When we last sat in the film room, it was to talk about Dion Waiters and a stale Mike Brown inbound play. Today, we’re not going to talk about last Sunday nigtht’s game in Sacramento. No, we’re burning the footage of that one so that it may never see the light of day again. As far as I’m concerned, it never happened. It NEVER happened! The Sacramento game? What Sacramento game? Exactly… As always if you have any ideas for film room topics, feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today, we’re going to talk about the first half of basketball the team played after the Luol Deng trade. It was last Wednesday night against the Sixers in the Q. In that half, the wine and gold dished out a stunning 21 assists on their 27 field goals, on their way to 64 points and 55% shooting. The Cavaliers were high on momentum from the trade, and they play so much better at home. Still, even against an inferior opponent on their home court coupled with C.J. Miles’s franchise-record 10 three-pointers, the Cavaliers displayed passing skills and an unselfishness that would travel if they committed to it. Let’s go to the photos.
Let’s start with this first quarter play. Kyrie Irving has the ball out at the top of the key. C.J. Miles is cutting through from the left side of the floor to the right, where Earl Clark and Anderson Varejao are located.
Clark and Andy set a staggered double screen, and Clark cuts through after he sets his pick. You’ll see that Evan Turner plays over top of the screen because of C.J. Miles’s three point shooting ability. Miles slips under the screen and creates some separation to receive the pass from Irving.
With fairly good spacing as Clark heads to the corner and Tristan remains on the opposite block, the back side opens up for Varejao. Spencer Hawes overplays to prevent Miles from driving to the basket, and it’s an easy dump-off to Andy.
Varejao finishes up and under and flashes with that great touch around the rim. He could have just as easily dropped it off to Tristan for the slam, and he’s done that plenty of times as well.
When the Cavaliers offense is really humming, they’ll get a few of these clear-outs for Varejao each game. Because Varejao is almost never the first, second, or third offensive option on the floor, he has a lot of freedom of movement in between shots.
Next, we’ll see how the Cavaliers can push the ball and finish in transition. Dion Waiters picks up a loose ball and starts the fastbreak. Tristan Thompson is out ahead of him, and it’s a 2-on-1 break in effect as Waiters dribbles with a head of steam.
Dion slows down a bit as he heads inside the three-point arc. In this freeze frame, it looks like the lob to Tristan is there, but the Sixers other than that have recovered fairly well with four of them and just two Cavaliers in our picture. Hollis Thompson is doing his best to split the difference between Waiters and Thompson.
Waiters picks his dribble up as the Philly defense collapses in on him. The bounce pass to Thompson for a dunk appears to be there, and we’ve seen plenty of those looks for Tristan much like Varejao when the Cavaliers drive the basketball and force helpside defenders to rotate. But, never forget about the trailer in the fastbreak.
Uh oh, there’s C.J. Miles, on the right wing and unguarded. He pulls the trigger and knocks it down.
Are the 76ers a good defensive team? Of course not, but even good teams can lose track of guys in transition defense. Even though they had all five men back inside the arc on the fastbreak and the Cavaliers only had three players in the frontcourt, they still got a great shot because of the uncertainty that the fastbreak brings. A ball handler advances the ball and looks to attack, big men run and fill the lanes on either side of him, and one of the other perimeter players is the trailer, stepping into three point looks when open just as Miles did. It’s Basketball 101, and the Cavaliers should do it a lot more often.
Here’s a look at another transition opportunity. Matthew Dellavedova grabs the defensive rebound and immediately has his head up the court looking for someone to advance the ball. Waiters leaks out as soon as the ball is secured.
Delly zips the pass ahead to Waiters at halfcourt and hits him in stride. It’s a 1-on-1 opportunity for Dion against James Anderson.
Anderson does a good job of staying in front of Waiters, and this scoring chance would have been all for naught if Zeller doesn’t keep running the floor and beat Lavoy Allen down the court. Waiters draws Anderson and look off a pass to Zeller who is streaking through the paint.
Don’t stand on the tracks when the train’s coming through, Anderson. Zeller throws the hammer down, and he draws the foul on top of it.
Since Bynum’s exit, Zeller has been playing some consistent, quality backup center minutes. While he hasn’t put on any real weight to speak of, he’s getting pushed around less and less inside, and we’ve seen several determined finishes like this one in the past two weeks.
Remember that awful inbound play from last week? It doesn’t always have to be so difficult. Yes, this is a late first quarter possession, but the action is simple and carries over. Miles inbounds the ball to Zeller above the three point arc.
The inbounder is often forgotten in these scenarios, and he has such freedom of movement after he passes, because his defender is concerned about bothering the pass that sometimes it takes him a split second to readjust and follow him wherever he cuts. That’s exactly what happens here as Turner gets screened by Zeller when Miles cuts toward the sideline and then curls back over top.
A good solid screen gives Miles all the room he needs to rise and fire. He did a lot of that in this game with his franchise-record 10 three pointers.
We’ll look at one more inbound play that starts after a foul and 14 seconds on the shot clock. Alonzo Gee inbounds to Zeller high on the wing once again. He curls around as Zeller takes a couple of dribbles.
Delly flashes toward Zeller and curls tightly around him to grab the basketball. When done properly, this play can be really effective. It allows the screen and pass to happen almost simultaneously. The only trick is not being called for a moving pick, and Zeller’s had plenty of those this season.
The Sixers get tangled and end up guarding neither look.
Delly could’ve taken the shot himself, but he instead makes the smart choice to throw it to Zeller as he flashes to the basket for an easy dunk.
The Cavs rank just 28th in the league in assists with just over 19 per game. Part of that is the high number of isolation plays from their backcourt of Irving, Waiters, and Jack. Kyrie, for example, assists on teammate field goals about 34% of the time, which doesn’t sound bad. However, compare it to Chris Paul’s 54%. Even worse, good passing teams have multiple starters with greater than 20% assist rates (like Miami and Portland, for example). Jack is second on the team at 22.9%, and the second highest starter rate is Varejao’s 12.0% as Thompson, Miles, and Clark don’t do a good job of sharing the ball consistently at all. The fact that the Cavs racked up 20 assists in this first half alone, however, shows that they have the ability to dish out assists at a high rate by making an effort.
There’s really nothing profound with what I’ve shown you. The point lies in the fact that the wine and gold have big men that can run the floor and finish and guards that can make the extra pass after dribble penetration. When you see really good teams share the basketball, it’s second nature, and it can and often does beat good, rotational defense. With the addition of Deng, the Cavaliers have another scoring option, and it should allow for more easy chances for role players to finish and score.
Kirk Lammers grew up on the Marblehead Peninsula and is a graduate of THE Ohio State University. He now lives in Northeast Ohio, and you can find him at the ballpark, at the Q, or far too often on Twitter (@WFNYKirk)."