July 22, 2014

The Boots: Cavs defense, Dion Waiters and the depth chart

cavs defenseIn my usual half-rapid fire, half-prose form, I’m back with another edition of The Boots. For those unfamiliar with this feature, I assign loosely defined “Boot Up” or “Boot Down” votes to trending sports topics. With a disappointing Indians loss last night, let’s get excited about the Cavs.

Boot Down: The bad Cavs defense – Lest we forget, this is the biggest assumption facing the hope for a competitive Cleveland basketball team in 2013-14. Yes, the young players will need to continue to improve and the free agent acquisitions will hopefully make some impact.

But the Cavs defense under Byron Scott was simply atrocious. At times, it seemed that Scott had no set plans at all to counteract the other team. And the numbers show just how bad Cleveland was over the past three seasons.

cavs defense stats

The Cavs are loaded with offensive firepower. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to call Kyrie Irving-Dion Waiters-Anthony Bennett-Andrew Bynum the best 25-and-under offensive foursome in the NBA. When healthy (a major question mark with those players in total), that’s a very dangerous group.

Obviously, a net efficiency around 0.0 somewhat resembles a .500 ballclub, which is the goal that I presented for the 2013-14 Cavs in The Diff on Wednesday. But when you consider that the Cavs’ best offensive efficiency under Byron Scott was 104.3 this past season, you see the huge discrepancy.

Each year, the Cavs were in the bottom four in efficiency field goal percentage. They didn’t contain teams well in the post. They allowed a high number of three-point attempts, which went in at above-league-average rates. Teams had consistent assist rates and lots of second chances, with Cleveland only showing up in limiting turnovers this past season.

For this team to be competitive, it will take some serious coaching from Mike Brown and some drastic defensive improvement. Over the past three seasons, the Cavs have shown virtually no consistent defensive ability at any distinguishable aspect of the game. That’s inexcusable, starting now.

 

Boot Up: Fantastic cap management – As was mentioned last night with the reported signing of rookie Carrick Felix, the website HoopsWorld has an updated Cavs salary page. While that site doesn’t have the reputation of ShamSports, the industry leader in minute salary details, there are still some fascinating details in both breakdowns.

About four weeks ago, the NBA salary cap was announced to be $58.679 million for the 2013-14 season. That was a slight increase from the $58.044 million last year. While the Cavs were previously notorious were being over the cap – although not facing the new stricter tax rules within the current CBA – they hadn’t been close in the last few seasons.

Now, with the free agent signings of Bynum, Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark, most fans understood that the Cavs were inching closer to the max. In fact, according to these two sites, they’re really, really close. Including all cap holds for players with existing options for 2013-14, here’s what the two sites report:

HoopsWorld – $58,678,384
ShamSports – $58,168,984 (not including Felix’s $510,000 deal)

So in fact, they’re dead on when factoring for Felix’s total. And both then end up within just $600 dollars of the NBA salary cap for 2013-14. That maximum total factors in existing holds for youngsters Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Dion Zeller, and the full amounts for Andrew Bynum and CJ Miles.

In total, that’s 13 players on the team. I’d simply expect the Cavs to add a few more minimum-salaried guys to round out the bench, such as the players that shined somewhat in the Las Vegas Summer League. Forward Kenny Kadji, forward Justin Harper, guard Jermaine Taylor, guard Cory Higgins and guard Matthew Dellavedova are the leading contenders.

Then, there are tons of options for next year’s roster, with only Jack, Bennett and Sergey Karasev likely to have fully guaranteed deals. Obviously, Irving, Thompson and others will be retained, but it exemplifies the impressive cap management that’s taken place in just three seasons by GM Chris Grant and company.

Who knows if the Cavs will be inherently better than the other mid-tier East playoff contenders. But no matter what, they likely have the most flexibility of any of those teams going forward.

 

Boot Down: Dion Waiters’ reputation – As a 21-year-old rookie last season, Dion Waiters averaged 14.7 points, 3.0 assists, 2.4 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game. He only averaged 28.8 minutes in his 61 contests, showing that overall, he quickly racked up the stats for a very young guard.

Yes, the efficiency was dreadful at times. Waiters’ 45.1% efficiency field goal percentage ranked 161st out of 177 NBA players last season with at least 500 field goal attempts. His 13.7 PER ranked 132nd out of the 187 NBA players with at least 1,500 minutes played.1

But articles like ESPN Insider’s Bradford Doolitle’s projections of the top shooting guards for 2013-14 are starting to get on my nerves. In his advanced WARP ratings, Doolitle ranked the most valuable 2-guards in the game. Fellow second-year Bradley Beal finished at No. 5, while youngsters Tyreke Evans, Klay Thompson and DeMar DeRozan all received honorable mentions.

In the listing of 18 total shooting guards, there was absolutely no mention of Waiters. That’s despite the fact Beal actually ended up with an identical PER (13.7) and missed more playing time, while DeRozan (career 13.8 PER) is regarded as one of the least efficient players in the game.

