angels for the well-traveled and well-documented Baron Davis.

Earning the reputation of a malcontent at nearly every stop of the way, Davis allegedly signaled the end for what was the Cavaliers’ potential rebuilding process.  He would tarnish the locker room, one rife with rookie and other considerably young talent.  He and Byron Scott would ultimately go to blows once again despite declarations to the contrary.  How could the addition of a 30-year-old point guard with wonky knees and a terrible contract possibly help a team that desperately needs to improve?

For now, ignore the age, ignore the knees, back, and personal issues and focus on the position.  Baron Davis is a point guard.  He’s a point guard that can spread the floor and create shots for himself as well as others.  Byron Scott’s system, coincidentally, thrives when facilitated by a ball-moving point guard. And since Davis’ arrival, regardless of the Cavaliers’ record, nothing has been more evident than the potential of this Cleveland team when run by a pure point guard.

The chart above is fairly easy to comprehend and is by no means aesthetically pleasing.  However, yesterday in a WFNY email chain, Craig passed along the points-per -game figures for the Clippers’ All-World rookie Blake Griffin compared to Cleveland’s starting frontcourt tandem of JJ Hickson and Ryan Hollins.  And once you retrieve your tongue from your throat after reading that Ryan Hollins is your starting center, realize what he has been able to show on the offensive end since getting the starting nod.

Hollins, that bright gold (the New Expression, you know?) line, has been able to improve his points-per-game totals drastically over the course of March (5.6) and April (11.5). And while April has only been four contests and the seven-footer has also seen a vast increase in minutes, it is because he has earned them with his energized play and improved knowledge of the system. 

Hickson had dipped in the month of March, playing the majority of his games at center next to a back-to-the-basket forward in Samardo Samuels.  But when paired with a center who does not clog the lane – let’s face the facts, Ryan Hollins hates banging in the paint – and a point guard who gets the ball to him in opportune spaces on the floor, Hickson has been a man on a mission. 

Want to attribute this to additional floor time as well?  Check out the following:

Early in the year, JJ Hickson thought he was a jump-shooting big man.  When Anderson Varejao went down in January, Hickson was forced to reassess the situation and spend more of his time down low (or as he likes to call, “his bread and butter”).  Baron Davis arrives in March, and viola – Hickson’s true shooting totals, like his scoring, approach that of Blake Griffin. 

Hickson is playing in as many minutes per game through April has he did in the month of February (his previous best scoring month), but is getting to the line nearly twice as often.  He’s converting on as many shots at the rim – just under five per game - but taking nearly two fewer.  He’s being assisted on 62.5 percent of his field goals in April while he was helped on 59.0 percent in February.  He’s a different player, who could be coupling a lot of these figures above with a hot streak in a widely-considered garbage time of the NBA regular season, but he’s a motivated, different player. 

And it is tough to not attribute at least a portion of this success to Baron Davis.  When he is not busy coaching those six-to-eight years younger than he, he is drawing defenders and helping his athletic frontcourt teammates have clear paths to the basket.

Hollins’ true shooting percentage is sky high due to a bevy of easy looks at the rim, most – if not all – of which have been finished with two-hand slams a la Lob City.  The months of March and April (catching on here?) have seen Hollins get to the line roughly 60 percent more often than he has at any other point in his career.  No full-month stretch of Hollins’ time in the NBA has seen the former UCLA Bruin take 5.8 shots per game.  And while April will obviously be abridged, Hollins’ willingness to be a part of a system – and his postgame quotes regarding the point guard in question – show that much of this success can also be attributed to Davis.

There is no telling what Davis’ future in Cleveland may hold.  Ramon Sessions has more shelf life left, has been studying with Davis often, and has shown that he is more than capable of running the point guard position for Scott.  The Cavs will also have a shot at obtaining a new point guard in the upcoming NBA Draft having two lottery selections.  It is widely speculated that Duke’s Kyrie Irving is at the top of the Cavaliers’ draft board, something that would ultiamately force Davis to pass on the baton.

When it is all said and done, having a point guard that can create shots for himself as well as others may be vital for all teams, but Byron Scott’s future (which should have a high correlation to the success of the Cavaliers going forward) hinges on this factor.  Adding Davis in late February not only bolstered the backcourt for the short term, but it has shown the Cavaliers front office what the frontcourt is capbable of when paired with a point guard who has court vision and can convert on his self-created shots.

Oh, and he also helped them beat the Miami Heat.

  • mgbode

    Hollins earned a ‘no criticism card’ from me until the end of the season for the Miami game. Little did I know that he wouldn’t need to cash it in.

