The Boots: NBA Draft lottery, Byron Scott’s tenure, playoffs

nerlens noel

nerlens noelIn my usual half-rapid fire, half-prose form, I’m here today with another edition of The Boots. Again, for those unfamiliar with this feature, I assign loosely defined “Boot Up” or “Boot Down” votes to trending topics in the sports world. Let’s talk basketball again today.

Boot Up: Slotting in at No. 3 – That’s not necessarily what Cavs fans were hoping from the 2012-13 season. Kirk, Scott and Andrew all have written way more eloquently than I possibly could about the franchise’s current situation post-Byron Scott. But for now, I’d like to focus on what it means for the draft. Obviously, slotting in at No. 3 lines up the stars for a possible better pick than later in the lottery, as fans hoped before the year and maybe even as late as the end of February.

Thus far this season, I’ve written three times about the breakdown of the NBA draft class: January 6, March 2 (with tons of help from @ClevTA) and March 26. On those three occasions, I was able to share an aggregate big board ranking, where I compiled data from about five different sources for a general look at the top 15-20 prospects or so in the 2013 draft.

… Unfortunately, that won’t be happening today. With the constant recent fluidity of the early-entry process for the draft, most big board rankings have yet to be recently updated to reflect the “stay in school” decisions of first-round prospects like Marcus Smart, Gary Harris, Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, James Michael McAdoo, Willie Cauley-Stein, et al. Thus, until April 28’s final NBA early-entry eligibility deadline, it’s just too difficult to parse through the rankings and constantly be making adjustments. I’m certain I’ll get to it again sometime in May before the lottery on May 21.

In the meanwhile though, let’s again talk about this No. 3 lottery spot. As I’ve shared on Twitter, here are the specific odds to watch on May 21:

15.6% odds for No. 1;
15.7% odds for No. 2 (31.3% cumulative);
15.6% odds for No. 3 (46.9% cumulative);
22.6% odds for No. 4 (69.5% cumulative);
26.5% odds for No. 5 (96.0% cumulative);
4.0% odds for No. 6 pick (100.0% cumulative)

Thus, as it shows, there’s a 96% chance of staying in the top 5. Whether your favorite prospect du jour varies between Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, Georgetown’s Otto Porter or Indiana’s Victor Oladipo – usually the most often early preferences for Cavs fans, per social media – it’s likely that at least one should still be available, no matter what. Noel is likely to go at No. 1 or No. 2, but after that, it’s a mix of McLemore/Bennett/Oladipo/Burke/Porter/Zeller/Muhammad/Len that could still go in the top 5.

Overall, as I’ve shared before, this is not a top-heavy draft, which would have been ideal if one were to have predicted another bottom-5 Cavs finish. But by finishing at No. 3, the Cavs likely should be able to pick one of their top few favorites early – then complement said top pick with their choice of one of the many intriguing mid-first-round talents that hopefully should turn out to be a solid rotation player, a la Tyler Zeller. Plenty of storylines still to uncover, but it should again be an exciting draft process.

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Boot Down: Final stats on Byron’s tenure – I won’t be able to replicate some of the great analysis of my colleagues on this Byron Scott news this week. They’ve already done a fantastic job covering several of the angles. Thus, fulfilling my usual niche in the WFNY writer roster, I’ll simply update a few statistics that portray the end of this three-year period of Cleveland Cavaliers history.

Back on Jan. 9 in an email to the WFNY staff, I took a preliminary look at some of the worst three-year segments in Cavs history. At the time, with the team’s difficult start to the season, they were in contention for the bottom slot, but even looked to be too far away from taking over the crown. With the season ending, and the three-year stretch equaling Scott’s overall tenure in Cleveland, here is the final bottom-5 order, as sorted by winning percentage:

T-#1 – 1981-1984: 66-180 (.266)
T-#1 – 1980-1983: 66-180 (.266)
#3 – 2010-2013: 64-166 (.278)
#4 – 1970-1973: 70-176 (.285)
#5 – 2000-2003: 76-170 (.309)

So yes, this stretch was officially worse than the three-year stretch immediately preceding the LeBron James era. The only comparable stretch in franchise history was the four-year period that began with the 1980-81 season and concluded in 1983-84.

Then on April 3 in The Diff, I zeroed in on the Cavs’ failures with blown leads and second-half efficiency. At the time, the team’s record was last in the NBA in games when leading at halftime and when leading at the end of the third quarter. Looking at the NBA over the last eight years1, and then looking again at three-year splits.

Here is how the Cavs’ Byron Scott era finished:
When ahead at halftime – No. 174/180 – 34-38 (.472)
When ahead at end of third – No. 173/180 – 41-23 (.641)

As I reported, the normal expected winning percentage for an NBA team with a lead at halftime is about .725 and when ahead at the end of the third is about .819. Obviously, better teams are better at converting such opportunities, while bad teams are worse, but it’s still a fascinating outlook.

In 2012-13 specifically, the Cavs finished with league-worst 14-21 (.400) and 15-14 (.517) marks. Those single-season winning percentages ranked as the T-5th and 2nd worst, respectively, among 240 teams over this eight-year span.

So as Cavalier fans look forward to the future, the next three years and beyond will hopefully be marked by much more competitive teams. That will be a sign of continued drafting and development of the recent investments. Scott certainly was dealt a tough hand, but the Cavs never helped their case with disappointing collapses consistently each year.

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Boot Up: Playoffs?!? – In a WFNY podcast with Craig Lyndall on Feb. 25, I shared this overall feeling: Of all major North American sports, I can most easily turn the remote and put on a random NBA game. It’s exciting, there’s constant 1-on-1 storylines and there’s so many different angles that one can be attracted to. Obviously, post-Decision, the NBA has not been that desirable of a brand in Cleveland. But with the 2013 playoffs beginning today, I still thought that I would share some preliminary thoughts.

Going through the Western Conference playoffs, oh boy, that first round should be a hoot. Whether your favorite matchup is Thunder-Rockets (James Harden!), Spurs-Lakers (old teams!), Nuggets-Warriors (fun offense!) or Clippers-Grizzlies (contrasting styles!), there’s practically something for everyone. And most importantly, nearly every series could go either way.

Overall, Oklahoma City remains the slight favorite to capture the conference championship. They’ve remained one of the healthiest teams on the court all season, which should be a huge factor over the San Antonio Spurs. The duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is still so good that this team can dominate nearly everyone, even including their former teammate James Harden and the Rockets.

Speaking of those Spurs, the fact that analysts actually are questioning whether the Spurs can advance past a Los Angeles Lakers squad minus Kobe Bryant gives you all the doubt you need about whether SA can actually return to the finals for the first time since ’072. Sure, I think SA should hold it out for this series, but I doubt their ability to win another.

Then, the other four in the West are an intriguing bunch. Who will emerge from the fold and make a splash, if we are to avoid a Thunder-Spurs conference finals? At this point in time, the Memphis Grizzlies are probably my odd favorite, despite the fact they were ridiculed in the media for their seemingly stupid trades back in February. Maybe that “statistician who worked for a cable sports company” actually knows what he’s doing. To me, the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers appear to be too banged-up or too unclear of their strengths, respectively, to make too much damage this year. While the Golden State Warriors have been a great story, but probably just aren’t ready for the spotlight this year either.

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Boot Down: Anyone but Miami – Heading over to the Eastern Conference and … oy. Everyone knows the inevitable fact of what’s going to happen, right?

According to John Hollinger’s latest statistics at ESPN, the Heat have a 52.7% percent chance of returning to the NBA finals for a third straight season with LeBron James. Unfortunately, that’s far lower than it probably should be, if I were to bet on the situation.

The rest of the East is simply much too battered, beaten or overall mediocre to put up much of a fight against the 66-win juggernauts. Simply look at the next-best team should tell you all you need to know about the lack of parity in this conference.

No. 2-seed New York has the recognized honor of avoiding Miami until the conference finals. Recall, however, that this a team with 54 wins and a +4.2 differential on the season. That’s pretty comparable to No. 5-seed Memphis out West, who would be an intriguing candidate to surprise and make the conference finals … not compete for an NBA finals bid.

After the Knicks, it’s a whole lot more meh. As much as I do love watching any average NBA game, am I really all that excited about first-round matchups between Pacers-Hawks and Nets-Bulls? Really? The Pacers maybe, but that’s it. And the Milwaukee Bucks even made the playoffs this season with a 38-44 record, including a 6-15 mark down the stretch?

Thus, I’d expect a whole lot of yawns in the East and perhaps some underwhelming performances from the Heat. In the end, however, it won’t really matter as Erik Spoelstra’s team won’t have to truly turn on its motor until the finals, where I expect they to take home the crown for a second straight season.

Photo: Getty Images/Andy Lyons

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Footnotes:

  1. Some of the data on NBA.com was seemingly amiss for the 2004-05 season, so I could only begin with the 2005-06 year. This then includes 180 separate three-year franchise samples, through this season. []
  2. Fun future research topic: How many teams have been as consistently excellent in the regular season over such a prolonged period of time with no finals appearances? Obviously, San Antonio won it all in ‘99, ’03, ‘05 and ‘07. But since then they’ve finished No. 3, No. 3, No. 7, No. 1 and No. 1 in the West in the last five years with only two conference final appearances to show for it. []
  • boomhauertjs

    I remain skeptical that Tyler Zeller will be a solid rotation player. And I liked him as a draft pick, but his rookie season was very discouraging.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Much like Thompson needs to improve and probably will but he was never going to be an All-Star.

  • JacobWFNY

    I agree here. I think Zeller will be just fine — yeah, he struggled and wasn’t that efficient, but he still averaged 10.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per 36 minutes. That’s perfectly fine production for any rookie.

    For the most part, he is what he thought he would be: An offensive-minded big man that can run the floor, shoot OK, and might not be physical enough to compete consistently just yet. But he’ll develop over time. He should still turn out to be a rotation player on just about any team.

    For a No. 17 pick in the draft, he had a fairly low ceiling, but a relatively high floor that was pretty well established because of his 4 years at UNC.

  • M Diamond

    True. I have hope for Zeller and think he’ll eventually be a solid rotation big, but per36 stats for a sub-20 mpg bench big should be taken with a grain of salt.

  • Dc dawg

    I think we tend to give up way too early on our draft picks. Zeller, Thompson and Waiters are all very young and played pretty well given the lack of veteran presence on this team. It seems like if these guys aren’t All-Stars by year two everyone gives up. Would have rather had guys like Shannon Brown, Danny Green and Hickson in the rotation instead of dumping them prematurely like we have in years past. Also, will Sasha Kaun ever play for us?…he has some good post skills.

  • saggy

    Does anyone know if there are any veterans out there that we can get with our surplus of draft picks and Varejao? I mean, could we get Kevin Love for our lotto-pick, Andy, and the 2 2nd-rounders? I don’t really know too much about the value of draft picks in the NBA so looking for some help.

  • JacobWFNY

    Last I saw (http://www.realcavsfans.com/showthread.php?40048-Cavs-2012-2013-Salary-Trade-Assets-and-Future-Draft-Picks ), Kaun is under contract in Russia until 2014. He’s also 27 now. So even though the Cavs still do own his rights were he to ever come state-side, I wouldn’t put any eggs in that basket.

    Well, I don’t particularly like your Brown/Green/Hickson comparisons. None of them have turned out that well overall. But I see your point in patience. Thompson and Waiters, of course, would be the bigger keys going forward. Both long-term must prove to be worthy starters on a playoff-caliber team if this franchise as currently constructed — pending trade — is to be of contention.

  • JacobWFNY

    This is exactly the conundrum that many Cavs writers have been debating for a while. My esteemed WFNY colleague Ben had a great article on this subject just two weeks ago: http://waitingfornextyear.com/2013/04/cavs-late-season-woes-could-have-big-offseason-impact/.

    My usual perspective: I personally don’t think that this current team + lottery pick + mid-first rounder is good enough to contend for a playoff spot in 2013-14. That’s not the end of the world, per se. Patience can be a good thing. But I think this front office has an expectation of competing for at least the No. 8 seed next year and will start being more aggressive to see that happen.

    Thus, I don’t see the team simply standing put and adding in their currently owned picks. Something will happen — be it the Cavs A) using some of their ample salary cap space now for a free agent (this summer’s class ain’t that pretty, folks, and that means I’m talking about you, OJ Mayo and Danny Granger), or B) making a bigger trade.

    Overall in the trade market, as you asked, it’s tricky. Kevin Love’s likely truly untouchable. But is Al Horford or DeMarcus Cousins? It would probably take some combination of Thompson/Waiters/Zeller + picks + whatever other assets (a la Andy). It would cost a lot for a fringe-ish All-Star player. But I don’t know who all could be available.

    In terms of a specific deal that I think is relatively fair and someone specifically theorized, David Zavac at FearTheSword brought up the idea of Varejao/Waiters/Zeller/’13 lottery pick for Marc Gasol or Horford. That’s an awful lot. But it’s probably what would be necessary.

  • Steve

    Boo on per 36 min stats, especially without the context of what everyone else has done per 36. Zeller was 29th among rookies in TS%, and 24th in PER, and that with him as one of oldest, if not the oldest, rookies. That’s perfectly fine if you’re only looking for adequate end-of-the-bench production, which is reasonable for a #17 overall pick, but it is still easily replaceable.

  • Steve

    Hickson has become a 20 PER guy. It took a serious swift kick in the rear, but he has really come around.

  • NoVA Buckeye

    Is it possible the Cavs may panic and trade all current draft picks to move up to #1 if they end up in a situation where Otto Porter may not be available? Seems like a good idea to me. There is absolutely no question that Otto Porter, Jr. is the guy the Cavs want and need, and I believe they’ll do whatever it takes to draft him on draft day.

  • JacobWFNY

    I don’t see that being that likely, personally. I think as of now, Noel/Porter/Oladipo are the three most logical choices for the Cavs. Per the usual line of thinking and reports out there, Noel’s the only one of those three that might possibly go No. 1. As of now, I just don’t see a situation where the Cavs trade up from their highest lottery slot.

    Thus, a potential corollary draft trade scenario that might be realistic, surprisingly: The Cavs maybe trading away the No. 1 pick if they get lucky in the lottery. For a franchise like the Kings, would that (+ Varejao + other assets) be enough to part ways with DeMarcus Cousins? Is that a trade the Cavs absolutely must make? It’d be very win-now, which appears to be the MO for next season. But just intriguing.