August 26, 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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Numbers Don’t Lie: Cavs took huge steps defensively in 2013-14


Across from the coach’s office within the Cleveland Cavaliers’ locker room is a poster-sized sheet that serves as a reminder for what this team had set out to accomplish heading into the season. All 30 NBA teams, listed in order by opponent field goal percentage—a widely-used gauge to determine defensive prowess in a game that can vary widely in the way of pace of play. Last season, when Byron Scott took that final walk, the giant metal door clicking behind him, the Cavs were listed 30th. When Mike Brown was reintroduced just days later, the message was clear: If the Wine and Gold were going to improve, it would be through defense. And while they did not make the playoffs, a goal that was clearly disseminated from the top, the team did improve substantially on the defensive end, finishing 12th in the league in opponent field goal percentage with a mark of 45.2.

Other defensive statistics also show marked improvement. After finishing the year 25th in points allowed per game in 2012-13, this year’s unit finished 16th. The Cavs (perhaps surprisingly) had the fifth-lowest average for opponent points in the paint (38.9) and had the seventh-lowest average in fastbreak points (12.1). They finished 2013-14 17th in defensive efficiency (104.8 points allowed per 100 possessions), one year after finishing 26th (106.9). Where they failed, at least in the way of being among the top third of the league, was in three-point percentage, finishing 22nd (.367). 

Offensively, the team was a mixed bag as they ranked 22nd in scoring (98.2) and 27th in field goal percentage (43.7) after ranking 19th (96.5) and 29th (43.4) in 2012-13. The Cavs ranked 17th in pace of play this season—a mark that by no means has a direct correlation with success—after finishing last season 12th. They finished the year 23rd in offensive efficiency (101.3). In 2012-13, they were 23rd as well with a mark of 100.8.

Statistical improvements or regressions, at least when it comes to team-wide output, can rarely be linearly extrapolated into subsequent years. They’re largely a function of the individual players and their fit within the system. Anderson Varejao will be a year older with a partially guaranteed deal. Much will change between this unit and the one which will take the floor this October.

Many of the numbers listed above, while improvements, represent a jump to league average. The LeBron James-led Cavalier units under Brown were frequently among the best in the league. It’s clear that the team made strides defensively as compared to a year ago—a goal of theirs heading into the year—which was the goal in bringing Brown back for his second tour. If he is retained beyond this summer, it will be for these reasons, with the hopes and conviction that that poster across from his office displays something even more favorable come this time in 2015.

(Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Diff: Byron Scott, blown leads and the second-half Cavs

Last week in The Diff, I brought you inside the numbers of the Sweet 16. With no more March and no more college basketball for Ohio sports fans, it’s time to move back to the pros. Although the current excitement surrounds the Tribe’s Opening Day win, I’m back for Cavs talk today.

The Diff

During the Cleveland Cavaliers’ ongoing season-high eight-game losing streak, much of the media talk has been directed toward head coach Byron Scott’s future with the organization. I covered the beginning of the talk about 10 days ago. Anonymous players then shared their frustrations with the Akron Beacon Journal’s Jason Lloyd over the weekend. And our very own Scott threw his hat into the ring on Monday. But looming large in these murmurs is this largely unreported fact: The 2012-13 Cavaliers are currently the worst third-quarter and second-half team in the National Basketball Association. By far. [Read more...]

The Diff: Cavalier notes on Tristan, turnovers, trades, etc

Thanks so much to all of our WFNY readers (even my friend Terry Pluto) for sharing, liking and commenting on last week’s edition of The Diff about Michael Bourn. I’m heading back to basketball this week to share an assortment of thoughts as the team begins the second half tonight.

The Diff

Tristan Thompson’s progress

One of my favorite new Twitter friends is Ed Manly over at @laughingcavs. I only discovered his account and tremendous website after he responded to me about some Tristan Thompson stats-post Anderson Varejao’s injury. So it’s only fitting that the first time I reference him here at WFNY that it’s again about my favorite-ever Cavalier Canadian1. [Read more...]



