In Game One of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first-round playoff series with the Chicago Bulls, the Cavs implemented their “playoff rotation,” which basically consisted of seven players . . . with two others receiving less than ten minutes.
In previous playoff runs, the rotation-shrinking was essentially a no-brainer. It was just up to Mike Brown to divvy up the minutes . . . based on tandems he wanted to utilize and match-ups he wanted to exploit.
But now that the Cavs have one of the deepest teams in the NBA . . . if not the deepest . . . Brown also must decide who to play, in addition to the minutes and the five-man units.
It’ll be a mildly interesting storyline to follow throughout the series. For example, in Game One, Brown was using a pretty short rotation, with all the starters playing big minutes.
There were two likely reasons for this: With Shaquille O’Neal’s injury and all the time off the other starters were getting in the last two weeks, Brown wanted to give his main guys an opportunity to reconnect and work out any wrinkles. Also, Brown was not taking any chances. He was not about to let the Bulls come in to The Q and steal a game while the Cavs were still feeling things out.
Here’s how the minutes worked out, along with season averages for comparison.
- LeBron James: 40 minutes . . . 39.0
- Mo Williams: 39 minutes . . . 34.2
- Antawn Jamison: 33 minutes . . . 32.4
- Anderson Varejao: 32 minutes . . . 28.5
- Anthony Parker: 31 minutes . . . 28.3
- Shaquille O’Neal: 25 minutes . . . 23.4
- Delonte West: 24 minutes . . . 25.0
- Zydrunas Ilgauskas: 9 minutes . . . 20.9
- Jamario Moon: 7 minutes . . . 17.2
- J.J. Hickson: 1 minute . . . 20.9
- Daniel Gibson: 1 minute . . . 19.1
- Jawad Williams: 1 minute . . . 13.7
While you don’t necessarily love to play your starters big minutes in the first round of the playoffs unless you have to . . . it’s interesting to note that only Mo and (to a lesser extent) Andy and AP played significantly more than they averaged throughout the regular season.
The high regular season averages (including Leon Powe at 11.8 minutes) were inflated by all the injuries that the Cavs suffered to their core rotation players . . . along with Mike Brown’s tendency to give minutes (and DNP-CDs) in bunches.
And now, here are a few notes from the lineups in Game One:
#1.) The most productive time in the game came in the first 9:30 minutes of the game, when the Cavaliers were +14 over the Bulls. All the starters were in that whole time, with the exception of Andy subbing-in for Shaq 7:30 in.
Here’s how that breaks down: The Cavs’ starters were +8 with Shaq and then went +6 with Andy.
That rotation was less successful after halftime, when the Cavs were +3 with all the starters . . . and -4 after Andy came in for Shaq. (That happened in the heart of the Cavs’ seven-minute dead zone.)
#2.) LeBron rested for 2:55 in the second quarter and 4:12 at the top of the fourth.
#3.) Individually, the Cavs bench players had a few nice moments in the game . . . but Chicago was making up ground when they were in. The Cavs were even with the Bulls when Z was in the game, -4 when Moon was in, and -1 with Delonte on the floor.
Andy had the only positive number. He was +3.
Every series will be different, and every game will be a little different . . . but the lukewarm performance from the bench collectively could provide an opening for someone else to get some minutes. (J.J., Boobie or Powe . . . depending on what they need.)
Naturally, there could also be more minutes for those players . . . although more garbage-y . . . if the current subs rebound (figuratively) in Game Two, and the Cavs are able to maintain bigger leads.
#4.) In Game One, Z and Jamario basically split near-five-minute openings at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters, while LeBron was resting. Z took the second quarter, and Moon took the fourth.
#5.) Even though it seems like the Cavs relied a lot on their starters . . . at least, compared to what we’re used to . . . the Bulls were even tighter. Like the Cavs, they essentially used a seven-man rotation, but their bench only played 48 total minutes, compared to the 75 minutes the Cavs’ bench played.
Also, the Bulls did not make a substitution during the third quarter . . . the one that included their 12-0 run while the Cavs’ offense fell off track. Their starters also played the first 2:30 minutes in the fourth, meaning that Vinny Del Negro rode his starters for 14-and-a-half minutes to start the second half.
