August 26, 2014

Positional Revolution Heads to Cleveland

If only for a handful of minutes, Cleveland’s sparkling new point guard and power forward were neither “one” nor “four.”

Be it out of experiment or necessity, Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott ran select five-man units which featured Kyrie Irving as the off-guard next to Ramon Sessions while the ever-bouncing Tristan Thompson took every inch of his 6-foot-8 frame and played center. The result of the entire contest was a win as the Wine and Gold came back from a double-digit defecit to top the Charlotte Bobcats in their own house. The result of the multi-positional undertaking, at large, remains to be seen; for one afternoon, Scott was pleased with the outcome.

For those unfamiliar with the Positional Revolution, it is a term coined by Bethlehem Shoals of Free Darko fame, and is one which pays a bit of homage to the do-it-all types that broke the mold. No longer must a center be a back-to-the-basket bruiser, point guards be the scrappy run-and-pass types. Feel free to credit the emergence of Kevin Garnett, a seven-footer with hands and range well beyond his peers; feel free to just enjoy it while its here.  Today’s unique athletes can no longer be slapped into a plug-and-play system. It’s not only a revolutionary term, it’s a liberating one.

And it’s one that may be afforded to the Cavaliers given their present make-up.

In it’s purest of meanings, Tristan Thompson playing center is not necessarily revolutionary. It’s not as if he’s guarding the opposing team’s big man and drawing him on the other end, slowly dragging him out to the wing and draining multiple 17-footers.  But Thompson, a 6-foot-7-inch, 215-pound small forward in high school, has athleticism that seemingly knows no bounds. He’s blocking nearly three shots per-36 minutes and has length that diverts shot attempts in manners not encapsulated by ye olde box score. The Cavaliers are not in a place where they’re running plays for the fourth-overall pick; he merely makes his impact on his own regardless of time afforded. He’s atypical if only because of his size and experience.

Irving, conversely, is a pure point guard. He may not have the wispy hair and baseline moves of Steve Nash, but the rookie’s crossover dribble is enough to give Marcin Gortat flashbacks.  He threads needles, finds cutters and puts his teammates in places which provides them the best of scoring opportunities. So to put him at shooting guard alongside Ramon Sessions — also a pure point guard who just happens to kill with quickness — not only maximizes potential ball movement, it forces the opposing team’s shooting guard to keep up with a player who is substantially quicker.

“Two great point guards playing with each other,” said Irving of on-court his time spent with Sessions. “It just makes the game that much easier for everybody on the court.”

Irving has the ability to create his own shot.  In Charlotte, he went up-and-under with is right hand while later providing a highlight-worthy drive with his left – said move led to Austin Carr talking in the voice of a mid-puberty teen. But just when the Bobcats wanted to collapse in the lane during a play rooted in transition, the first-overall selection, despite being in a numbers-favoring situation, pulled up and promptly converted on a three-pointer.

“I thought [Kyrie and Ramon] did well together,” said Scott postgame. “I think it was a little odd for them because they’re both used to having the ball in their hands. One has to defer to the other, but I thoiught they did well on both sides of the floor.”

The “both sides” is highly operative given the size of the two men (loosely used) in question. Irving, on most nights, could fall into issues guarding opposing shooting guards based on size alone. However, with teams continuing to screen their point guards, he’s also alleviated from being abused in high pick-and-roll situations.

The Thompson decision is one that we may see again, but if only due to the perpetual lack of impact from any center not named Anderson Varejao. Varejao was needed for the fourth quarter and Antawn Jamison is nearing 40 years of age in the midst of a seven-game road trip. Alas, it was Thompson who was forced to learn on the job – just as he has at the power forward spot — as the “five” on both ends. When asked for a grade, Byron Scott stated that “he liked it.” 

Just as Irving playing shooting guard stemmed from Anthony Parker falling victim to back spasms, Thompson as a reserve center could also be the product of a man simply not getting what he wants out of his reserve centers who can’t seem to stop fouling; Erden, at one point in the second half, was amassing more personal fouls than minutes played. 

Feel free to coin this merely as two players playing out of position, or pound the table yearning for more.  Either way, know that the players are fully on board.

As Thompson put best, “First and foremost, I’m a basketball player.”

(AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  • Dano

    Great quote to end the piece.

  • Anonymous

    agreed.  love that attitude.

  • Anonymous

    Even though they look like they could be headed for the dreaded #8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, I love this Cavs team.  They’re fun to watch, they don’t quit, and the players as stated above can play multiple positions making a versitile offense and defense.

  • Anonymous

    wow i just realised they play the positions matching the slots they were drafted in…1 and 4

  • http://twitter.com/cpmack Chris

    I know that making the playoffs is mainly seen as a detriment to the gathering of talent for the Cavs, but I would argue that there is positive side of this season so far – these kids are learning how to win games. To me, that is vastly more important than tanking the season and fostering a culture of losing for lottery picks. If Irving / Thompson aren’t rookies, I think that they take that game in Los Angeles on Friday. Inexperience against wily vets did them in on that fourth quarter run.

    Minnesota has been gathering lottery picks (and trading them) for the better part of the last decade, and they still can’t find a coach, a system, or players that work for them. Losing games for high picks never guarantees anything, which is why I won’t support hoping a team tanks a season simply to improve their draft position.

  • Ryan

    Well said Chris, I agree with everything.  Also, good teams find good players in the draft regardless of draft position.  Look at the Spurs! 

  • Anonymous

    don’t worry about that.  we still have had a pretty easy schedule and haven’t had any real injuries.

  • Jack

    Pretty sure Kyrie going to the 2 was less a reaction to AP’s back (might’ve wanted to save face with that for the vet), and more a defensive/matching/counter to the backcourt of Kemba and DJ from the Cats. 

    Don’t think you’ll see that happening much in the future. AP had no chance against either of those lil’ qwiksters…going with Kyrie and Ramon made sense. But again, think it was more reactionary than proactive.

  • Anonymous

    you mean look at the getting significant minutes for Danny Green Spurs (no, really – he’s been pretty good for them so far this year).

  • Anonymous

    I believe we are the 7 seed…right behind the heat…

  • pihc

    good experiment on the road with the undersized Bobcats, but reality is, Both are 1s and 2s.    Byron did what was necessary with AP out and Bigs in Foul trouble.   Good to see a coach with a head on his shoulders.

  • pihc

    ooops I meant 1s and 4s.

  • Harv 21

    a nice creative touch by Coach Scott against a bad team. But put Tristan’s 215 lbs. at center against certain teams, like Orlando, and I’ll have a nickname for him: “silly putty flattened against the backboard.”

  • http://www.xufe.com/England-Premier-League/   Premier League

    Interesting post.

    Tristan Thompson playing center is not necessarily revolutionary. He’s
    blocking nearly three shots per-36 minutes and has length that diverts shot
    attempts in manners not encapsulated by ye olde box score. The Cavaliers are
    not in a place where they’re running plays for the fourth-overall pick

    .