Season Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers

» October 13, 2009 11:03 AM | By xphoenix87

Coach: Mike Brown
2008-09 Record: 66-16
Pythagorean Record for 08-09: 65-17
Offensive Rating: 112.4 (4th in the league)
Defensive Rating: 102.4 (3rd)
Possessions per 48: 88.7 (25th)
Four Factors:





Offensive 51.9 (4th) .125 (6th) .277 (14th) .236 (15th)
Defensive 46.8 (2nd) .135 (10th) .746 (9th) .226 (11th)

Roster (Red indicates new acquisition, Blue indicates rookie) Click to enlarge

Lets just get this out of the way. LeBron is the best player in the game. There is nothing I can say about him that hasn’t already been said. He’s a point guard’s floor vision with a shooting guard’s quickness and a small forward’s versatility all wrapped up in a power forward’s body. He’s Magic Johnson crossed with Karl Malone, Chuck Norris crossed with Jesus…ok, maybe that last one was a bit much.

I really liked this team’s offseason moves. Everyone knows about Shaq, but they really improved on the wings by acquiring Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon. Moon, in particular, is a great pickup. He’s kind of like a poor man’s Shawn Marion, with his ability to finish and defend. Because of his size and athleticism, he should be especially valuable against Orlando and Rashard Lewis, who killed the Cavs last year. Since Cleveland relied on Sasha Pavlovic and Wally Szczerbiak as backup wings last year, this is a pretty huge improvement.

The other significant pickup (we’ll get to Shaq later) was widely overlooked, and that was signing Leon Powe for the minimum. Now, Powe probably won’t play for the first half of the season, and we don’t know if he’ll fully recover this season. However, if he does recover to play like he has the last two years, he’s one of the best frontcourt reserves in the league. He’s undersized, but he’s strong and seeks out contact with abandon. He drew fouls on 27.8% of his shot attempts which, if he’d played enough to qualify, would’ve put him 2nd in the league, behind only Dwight Howard. That ability to draw fouls and get easy points separates him from your average energy guy off the bench.

Anderson Varejao doesn’t get enough credit for what a good defender he is. Sure, his offense is laughable when he does anything other than catch and finish, but that’s not why he’s on the floor. He’s very mobile for a 6′11 guy, and that helps make him one of the league’s best pick-and-roll defenders. He’s also an excellent post defender, partly due to the charge-drawing/flopping, and partly because he’s got very quick hands which he uses to poke the ball ahead from behind. He’s not a dominant shot blocker, but there aren’t many big men who are as good defensively.

You think Mo Williams likes playing with LeBron? Without constantly having to create his own shot, Williams’ turnover rate dropped, and his three-point percentage jumped 5%. In case you were wondering, no, he’s not an All-Star caliber player, but he is a very strong supporting player. He’s a great fit for this team because he can operate as a spot-up shooter and second option when LeBron is in, but he can also create for himself if necessary, which means the Cavs don’t completely fall apart when LeBron leaves the floor.

X-Factor: Shaquille O’Neal – Could it be anyone else? Now, Shaq is going to be an improvement regardless. He’s replacing Ben Wallace, who was sort of terrible last year, so if Shaq is even remotely close to as good as he was last year, he’ll be a massive improvement. He was, surprisingly, outstanding last year, playing his best ball since 05-06. What we don’t know is if he’ll stay healthy without the magical Phoenix training staff. If he does stay healthy, he gives the Cavs a dominant low post option, and a more effective counter to Dwight Howard. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not an upgrade against the pick-and-roll, but a lot of the problems Cleveland had with the Magic last year were because Big Z just wasn’t strong enough to keep Howard from establishing deep position. There’s always some risk involved in dealing with Shaq, but he’s looking for another title, and I don’t see him being a problem off the court. On the court, he gives them the physical post presence they lacked last year, and splitting time with Ilgauskas should help keep both of them fresh.


