Alrighty, so I think I can safely say that we may have overestimated the preparedness of this team entering the season. The Cavs are going to struggle for a while, and it should be ok. I still think that they will be able to win 60 games, but tonight will be a real test for them. Furthermore, this was probably LeBron's worst game as a Cavalier, and one I'm sure he wishes he played better in.
So, lets break this down.
What happened last night?
What went poorly?
What looked good?
Where do we go from here?
Any discussion of what went wrong begins and ends with the star of the evening, LeBron James.
Shall I list the ways he disappointed?
He missed eight of his first nine shots.
He finished the night 5 of 15 for 17 points.
He had eight turnovers.
SERIOUSLY HE HAD EIGHT TURNOVERS.
One of those eight came near the end of the game and essentially sealed the loss.
He played shit defense. Melo went 9-17. Not all of that is LBJ's fault, but he definitely wasn't locking anyone down.
All of that said, I'm not trying to rag on James. This was his worst game as a Cavalier. We have to give the benefit of the doubt and assume a confluence of factors came into play here.
What'd you think of the rest of the team? What'd you think of Blatt?
Before I get to the rest of the team, I do want to address the LeBron turnovers. This game was a perfect example of why it's going to take some time for this team to become dominant. All of the LeBron turnovers were total miscommunications on passes that the player he was passing to wasn't reading him properly. In a month, all of those turnovers are going to be spectacular plays that lead to phenomenal baskets.That being said...
LeBron needs to realize that the rest of the team isn't quite there with him yet. The only player that really had the chemistry and pseudo "mind-reading" ability with LBJ was Andy (for obvious reasons). Even Love wasn't quite there. The shooting is still an issue, but I think that he was mentally struggling with some of the dysfunction early on.
In regards to the rest of the team, I was pleasantly surprised with the defense. There were times where the Knicks got open shots and seemed like they couldn't miss, but the rotations were excellent and I don't think I've ever seen more effort out of Kyrie, Dion, and Love on the defensive end. Once they start clicking a bit more as a unit I think they'll be able to play more lockdown defense.
Blatt is also still adjusting to the NBA, but I think that we saw glimpses of the motion-flow offense that we'll be trying to use. The rotations were far from perfect and will continue to grow over time, but that's to be expected with any team full of new players.
Let's take a few minutes to key in on the other new players to this team though. What'd you think of the production from Love, Marion, and (briefly) Miller?
I think your LBJ and team timing argument holds some water.
There's a somewhat famous story about Magic Johnson's first year with Los Angeles Lakers. The much-heralded rookie came into his first practice and began hurling his trademark no-look passes with dazzling precision. It was the Johnson you've seen on YouTube clips and on NBA TV replays (or live if you're that old and using the Internet).
Only problem was: all of his passes were becoming turnovers. His timing was off with teammates. So off, in fact, that he was frequently beaming them in the dome with the rock. His couch pulled him aside (then Jack MacKinney) and told him to cool it. Johnson agreed and then went back on the court and did whatever the hell he wanted. The message being: we will learn to play this way, my way.
Some of that was almost certainly at play here for LeBron. People forget that despite dropping 31 points in his first game with Miami (against the Boston Celtics) James also had eight turnovers. Before we start screaming "MAN DOWN" at the sky, lets give this team some breathing space.
I was also surprised by the defense. I enjoyed the full court press and occasional trapping. There were several instances where refs refused to call an eight-second violation on Knicks ball handlers, despite their clearly not crossing half court. Cavs probably need to start counting out the time.
Now, to answer your question:
One of my beefs with Blatt from last night was the use of the rotation. Miller got something like three minutes and Marion got about 10 (which is a suitable number if you're going to utilize the rest of that rotation). Blatt's first game had its ups and downs. The flow-motion offense had moments of shining glory. It also left players like Andy Varejao looking for outlet passes when they should be shooting. During one play, Wild Thing got the ball about three feet from the hoop. Instead of shooting or making a post-move, he held the ball, looked, pivoted, looked, pivoted again, looked....and then looked some more. Meanwhile, the crowd is losing its fucking mind, begging him to shoot. It wasn't the best possession.