    He’s a UFA though, we’re likely drafting a big man, and AV is coming back. So, the odds are good that he will not be a Cavalier next season.

    Baron has been just an amazing surprise. Noone could have predicted this from him.

  • Lyon

    I thought Hollins had a $2 mil player option at the end of the year?

    Love the fact that he’s actually playing better lately. Still needs to get to work on the boards. He’s 7 ft and gets a couple a game, not acceptable.

    Definitely love his growth after playing with Baron. If BD can turn Hollins into a servicable C, then I think he’s worth whatever the cost of his albatross contract.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    Hollins has a $2.5mm player option next season

  • christopher

    couple of thoughts on The Wine and Gold Baron…

    1. despite his knees, back spasms, age and supposed attitude issues he is the best true PG we have had on the roster since Andre Miller

    2. i argued last night that this mix of players being helmed by Davis would have contended for a playoff spot no question…anyone else’s thoughts?

    3. did anyone else see Baron pull the guys together last night after burying that step back jumper? i have noticed him huddling the team at free throw opporutnities, back from timeouts, etc…..in 7 years the only thing I saw #6 do in those situations is gloat, pout he didnt get the foul call, chew his nails or yell at mike brown.

  • Lyon

    Thanks Scott. I’d think Hollins would have to be stupid not to exercise that option, so he should be back.

    Chris, I noticed that as well. He really seems to be relishing his new role. I’m loving it & looking forward to this team adding a couple rookies and moving forward next year.

  • mgbode

    whoops, sorry. thanks Scott.

    ok, well maybe the lockout scares him into accepting the player option. but, otherwise, I think he probably is playing himself to a pay raise (which would likely be elsewhere)

  • christopher

    Lyon — good way to put it..relishing his new role and every hot dog he can get his hands on…ZING.

    joking aside i love the Bearded Baron on this team and hope he keeps it up next year.

    Him as a starter with a healthy AV and Irving off the bench could prove for some good times for Cavs fans ahead.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Rick

    Christopher- if Varejao stayed healthy I would maybe agree with point #2. Not sure that really helps us though. It does make me believe in a PG in the draft though.

  • bobby

    How does Kemba compare to Baron? If the Cavs drafted him with the Clippers pick would that allow him to be mentored by a guy who has a mirror game essentially for a year? Im just thinking if Hollins or Erdeh (?) become a consistent serviceable C along with AV, JJ and SS (Jamison next year as well.. but could be moved ) thats a decent frontcourt. Derrick Williams (with the Cavs pick) fills in the starter at SF and the Cavs are lookin like a brand new team ready to compete.

  • mgbode

    why do you think Kemba is a mirror of Baron?

  • christopher

    Rick – i totally agree in the point that making the playoffs this year was not the move the Cavs needed.

    it is just proving that in Byron’s offense a true PG is the key to unlocking the other’s potentials as we are now seeing Hollins flourishing down low, Hickson dishing to other bigs when the shot is not there, Parker having open looks and Gee with open lanes to drive.

    For any further proof look at his prior teams PG’s Jason Kidd and Chris Paul.

  • http://serandez.blogspot.com Ezzie

    Any stats for when Davis is actually on the court? I’d be curious to see what Hickson and Hollins are doing when he’s on vs. when he’s off.

    That said, I recall wondering when they made the trade if Davis could get Hickson to be similar to Griffin, and it seems that’s been the case. I’m surprised there’s no mention of how Griffin hasn’t changed much with the switch.

  • bobby

    I just think a PG that “who has court vision and can convert on his self-created shots” describes both of them fairly well. Then take in the leadership Kemba showed in their amazing run through the Big East and NCAA tournaments and I think Kemba would be a good PG for the Cavs. As good as Irving, probably not, but I would rather have Walker then Knight.

  • mgbode

    @bobby – fair enough I suppose.

    personally, I haven’t seen Kemba really have much court vision. Not really his fault, UConn built their offense around him scoring points, so he really only gave it up when the defense collapsed on him. But, it is still an element to his game he hasn’t proven yet.

    Knight has better size and has proven to be more of a traditional PG whereas I view Kemba (right now) as more of a Jason Terry type. Definitely a closer call today than just 3-4 weeks ago though.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    Ezzie: When Baron Davis is on the court, the Cavs are +18.2. When he is off of the court, they are -10.2 for a (team-leading) differential of 28.4.

  • mark

    i honestly agree that davis has been a great addition, but it looks to me like both charts show a marked jump in hickson’s game in february – before the trade and aren’t necessarily attributable to boom dizzle. any comments on that?