It’s do or die time in Cleveland. With LeBron only one short season away from free agency, the agenda is clear. Title or bust, anything less than an NBA Championship is a failure for these guys. Dan Gilbert and Danny Ferry have spared no expense to prove to King James that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to win titles in Cleveland. I, for one, think it’s going to work. This was the best team in the league during the regular season, and they actually were able to significantly improve their roster this offseason. Most improtantly, there’s LeBron. After last year, all bets are off as to what he might do. He’s a mind-boggling physical force, and he continues to improve his game in meaningful ways every offseason. There’s simply no one like him, and despite the improvement of the East, I think he breaks through this time.

1st in the East – The Big Three

BallerBlogger contributing writer ‘xphoenix87′ is a college student who dreams of one day writing about sports for a living. Since that’s not gonna happen, he’ll do this instead.

15 Responses to “Season Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers”

  1. Tsunami Says:

    Jesus had a mid-range game though…

  2. Tsunami Says:

    X, Tim Legler did a preview of the Cavs and he said in order for them to win a championship they need to trust players to hit shots other than LeBron.

    It got me thinking:

    LeBron’s game plan is usually to “get others involved” early and often. They run set plays for people like Z and Andy even when LeBron is on the court. This has been discussed at length by the Cavs and LeBron and the logic makes sense – you gotta get the bigs feeling a part of the action on offense if you want them to step up on D and feel comfortable hitting a big shot if you need it.

    In the ECF game 5 against Detroit, LeBron scored 25 of his teams last 26 points. Looking at just that, you would think that he was just hogging the ball. But the rest of the Cavs were 0-10 in that stretch. He was still TRYING to get other people shots, they just wouldn’t convert.

    Do you think the inability of other Cavs to hit big shots last year in the playoffs is at all LeBron’s fault? Many people actually blame HIM for the Cavs losing to the Magic (mostly Kobe fans of course) saying his selfishness is why they couldn’t beat the magic. What’s your take on all this. Obviously it helps to have guys that will step up and hit big shots – but if you’re LeBron and/or the Cavs coaching staff, how do you “trust” other players to take and make big shots when they refuse to come through?

    Not to mention, if you’re LeBron and you make the correct basketball play and pass, you get slaughtered in the media for not having “killer instinct” and all that crap.

  3. xphoenix87 Says:

    The thing is, everyone gets it wrong when they analyze this series. The problem in that series was never with the Cavs’ offense. I don’t have them right now, but I ran the numbers on that series a while back. The Cavs offense actually performed really well, especially considering how good Orlando’s defense was. The problem was that their defense, which was so good all year, couldn’t match up with Orlando, and the Magic, namely Dwight Howard, ran all over them

  4. Tsunami Says:

    I agree, they scored enough to win. They couldn’t stop the Magic. Not to mention the Magic really played out of their minds. Here’s a recap from Windhorst after game 3:

    “• I watched the Magic about 15 times during the regular season and probably examined about 75 percent of their box scores. I’ve seen most of their playoff games. They have never played like this. Usually you can look at the Magic’s 3-point shooting and make a fair guess as to whether they won or not. If you saw 17-of-38 and 50 percent shooting overall, you asked did they win by 15 or 27? I can sit here and go over the Cavs strategy for two hours but if Rafer Alston and Mickael Pietrus go 11-of-23 on 3-pointers, Dwight Howard shoots 75 percent from the foul line and Rashard Lewis makes game-saving 3-pointers, what can be done? I don’t know. You can rip Mo Williams all you want and, wow, is that guy going to have a rough offseason, but the Cavs scored 100 points in regulation. That has to be enough to win.”

  5. Tsunami Says:

    dang Hoff, you are really low on the Cavs this year. Or is that every year?

    You really don’t think they made any improvements this summer do you? It almost sounds like you think they got worse, trading Ben Wallace’s “fantastic team defense” for Shaq’s Sieve.

