April 25, 2014

Statistical observations following another non-playoffs Cavs season

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Cleveland Cavaliers

Remember how much fun the playoffs were? From 2005-2010, spring time basketball in Cleveland was fun and exciting. If you recall, there were chants of “Eric Snow for MVP” one year – perhaps my favorite sports memory ever – and that’s how in love we once were with playoff basketball.

If the past few days of amazing back-and-forth games showed me anything, it’s that as a fan, I yearn to be back in that position again soon. Very soon.

As a stats-minded individual, I also know that the Cavaliers haven’t had it that bad … yet. Missing the playoffs four straight seasons isn’t that rare in the NBA. Several teams are on longer droughts currently. Heck, imagine how difficult life would be out in the Western Conference.

Continuing with that stats-centric hat, here are six observations I’ve been mulling over from the conclusion of this funky #seasonofhuh. Before we get started, go check out the pieces from my WFNY colleagues Ben Cox and Andrew Schnitkey so far. Both were outstanding.

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Through the Looking-Glass, and What the Cavaliers Found There

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Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

There’s a degree of order in life. Certain things fit together in ways that make sense. There are laws of math, and physics, and biology. Unbreakable truths. Anyone who has been watching the recent reincarnation of the show Cosmos on FOX has been able to look on with awe at the sheer depth of scale to the universe and life on earth. From observable galaxies that are billions of light years away to the beautiful complexity of life at the sub-molecular level, there are rules and order. The same laws of physics that govern our world apply to those billions of light years away.

None of those unbreakable rules of consistency apply to the 2013-14 Cleveland Cavaliers. In a world of order, the Cavaliers are outlaws. They are agents of rebellion flying in the face of matters of consistency and basketball truths. Or, should I say, they “were” outlaws. The 2013-14 Cavaliers are no longer a fluid existence in the present, but instead are now frozen in time as a part of history. And when basketball scholars look back and study this team, what will they find? They won’t find answers, but more questions. That’s something everyone who lived through this season knows from personal experience. No matter where things go from here, this will always be remembered as one of the most confusing seasons in Cavalier history.

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The Season of Huh: Your 2013-14 Cleveland Cavaliers

Mike BrownSometimes a professional sports team can have one of those dream seasons. A year where everything seems to go right. One of those seasons where seemingly minor acquisitions pay big dividends, where the Krenzel bootleg is inexplicably unstoppable or somehow Sandy Alomar Jr ends up batting in every clutch situation. Whatever the reason, all the little things break your way and the season becomes bigger than the sum of it’s parts.

We’ve all heard the terms; the season of dreams, a team of destiny.

The 2013-14 Cleveland Cavaliers are the exact opposite of that.

The Cavs are finishing up one of the most bizarre seasons I’ve ever witnessed. They re-hired their old coach. Tristan Thompson changed shooting hands. All three free agent acquisitions fell flat. Players fought with coaches. Players fought with other players. Players fought with reporters. Hell, players fought with Josh Gordon. They had two first round picks that couldn’t crack the rotation of a 30 win team. But the Cavs also had some nice moments. [Read more...]

Cavs vs Pistons Behind the Box Score: Trees falling without making a sound

AP Photo/Mark Duncan

AP Photo/Mark Duncan

Don’t get me wrong…that was a fun game. The Cavaliers played some of the best team basketball we’ve seen this group play as they came out and just crushed the Pistons 122-100. But as fun as it was, it unfortunately didn’t matter. The Pistons quit a long time ago. They’re the same team who played a 76ers team on the verge of breaking the all time losing streak record. And the Pistons got killed by that Sixers team. So it wasn’t surprising that the Cavs were able to take care of business.

The fact is, the playoffs are gone, the Pistons are a team tanking as hard as can be, and so there’s just not much to take away from this game. Winning a game like this just doesn’t really mean much. You would like to think that the ball movement, spacing, and team scoring were all functions of a team developing and figuring things out. Unfortunately, it could just as easily be about playing a team that just doesn’t care anymore. And because I don’t want this to be coming across as too negative, I’ll point out that the Cavs legitimately deserve credit for caring. Or at least caring a lot more than the Pistons, anyway.

Now lets get into the numbers: [Read more...]

