Everybody tends to freak out about final minute execution in a tight basketball game when their team doesn’t wind up victorious.
The outrage at Mike Brown over Jarrett Jack’s failure to inbound a basketball over a man with a 6’10 wingspan who was in the process of imitating an armed pogo stick within the allotted five seconds in the final moments against Dallas, is one such example. I’m not trying to claim the Cavs don’t have problems with inbound plays and late game offensive execution. They do. The fact is though that the main culprit of the loss was the Cavaliers bench. At the 2:38 mark in the 1st quarter Earl Clark entered the game and watched Luol Deng hit the second of a pair of free throws to tie the score at 21. Clark would leave the game with 8:10 left in the 2nd quarter with the game busted wide open at 38-25 in favor of the Mavericks. The Cavs starters struggled to close out the half, but would make up for it and more in the 2nd half. Ultimately, despite a sublime 2nd half, the deficit was too much to overcome. Deng must have thought he was back in Chicago as four of the Cavaliers starters exceeded 35 minutes played. It’s still early in the Luol Deng era, but the Cavaliers bench might be a problem.
The second unit currently consists of a bunch of misfits who I have to admit being worried about. The bench needs to be able to consistently contribute in order to spell the starters night in and night out, especially Deng and Varejao. Varejao is injury prone and Deng is nursing a nagging Achilles injury, it would serve the Cavs well to be careful with them if possible. The bench is seeing way less playing time as a whole and will probably continue to do so as I suspect Brown will lean on his starters heavily in hopes for a successful playoff push. This means that minutes off the bench will be reduced and some familiar faces will be seeing less court time. Let’s take a look at who’s there.
Jack was probably never going to have the same level of success he had last season in Golden State but to see him fall off this badly is shocking. I figured once he had acclimated to the team his numbers would improve but they’ve actually gotten worse, and January has been his worst shooting month percentage wise yet. I’ve made a lot of excuses for him in the past and I’m not ready to completely give up on him, but considering the length of the contract Grant gave him it’s hard not to get a little worried about his performance in the 1st half of the season. I’m okay watching Jarrett Jack pound the ball for most of the shot clock in order to take a mid-range jumper if he’s going to shoot close to the 45% he shot last year from the field, but at his current conversion rate these possessions have to go down as a sort of basketball sin.
Like Jack, Dion’s January has been his worst shooting month of the season thus far. As a 2nd year player, one would be looking for some sign of improvement from the former 4th overall pick, not a regression. When combined with the Akron Beacon Journal’s Cavaliers Beat Reporter Jason Lloyd’s assertion on Waiters that the “whispers from other players growing tired of his act seem to be growing louder” it’s hard not to wonder how patient the Cavs will be with the young shooting guard. Mike Brown has a notoriously short leash with him already. In Monday’s loss, Waiters failed for the first time in his NBA career to score a single point in a game consequently losing out on his usual spot in the crunch time lineup to Jarrett Jack. Waiters has enough talent and competitive fire that it’d be surprising to me if he never blossomed into an above average NBA player, but he’s currently clearly immature. Knuckleheads in the NBA often end up figuring it out, but it’s not always with their first team. The question with Waiters is how long will it take for him to put it all together and will it require a new environment for him to do so?
As much as Dellavedova has nestled his way into the hearts of Cavaliers fans everywhere, Mike Brown has seemingly moved away from playing him in the past week. I wrote my previous column fresh off a 20 minute outing from Delli where he scored a crucial 10 points, but he’s only played 16 combined minutes in the three games since, including one DNP (Did Not Play). I suspect Mike Brown will continue to use him sporadically as he figures out the rotations, but don’t be surprised if the Delli DNP becomes more of a regularity as Brown looks to shorten the rotation. As the Wild Things spiritual successor, I think Dellavedova will fit in nicely as the “Wild Card” off the bench only to be used in select spots by Brown.