    Mo Williams was a traffic cone in Milwaukee and he really worked hard on defense last year. He doesn’t have much length or lateral quickness so he doesn’t have the tools to be a good defender but he worked hard at that end. I don’t remember the Supersonics being a bastion of defensive intensity when Delonte West was there, and he has played pretty solid defense for the Cavs, although he is too short to guard 6′10″ wings. Jamario Moon on the other hand DOES have the tools, and he could be a very solid wing defender for the Cavs.

    According to, Moon was the only raptor to have a positive +/- on the season. The Raptors were 6.5 points better on defense with him on the court than off, and the raptors +/- PER at the SF position was positive with him on the court.

    I know I read somewhere (I’m sure you’ll find it if I’m wrong) that Shaq has limited Dwight Howard’s production. And despite what JVG says, John Hollinger did a very thorough analysis of Dwight Howard’s post game especially after that whole “I’m not getting enough touches” fiasco where howard whined about his lack of contributions against the 76ers. And then he was suspended for a game and the Magic KILLED Philly. Anyway, Hollinger concluded that Howard was horrible when he was receiving the ball far from the hoop and dominant when he got it deep in the low post. Also, based on your scouting report of the ECF, it sounds like the Cavs were the worst defensive team in the league. not only were they torched on the inside, but they couldn’t cover the pick and roll, and they couldn’t rotate to shooters. How the hell did they come in 2nd in defensive efficiency during the regular season? For that matter, how did hold their first two opponents of the playoffs to staggeringly low outputs? I mean, did they just turn off the defensive switch? No. The Magic were a.) a matchup nightmare, and b.) firing on all cylinders. You can sit here and talk all you want about the Lakers “rotating to perfection”, and I’ll admit the Lakers did a much better job defending the magic, but the Magic shot out of their MINDS against the Cavs. Rashard Lewis’ 3 point percentage was higher than when he participated in the 3 point contest on all-star weekend. And if I had a dime for every time Michael Pietrus hit a transition, step-back 3, I’ll be advertising on your site.

    The Magic decided to go for a more conventional offensive attack by swapping Turk for Carter. That will make them much more potent against teams like the Lakers, but I wonder if it will make them more of a threat against the Cavs.

  6. Brandon Hoffman Says:


    * I’m not enamored with Jamario Moon or Anthony Parker. Both guys played major minutes for the 33-49 Raptors last season, and neither player made a defensive mark. In fact, the Raps were routinely torched on the wings.

    * I’m not going to argue that Cleveland is better off with Wally Szczerbiak and Ben Wallace, but I think you’re underestimating their importance to last year’s team. Wally shot 41 percent from the three-point line. Wallace played fantastic team defense.

    * I cannot emphasize this enough: Shaquille O’Neal is a defensive liability. On-ball, off-ball, especially when defending the pick-and-roll — O’Neal is a defensive sieve.

    * Shaq will prevent Howard from establishing deep position. But he won’t be able to stop Howard’s running hook, or his counter spin to the baseline. Howard is at his best when facing Shaq, because Shaq doesn’t have the lateral quickness to anticipate his moves and draw the charge. Orlando knows this. Look for the Magic, or any team for that matter, to involve O’Neal in as many motion oriented plays as possible.

    * I don’t think Howard’s low-post scoring was the difference in the Eastern Conference Finals, and I’m not alone. Jeff Van Gundy echoed my thoughts when analyzing the Shaq trade. (JVG probably knows a thing or two about defense after coaching alongside Tom Thibodeau in New York and Houston.) I thought Cleveland’s inability to defend the screen/roll and rotate to open shooters out of double teams was their downfall. Cleveland simply had no answer for Orlando’s weakside ball-screens (Alston/Lewis, Hedo/Lewis, Hedo/Howard). Alston, Lewis, and Turk exploited Cleveland’s poor help and rotation defense, which created a bevy of open looks for Pietrus, Redick, et al.