Kyrie Irving mastering the art of “The Return”

Kyrie Irving Orlando Magic 20140402

It was just three years ago, almost to the week back in 2011, when an 18-year-old Kyrie Irving took to the basketball floor for the first time in what was a three-month span. Having sustained multiple torn ligament in his right big toe, Irving, one of the college game’s most heralded prospects, rejoined his team during the men’s Division I tournament, one of the most celebrated win-or-go-home stretches of play in all of sport. As Irving’s teammates filled in admirably in his absence, lifting the Duke Blue Devils to the top seed in the region, questions surrounded his decision to return—team chemistry notwithstanding, with an NBA paycheck in his not-so-distant future, was Irving risking too much by lacing them back up?

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Cavs vs Magic Behind the Box Score: Signs of a fun April?

AP Photo/John Raoux

AP Photo/John Raoux

Talk about a boring game. But boring in the best way ever.

The Cavaliers were ready to play from the start in this one, and they never let up as they absolutely crushed the Magic by a 119-98 score. This one had a little bit of everything and everyone. Kyrie Irving came back and played well, Dion Waiters just kept doing what he’s been doing, Spencer Hawes had his best game in a while, and Tristan Thompson had a double-double. So yeah, it was a good game.

With every win the Cavaliers continue to keep the playoff hunt interesting. The Knicks and Hawks are virtually tied for the 8 seed, with the Cavs lingering just two games back. The Cavs’ chances would be a lot better if they were only chasing one team instead of two of them, but still, with six games left to play, this thing isn’t over yet.

Now lets look at a few numbers… [Read more...]

Cavs vs Pistons Behind the Box Score: A game-winner for Dion

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The Cavaliers were on the road, playing the second night of a back-to-back. For the first three quarters the team more or less played like it. The Cavaliers fell down by 16 points and it looked like that would pretty much be it.

But the Cavaliers got a surprise offensive explosion from Matthew Dellavedova, Anderson Varejao was his old rebounding-machine self, and Jarrett Jack had an enormous fourth quarter to lead the Cavaliers back to within striking distance.

The Cavs got a couple huge stops in the final minutes setting up the finale. With the Cavs down four, Jack converted an and-one to bring the Cavs within one with 53 seconds left. After tough defense forced a bad Josh Smith shot, the ball went out of bounds off Delly’s hands, giving the Pistons the ball with 28.5 seconds left. Rather than fouling, Mike Brown chose to trust his defense and Brandon Jennings missed an off balance jumper. Luol Deng grabbed the rebound and the Cavs called a timeout with 3.2 seconds remaining. That set up the real fun stuff.

Once again the Cavaliers found themselves in a critical inbound situation. After the initial Cavs timeout, the Pistons used two consecutive timeouts in a bit of gamesmanship. Then Luol Deng once again couldn’t find anyone open and had to use a timeout of his own to avoid the 5-second call. On their second try, Deng found Dion Waiters cutting to the corner. Dion took a quick dribble, stepped to his left and pulled up for a 19-foot jumper. And he drilled it. The Cavaliers erupted in joy and this team pulled off one of the more improbable victories of the season.

Now lets look at some numbers: [Read more...]

Cavs vs Raptors Behind the Box Score: One ugly way to win a game

AP Photo/Tony Dejak

AP Photo/Tony Dejak

The Cavaliers started out playing great basketball on both ends of the court. In the 3rd quarter they extended the lead to 18 points at 81-63. Then they turned the offense switch to the “Off” position, and with with just under 7 minutes remaining in the game, Greivis Vasquez hit a three point shot to put the Raptors up 95-94.

The Cavaliers would quickly take the lead back and would lead the rest of the way, but it took a little luck down the stretch. The Raptors missed a couple good looks and the Cavaliers held a three point lead with 12 seconds left. DeMar DeRozan then drove and was fouled by Alonzo Gee. DeRozan only made one of his two free throws and after a Cleveland timeout, the Cavaliers were inbounding at midcourt with 7 seconds left.

This is where the Cavaliers’ inbounding issues would strike yet again. First Luol Deng was handed inbounding duties, and when nobody was able to get open, he called a timeout. Then Varejao was given the job of inbounding, and once again with nothing really developing, he tried to throw it in to Deng along the baseline, but the ball sailed out of bounds. It looked like the refs missed a foul on the play, but regardless, its embarrassing that the Cavaliers still can’t operate an inbound play in late game situations.