Those are just a few things to keep in mind if you’re interested in seeing how the Cavs’ rotations evolve throughout the series and the playoffs.
In 99% of the games LeBron James plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers, he’s the “#1.”
He’s the leader, he’s the guy making the most plays, he’s the guy featured in the most slow-motion replays, he’s the guy with the ball in crunch time, he’s the guy in the post-game interviews . . . he’s the superstar.
There isn’t a clear “#2″ on the Cavs’ roster.
(Fiddle-playing-wise, that is. Jersey-wearing-wise, Mo Williams is the clear #2.)
Nah, LeBron takes the “starring role” and the whole rest of the team is the “supporting cast” . . . with various players rotating in and out of the featured “parts,” depending on feel, gameplan, match-ups, and hot hands.
To many outside Cleveland, the lack of a clear second fiddle – LeBron’s so-called “Scottie Pippen” – is a failure of the Cavaliers’ front office and is criminally unfair to LeBron . . . like it’s somehow holding him back from something. That, I guess, is why some believe he’ll “break free” from Cleveland this summer to sign with a team that isn’t the #1 team in the NBA . . . just because he could be paired with a clear #2 in the process.
But in Cleveland, we know the truth.
It isn’t LeBron and a #3 . . . a couple of #4s . . . and few #5s, it’s LeBron and multiple #2s.
Saturday’s 96-83 W in the first-round play-off opener against the Chicago Bulls is a great example. Who was the “clear #2″ in that game???
Here are your options:
Mo Williams: Mo had a double-double, with 10 assists and 19 points (on 8-of-14 shooting; 3-of-7 from beyond the arc). He also had four rebounds, a steal and a block. He had five turnovers . . . and a rough patch, like everyone else, in the third quarter . . . but overall, he was vital to making the offense function and be exciting, which it was for most of the game.
Shaquille O’Neal: Shaq hasn’t played in a game since February 25th, due to surgery on his thumb. It didn’t matter. He looked terrific, playing in what was one of his best games in Cleveland. He had 12 points (on 5-of-9 shooting) with five rebounds (three offensive, and not cheapies either) and four assists. Oh, and he also had three blocks. Since the Bulls don’t have anyone who can handle Shaq . . . (they’ve officially joined the club) . . . he was controlling the paint and drawing fouls.
Antawn Jamison: Antawn also had a double-double: 15 points (on 7-of-14 shooting; 1-of-4 from beyond the arc) and 10 rebounds. He also had three blocks and a steal, and had several great transition buckets . . . and moved to the basket well when he put the ball on the floor.
Anderson Varejao: Andy had another one of those games where he’s just everywhere . . . on every single play. Actually, I can’t remember the last game when I was disappointed with Andy’s effort. Forget that . . . I can’t even remember the last game when I wasn’t amazed by Andy’s effort. This game was no different. He was crashing into the stands after loose balls, he was running circles around the Bulls’ bigs. He had four offensive rebounds . . . and 15 overall. (That’s off the bench!) He also had two steals, a block and eight points (on 3-of-7 shooting).
(And Anthony Parker almost became the fifth Cav in double-figure scoring, with nine points (on 3-of-8 shooting; including an uncharacteristic 1-of-6 from beyond the arc) . . . not that he’s in the conversation for LeBron’s #2 in this game.)
So who you got? Mo? Shaq? Antawn? Andy?
Let me rephrase: Can you even exclude one of those guys from the #2 discussion?
And beyond that, it’s hard to have beef with the #3s, the #4s and the #5s in this game.
Delonte West played a gritty 24 minutes, which included three assists and no turnovers. He only had four points, but had four rebounds and two steals. AP’s three-ball was off, but he dished out four assists.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas played nine tough minutes. Jamario Moon hit a clutch three in his seven minutes. J.J. Hickson went from being a starter on the best team in the NBA, to not even getting into the gameuntil garbage time in the final minute . . . and yet, he was still shown laughing and jumping up and down on the sideline at the Cavs’ bench at least three times by ABC’s cameras. Incredible.