    * Let’s be clear: Boston was the only team that could guard Howard with one man. The Lakers doubled Howard from the top down, and from the baseline. Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, and Trevor Ariza dug down every time Howard put the ball on the floor, and LA’s perimeter rotations were flawless. Phil Jackson implemented a sound defensive game-plan, and the Lakers executed that plan to perfection. Who knows what might have happened if Mike Brown had done the same.

  7. Erick Says:

    I think the Magic going to a conventional approach kills their chances of beating Cleveland. Everything Brandon says is correct, but you’re dead on about the Magic being a matchup nightmare for Cleveland. Since Orlando can play four players outside the three point line, Cleveland’s overall team speed got picked apart. Sure LeBron can run, but everybody else in the frontcourt is a statue.

    It’s easier to rotate to Brandon Bass’ midrange jumper than Rashard Lewis wing threes, though Ryan Anderson could play a part in that.

    Moon’s an okay defender but relies a lot on athleticism and is sloppy. Even with West in Seattle, you can see the grit there. When he begins to play with better teammates and in a cohesive system, his defensive abilities really shine.

    I still think Cleveland lacks team speed in the frontcourt and could get blitzed by a team like the Lakers easily.

    Also Tsunami, I hope your comment above isn’t assuming that I’m solely blaming LeBron for Cleveland’s series loss. He played a part in the loss, but there were certainly more damning failures on Cleveland’s side than LeBron. I do believe if he had Jesus’ midrange game though, he’d be even tougher to stop in the fourth quarter.

  8. Tsunami Says:

    Hoff – you are trying to paint two different pictures on the same canvas. At first, you discredit the defensive superiority of the Cavs during the regular season and first two rounds of the playoffs as unimportant. In other words, it doesn’t matter if they are a good defensive team or not, what matters is how they defend the Magic/Celtcs. You even say that it’s all about matchups. OK. I agree.

    Then you go on to say “but it’s not as if Pietrus and Co. were knocking down contested triples. It was the second and third ball reversal that broke down the Cavs defense and produced most of Orlando’s open looks from beyond the arc.”

    I watched the series, it IS as if this happened. And if you don’t think that is what happened, then you MUST think that the Cavs just weren’t that good of a defensive team. But you just said it that it wasn’t about that, it was about matchups. Quite often Orlando shot contested threes. It felt like the Cavs needed to BLOCK the SHOT to keep Rashard Lewis and Micahel Pietrus from draining them. And closing out on shooters is how the Cavs made a living against every other team. In fact they posted one of the best opponent 3PFG% defenses in the regular season. Much better than the Lakers in fact. Like Boston, they were a shrink the floor team, collapsing on the ball penetrating and rotating back out to the shooters. It worked wonders against pretty much every team in the NBA except Orlando. This has been covered at length by scouts such as David Thrope and by Brian Windhorst. The problem, then, was that Cleveland was sending short perimeter players out to defend 3s. Basically, whoever LeBron wasn’t guarding. Delonte West at 6′4 does not have the length to bother the shots of 6′10″ wing players. And Sasha Pavlovic was such an offensive liability that they couldn’t keep him on the court. That’s what adding a guy like Parker and esp Moon was all about: adding perimeter length.

    This isn’t rocket science. The Magic destroyed the Cavs with Dwight Howard’s dominating size, and their perimeter ball movement + 3 point shooting. The Cavs addressed both issues.

    Even if the Shaq experiment is a total bust and the Cavs have to resort to doubling Howard, at the very least they improved their depth and length on the wings. Anthony Parker is a much better player than Boobie Gibson, and Jamario Moon is a better player than Wally Szczerbiak, especially on defense.

    It’s funny because I almost feel like had the Cavs simply added Parker, Moon, and Powe through free agency, many more people would be on board with them, but negative impressions of Shaq have people thinking the Cavs are no match for the elites. If Shaq is holding the Cavs back, they will trade his 20 million dollar expiring contract for stud(s) and take on more money. Or at the very least, sit him on the bench.

  9. Brandon Hoffman Says:


    * I think Cleveland improved, although I think they will take a step back defensively.

