The Quarter Report by San Dova: Autumn Session
* Editors Note: Slam Online’s Sandy Dover was nice enough to by StepienRules today and offer us an assessment of the Cavaliers’ play to date through the first quarter of this NBA season. For more from Sandy, check out the San Dova Speak Easy, or follow Sandy on Twitter @SandSeraph. *
Before I start, I want to give some love to Brendan for allowing me to jump on StepienRules and share some knowledge with you guys about the Cleveland Cavs. It’s not everyday that you’re invited to share some insight as a guest on other channels, especially not by a site as thorough in coverage at StepienRules, so a big thank you to Mr. Bowers for the open invitation. While some of you may have seen me kick around at SLAM, I’m going to be delivering occasional reports on the Cleveland Cavaliers in what you’ll know to be The Quarter Report.
So…upon the start of the season for the Cavaliers, Cleveland was learning how play amongst each other with several new additions to the team (along with some notable subtractions). A few bad losses and a lack of out-the-box cohesiveness brought many of observers of the team to question Cleveland’s potency. Our hero, LeBron Ramone James, seemed to also be feeling out his court space with new teammate Shaquille O’Neal, and head coach Mike Brown was struggling early after losing former assistant offensive whiz John Kuester, who’s now the head coach for the Detroit Pistons. Alas, the Cavs made emerging second-year player J.J. Hickson the starting power forward (while sending Anderson Varejao to the bench), upgraded the backcourt in acquiring Anthony “The Other Tony” Parker (leaving troubled combination guard Delonte “KFC” West on the bench). Since the early November adjustment period, the Cavaliers have seemingly been on pace for another notable season-long campaign. And now to player evaluations…
He’s really been on and off this season, but the former Longhorn has done relatively OK whenever he’s been in games, and has even been a good contributor for them when he’s been able to play within himself. One of the things that Daniel should continue to work on is his ball-handling, because the Cavs always need more players to use that can play on and off of the ball, and it would raise his stock as a potential trade asset (even if Cleveland still doesn’t want his contributions).
It’s hard to say what all Danny will do this year, and thus far, he hasn’t been a disappointment, so that’s a good enough sign. He’s a winner, so as long as he plays good defense and is court-aware in the little minutes he’s projected to get, he’ll be straight.
J.J.’s really come on for the Cavs as a starter, and it’s something that’s especially welcome. While he gave good contributions in his rookie season, learning the NBA game and having to sit behind Joe Smith and Ben Wallace didn’t allow him to build on the progress he made in the middle of the previous season. Now, Hickson is giving Cleveland the extra boost of athleticism and post game production that was sorely needed.
He’s been a champ for quietly and willingly going to the bench this season. Being a key player for Cleveland in their continuous run for a championship, Z may actually have a chance to be a better producer as the season goes along with his limited minutes thus far. Right now, he’s still trying to find his niche as a reserve player, but is still moderately effective when the offense is run through him, LeBron and Varejao.
The Kansas product hasn’t had many minutes thrown his way early, but I’m sure it’s because he hasn’t earned what he hasn’t been yet given. Hickson’s production and Varejao’s re-role as a reserve big man have kept his burn low. Thus far, he’s solid insurance for injuries.
One thing that’s noticeable about LBJ is that he’s a little less muscle bound this year, which isn’t a total surprise. He said last year that he wasn’t expecting to stay at 275 lbs and actually wanted to shrink to about 255 or 260, so that may explain it (if I were him, I’d keep his weight around 270). Either way, Le King is having another excellent season, upping his assist average and continuing to guide the Cavs with his scoring, passing and remarkable leadership. His jump shot seems to be as accurate as ever, while he’s still finding his lanes around the perimeter to slash. Not bad for an MVP.
Like Jackson, he’s just biding his time. He’s a very skilled wingman with the ability to shoot and defend. If nothing else, he provides good insurance for the future.
He’s done everything that the Cavaliers have asked, and considering that he’s a complimentary player as it is, he’s a great fit. He has range on his jumper, but his defense, quickness and overall feel make him Shawn Marion-lite. Moon will mostly likely make a greater difference as the season goes on.
Shaq is probably the man that is the center of much of the Cavaliers discussions, in regards to their future. His acquisition was one that was controversial and his actual presence is debatable when it comes to exactly how much he contributes. It is good to note that he has been a trooper and hasn’t (yet) resorted to Benedict Arnold-esque tactics that left him in poor favor in Los Angeles, Miami and Phoenix. He’s been in very good shape for the most part and has been selfless. Once he’s able to further gather himself in the offense, he’ll be more potent, but thus far, his contributions have been a fair asset…and it never hurts to have Big Z waiting for him.
Candace’s big brother has made seemingly everyone forget about Delonte West’s absence. Parker is obviously more stable as a person and player, but has more size, better range overall and the ability to play up to three positions. Thus far, he has been a joy and is much more than a stopgap for the Cavs—he’s in an upgrade altogether, and his international championship experience should be even more beneficial for the team as they lock in on the Playoffs.
Anderson is a true player and has come back as alert as ever for Cleveland. His willingness to play both a starting and reserve role makes the Cavs more malleable and dangerous. It was obvious that he was a poor fit next to Shaq in the starting unit, so teaming up with Z as the backup power forward makes sense. His energy makes the Cavaliers doubly dangerous when the already-energetic Hickson comes out or stays while Anderson enters the game. He knows his role which gives him a great advantage on many of the other Clevelanders still learning their roles.
*sigh* Delonte is…I just wish him well. It’s a shame that he can’t be counted on, really; it’s even worse to know that it’s not really his fault, that he’s really…legitimately…kind of crazy? Is that okay to say? Maybe “ill” is a better word, I don’t know, but anything that he can give that’s positive will be great. His presence early in the season has been mildly beneficial and hopefully he can be a more reliable reserve as the season goes on. The expectations for him were low and he hasn’t been a deterrent in games, so it’s par for the course.
Jawad hasn’t really broken out much and is in a similar situation as Jackson, Karl and Green. If anything, anything he can do make practices interesting and push the guys getting minutes is a plus for him.
After slumping early, Mo Gotti has been playing like the All-Star he was last year. His shooting has been more than solid and he’s been able to manage the game well with LeBron. In reality, Mo is a scoring point guard (and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that whatsoever), so as long he finds the open man, shoots his shots and keeps the turnovers low, he’s doing the right things. As he’s found his shot, the team has found wins, so through the first two months of the season, Mo’s definitely an All-Star.
Team grade: B+
In all, the Cavs have started relatively well, considering the roster turnover, the Delonte drama, and the lost of a major coaching figure on the sidelines. Cleveland, honestly, has not had an excellent start, but they have to be happy with what they have. They’re still an elite team, and I expect to see a great evolution of the gameplay as the months go by. It’s hard to complain about much, but anxiety is high as the other usual suspects at the top of the Eastern Conference hold position…but nothing is out of the question with The LeBron James Gang.