Not everything was perfect.
There was that seven-minute hiccup in the third quarter . . . but those are the kinks that the Cavs will be working out throughout this series. Personally, with how on point the Cavs looked (despite Shaq’s time out and all the rest the starters got over the past two weeks), I don’t even care.
Maybe if LeBron had this magical “Robin” that outside fans think he should have . . . maybe that #2 could’ve hit six straight shots to carry the Cavs through that seven-minute rough patch in the third.
Unfortunately, I’ll never know . . . because I wouldn’t want to trade what we have to get that guy.
The NBA Playoffs are about to start, which means that the regular season is about to be history . . . officially, that is.
In Cleveland, it basically became history the moment the Cavs clinched the best record and decided to re-enter preseason mode.
So, I thought this would be the perfect time to dig up some stats, interesting facts and other oddities from what was predominantly a stellar regular season. Soak ‘em in.
#1.) The Cleveland Cavaliers went 61-21 overall this season . . . or 61-17 while legitimately trying. That’s the second-best record in franchise history. Last year’s 66-16 is the best. Just below this year’s 61 wins would be 57 wins, which the Cavs achieved twice. (In 1988-1989 and 1991-1992).
#2.) LeBron James finished averaging 29.7 points per game (second only to Kevin Durant’s 30.1 per game), 8.6 assists per game (sixth in the NBA, and which, by far, is a career high . . . he’s never averaged more than 7.2 per game before this season), 7.3 rebounds a game, 1.6 steals a game and 1.0 block per game.
He also shot 50.3% from the field, which is a career high . . . and ranked 26th among all NBA players. While we’re here, he shot 33.3% from beyond the arc and 76.7% from the stripe. Both those numbers are down slightly from last season . . . but he attempted more 3s and more free throws this season.
LeBron’s minutes (39.0, fifth in the NBA) were up slightly from his career low last year (37.7) . . . but last year, he didn’t play many fourth quarters early in the season when the Cavs were blowing everyone out, and this season, he sat out the final four games of the season to rest. (Of course, that isn’t represented in his minutes per game.)
#3.) For the second straight season, LeBron led the league in plus/minus, this year with a glimmering +650. Dwight Howard was second with +602 . . . and Anderson Varejao came in third at +511. Anthony Parker was #11, with +406. (Last year, Delonte West came in fifth and Mo Williams was sixth.)
The Cavs best five-man unit, plus/minus-wise, was LeBron, Andy, AP, Mo, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. That unit was +51, which came in 23rd among the top five-man combinations in the NBA. And the two-man pairings of LeBron and Andy (+516) and LeBron and AP (+448) were #1 and #2 in the NBA.
#4.) Anderson Varejao led the Cavs in field goal percentage at 57.2%. Shaquille O’Neal was second (56.6%), J.J. Hickson was third (55.4%) . . . even with some of those horrible 17-footers . . . and LeBron was fourth. (At 50.3%, as previously mentioned.)
Mo shot 44.2%, which was his lowest percentage since ’05-’06 when he shot 42.4%.Antawn Jamison shot 48.5% as a Cavalier, which was better than the 45% he was shooting in Washington (on more shots) this season. He averaged 15.8 points per game, which was down from the 20.5 points he was scoring in Washington . . . where he was often the featured scorer. Most of the rest of his numbers are exactly the same as in Washington . . . except free throw percentage. As a Wizard he shot 70% (and 73% in his career). As a Cavalier, he shot 50.6%.
#5.) The Cavs finished third in the NBA in field goal percentage at 48.5%. Only the Phoenix Suns (49.2%) and the Utah Jazz (49.1%) were better.
The Cavs were second in the NBA in FG% differential, meaning the separation between what they shot and what their opponents did. The Cavs differential was +6.5%, which was second only to the Orlando Magic’s 7.5%. (That’s impressive. And a little scary.)
Cleveland allowed 44.2% shooting from their opponents. That’s third in the league, behind Orlando (43.8%) and the Miami Heat (43.9%).