Thankfully, though, the Raptors decided to return the favor with a bad turnover of their own on their last possession and the Cavaliers hung on for the 102-100 win over a playoff team in the East. The Cavaliers continue to play hard without Kyrie Irving, CJ Miles, or Anthony Bennett, it’s just a shame it’s happening now that the playoffs are but a minute possibility.

Now lets get into the numbers: [Read more...]

Has Dion Waiters (finally) arrived?

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After a season rife with rumors of trades and fistfights, is this—finally—Dion Waiters’ coming out party?

Dion Waiters stood outside of his locker, squinted his eyes and shook his head as a half-smile-half-grimace formed on his face. It was early January, just days after the calendar turned to 2014. The Cleveland Cavaliers had just lost a heartbreaker to the Indiana Pacers, contenders for the NBA title, and he came pretty damn close to pulling off a miracle that would have propelled his name even further up the ranks in the minds of Cavalier fans. The Cavs were playing in their third game without All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving who had fallen victim to a bruised knee. In Irving’s absence, Cavs head coach Mike Brown opted to go with Matthew Dellavedova at point guard, an undrafted rookie out of St. Mary’s who had grown a bit of a cult following due to his never-ending hustle, rather than Waiters, who was drafted fourth-overall just a year earlier. [Read more...]

Cavs vs Heat Behind the Box Score: So close

Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

The Cavaliers came into this game against the Heat without Kyrie Irving, Luol Deng, and CJ Miles (for the most part, anyway…CJ played just 2 minutes). A lackluster performance could have been expected. Instead, the Cavaliers played a great all around game and took the Heat, who were without Dwyane Wade, down to the wire.

The Cavaliers had their chances down the stretch, but a ridiculous no-call on a Dion Waiters drive, combined with LeBron James hitting all six of his free throws, proved too much to overcome. Waiters hurt his hip on the play as he landed squarely on it, which made things even tougher for the Cavs. Yet Jarrett Jack, who had a season high in scoring, hit a couple late threes to keep things interesting, but LeBron just wouldn’t miss any FTs and the Heat came away with the win.

But still, the Cavaliers deserve a lot of credit for the heart they showed in fighting right down to the wire against one of the NBA’s best teams.

Now lets get into the numbers. [Read more...]

Playing the Odds: Everything we know about the Cavaliers and analytics

Bennet Rosen Header

Where numbers and charts collide with the “eyes and ears” of NBA decision making

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#CavsRank: At No. 7, Terrell Brandon

Welcome to #CavsRank, the illustrious ranking of the best all-time Cleveland Cavaliers players from some of your favorite Cavs bloggers. Today we -belatedly- check in No. 7 on our list, two-time All-Star Terrell Brandon. Please take some time to check out the entries at Fear The Sword, Real Cavs Fans, Cavs: The Blog, and Stepien Rules.

Brandon SI CoverWere you aware that is only one Terrell Brandon highlight mix on YouTube? One. And it’s not a particularly breathtaking video either. It’s full of Brandon nailing mid range jumpers and pedestrian passes to open teammates.

Which is kind of fitting, as Brandon (and his era of Cleveland basketball) is routinely overlooked. In fact, how little people knew of Brandon was one of the main takeaways from the famous Sports Illustrated piece1.

In 457 games as a Cavalier, Terrell Brandon finished 11th all-time in points (9th when he left), 4th in assists, 5th in steals and 3rd in free throw percentage at 86.8%.  Brandon made two All-Star teams while in Cleveland and his Cavalier squads made the playoffs in five out of his six seasons in the wine & gold  teal & black (and although the Cavs missed the playoffs his final season in Cleveland, they still managed to finish above .500 at 42-40).

