Cleveland’s Biggest Problem
Big names and bright lights often times distracts us from being able to really see what is in front of us. This could not be any truer for this season’s Cleveland Cavaliers.
Most believed the Cavaliers would struggle to start off as they learned to play with each other but I don’t think many believed they would struggle to this degree. Cleveland currently sits third in their division with less wins than the Milwaukee Bucks (To Milwaukee’s credit, they have been playing very well for their roster). Clearly, something isn’t working for Lebron and friends.
It starts on the defensive end.
The Cavs are allowing 106.8 points per 100 possessions, 7th worse in the league. They are snuggled around losing teams like Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Minnesota and the Lakers. Another interesting stat for Cleveland is their league best, Opponent Free Throw Attempt Rate (the number of free throws a team takes to the number of shots they take) of .222. This tells you that teams are shooting very well against Cleveland.
Let’s take a look at how well opponents shoot against Cleveland.
They allow a league worse, 65.9% field goal percentage for shots within 5 feet, which doesn’t look as bad considering they allow the 9th fewest attempts per game within this range with 27.2. However, they allow the 8th most made baskets in this range per game with 17.9. Although teams aren’t taking many shots within the restricted area, they are making them at an efficient rate.
Here is where we point our fingers at Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao, two players who have never been known as rim protectors. Kevin Love’s Timberwolves were 29th in the league last year in opponent’s field goal percentage in the restricted area with 64.9%. Anderson Varejao has made a living by drawing charges and being a hustle player but block shots is not in his skill set. Until Cleveland finds a rim protector, I won’t be able to buy them as championship contenders.
Who Is The MVP So Far?
Although it is very early into the season, we have seen a number of new names emerge for MVP candidates. It will take making the playoffs for their candidacy to last. That will be the story line to watch as we may have a new MVP.
26.3 PPG, 11.4 REB, 3.5 BLK, 2.2 STL 1.3 TOV, 57.7% FG, 80% FT, 34.9 EFF
It has been a long time since we have seen this type of dominance from a big man on a consistent night. Not only is the Unibrow scoring at will but his defensive numbers have been out of this world. He has quickly become a household name in only his third year. His ability to run the floor on a transition both offensively and defensively makes him dangerous. It’s unfortunate the Pelicans haven’t figured out how to win consistently because they may have the best player in the league on their team.
23.2 PPG, 12.3 REB, 1.5 BLK, 1.1 STL, 3.3 TOV, 51.9% FG, 79% FT, 27.2 EFF
Last year was DeMarcus’s coming out party but still many slept on him. He put up outstanding numbers last season and somehow has improved in every category across the board. At 24 years old, DeMarcus should be earning himself an all star spot for the next handful of years at least. His team is finally playing well as Rudy Gay has figured out how to be more efficient. With DeMarcus’ more physical style of play (averaging 4.7 fouls per game), teams are wearing down against the Kings. Sacramento will have to make the playoffs, which is no easy task in the Western Conference, in order for DeMarcus to be seriously considered as an MVP candidate.
23.3 PPG, 7.9 AST, 5.5 REB, 2.3 STL, 3.9 TOV, 39.3% 3PT, 95.7% FT, 26.2 EFF
This isn’t an out of the ordinary season for Stephen Curry but he has become a more efficient player as he improved his field goal percentage and his free throw percentage. What has really stood out so far is his improvement on the defensive end. He has more steals per game and has career high in rebounds. Although defensive ratings are usually a product of the team’s success, Curry’s has improved by 8, down to 96 (how many points per 100 possessions). Curry’s team has been playing extremely well. His name should be on this list by season’s end.
24.4 PPG, 6.7 AST, 6.4 REB, 1.7 STL, 4.2 TOV, 39.1% FG, 89.5% FT, 24.5 EFF
We have seen a more efficient scorer in James Harden but he has had to do more work with Dwight missing time and no more Chandler Parsons (although Trevor Ariza has been playing well in place of Parsons). Harden’s percentages are pretty low but he is still near the top in scoring. His bread and butter have been his free throw attempts and percentages, both near the tops in the league. The real improvement for James this season has been his rebounding (career high 6.4 per game), assists (career high 6.7 per game) and his defensive stats, particularly blocks (almost one per game). His name will always be up there for MVP as long as the Rockets make the playoffs and he stays in the top tier for scoring.