#6.) The Cavs ended the season second in the NBA in 3-point percentage at 38.1%. The Phoenix Suns were #1 at 41.2%. (The Orlando Magic were fourth at 37.5%.)
Technically, Z was the Cavs best 3-point shooter at 47.8%, but that was only 11-for-23. Daniel Gibson probably deserves that distinction (heck, he deserves something for his season). He shot 47.7% (second in the NBA), or 71-for-149. Mo was third at 42.9% (ninth in the NBA), followed by AP at 41.4% (12th in the NBA). Antawn was 34.2%, LeBron was 33.3%.
Cleveland’s opponents shot the 3-ball at 34.7%. That makes them 10th in the league at defending the three.
#7.) J.J. Hickson growth update: Last month, we looked at how J.J.’s rebounding numbers have improved, month-to-month, this season. That’s good because – while scoring is always a sign of success – for J.J., rebounding seems like a better indication of his improvement.
Here’s an updated breakdown of J.J.’s burgeoning awesomeness by month:
- October**: 1.3 pts, 1.3 rebs, 0.0 blks, 50% shooting in 8.3 minutes per game
- November: 9.6 pts, 3.8 rebs, 0.5 blks, 67.5% shooting in 22.5 minutes per game
- December: 6.5 pts, 4.1 rebs, 0.3 blks, 60% shooting in 18.4 minutes per game
- January: 6.3 pts, 5.8 rebs, 0.7 blks, 79.2% shooting in 20.1 minutes per game
- February: 10.3 pts, 4.2 rebs, 0.4 blks, 68.4% shooting in 20.1 minutes per game
- March: 11.7 pts, 6.0 rebs, 0.6 blks, 55.6% shooting in 24.4 minutes per game
- April: 10.9 pts, 8.0 rebs, 0.7 blks, 50.8% shooting in 26.6 minutes per game
**Only four games and 33 total minutes played.
#8.) If the playoffs are anything like the regular season with regard to free throw shooting . . . it’s totally understandable for your heart-rate to dramatically change when a Cavs player steps to the line. Here’s a quick guide to the Cavs’ FT percentages, so you know how much to sweat:
- Mo – 89.4%
- Delonte – 81.0%
- Jamario – 80.0%
- AP – 78.9%
- LeBron – 76.7%
- Zydrunas – 74.3%
- Jawad – 71.1%
- Boobie – 69.4%
- J.J. – 68.1%
- Anderson – 66.3%
- Leon – 58.7%
- Antawn – 50.6%
- Shaq – 49.6%
The Cavs shot 72.0% at the line this season, which was LAST in the NBA. But the good news is, the second-worst team was the Magic, who shot free throws at a 72.4% clip. The best free throw-shooting team, the Dallas Mavericks, shot 81.6%.
#9.) The Cavs were sixth in the NBA with an offensive efficiency rating (points scored per 100 possessions) of 111.2. There were seventh in the NBA with a defensive efficiency rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 104.1.
Orlando was fourth offensively (111.4) . . . third defensively (103.3).
Atlanta was second offensively (111.9) . . . 13th defensively (106.7).
Boston was 15th offensively (107.7) . . . fifth defensively (103.8).
Chicago was 27th offensively (103.5) . . . 11th defensively (105.3).
L.A. (Lakers) was 11th offensively (108.8) . . . fourth defensively (103.7).
[The Phoenix Suns were #1 offensively . . . the Charlotte Bobcats were #1 defensively.]
#10.) And now, for fan stats! The Cavs sold out every home game this season, which placed them second in the NBA in attendance . . . behind, ironically, the Chicago Bulls. It’s the first time the Cavs have sold out a complete season, and it boosts their home sell-out streak to 77 games.
And when Cleveland fans can’t get tickets to the Q, they watch at home.
According to NBA.com:
“The Cavaliers continue to be the NBA’s most watched team, leading the league this season in overall average attendance (home and road combined) and TV viewership (#1 for local TV ratings).
“[As of last week], through 78 locally and nationally broadcast games on FOX Sports Ohio, TNT, ESPN and ABC this season, the Cavaliers have an overall local TV average rating of 10.5, which equates to over 500,000 people watching each game. Often, when games are broadcast locally and nationally, the local viewership total is well over 800,000.