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Footnotes:

  1. From the SI article: “Sadly, or predictably, he is not very famous for what you can only call an outlandish maturity. He’s not very famous for anything, actually. Not even in Cleveland. A parking-lot attendant one block from Gund Arena eyes him getting out of his Explorer (his one extravagance; his only other car, a 1991 325 BMW, dates to his NBA signing six years ago). “Are you a Cav?” the attendant inquires. Brandon says yes, sir. The attendant, delighted, says, “Oh, man!…What’s your name?” []

Forever His, Forever Ours

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One man, one letter, one hell of a human being

Everyone has a story. If you are a fan of Cleveland Sports, be it in passion or in passing, odds are that you have a story with Zydrunas Ilgauskas serving as the central character. If you frequented Cleveland’s warehouse district during the early aughts, chances are you saw a late-20s Ilgauskas alone at a nightclub, leaning against a varnished wooden bar that barely hit him at the waste. More often than not, he would be wearing a cap of some sort; Kangols were huge back in the day. On the rare occasion, he would be puffing on a cigar the size of a human arm, losing himself in the fog. Many have had the fortune of crossing paths with Zydrunas or his family over the last several years as they lived out the second phase of the big man’s career. There are some individuals who shared the same day care or schooling system with the Ilgauskas family. There are others who have shared a flight with Big Z as he and his never-ending legs were crammed in a standard seat on a Southwest Airlines-branded Boeing 737.

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#CavsRank: At No. 5, it’s Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Editor’s Note: Yes, we realize that Anderson Varejao, the ninth-ranked Cavalier of all time (per #CavsRank) was unveiled on Thursday. Today, however, we flip the script and give one man his just due on the eve of his monumental night.  Join WFNY, along with the rest of the #CavsRank participants, as we pay homage to the man in the middle, Big Z. Please take some time to check out the entries at Fear The Sword, Real Cavs Fans, Cavs: The Blog, and Stepien Rules.

zreturnOn Saturday night night, along with 20,561 other ticket-purchasing fans, I will be in attendance as my all-time favorite Cleveland Cavalier, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, has his No. 11 jersey raised to the Quicken Loans Arena rafters. It’s been a long road for the Lithuanian center, full of crushing defeats, obstacles overcome, and moments of glory. For reasons of longevity, skillset, leadership, and his sentimental place in the hearts of this city, retiring his number and in such short order should come as a shock to nobody that’s a Cavaliers fan. 

When Ilgauskas was drafted in 1996, I remember being at his friend’s house to watch the NBA Draft with my dad. It was an exciting time for the Cavs in having two first-round picks in what was a deep draft. They beefed up their frontcourt, adding a pair of centers in Vitaly Potapenko (aka “The Ukraine Train”) and Ilgauskas with the 12th and 20th picks, respectively1.  It’s strange to look back on those frozen snapshots in time and see the lanky 21-year-old Ilgauskas in the electric blue and orange Cavs hat. I remember watching Z in those early years and thinking that I had never seen anyone with his particular skillset as a 7-footer. Some of the younger Cavs fans may not remember that Z, prior to the extensive operations on his feet, was a more mobile rim-runner that still popped shots on the perimeter with frequency.

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Footnotes:

  1. This draft also included Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Derek Fisher, Stephon Marbury, Peja Stojakovic, and Jermaine O’Neal to name a few. []

#CavsRank: No. 9 Anderson Varejao, the Wild Thing

varejao

The date was July 8, 2004. It was a Thursday night, and the Cleveland Cavaliers were reeling. It seemed impossible, yet the outcome was simultaneously probable. Some would argue even likely. The Cavaliers took a major risk, and they were burned in a big way.

It was that Thursday night when restricted free agent Carlos Boozer informed the Cavaliers that despite their wink-wink arrangement, he had verbally agreed to an offer sheet with the Utah Jazz. To this day there remains plenty of blame to go around to everyone involved, but the simple fact is that Cavaliers GM Jim Paxson didn’t have to let it come to this.

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#CavsRank — At No. 10, it’s World B. Free

World-B-Free-Cavs

He was born Lloyd Bernard Free in the winter months of 1953. The hoops folk lore penned by the East Coast states and those who watched Free tear up the courts in Brownsville, however, stated that trivial accolades like All-Conference or All-State were not nearly grandiose enough to encapsulate just how good this whirling dervish of a player truly was. Packing a 44-inch vertical leap, Free was no stranger to the 360-degree dunk, breaking it out in Brooklyn gymnasiums and on concrete slabs well before guys like Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady were even born. Thus, in the year 1981 following an name change the day before his 28th birthday, World was officially born.