And that's not to single out one specific example. There was a bit of overpassing. Sometimes a guy needs to shoot. And I didn't like having the best player in the world lingering in the corner pocket for 30 percent of possessions. That needs to change.
But Jesus. Kevin Love.
Love was the best player on the court. I read the ESPN blogs and all that shit this morning and I heard them slobbering over Carmelo Anthony's 25 point performance, and yeah, he was good. But man, K-Love. His stat line looks simple enough: 19 points-16 rebounds-4 assists...but shit. His presence on the court was enormous. Every single time he got an open 3-point shot it felt like he was going to hit. Every time there was a rebound, you felt like he was going to grab it.
And his outlet passes! I woke up with morning wood and a half-remembered dream of him lobbing a bomb to LBJ. Then I realized it was real. Full wood.
Love was insane last night. In the membrane. There's no denying that he was a huge addition to the offense. I think that our prediction of him being the leading scorer on the team will end up coming to fruition. I think the most startling thing that I saw was the stark contrast between possessions in which Love touched the ball and those in which he did not.
I now fully understand why Blatt was telling Love to shoot the rock as much as he possibly can. He's that good. Even if the shot's not falling, he has an enormous gravity to him. When Love is involved with the offense, either inside or outside, everyone moves towards him. Combined with his great passing ability, we should be able to flow much better when Love gets touches. This is the biggest adjustment that Kyrie and Dion will have to make: realizing that trying to score on your own, even if you make the shot, is not the best option for the team.
Andy also gave us a great demonstration of what a phenomenal skill outlet passing is to have (which he really does not). During I believe the 2nd quarter, Andy tried a semi-outlet to LeBron, obviously trying to impress the master of the craft in Love, and the ball ended up flying 5 feet over LeBron's head. No one in the game is better at it than Love. Once LBJ, Waiters, Thompson, and, hell, even Kyrie (he DUNKED last night!) realize that sprinting down the court could mean a free bucket, we're going to have a highlight package every night.
Turning away from being in awe of Love, Marion and Miller left much to be desired. They didn't move well, played poor defense, and weren't hitting shots. Somewhat hard to do in very limited minutes early on in the season, but I can see now how important the Keith Bogans trade exception will be down the line. The biggest weakness of this team isn't going to be the post defense (Love actually held his own down there pretty well), it's going to be the bench wings. If you can turn that trade exception into, say, Corey Brewer? You might have covered up for the age you currently have on the bench.
Let's not hop off the "CAVS NEED POST DEFENSE" bandwagon quite yet. Love held his own against such luminary low-post presences as Quincy Acy, Amare Stoudemire, Jason Smith, Travis Outlaw (sort of) and Cole Aldrich('s fake teeth). We don't yet know how he'll fare against the Blake Griffins, Tim Duncans and LaMarcus Aldriges of the world. Let alone the James Hardens.
But another wing defender might help. The bigger concern to me will be getting LeBron back to 100 percent. If he's healthy and performing, he's still one of the (if not THE) best defenders in the league. But we can't give up a 50 percent shooting performance to the lowly Knicks and expect to win a bunch of games. Something has to change in that defense.
And it's worth noting that we did give up a bunch of buckets at the rim. Chasing someone that can roam the paint and intimidate may not be the worst idea the front office has ever had (do we want to give that title to Larry Hughes? Maybe NOT trading for Amare Stoudemire....when Stoudemire was good.)
According to the new SportsVU tracking data on NBA.com, the Cavs only gave up 50% shooting at the rim last night, which isn't incredibly terrible, but not great given that the Knicks don't have a great post scorer. I won't overlook the need for a good post defenders, but I'm worried about depth right now (which is probably fairly premature).
In other nifty stats that stuck out to me in that game, the Cavs right now have the highest contested-rebound percentage in the league. By almost 10% (almost 58% total). Does this shock anyone? Probably not, but it does lead credence to the fact that our frontcourt consists of rebounding monsters. Other than the rebounding though, the Cavs were fairly average across the board in every area, except pace.
All in all though, it was one game out of a total 82. The fear of losing the first game is out of the way. Let's just hope that they can put themselves together to beat the Bulls tonight (or at least not get blown out of the building).