Earl Clark, The King of Dumb Basketball
With Gee no longer garnering minutes in the rotation, Clark has moved into my cross hairs as the worst player consistently getting burn on the court. At an athletic and long 6’11, Clark looks like he’d be an amazing basketball player, but unfortunately to Clark the game of basketball is a Rubik’s cube that he’s has had his whole life to solve, yet it still looks just as jumbled as ever. If he’s not softly fouling somebody on a fast break layup for an easy “and 1”, he’s stepping out of bounds on a game deciding possession. Earl would make the game a whole lot easier for himself if he treated his dribbling as if it was in a glass case that read “SMASH IN CASE OF EMERGENCY”, because in general the sound of Clark bouncing a leather ball against the hardwood foreshadows doom for the Cavaliers current possession. His one saving grace early in the season was that he was blistering hot from three, but now that he’s fallen back to Earth in that area he’s been awful for the Cavs. I know Anthony Bennett’s play has been atrocious, but honestly, he can’t be that big of a drop off from Clark at the backup power forward spot and if Bennett’s not going down to Canton it would be nice if he could take Clark’s 10-15 minutes a night.
Tyler has actually been the one bright spot in this bunch as of late. Early season he was injured and then buried on the bench behind Andrew Bynum and even Henry Sims at times, but with Bynum’s departure he’s locked into the backup center position. He still fouls way too often and the refs don’t seem to give him any sort of leeway with his screening as he’s consistently called for setting illegal ones. Overall though, he’s been much more aggressive offensively and has showed all around more physical play than in his rookie season. I’m still not sure he’ll ever be a starter on this team but I’m open to being wrong.
Stat of the Week
Keeping with the theme of this week’s round-up of chatting about the Cavaliers bench, the main reason it didn’t stand out as a problem early in the season is that what was then the Cavaliers 2nd best player (3rd now that Deng has arrived), Anderson Varejao, is no longer gracing it with his presence. It’s hard to quantify in a normal box score exactly how good Andy is, particularly when it comes to making his teammates better, but here’s a shot at it.
- In the 886 minutes that Andy and Kyrie have played together this season the Cavs are -0.1 in point differential per 48 minutes played.
- In the 470 minutes Kyrie has played with Andy resting the Cavs are -13.6 in point differential per 48 minutes played.
- In the 734 minutes that Dion and Andy have played together the Cavs are +4.8 in point differential per 48 minutes.
- In the 315 minutes that Dion has played with Andy resting the Cavs are -16.9 in point differential per 48 minutes.
(Thanks to @WFNYJacob for looking this up. The man is a stat wizard)
Whether he’s coming off the bench or in the starting lineup the Cavaliers play their best basketball when the Wild Thing is roaming the court. Without his presence in the second unit, its performance has plummeted. Coach Brown has to find a way to tweak the rotation so Andy plays with the bench guys a little more as the Clark/Zeller frontcourt duo isn’t going to cut it. This could mean starting Zeller and allowing Andy to come off the bench while still playing his usual crunch time role or merely fiddling with when substitutions are made. Currently the starting five has been playing nice offensive basketball, so I’d hate to mess with their developing chemistry and would assume Brown would try the latter.
The Q needs to see some streaking
The Cavaliers play four consecutive home games between now and when we meet next week for this column. All four games are extremely winnable and in order to cement the Cavaliers playoff hopes they are going to have to pull off a winning stretch of basketball at some point. It’ll be tough to find a better four game stretch for such a streak than a home stand of Chicago, Milwaukee, Phoenix, and New Orleans. Going 4-0 in that run is a definite possibility and anything less than 3-1 would be disappointing. Milwaukee is the worst team in basketball. Chicago, though 8-2 in their last 10 despite trading Deng, is still very beatable, especially at home. Phoenix has lost their stud young point guard Eric Bledsoe to injury. New Orleans is dealing with injury problems of their own while struggling mightily of late, going 2-8 over their last 10. Add it all up and it’s hard not to see a week filled with joy for Cavs fans.
Joe Mastrantoni writes for the "The Defend Cleveland Show". This is a special for NewsNet5.com