  1. For the record, I checked: The only other Canadian Cavalier I could find is Stewart Granger, the 24th pick in the 1983 Draft who played one season in Cleveland. []

The Diff: Young guards and high usage rates

Thanks for indulging me with our little strikeout side trip last week. Now, I’m back at it with more basketball stats craziness. Hope you enjoy.

The Diff

In my first-ever edition of The Diff, I wrote about the potential of new All-Star Kyrie Irving. It started with a simple question: “Will Irving ever be a top 10 player in the NBA?” That specific topic aside, there were some deep basketball stats questions I brought up with my brother Sam in our chat. These questions revolved around usage rate, field goal attempts per 36 minutes and all-encompassing metrics such as PER. I’m back this week to dive deeper into this intense stats world. [Read more...]

WFNY Stats & Info: Placing Cavs’ youth in historical context

Everyone knows that the 2012-13 version of the Cleveland Cavaliers is quite young. Four recent draft picks (who all are heading to Houston) all are regulars, which means the average age of the team has to be one of the youngest in the NBA.

In fact, that’s true. According to‘s age statistic, which averages the age of players for a team and factors in minute distribution, the Cavaliers are the youngest team in the NBA right now with an average age of 24.0 years.

But how young really is that in context? Let’s take a look at all 19 teams in the last 20 years to finish with an average age of 24.1 years or younger.

Team Age W L Pct Eff Diff Year
Atlanta Hawks 22.7 26 56 0.317 -5.2 2005-06
Oklahoma City Thunder* 23.2 50 32 0.610 3.7 2009-10
Chicago Bulls 23.2 15 67 0.183 -10.1 2000-01
Memphis Grizzlies 23.3 24 58 0.293 -6 2008-09
Boston Celtics 23.5 24 58 0.293 -3.7 2006-07
Cleveland Cavaliers 23.5 17 65 0.207 -10.2 2002-03
Oklahoma City Thunder* 23.7 55 27 0.671 4 2010-11
Minnesota Timberwolves 23.8 17 65 0.207 -6.9 2010-11
Boston Celtics 23.9 36 46 0.439 -2.8 1997-98
Cleveland Cavaliers 24 13 33 0.283 -5.5 2012-13
Portland Trail Blazers* 24 54 28 0.659 6.1 2008-09
New Orleans Hornets 24.1 15 31 0.326 -4.3 2012-13
Minnesota Timberwolves 24.1 15 67 0.183 -9.9 2009-10
Sacramento Kings 24.1 25 57 0.305 -4.6 2009-10
Memphis Grizzlies 24.1 40 42 0.488 -1.6 2009-10
Portland Trail Blazers 24.1 41 41 0.500 -1.1 2007-08
Atlanta Hawks 24.1 30 52 0.366 -5.3 2006-07
Chicago Bulls* 24.1 41 41 0.500 0.6 2005-06
Denver Nuggets 24.1 17 65 0.207 -9.1 2002-03


As you can see, the 2012-13 New Orleans Hornets also make this list, along with the Cavaliers in their last dreadful year before drafting LeBron James.

A notable caveat: Many more teams recently have made this list, as high school and one-and-done jumps to the NBA became more popular.

Then some notable averages: .370 winning percentage and -3.8 efficiency differential (this is the difference between a team’s points scored per 100 possessions and points allowed per 100 possessions).

The Cavs are worse than both those averages, but not that tremendously bad compared to some of the other teams on this list. Yes, there also are examples of really good teams led by the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder.

Overall, it’s just another fun way to compare this year’s Cleveland unit to some other similar franchises in recent history.

[Related: The Diff: Franchise comparisons for the Cavaliers]

WFNY Stats & Info: Luke Walton’s passing excellence

Here’s your mind-blowing stat of the day: Among all non-guards in the NBA with at least 75+ minutes played this season, Luke Walton ranks 2nd in assist percentage at 21.8%. He’s only trailing LeBron James, while outpacing Kevin Durant and Paul Pierce.