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Cavs vs Spurs Behind the Box Score: What defense?

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Well, for 12 minutes this was a fun game. The Cavaliers had one of their better first quarters of the seasons, jumping out to a 23-13 lead in the quarter. Unfortunately, that would be about the extent of the fun this evening.

The Spurs roared back with a 37-17 edge over the Cavaliers in the 2nd quarter. The Spurs went from being unable to make anything to not being able to miss a thing. The Cavaliers’ offense was pretty good in this game, but the Spurs’ role players were simply too much for the Cavaliers to handle and the Spurs left the Q with a 122-101 win.

We knew March was going to be a brutal month, and nights like this show why. The Cavaliers really didn’t play all that poorly. The defense obviously wasn’t great fundamentally, but the Spurs just ran their offense to perfection and they overmatched the Cavs. The Cavs shot 48.1% from the field and 52.6% from three, but it just wasn’t enough to overcome San Antonio.

The Cavaliers already slim playoff odds are shrinking even more with every loss. So while the Cavs played decent basketball, there’s just no room for moral victories. At this point in the season, only actual wins and losses matter.

So lets get into the numbers: [Read more...]

Spencer’s Gifts

HawesThunder

Turmoil often leads to reaction. You can attempt to rectify your prior poor decisions with new ones, but oftentimes this is analogous to doubling down at a blackjack table in hopes of catching a hot hand. We often expect things to simply work out. Our decisions that were, at the time, supported by well-thought and careful analysis are supposed to bear fruit. But when they don’t… Well, that’s when some point fingers and others lose their jobs.

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Cavs vs. Jazz Behind The Boxscore: A single triple double!

kyrietripledoubleIf the Cavaliers have done one thing consistently this season, it’s give fans anxiety with their inability to handle any sort of success. They came out in this home matchup against the Utah Jazz incredibly flat on offense and slow on defense. Then, the Utah Jazz started missing and they never stopped for the rest of the game. In the process of pulling away from the Jazz late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, Kyrie Irving inched closer and closer to a triple double. He finally got it, marking the first Cavalier to do so since LeBron James in 2010. With the 99-79 win, the Cavaliers have won two straight as they prepare for a trip to Memphis tomorrow night while still incredibly short-handed. Here’s a look at some of the easy on the eyes stats from this big win.

48 – Irving was the star of this game, but the Cavalier frontline deserves equal credit. Those two elements combined to the tune of 48 points in the paint for the Cavs, completely dominating that category 48-22. Tyler Zeller continues to confidently cut to the basket and finish strong, and Spencer Hawes’s spacing has opened up more driving lanes for Kyrie (more on Hawes in a second). No one has confused the Cavaliers for being a team that consistently takes it strong into the paint, but that improved spacing is reducing the number of blocked shots (just six for Utah tonight) as the defense collapses. The 22 points allowed in the paint (on 11-of-25 shooting) is probably even more impressive with the Cavs closing off the paint and making the shots that did occur in there a higher degree of difficulty. Which leads quite well into…. [Read more...]

Cavs vs. Thunder Behind The Boxscore: HUH?!

kyriethunderOn the second night of a back-to-back against the best of the West following a tough loss to the Raptors, I gave the Cavaliers virtually no chance of competing tonight, let alone winning. But, they did exactly that, it was a star-studded effort for Kyrie Irving, who trumped the duo of Durant and Westbrook with plenty of help from the other four starters to pull off a fourth quarter stunner, capped by a 40-23 run in the fourth that turned a seven-point deficit into a 10-point lead on the way to a 114-104 victory in Oklahoma City.

There were so many highlights late in this one: Alonzo Gee’s steal and power thump on a breakaway, Kyrie’s out-of-state three point answer, Spencer Hawes’s pair of floating left-handed hooks through the lane, Tyler Zeller zipping through the lane on multiple dump-offs, and Tristan Thompson’s bounce pass feed on a backdoor to Kyrie that extended the lead from six to nine with under two minutes to play. But, the takeaway from this one is that the Cavaliers did not back down when Oklahoma City hit them in the mouth in the third quarter and looked to pull away. Let’s dig into some noteworthy numbers. [Read more...]