The Give and Go
From: Charlie Zegers
To: Justin Phan
Sent: Wed, October 28, 2009 2:24:11 PM
Subject: First Impressions
Great basketball teams have a lot in common with great offensive lines in the NFL. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts because the players develop an innate sense of how to play off each other. Obviously, some players - the super-elite point guards, for example - can help create that team cohesion, but to really establish five-guys-playing-as-one synergy, there's no substitute for time.
I think we saw some evidence of that last night, in the Cavs/Celtics game.
The key guys on the Celtics - Garnett, Pierce, Allen, Rondo… have been together for a while. Rasheed Wallace is new, but he's an exceptional team defender and has years of experience playing with one of the most cohesive groups in recent memory - the Chauncey Billups/Rip Hamilton/Tayshaun Prince/Wallace Pistons. The Cavs, on the other hand, are integrating new guys all over the place, including a certain seven-footer who, just this week, was joking that he hadn't memorized the playbook yet.
(Note to Shaq: the Cavs' playbook is pretty simple. 1) Give ball to LeBron. 2) Get out of the way.)
You know the rest of the story - the Cavs lost their home opener. Last year, they didn't lose in Cleveland until late February.
Yes, I know… exceptionally small sample size, etc. But can we draw any conclusions based on last night's game? And should we temper our expectations of the other supposed title contenders that are integrating a lot of new players - most notably the Magic and Spurs? Or was last night's game just another example of the sort of coaching that put Mike Brown on the hot seat despite posting the NBA's best record last season?
Probably doesn't help that Brown's top offensive assistant is now coaching the Pistons, and wasn't replaced.
Other observations from last night's games:
Of course, my favorite moment of the night, by far, was the look on Charles Barkley's face when Adam Morrison accepted his championship ring.
Adam freakin' Morrison.
Twelve more games tonight… and NBA League Pass is running a free preview this week. It's basketball nirvana -- though I confess, my attention will be divided, as there's a Philadelphia/New York matchup in the Bronx I'm eager to check out.
From: Justin Phan
Sent: Thursday, October 29, 2009 4:36 PM
To: Charlie Zegers
Subject: Re: First Impressions
I can't talk enough about how much I love the Rasheed Wallace signing for Boston. As a selfless player who excels in a slow-it-down halfcourt offense with clearly defined roles, he's a great fit for that team any way you slice it. His ability to stretch the floor and knock down perimeter shots proved to be the difference maker against Cleveland, and pairing him with Kevin Garnett is about as good a defensive frontcourt duo as you can ask for. Most importantly, he provides a much-needed insurance policy in case KG is forced to miss more time with that knee injury. Health permitting, the Celtics are shaping up to be legitimate title contenders this season. I'd put Orlando and Boston as 1a and 1b in the East.
That exceptionally small sample size just got twice as big as Cleveland dropped their second consecutive game on Wednesday against the Raptors. In some cases part of the blame falls on the superstar for ball-hawking too much (Zach Randolph being a classic example), but that is certainly not the case here as the Cavs are an impressive 20-6 when LeBron notches a triple-double. There are plenty of things going wrong right now in The Forest City, so naturally there is plenty of blame to pass around.
It all starts and stops with Mike Brown, who has, time and time again, shown the inability to make necessary adjustments when things are going awry. We saw it last year in the Eastern Conference Finals against Orlando when he failed to make the defensive adjustment of neutralizing Hedo Turkoglu with LeBron. Instead he continually opted to use LeBron as a free safety of sorts, which clearly was not effective with the bevvy of shooters the Magic boasted. You would figure that Brown would make some sort of adjustment in Game 6 after dropping five of the last eight games to Orlando, but no sir. Not Mike Brown.
Even in Wednesday's loss against Toronto, Brown insisted on limiting James' minutes when it was evident that the offense would fall apart without him on the court, which it did. The Raptors put together a 9-3 run while James was on the bench to push the lead from 7 to 13. Why give away your only edge (Cavs were +2 with James on the court, -12 when he was off) to rest your star in an important game when you have Minnesota and Charlotte coming up?
This year the offense is a complete mess with former assistant John Kuester in Detroit. Brown outsourced the offensive responsibilities to Kuester last season and it paid big dividends as the Cavs finished fourth in offensive efficiency. With Kuester gone they've been reduced to 25th (out of 28). Pairing together any combination of Shaq, Ilguaskas, and Varejao is just not working for that frontcourt as having two of the aforementioned trio on the court at the same time results in little ball movement and too much congestion. The offense has been a lot more efficient and fluid when Brown has moved LeBron to the 4. When Mike Brown will actually realize this and utilize it more often is the real mystery.