“For the 66 games broadcast on FOX Sports Ohio, the Cavaliers average rating is 8.66, which stands as the NBA’s top rated local game broadcast rating.”
It sounds like Cleveland is turning itself into one of the NBA’s so-called “major markets.”
Last night, I sat down with a bottle of wine and NBA.com’s Plus/Minus Stat Machine . . . which, I wish I could say is a joke . . . and started sifting through some Cavs numbers.
Just for the hell of it, I guess.
But I did dig up a few mildly interesting things.
If you’ve been following NBA stats over the past few years, you’re familiar with plus/minus.
Basically, it’s a representation of how much better a team is, or isn’t, when a certain player (or players) is on the floor. (Before being used in the NBA, it was a prevalent hockey statistic.)
It only directly counts team point differential . . . but naturally, that has a way of sucking in all kinds of other data (like general defense) that represent a player’s value to the five-man unit he’s with on the floor.
NBA.com hypes plus/minus by saying: “It’s a way of showing the best-engineered / best combination of players on the court. The +/- stat is a statistic that looks at the point differential when players are both in and out of the game, to see how the team performs with various combinations. The analysis of +/- stats is best observed and analyzed while drinking cheap french red wine from your local grocery store.”
OK, that last line is original.
Here are a few interesting things I found:
#1.) Individually, LeBron James (+611), Anderson Varejao (+516) and Anthony Parker (+407) are the top three plus/minus players on the team. For perspective, those numbers make LeBron #1 in the NBA, Varejao is tied for #2 with Dwight Howard, and Parker is #8. Yes, the Cavs have the highest team margin of victory in the Association, but having three players in the Top Eight, individually, is impressive.
#2.) Obviously, the best two-player tandem on the Cavs is LeBron and Varejao (+506, 1st in the NBA) . . . followed by LeBron and Parker (+417, 3rd in the NBA) and Varejao and Parker (+356, 9th in the NBA). LeBron and Mo are fourth (+298, 27th in the NBA).
#3.) The best three-man team, plus/minus-wise, on the Cavs? You guessed it: LeBron, Varejao, and Parker (+322, 4th in the NBA). Second is LeBron, Varejao, and Mo (+279, 16th in the NBA) and third is LeBron, Varejao, and Delonte West (+271, 18th in the NBA).
#4.) The best four-man group is LeBron, Varejao, Parker and Mo (+190, 19th in the NBA). Next, there are two groups tied with +121, which is tied for 38th in the NBA: LeBron, Varejao, Parker, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (somewhat surprisingly) . . . and LeBron, Varejao, Parker and West.
#5.) For a variety of reasons, Shaq has never been a big plus/minus guy for the Cavs this season. Individually, he (+96) and J.J. Hickson (+77) are the lowest in Mike Brown’s regular rotation. (Which doesn’t include Leon Powe, Jawad Williams and Danny Green.)
Instead, Z pops up in a lot of the best five-man teams, again, in terms of plus/minus.
The Cavs best lineup is LeBron, Varejao, Parker, Mo, and Z (+51, 27th in the NBA). Second is LeBron, Varejao, Parker, Daniel “Boobie” Gibson, and Z (+48, 29th in the NBA) . . . and third is LeBron, Varejao, Parker, Mo, and Antawn Jamison (+45, 32nd in the NBA).
[By the way, the wine was a few glasses of Louis Jadot beaujolais, which you can find for $10 at Trader Joe's. It has a parchment-like label. It's one of my favorites, if you're ever interested in trying something new. Since this is the Wine and Gold Rush, if you have a tip on a cheap-ish wine that you like . . . drop it in the comments and I'll check it out.]
Jamario Moon has been reduced to a cheerleader.
A good one, but a cheerleader nonetheless. And so has Daniel “Boobie” Gibson . . . and while he’s no cheerleading superstar like Jamario (and rookie Danny Green), he’s still pretty excitable.
Whenever there’s an above-average play . . . even if it’s only marginally above-average . . . Jamario is probably doing something ridiculous on the sideline in front of the Cleveland Cavaliers bench. And if the team is playing flat, he can still be seen smiling, just waiting for the moment to explode.