    * Look, Cleveland won 66 games last year. At this stage of the game, it’s all about matchups, and frankly, I’m not convinced that Shaq, Parker, and Moon are the ticket to advance past the Celtics or Magic.

    * Plus-minus has received a lot of publicity lately, but it’s useless without adjustments based on who else is on the floor. Teams like the Rockets adjust for these distortions. 82games is an incredible resource, though I highly doubt they’re adjusting for the quality of the opposition, garbage time, etc.

    * You wrote: “Based on your scouting report of the ECF, it sounds like the Cavs were the worst defensive team in the league. not only were they torched on the inside, but they couldn’t cover the pick and roll, and they couldn’t rotate to shooters. How the hell did they come in 2nd in defensive efficiency during the regular season? For that matter, how did hold their first two opponents of the playoffs to staggeringly low outputs?”

    Cleveland’s defensive efficiency during the regular season, and through the first two rounds of the playoffs, is inconsequential. Detroit had no business being in the playoffs. And the Hawks weren’t at full strength.

    The fact is, Mike Brown was completely outcoached by Stan Van Gundy. You can talk all you want about the Magic playing out of their minds, but it’s not as if Pietrus and Co. were knocking down contested triples. It was the second and third ball reversal that broke down the Cavs defense and produced most of Orlando’s open looks from beyond the arc.

    * You wrote: “The Magic decided to go for a more conventional offensive attack by swapping Turk for Carter. That will make them much more potent against teams like the Lakers, but I wonder if it will make them more of a threat against the Cavs.”

    I must admit, that was my initial analysis as well. Now, I’m not so sure that will happen. Jameer Nelson was Orlando’s primary playmaker before he injured his shoulder. I think Orlando can play the same 4-out, 1-in style of basketball as long as Nelson and Rashard Lewis remain healthy.

  10. Brandon Hoffman Says:


    No, I’m not trying to paint two paint different pictures. You’re trying to take my comments out of context.

    * My comment about matchups pertained to Cleveland’s acquisition of Shaq, Parker, and Moon. It had nothing to do with last year’s Eastern Conference Final.

    * I didn’t discredit the Cavaliers’ defensive efficiency during the regular season. However, just because they were a good defensive team during the regular season, doesn’t mean they played good defense versus Orlando.

    * You act as if Cleveland was incapable of breakdowns because they led the league in three-point field goal percentage defense during the regular season. Who cares how they defended the Bobcats and Clippers back in March? How Cleveland “made a living versus every other team” has nothing to do with how they defended Orlando.

    * Not only did Cleveland fail to recover and contest shots for most of the series, they also struggled to locate shooters in transition. Orlando doesn’t sprint to the paint when they have numbers, they run to the three-point line and spot up, and Cleveland never quite adjusted defensively.

    * Also, because Cleveland struggled to defend Orlando’s weakside ball-screens, they were forced to help with a third, and sometimes fourth defender, which created open looks on the strong side.

    * I can see we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this topic. I know what I saw. I have notes on games 1-6.

    * As for the Shaq experiment being a total bust, I wouldn’t worry about having to double Howard again, although I think he is going to be much improved this season. (I don’t see Cleveland trading Shaq this season either.) I would be concerned about his pick-and-roll defense and how that might open up the floor for Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Jameer Nelson, and Vince Carter.

    I know I sound like a broken record, but having mobile bigs who can defend the screen-and-roll is so, so important in today’s NBA. And Shaq is probably the worst pick-and-roll defender in the league. I mean that.

  11. Tsunami Says:

    You have notes, I have all the games on DVD.

    There were definitely defensive breakdowns, I’m just saying what a LOT of other people are saying. That the Cavs addressed some needs.

    And I agree with Shaq being a terrible pick and roll defender. He is very slow.