The shooting woes of Mo Williams (31.8% from the field), Anthony Parker (33.3%), and Jamario Moon (37.5%) will eventually sort itself out, but the issue with the frontcourt is one that cannot be overlooked and ignored. This is a problem that will continue to linger. How good does a Ilgauskas for Stephen Jackson trade look now? Will the Cavs end up regretting not having the added size during the playoff stretch?
Some things that caught my eye from Wednesday's slate of games:
From: Charlie Zegers
To: Justin Phan
Sent: Fri, October 29, 2009 6:40:06 PM
Subject: RE: First Impressions
Wallace is an excellent signing for this season and next… and he'll probably help them enough that they won't mind paying him at the tail end of that deal. I suspect the Celtics are going to get old in a hurry, but for this season, I'd absolutely rank them at the top of the East. Orlando's there too - Carter seems to fit right in with what they like to do on offense, and Ryan Anderson has been an unexpected surprise stepping in for Rashard Lewis. (And he qualifies at center in a lot of leagues - nice short-term pickup there.) If I had to choose one or the other as my top team in the East, I'd go Orlando, only because their key guys are younger and - in theory - less susceptible to nagging injuries.
After seeing the Cavs in action, though, I'm less and less inclined to put them in Boston and Orlando's league - for now. You're absolutely right about the offense, but don't forget - one of the reasons the Cavs won so many games last year was their D. With Shaq on the floor, they have virtually no shot at defending quick centers. Bosh and Bargnani shredded the Cavs' interior defense last night.
I wouldn't expect Lopez to keep putting up numbers like that, but it's clear he's one of the top young centers in the league - he certainly has a lot more skill on offense than someone like Oden, and a higher upside than Bogut (with his back problems) or Bargnani (who plays like a small forward).
I've heard some people talking up the Bobcats as a potential playoff team… but I don't see it. The league is moving towards higher-scoring offenses and up-tempo pacing… who's gonna score for Charlotte? The Celtics will probably be the best defense in the league this year; some credit for that 59 has to go to Garnett, Rondo and company… but I suspect the average Bobcats game will be in the 80s.
I'm interested to see if Coach Pop can keep playing a rotation that deep all season. I'd love it… it'd mean more DeJuan Blair, and I'm all for that. I wonder about Curry though - do you think he'll be able to run the team if and when Jackson finally gets his trade?
From: Justin Phan
Sent: Thursday, October 30, 2009 2:02 AM
To: Charlie Zegers
Subject: Re: First Impressions
Orlando is certainly the safer pick to come out of the East, but they're a bit limited in their own right on the offensive end when facing an opponent who can counteract Dwight Howard's size. The Vince Carter upgrade helps remedy this problem as he has been adept at creating his own shot throughout his career, but they'll be in a world of hurt if they go cold from deep for a five-to-seven-game stretch during the playoffs. And though Cleveland appears to be a distant third behind Orlando and Boston at the moment, they're still closer to those two teams than they are to a team like Washington.
Moving out West, it's been assumed that the Spurs would take that two-spot right behind the Lakers. You can't help but be a bit alarmed by the abysmal performance of Tim Duncan's supporting cast on Thursday against the Bulls though. Duncan basically outperformed the other four starters on his own. Richard Jefferson, the team's prized offseason free agent acquisition, is shooting 4-for-16 through two games. The Spurs can't afford to be dropping games early on in the season, as they could really use that cushion later on when Pop starts resting his starters to keep them fresh for the playoff run.
It'll be interesting to see how the rest of the West plays out. The Nuggets have impressed early on, rejuvenated by the improved play of Carmelo Anthony (most notably on the defensive end). Ty Lawson has been a pleasant surprise as well. They just knocked off Utah and Portland to start the season and definitely have to be considered the third best team in the Western Conference at this point. Would really like to see the Blazers take that next step but much of it hinges on the development of Greg Oden, who has been a major disappointment so far to say the least.
One thing I've learned as a Warriors fan is that it almost never a good idea to make any sort of bold prediction related to anyone on the team with Nellie at the helm. That's the main reason why I was pushing hard against the Anthony Randolph hype machine this year. Corey Maggette single-handedly ran the team into the ground in the season opener with his horrific shooting (3-of-14), yet he still played 24 minutes to Randolph's nine. Just inexplicable. Stephen Curry showed amazing poise in his debut though and that backcourt pairing with Monta Ellis should work out real well. Nellie has thrown a lot of praise Curry's way but I can't definitively tell whether he truly like him or not. He's done this numerous times in the past (build up young players early on only to tear them down). We can only hope that Steph is the exception to this trend.
Article first appeared on 10/30/09