According to, the definition of assist percentage is “an estimate of the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while he was on the floor.”

Walton, who missed Saturday’s game against the Toronto Raptors with foot/ankle soreness, actually has quite the reputable career mark for his passing expertise.

Canceling out guards again — who usually are more well known for their assists — and Walton has a 19.5% mark, ranking No. 32 all-time among players with at least 7,500 minutes played. Obvious names like Magic Johnson LeBron James, Nate McMillan and Oscar Robertson dominate the leaderboard, while his father Bill Walton also ranks No. 58.

Most notably on this list of 80 non-guards with at least an assist rate of 16%, Walton has the fourth-lowest usage rate (although usage is dependent on turnovers, which only have been tracked since 1977). Usage estimates a player’s overall involvement in the offense by all available statistics, so it show how Luke has been quite effective as an unselfish ball-passer, as The Basketball Jones pointed out last week too.

The NBA’s famous son might be the butt of many basketball-related jokes, but Walton has provided quite the niche for the suddenly hot Cavaliers. He had 7 assists in just about 18 minutes of play in both wins last week over Boston and Milwaukee. Obviously, that’d adds up to an incredible 14 total assists over the often discussed 36-minute barrier.

[Related: Finally some fun for Cavalier fans]

WFNY Stats & Info: Marreese Speights with extended minutes

New Cavalier F/C Marreese Speights made quite a splash in his debut on Friday night against Milwaukee. In the incredible comeback victory, the 25-year-old Florida Gator provided 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting with 6 rebounds and 2 steals in 18 minutes. He played the entirety of the fourth quarter and also had some big defensive plays.

To many, it was a huge surprise of what Speights could provide to a Cleveland squad desperate for front-court help in the wake of Anderson Varejao’s season-ending injuries. But in actuality, Speights has shown an odd propensity for succeeding when getting starter-level minutes. Let’s go to the stats.

Since 2008-09 with Memphis and Philadelphia: 305 career games
Memphis games with 23+ minutes: 28 out of 100
Philadelphia games with 23+ minutes: 33 out of 205

So you can see, he hadn’t consistently received those minutes. A bit more often, obviously, in Memphis where he picked up 54 starts in 60 games last season. But at times with both teams, he would waver in and out of the starting lineup, then struggle to receive any playing time at all for weeks on end.

Career stats per-36 minutes: 16.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 47.4% shooting
Per-36 minutes in 61 games with 23+ minutes: 18.1 points, 10.0 rebounds and 53.8% shooting
Per-36 minutes in 244 games with 0-22 minutes: 15.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 44.1% shooting

Rebounding rates don’t change much, but wow the shooting rates — +9.7% better when getting 23+ minutes. This peculiar trend of improved shooting percentage when playing 23+ minutes appeared both in his Memphis (+11.8% increase) and Philadelphia (+9.7% increase) days. Such an odd jump can clearly skew perceptions of his overall play.

Speights got off to a great start with the Cavaliers, but actually just barely missed this peculiar 23-minute threshold of the first 4.5 seasons of his career. But after getting his feet wet, there’s no reason why his minutes — and opportunities — won’t continue to increase, and he could follow this strangely productive career pattern.

[Related: Speights and Company to see time as early as Friday]

WFNY Stats & Info: Comparing Cavs’ momentum to the Thunder’s

Yesterday, we started off a new series in the WFNY Stats & Info column. Today, I follow up on some of the same themes.

After looking at breakdown of the Cavs relatively improved play in their last 15 games, I couldn’t resist looking into how it compared to the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008-09. As I wrote at great length in The Diff on Wednesday, that was Kevin Durant’s second year and Russell Westbrook’s first. Let’s look at the numbers.

2012-13 Cleveland Cavaliers
Cavs efficiency in first 28 games (record: 5-23): 99.1-105.9 (-6.8)
Cavs efficiency in last 15 games (record: 6-9): 102.9-106.4 (-3.5)

2008-09 Oklahoma City Thunder
Thunder efficiency in first 32 games (record: 3-29): 97.6-107.1 (-9.5)
Thunder efficiency in last 50 games (record: 20-30): 103.7-108.1 (-4.4)

Obviously I don’t want to get ahead of myself. The sample size isn’t quite there yet. It’s impossible to truly say they’re similar situations, at all. And as comments and tweets replied back yesterday, the Cavs’ recent easy strength of schedule could certainly be a factor. But it’s just a neat comparison.

Digging deeper, the Thunder fired P.J. Carlesimo after starting 1-12 that season. They then kept sliding to 3-29 under Scott Brooks until eventually figuring it out. Their 20-30 run then led to a 50-win season the next year, and they’ve been great ever since.

Dare I say the Cavs are going to be that good that quickly? Absolutely not. But it’s undeniable they’ve looked and played more competitively recently, even without Anderson Varejao in the lineup. And they seem to be carrying a decent amount of momentum that should carry over to higher expectations in the 2013-14 season.

[Related: The Diff: Franchise comparisons for the Cavaliers]

WFNY Stats & Info: Cavs’ efficiency up despite Anderson Varejao being out

The Cleveland Cavaliers may have had a rough stretch of games out west, and while it may not exactly be leading to a significant difference in the win column, the Wine and Gold have been playing markedly better when on the floor. Let’s take a look…

Cavs’ efficiency in first 28 games (record: 5-23): 99.1-105.9 (-6.8)
Cavs’ efficiency in last 15 games (record: 6-9): 102.9-106.4 (-3.5)

Would-be All-Star center Anderson Varejao has been out for all of these last 15 games…

The team is doing slightly worse defensively (still among the bottom five in NBA, either way), but notably better on the offensive efficiency side. An offensive efficiency mark of 99.1 also is in the bottom five of the NBA on that side of the ball, but 102.9 is pretty mediocre with league average being 102.4 so far this season.

This is pretty intriguing to me, so I tried to figure out why.

The Cavs are notably rebounding awfully during this stretch. That’s especially true on the offensive end.

Rebounding margin: +1.1 margin in first 28 games; -5.1 in last 15 games
Offensive rebound rate: 30.6%  orb% in first 28 games, 27.1% in last 15 games

But the biggest positive differences? Fewer turnovers, better two-point shooting percentage and better free-throw shooting percentage.

Turnovers: 14.8 pg in first 28 games, 12.5 pg in last 15 games
2-point shooting: 43.7% in first 28 games, 45.5% in last 15 games
Free throw shooting: 72.4% in first 28 games, 79.6% in last 15 games

Given that the Cavaliers are among the league leaders in pace of play, this improved efficiency — coupled with fewer turnovers and improved conversion rates at the charity stripe — have proven to be huge despite the absence of a player who was averaging 14 points and 14 rebounds while providing heart, soul, energy and a career-best PER.

[Related: The Diff: Franchise comparisons for the Cavaliers]

The Cleveland Cavaliers and a Study on Free Throw Shooting

(Disclaimer: All statistics in this article are updated as of the NBA games on Wednesday, March 31st.)

The Cleveland Cavaliers hold the distinct honor of being the worst team in the NBA at free throw shooting percentage. Get excited folks, but you probably shouldn’t be too surprised about this by now.

With Antawn Jamison struggling at historically abnormal levels on a team that already included Shaquille O’Neal, it’s no shock that Cleveland’s 72.07% shooting mark ranks at the very bottom of the league. Many analysts have already predicted that this poor shooting percentage will cost the Cavaliers a playoff game or something potentially much more important over the coming months.

Time will tell as to what exactly happens between now and late June, but it’s interesting to note the many statistics behind free throw shooting in the NBA. Using my skills with Microsoft Excel, I’m here to investigate the facts behind the entire situation while answering these three questions: A) why is it exactly that the Cavs shoot so poorly percentage-wise? B) how bad is it that the Cavs shoot poorly? and C) what is the most important factor to team success with relation to free throws?
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Around the NBA: The Debate on the Diff and Larry Hughes in Charlotte

What is more important in the NBA today: beating all your opponents by 20 points or continuously finding ways to win close games? It’s an argument that has been around in all sports in the country for years now, and it has jumped back into the spotlight recently. The main reason why is with stat-man extraordinaire John Hollinger controlling the numbers over at ESPN.

In his daily power rankings based on a team’s portfolio for the entire season with extra importance to their most recently played games, the results are often a bit off-center. For example, Cleveland fans may remember when the Cavs dropped down to three behind both Utah and Los Angeles a month ago. Now, the big controversy is whether the Dallas Mavericks belong in the NBA’s top tier of teams.

Just yesterday, Hollinger ranked the Mavericks 13th in the league despite their league-tying 13-game winning streak. The problem that the stats found with this team was not that they were not finding ways to win games, but that it was not pretty enough. Meanwhile, both Orlando and Milwaukee shot up the rankings with their respective win streaks.
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The NBA’s Race for Home Court Advantage

It’s that time of the year again where the top teams in the NBA are battling for playoff positioning. Last season, the Cavs were able to secure the top-seed in the East as well as the entire league with their 66-16 record. Setting the pace for the league yet again this season, here is a look at what the team needs to do to secure the top seed.

For the second year in a row, it is obvious that the only two contenders for the top seed in the NBA are the Cavs and the Los Angeles Lakers. Trailing Cleveland by three games for the best record in the league, the Lakers are looking like the favorites from Western Conference. While home court advantage certainly does help a team come playoff time, it takes more than just that for a team to win the NBA Finals title in June.

With all this in minute, take a look at the standings, odds and other assorted numbers behind the race for the best record in the NBA as well as each conference.
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Guest Post: A Second Look at the Eastern Conference Playoffs

Cavaliers Bobcats BasketballThe Cleveland Cavaliers had another statement victory last night to improve to 45-14 and now own a decent lead in the Eastern Conference as well as the NBA. Last night was fun to see how the new-look Cavs match up against the Celtics, but what about the other Eastern powers? That is the topic for today’s playoff Cavs post, as guest writer Matt Manuszak, returns to WFNY to complete his previews with three more possible playoff opponents.

These teams are currently the #’s 2-4 teams in the Eastern Conference and represent a wide variety of scenarios for the next two months of the regular season. The Cavaliers are in very good position to get the top seed in the conference now but as we learned last season, anything can happen between the top teams in each conference.

You can follow Matt on Twitter @the_real_matt_m. You can also check out his content at The Ram, the newspaper at Fordham University where he writes a regular column titled “The Smush Parker Project.” His analysis is below the jump and hope y’all enjoy:
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NBA Trade Rumors: Comparing Jamison, Murphy, Stoudemire, Z and Hickson

Numbers.001With rumors all around, it is time to stop the conspiracy theories and start to analyze what the different options bring to the table. Certainly there are various financial reasons to make particular moves or another, but this article will focus on what the most commonly mentioned trade pieces bring to the court. The individuals under examination in this article are Washington’s Antawn Jamison, Indiana’s Troy Murphy and Phoenix’s Amare Stoudemire.

In order to grasp what these players would really bring to a title contender in Cleveland, it is also necessary to see how their style of play contrasts that provided currently by Zydrunas Ilgauskas and J.J. Hickson. These two individuals are the main pieces of any package in a trade offered by Cleveland, with Z expected to return back to the team in a buyout. So how much better are these players than what the Cavs have right now? What are these differences and what do all of the statistics show us in the end?
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Grading the Cavaliers: J.J. Hickson

JJ Report Card.001 While the Cavaliers use the All-Star break to rest up (well most of them anyways) we thought it would be a good time to reflect on the season so far, and issue some grades. In addition, we will detail what the Cavaliers will need from each player in order to hoist some team hardware this summer. Next up? J.J. Hickson

He is the subject of trade rumors galore and one of the very few prized prospects on the roster. The young forward out of North Carolina State might not be on the team by the end of the next week, but it is still intriguing to look back at what he did so far this season. Starting 48 out of 54 games, here are his box score statistics:

Relevant Stats:

Min Pts Reb BPG FG% FT%
19.3 7.4 4.4 0.5 55.3 68.8

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How the Lakers and Cavaliers Have Reversed Roles in the NBA’s Top Tier

Mo Williams Lakers One year ago, the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA title for the 15th time in their historic franchise history. This occurred in June despite the fact the Lakers actually finished the regular season with one fewer victory than the Cleveland Cavaliers. What this means is that there there was something else more important than the sheer number of wins during the season. That main difference was that Cleveland struggled mightily throughout the year in their biggest games while the Lakers coasted through all the way to the championship.

Cleveland’s inability to win big games eventually led to their conference finals defeat at the hands of the Orlando Magic. Thus far this season however, with both teams having played 52 out of 82 total games, the numbers below start to show that there is a significant role reversal in comparison to what happened a year ago. While the Lakers are struggling against the top teams in the league, the Cavaliers are riding a season-high 11-game winning streak and appear to be the team to beat in the NBA.
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Cleveland Haters: John Hollinger Ranks Cavs as #3 in NBA

The NBA stats guru at ESPN strikes yet again with his latest blow to the Cavaliers franchise. Despite the fact Cleveland is currently on an 11-game winning streak, has the best record in the league at 41-11 and is directly on par with their 66-win mark a year ago, John Hollinger ranks them as the third best team in the NBA.

This is the second time is as many weeks that Hollinger’s rankings have caught my eye. First, I saw that Utah held the #1 spot and now, the Lakers have also passed Cleveland on the heels of their win last night against Portland. These are statistics-based rankings and Hollinger did issue a statement when Utah started moving all the way up. No matter what though, it seems that the rankings are just as out of touch with reality as the BCS standings. Ask any player or coach and they will say Cleveland is the top team, and deservedly so as they are two games better than any team right now in the league.

[John Hollinger's daily rankings via @TheAkronHammer on Twitter]

Shaquille O’Neal Starting to “Heat” Up

SPORTS BKN-CAVS-HEAT 8 MIGet the joke, everyone? The Cavaliers continue their home stand hosting the Miami Heat tonight at the Q. Shaq used to play for Miami and even won a title with that team several years ago. Their nickname is the Heat and has been so since they entered the league in 1988. Shaquille “The Big Shaqtus” O’Neal also happens to be playing his best basketball of the season as of late.

Entering this historic season for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the uncertainty following the acquisition for Shaq was definitely the biggest question mark. Many of the writers on this site openly criticized the trade when it happened, including this writer. On the surface, it was a desperate gamble for GM Danny Ferry to prove to LeBron James that he was serious about winning a championship immediately. Nobody knew how much of an impact Shaq would actually make on the court and it seems we are only starting to find out now.
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Guest Post: A First Look at the Eastern Conference Playoffs

Cleveland Cavaliers Huddle Houston RocketsWith a stellar 38-11 record, the Cleveland Cavaliers currently lead the Eastern Conference by a large margin as well as hold the top mark in the NBA. But before we get way too ahead of ourselves, who could Cleveland realistically play in the first round of the NBA Playoffs? That is the topic for today’s first Cavs post, as guest writer Matt Manuszak, a student at Fordham University in New York City, previews four possible first-round playoff opponents.

These teams are currently the #’s 5-8 teams in the Eastern Conference and represent a wide variety of scenarios for the next two months plus of the regular season. The Cavaliers are no lock for the top seed in the conference, and this article depicts that by analyzing the matchups, breakdowns and previous meetings with all four of these teams.

You can follow Matt on Twitter @the_real_matt_m. You can also check out his content at The Ram, the newspaper at Fordham University where he writes a regular column titled “The Smush Parker Project.” Yes, that Smush Parker. He is the first and only player in history to play for the Fordham Rams and then Matt’s beloved Cavaliers, hence the name for the column. His analysis is below the jump and he’ll be back next week with a look at some potential opponents in the later rounds of the playoffs:
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