Thursday, October 22, 2009

How the Matchups Fall: Cleveland Cavaliers

Sorry for the lack of posts. Things have been pretty crazy, you know, with real life and all that. Still, NBA season is coming up, and I feel bad about neglecting you readers. So without further ado let's just jump into it.

A lot of people are on the Cleveland bandwagon after they acquired Shaq. Shaq does indeed give Cleveland an interior scoring punch they desperately needed. However, I'm not as convinced as others that Shaq is the answer. However, I do believe it was a smart move, low-risk, high-reward, you can't really ask for much more, well, except, a guarantee at a championship. While I'm not convinced that Shaq really puts Cleveland over the top, I still concede that they are contenders, though I would argue the weakest of the five that most pundits have listed out there (Lakers, Celtics, Magic, and Spurs being the other four). I might be somewhat biased, but I honestly don't see what's so great about the Cavs, especially considering they lost their offensive coordinator John Kuester to the Detroit Pistons, he was the one who purportedly revolutionized the Cleveland offense and was one of the primary factors that enabled them to make such a strong push last season. Naturally, they sought to improve this off-season, and I think they have, however, replacing 2 of your 5 starters there's probably a bit of an issue, in terms of chemistry, but that's something developed through the season, and we're talking post-season here, so I'm not really going to say a whole lot about it. There's the whole Shaq-LeBron ego thing, but let's not get into that.

San Antonio Spurs

PG - Tony Parker, George Hill
SG - Roger Mason, Manu Ginobili, Malik Hairston, Keith Bogans
SF - Richard Jefferson, Michael Finley
PF - Antonio McDyess, DeJuan Blair, Marcus Haislip, Matt Bonner
C - Tim Duncan, Ian Mahinmi, Theo Ratliff

Cleveland Cavaliers

PG - Mo Williams, Daniel Gibson
SG - Delonte West, Anthony Parker
SF - LeBron James, Jamario Moon, Jawad Williams
PF - Anderson Varejajo, Leon Powe, J.J. Hickson, Darnell Jackson
C - Shaquille O'Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauksas

So I swapped out Keith Bogans for Marcus Williams since it seems like Bogans is guaranteed whereas Williams isn't, though I could be completely off base. Anyways, it's only a 15-man roster with 13 active, so I highly doubt it really makes a huge difference who it is that sits at the end of the bench. The thing that Cleveland definitely has going for them is that they are, like all the other contending teams, ridiculously deep. While I'm not of the mind that one All-Star reaching his prime with another quickly fading are enough to necessarily carry the team, the fact that they have so multiple viable, near starting caliber yeoman options at each position gives them something of an advantage, especially in a slug-em out war of attrition. While the likes of Gibson, Parker, Moon, Powe, and Ilgauskas aren't anything that would normally have you trembling in fear, when you consider that this is entirely their second squad, it's actually farily impressive.

Naturally, the issue of how these matchups breakdown again revolve around the issue of first, how well LeBron can be contained, and secondly, how uncontainable our offense can work. I was watching some of the 2007 Finals against Cleveland, and I can see why their offense needed the revamping. Overall, the offense was horribly stagnant and revolved around a lot of standing and watching whoever has the ball try an isolation play against 4-5 Spurs defenders. Nauturally, given all the hype, it seems that the Cavs have moved away from that. In terms of pure matchups, Cleveland and San Antonio are fairly even, though I would give a slight edge to Cleveland's bench, as we still have the unproven factors of Blair, Haislip, Hairston, and company, however, overall the comparisons are fairly apt, with the advantage slightly trending towards San Antonio.

While a lot of people are going to draw attention to the whole "Can Richard Jefferson really contain LeBron?" story, it again comes back to a duel between big men, those being Shaq and Tim Duncan, which will probably be up there as a second headline of sorts. At this point in time, I think Duncan still has much more to offer than Shaq, at least on the defensive end. Offensively, both will get their own, they'll get their fair share of rebounds, their points, their passes out to shooters for assists, etc... From all this talk, it seems like it'll be something of a wash, and it probably will be. The issue ends up being who gets more minutes and who can exploit those minutes when the other big fella isn't on the floor? Duncan will probably see some combination of Varejao, Shaq, and Ilgauskas being thrown at him, I'm not sure what Pop will do on Shaq, but I would guess something along the lines of Duncan, McDyess, and maybe Ratliff, with a lot of help. While I like Duncan over Shaq, the issue in the frontline isn't necessarily with talent, but depth. While I think Blair can match up with Powe fairly well, the x-factors really become Varejao and Ilgauskas, and it really becomes the burden of McDyess, Haislip, and possibly Mahinmi to really work at containing these players. Naturally, Blair isn't tall enough to contend with either player, and already, McDyess is on the shorter side. While neither Varejao nor Ilgauskas are the most formidable of offensive powerhouses, games where they start getting double-doubles will prove to be deadly for any team.

If we take a look at the positional matchups, I believe that the most obvious advantage for the Spurs lies within the point guard position. While Mo Williams and Daniel Gibson are serviceable, they're really more three point specialists than anything else, Tony Parker and George Hill need to realize, that both aren't really good defensively, and need to constantly attack them, either making big shots and carrying the team or taking a lot of defensive pressure off other players by forcing help in the lane. Tony Parker has got to be the man this year and especially in this matchup because all the other matchups are so even, or possibly even disadvantageous for the Spurs.

Like all of my previous posts, my current stand is this, the wings just have to keep attacking. The comparisons between the Spurs wings (Mason, Manu, Jefferson, and Finley) are so simiar to those of the Cavs (West, Parker, LeBron, Moon) that the Spurs really just have to play within their game and not make stupid mistakes. Of the wings from Cleveland, all four have defended the premier players of opposing teams, and all four have done at least serviceable jobs of it, there isn't a whole lot of inherent advantage in there, especially since all four are fairly interchangeable (especially between West and Parker). If Hairston steps up to be a big time defender, that'll be a plus for the Spurs, but due to the depth of this lineup it's goin to be a tough matchup for the Spurs. Ultimately, it all comes down to how well Tony Parker can work Mo Williams, if he forces Mike Brown to put Delonte West on him, then it's all about recognizing the mismatches, ultimately, it's a matter of attacking Mo Williams on defense, that's the key.

Key Matchups:

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