It’s that sort of energy, intensity and explosive tendency that’s hard to keep bottled on the sideline, especially when the team is sparklessly going through the motions.
(Which is why it would seem to make sense to move him onto the court in those situations, right?)
He’s basically this year’s Tarence Kinsey, only Jamario is a more talented player. Not that it matters when you’re left to cheerlead on the bench. (By the way, can anyone imagine if we had both Jamario and Tarence? The NBA would have to allow the Cavaliers to expand their roster just so that there would be enough players to restrain them in the event that Delonte West dunks off a cut.)
Before the All-Star Break, Coach Mike Brown held Jamario out of one game that he was healthy for. Since the All-Star Break, he’s been held out of seven games he could have played in. In the Cavs’ last six games, Jamario has entered only one game . . . and that was for eight minutes in a 30-point blowout over Detroit.
If you dismiss Sebastian Telfair (which we’ve all already been doing for years now) and rookie Danny Green, is it possible that Jamario is fighting off Gibson to be the second-least valuable player on the Cavs’ roster?
Boobie is in essentially the same position as Jamario.
Just three years ago, when the Cavs were entering their first-ever Finals series, Daniel appeared to be on the verge of emerging as one of the Cavs’ best players . . . and we’re talking between second- and fifth-best. Now, only he, LeBron, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao remain from that team.
And now, Boobie can’t get into a game.
In the Cavs’ last 17 games, he’s only been in five. And he played just one minute in two of the ones he did get into . . . and in another he just played eight minutes. So Boobie has only received “substantial” minutes twice . . . 22 and 13, respectively . . . since February 21st.
This is for a dude that was having a pretty strong season . . . both offensively and defensively . . . at the beginning of the season, and for a guy who scored in double-figures in nine of ten games while Mo Williams was out with a sprained shoulder.
Not too long ago, it would’ve seemed crazy that Daniel could be the Cavs’ 13th best player. In the recent past, the same could be said of Jamario. Especially with neither of them playing themselves out of the rotation.
That’s depth. Serious depth.
Since January, we’ve seen the improvement of Jawad Williams, the rise of J.J. Hickson, the trade for Antawn Jamison, the arrival of Leon Powe and the return of Z. And soon, Shaq will be back in the mix, too.
Some Cleveland fans would like to see more Jamario, others would like to see more Boobie, and everyone would like to see something fresh when the Cavs fall into their bad habits of casually playing down to the level of their opponents.
But barring any further injuries, it’s unlikely that Coach Brown will expand his rotation in the run-up to the playoffs . . . at least for any real minutes. His priorities are now on setting the playoff rotations and getting those players going. And Jamario and Boobie aren’t in line to play much in the playoffs.
The playoff rotation will be eight, or maybe nine players, max: (1) LeBron, (2) Mo, (3) Jamison, (4) Varejao, (5) Delonte, (6) Anthony Parker, (7) Hickson, (8) Z, and (9) Shaq (and until Shaq is back, they might have Leon Powe in for his center-playing abilities).
So, that means the cheerleaders will be Jamario, Boobie, Jawad, Danny, and Sebastian.
Since that’s how it looks like it’s going to be, I have a special request for Jamario. I’d like him to spend some of his time on the bench dreaming up more inside jokes and cheers for Cavs players and fans.
Everyone loves the overly complicated handshakes and the Gooseneck, which Jamario apparently started. Now, let’s usher in something new for this year’s playoffs. And as you may have guessed, I have a suggestion. It needs a little work . . . hopefully by Jamario himself . . . but the framework is there.
I call it . . . the Double Gooseneck. Or Goosey Times Two. Or Goosey2x.
It’s like the Gooseneck, hence the similar name, only instead of a one-handed, cocked follow-through . . . it’s a two-handed Goosey follow-through.
Here are a few examples:
First, it looks like Barack Obama is doing a “Double Gooseneck,” here.
And here’s some cute little kid doing the “Goosey Times Two” to perfection!
And finally, here’s the hand signal for the “Double Gooseneck”: