Jump to content

Windhorst at the quarter pole


Recommended Posts

Great read from the PD on how the team's been so far.


MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- It isn't an exact milestone, but at 20 games, Cavaliers are at the quarter-pole of the season. It is about now that teams usually start to take stock of what they have and what they need; what they are doing well and where they need to improve.

As the Cavs prepare to face the improved Memphis Grizzlies Tuesday night, they are 15-5 and currently on a four-game winning streak. That has them one game behind the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics for the best record in the Eastern Conference and a 5.5-game lead in the Central Division over the Milwaukee Bucks.


That is two games behind the pace from last season, when the Cavs were 17-3.


So what are lessons that have been learned so far?


• LeBron James' game is changing.


James is taking nearly three fewer shots, one fewer 3-pointer, per game than last season and shooting at a higher percentage, currently at 51 percent. In turn, he's currently averaging a career-high 8.4 assists.


His turnovers are up, which is a bad thing, but it appears to be a result of him simply passing more. One deduction is he is trusting his teammates more.


He's averaging a career-low 37.3 minutes per game -- which isn't simply explained by sitting out entire fourth quarters, which did often last season. Rather, it is a reflection that coach Mike Brown is able to play him less within the rotation.


James has played more than 40 minutes just twice this season -- in the first two games when Brown was still learning how to best use his team.


• Shaquille O'Neal's impact isn't in his stat line.


If you took one look at O'Neal's stats without having seen the Cavs play, it would seem like he's not having a good season. In 14 games -- he missed six games with a shoulder strain -- O'Neal is averaging a career-low 10.9 points on career-low 52 percent shooting, a career-low 6.6 rebounds in a career-low 23.4 minutes.



Shaquille O'Neal has been limited by injury and the Cavaliers' depth at the center position. But his performance against Orlando's Dwight Howard in an early-season victory in Florida indicates that his biggest contributions are likely to come in the postseason.


Several different publications have quoted scouts or executives saying that O'Neal clogs the lane and prevents penetrators like Mo Williams and James from getting to the basket and makes it impossible to space the floor properly. The other criticism is O'Neal is a defensive liability.

All of these statements, frankly, have proven not to be true so far.


O'Neal does help clog the lane, for the opposition. With O'Neal, the Cavs have three different center options with Anderson Varejao and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. This allows for a crisp rotation depending on the opponent and makes sure the Cavs have size in the game at all times.


The Cavs lead the NBA in keeping teams from scoring in the paint, giving up 33.5 points a game. The team in second place is the Orlando Magic, who are there mostly because of the impact Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard has in protecting the rim. The Cavs don't have Howard, but their three centers create a similar defensive situation.


O'Neal has struggled in pick-and-roll coverage at times, as he has throughout his career. But the Cavs' rotations have mostly been good and their defense as strong as last season. They are fourth in the NBA in fewest points allowed at 93.6. They are third in defensive field-goal percentage at .436.


On offense, the Cavs are averaging 3.6 more points in the paint this season than last, a direct impact of having O'Neal. In addition, their team field goal percentage is up to 48 percent. Assists are up as well, an impact O'Neal has from drawing double teams.


His impact has perhaps been greatest on J.J. Hickson, who moved into the starting lineup alongside O'Neal and has lived off the attention O'Neal and James draw. Finding soft spots near the rim, Hickson is shooting 61 percent since moving in the starting lineup. That is the best among all starting power forwards in the league over the same span.


Even if all of those stats seem numbing, here is the most salient number: With O'Neal in the lineup, the Cavs are 5-1 against teams with records over .500 so far.


• The off-season moves have made the Cavs deeper.


This wasn't exactly the way things were expected to go, but there are currently three players who were regular starters for last season's 66-16 team now coming off the bench. Varejao, Ilgauskas and Delonte West give the team a significant lift.


Overall, the reserves are averaging 26.3 points game, which is only slightly up from last season. But since West has gotten going over the last two weeks, the output has truly ramped up -- the bench is averaging 37.6 points over the last six games.

Daniel Gibson has the start of a noteworthy comeback season, shooting 44 percent from the field and 46 percent from 3-point range, both career highs. Add Jamario Moon, who is shooting 51 percent and is one of the top rebounders per minutes on the team, and the Cavs truly feel like they are 10 players deep.


This has coincided with Anthony Parker and Hickson being moved into the starting lineup, both of whom are filling roles alongside the stars the Cavs have at the other positions. Parker is shooting 51 percent on 3-pointers and Hickson has been perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the season, with the Cavs 12-2 with him in the starting lineup.


What does all of this mean? It means the club is feeling reasonably good about its changes and its current position.


There are things to fix and monitor. The defense has not been consistent, large leads have dwindled in the second half, West has been in and out of the lineup. Overall, the team is just 15th in scoring. Largely thanks to O'Neal, the team is 26th in free-throw shooting.


But the early assessment is the team is going in the proper direction.



Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...