    If he’s getting torched in a pick and roll they can always put Varejao (maybe THE most mobile big in the NBA) at the 5, LeBron at the 4, Moon at the 3, Delonte at the 2 and Mo at the 1. It’s a smaller lineup, but it can certainly defend any pick and roll.

    Dismiss them at your peril Hoff. The curse can’t last forever, our time is coming.

  12. Erick Says:

    Just throwing something out there…Cleveland’s regular three-point defense was solid, but how many teams in the league featured an athletic four who could shoot threes?

    Phoenix, Sacramento, and the Knicks had undisciplined gimmick lineups with small forwards playing the four, but I can really only think of Orlando, Washington, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Indiana, and Indiana.

    Dallas’ offense rarely uses the point guard/center high screen roll with the power forward replacing at the wing. They usually just isolate and Varejao can take Dirk one-on-one. Plus, Dirk isn’t really an athlete.

    Oklahoma City is also mostly just an isolation team, so Green won’t do too much damage against a disciplined defense like Cleveland.

    However, Troy Murphy shot 8-15 from three in Indiana’s four games with Cleveland. Antawn Jamison shot 5-11 from three against the Cavs, while Rashard Lewis was 8-25. It’s a small sample (and Lewis had two bizarre games, a 5-7 performance, and an 0-8 one), and it’s not too crazy at around 41 percent.

    When teams force Varejao to rotate quickly along the perimeter, he’s not quick enough to help and recover. Cleveland had to go into rotation and Orlando’s ball movement was always a step ahead.

    Parker and Moon will help as traditional three-point defenders, but I don’t think that was really necessary.

    What happens when Vince Carter uses a Rashard Lewis screen against the Cavs? Varejao will have to help on Carter and the pass back to Lewis will be open like it was all last season, unless Brown does something exotic with his rotations. It’s one of the reasons why I think Orlando reverting to a traditional lineup would be a mistake.

  13. Tsunami Says:

    Hoff – the curse isn’t about falling short against bottom feeders – it’s about falling short when you shouldn’t.

    I’m not saying the Cavs don’t have holes. I’m just not sure they don’t have more talent than the Celtics/Magic.

    You keep going on about how Cleveland has no one to defend the pick and roll – well, Boston and Orlando have no one to guard LeBron James.

    Last year, even against Orlando, the Cavs starting 5 was the best in basketball. Their bench was one of the worst in basketball. Wayne Winston made an entire post about how the “reason” the Cavs lost to the Magic was because Mike Brown played Ben Wallace. (not sure I totally agree but Wallace was definitely terrible in the series)

    A bench of Boobie Gibson, Sasha Pavlovic, Wally Szczerbiak, and Ben Wallace, has been replaced with: Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Leon Powe, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. That’s a pretty significant upgrade. I’d take the Cavs bench over ANY BENCH in the NBA and as I said before, last year they may have had the worst bench in the NBA. A quick trip to proves that.

    Anyway, arguing about what’s GOING to happen is infinitely less exciting to me than arguing about what already happened and why. Here’s to the season!


  14. Brandon Hoffman Says:


    You’re right. The Cavaliers addressed some needs. But they still have more holes on their roster than Boston and Orlando.

    You wrote: “If he’s getting torched in a pick and roll they can always put Varejao (maybe THE most mobile big in the NBA) at the 5, LeBron at the 4, Moon at the 3, Delonte at the 2 and Mo at the 1. It’s a smaller lineup, but it can certainly defend any pick and roll.”

    And if I’m Doc Rivers or Stan Van Gundy, I’m countering that lineup by instructing Kevin Garnett or Dwight Howard to isolate Varejao on the block.

    Forget the curse. I don’t believe in Santa Clause, The Boogeyman, or “The Curse.” At this level of competition, talent trumps all. From top to bottom, the Celtics and Magic are far more talented than the Cavaliers. Boston has five All-Star caliber players. Orlando has four. Both teams improved their depth.

    I’m not saying LeBron can’t single-handedly will Cleveland into the NBA Finals. It’s possible. But he’s fighting an uphill battle.

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