24.7 PPG, 6.8 AST, 5.9 REB, 1.1 STL, 4.0 TOV, 46.7% FG, 39.3% 3PT, 23.8 EFF
Ever year that Lebron James is playing top tier basketball will be a year where we find his name in the mix for MVP. Although the Cavs are struggling this year, he is still performing at a high level. His rebounds have taken a dip for a couple of reasons. First, he has better rebounders around him with Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao. Secondly, he has been playing further from the basket (as evident from his 1 for 8 shooting against Paul Pierce, all attempts were beyond 20 feet). Lebron has slimmed down and it does seem to have taken a slight effect on his game. His turnovers have increased due to him handling the ball more. Lebron is still the best player in the league, I expect the Cavs to figure it out as the season continues and be recognized as a MVP candidate.
Snubs: Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kyle Lowry, Damien Lillard
Buying Or Selling or Waiting These Teams
Washington Wizards (9-3)
For the most part, the Wizards have had a pretty easy schedule. Their win over the Cavaliers in Cleveland was impressive, especially since they have not been at full speed either. Their two losses this month have come from two of the premier teams, including a double-digit loss to the Raptors. They have to see how the bench can hold up when injuries come, like the annual Nene injury. Washington has a great make up of a roster but scoring off the bench is something that could prevent them from being the Eastern Conference representative in the NBA Finals.
Toronto Raptors (11-2)
The Raptors only loss this month was to the Chicago Bulls. Ironically, the Bulls are a team that many expect to be in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Raptors are the best team in the Eastern Conference without a perennial all-star, with all respect to DeMar DeRozen. However, this is the deepest team in the Eastern Conference without a doubt. They have been scoring in bunches with their bench. The Raptors are 3rd in points per game and 5th in points allowed per game, a recipe for success. This group has been growing together over the past couple of seasons. I expect them to make some noise and possible play in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Portland Trail Blazers (9-3)
Everything is coming together for the Portland Trail Blazers. What is the most impressive for me is how their bench is performing on a nightly basis, averaging 36 points per game as a unit. As a whole they are 6th in points per game, 1st in rebounds per game, 6th in assists per game and 6th in points allowed per game. Portland has a deep roster so they should be able to over come a few injuries when they arose. The only question for the Blazers will be how well they play in a series where adjustments are made. They are still a young team and will have to learn how to tackle the grueling playoff tree after the regular season. We all remember Lillard’s amazing series clinching three point shot against Houston but we need to see how they perform against the top teams in the conference. Their two losses have come to potential playoff opponents in Golden State and the Clippers. They have had some impressive wins with victories over Cleveland, Dallas, New Orleans and Chicago. The Blazers have been one of the more impressive teams this season.
Memphis Grizzlies (11-2)
If there is one team that is bucking the trend in the league it’s the Memphis Grizzlies, a team that focuses on slowing the game down and grinding out their opponents with a tough and physical defense. The Grizzlies are 3rd best in points allowed per game and middle of the pack offensively. There are only a few teams that rely on their defense to win games and they always seem to make the playoffs. Their two losses have been very close. They have lost to the Bucks by one (who are better than you think) and a loss in Toronto by 4. On the flipside, they have yet to play a title contender outside of the Rockets and Raptors. Their division is grueling and an injury or two will have the Grizzlies sliding down the standings.
Golden State Warriors (9-2)
With a new head coach for the Warriors and a hot start, the Warriors are looking to be real contenders in the league. Their only two losses came against the Suns (without Klay Thompson) and against the defending champions, the Spurs. Both Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry have improved. They have always been a high-powered offensive team and this year is no difference as they are 2nd in the league in points per game and 2nd in the league in assists per game. What has really moved them up from the pretenders to contenders list, outside of the growth and improvement of their stars, but their ability to defend. They are 11th in the league in points allow per game. This season’s Warriors are a different team who has developed some playoff experience and are ready to take that next step.