Obviously, Waiters’ NBA-wide reputation as an inefficient shooter hit a few peaks last season, as spearheaded by CBS Sports’ Matt Moore. Moore has changed his tune somewhat in recent months, as Waiters finished strong and garnered some momentum for 2013-14.

My biggest point: Waiters is a 21-year-old, just slightly older than Beal, who similarly has high potential for growth in his game this coming season. If Beal’s best comparison is a slightly worse Ray Allen with great shooting ability, then Waiters is a slightly worse Dwyane Wade with do-it-all potential.

It just doesn’t seem fair to continue to ignore the recent No. 4 overall pick on the national stage. With his flashes of Las Vegas dominance, Brown’s coaching abilities on defense, the new (old) commitment for him to play off-the-ball as a 2-guard and the help of Jack-Irving in the backcourt, he could be the Cavs’ biggest surprise this coming season.

 

Boot Up: Kirk’s minutes post – A few weeks ago, my WFNY colleague Kirk wrote a little experiment about how the playing minutes could be distributed among the 2013-14 Cavaliers. I highly encourage for you to go check out that piece and the arguments that he made.

Here was Kirk’s rough estimate on how he would organize a 10-man rotation for the Cavs. I’ll follow it up with some thoughts and analysis:

PG – Kyrie Irving (34), Jarrett Jack (14)
SG – Dion Waiters (32), Jarrett Jack (12), Sergey Karasev (4)
SF – Alonzo Gee (14), Earl Clark (12), Anthony Bennett (12), Sergey Karasev (10)
PF – Tristan Thompson (22), Anthony Bennett (14), Earl Clark (8), Anderson Varejao (4)
C – Andrew Bynum (25), Anderson Varejao (20), Tristan Thompson (3)

The most glaring observations are the weak link that remains at SF and the logjam that persists for the big men. As of now, there have been zero indications that rookie Bennett actually will receive playing time at the 3. That certainly would change the dimensions of Kirk’s distribution.

Three remaining roster players that were not included in Kirk’s rotation: Zeller, Miles and Felix. It’s important to note that Zeller averaged 26.4 minutes in 77 games last year, while Miles averaged 21.0 in 65 contests. For them to both fall completely out of the rotation seems like a stretch, even with this year’s improved depth.

For now, I’d probably guess that Miles will receive the bulk of Sergey Karasev’s 14 minutes per night. I’ve got nothing against the rookie Russian, who officially signed recently. But Denver rookie Evan Fournier – the closest comp available – totaled just 100 minutes in 32 team games through December. That’s about what I’d expect in the early going for Karasev too.

Tristan Thompson played in every game last season and averaged 31.3 minutes per contest. Yes, every returning player will likely have to see some reduction in minutes, and 25 probably sounds about right for now. Still is worth noting again that he was far improved last year with consistent, heavy minutes.

The biggest wild card in this depth chart is clearly Bynum. Will he be healthy for the preseason and by the start of the regular season? No one knows for certain. In his 2011-12, he averaged 35.2 minutes in missing just six games all season. And even though he’s averaged at least 27 minutes in five straight seasons, I’d expect the Cavs to get him started very slowly, perhaps in the 16-20 range.

Previously, I shared the odd quarter-by-quarter breakdown of Jarrett Jack’s 2012-13 minutes. Off the bench, he averaged 29.7 minutes in 79 games. Will he be closing out games again like he did for Golden State? I’d assume so, but does that mean a 3-guard rotation or will the young Waiters be sitting out when games are tight? That’s a very tough decision.

In the end, the Cavs are better. We’re debating about actually worthwhile NBA players like Clark, Jack, Bynum and the up-and-coming youngsters. This is a team that should be mediocre, but at least constantly entertaining and competitive.

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Footnotes:

  1. For intriguing context, fellow Cavs rookie Tyler Zeller actually ranked worse in both categories: 43.8% efg (174th) and 11.0 PER (172nd). []
  • Chucky Brown

    i truly hope clark beats out gee at the 3

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    If he does it’ll only be because Gee was horrible. Clark is not a starter and he’s not a SF at least not full-time.

  • Chucky Brown

    my comment was fully rooted in my belief that alonzo gee should not start for anynba team

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Heck, add Tristan Thompson to your foursome to make the best 25-and-under 5-man squad in the NBA (we’re pretending that Bennett is a SF).

  • mgbode

    sounds like a fun idea to replace summerleague

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I would watch the heck out of that.

  • mgbode

    thinking it out further, it should be 5man teams, but they should play “hoop it up” style (3on3). it would be the best thing ever.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Oh nice… maybe add in a rule that if a team opts to sub players, then it needs to go with those players for at least 3 minutes before subbing again. Would be fun to see teams go big against small, small against bigs, etc.

  • mgbode

    how about 4min eighths and only subs at the beginning of them? rolling clock, no free throws, but 5-fouls and you are ejected.

    and, I’m really tempted to bring in the 3pt line to college/int’l just to see the pace and spacing.