How much of an impact is it reasonable to expect Mike Brown could make in year one for a Cleveland Cavaliers team that finished with the NBA's third-worst record in 2012-13?
While asking myself this question over the weekend, I thought back to the last time Brown was in his first season as head coach of the Cavs.
Flipping through the online pages of Basketball-Reference.com, I remembered the 42-40 finish that concluded the 2004-05 campaign.
I also remembered a youthfully ignorant time in my life when I considered Jeff McInnis to be a good player as well, but that's besides the point.
That team, led by Coach Paul Silas, went 34-30 until old man Silas was canned in favor of interim coach Brendan Malone–the father of former Cavs assistant and current head coaching candidate Mike Malone of the Golden State Warriors–who went 8-10 down the stretch to finish at 42-40.
The same finish that was percentage points away from affording LeBron James a trip to the playoffs in only his second NBA season.
It was James, obviously, who led those Cavaliers in scoring at 27.2 points per game that year before Brown arrived.
Zydrunas Ilagauskas scored 16.9, Drew Gooden 14.4, McInnis 12.8 and Ira Newble 5.9. The late Robert Traylor averaged 5.5 points as well while Anderson Varejao scored 4.9.
Gooden also collected 9.2 rebounds to lead the Cavs on the glass, Z grabbed 8.6 boards and LeBron collected 7.4. James also led in assists at 7.2 followed by McInnis at 5.1–who really wasn't good actually, I've since learned.
I am naming all of these players, in case you are wondering, in an attempt to compare the roster that preceded Brown with the one he took over in 2005-06.
Aside from LeBron James being a year older, stronger and better, they weren't really that different.
No offense to Danny Ferry, of course, who spent a ton of Dan Gilbert's money that summer thinking he was substantially upgrading the roster.
As a result, in Mike Brown's first season on the Cavaliers' sidelines, Larry Hughes showed up in Cleveland accompanied by Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall who all just won the free agent lottery.
The leading scorer was again James at 31.4 points, but you already knew that. The second-leading scorer was again Zydrunas Ilgauskas at 15.6 and the leading rebounder was again Gooden at 8.4 boards.
Just like the prior year, Zydrunas was also the second-leading rebounder at 7.6 and James the third at seven rebounds per night.
From a consistency standpoint, Gooden was essentially the third-leading scorer again at 10.7 points because he actually appeared in 79 games. Playing in only 36 and 28 games respectively, however, Hughes and Flip Murray (one of my favorite random Cavaliers in history) averaged more than Gooden at 15.6 and 13.5 points.
After those five members of the '05-06 Cavs, Marshall averaged 9.3 points, Jones averaged 6.7 and Eric Snow averaged 4.8.
LeBron again led the Cavs in assists at 6.6 followed by Eric Snow at 4.2.
So while there were some personnel changes that accompanied Brown's arrival, there was also a whole lot of the same from one year to the next.
With that in mind, my ride in the DeLorean back to Brown's first, first year in Cleveland inspired me to make these charts from information I gathered from ESPN.com.
The first chart details the Cavaliers' statistical output in Brown's first year (05-06) compared to the previous season.
The second chart does the same thing, only it focuses on where those statistics ranked with respect to the rest of the NBA. Keep in mind, we're shooting for lower numbers here, just as we were in the "points allowed" line item above.
For example, the Cavs ranked 17th in points scored during the 2004-05 season and improved to a ranking of 15 in Brown's first year. They ranked 15th in terms of field-goal percentage pre-Brown as well, improving to 14th and so on.
So what do these charts mean?
Nothing conclusive. I apologize if you read this far thinking there was a major punch line coming. I may have kinda set it up that way but I didn't mean to.
One thing it is important to realize, though, is that Brown took over a much more productive team the last time than the Cavaliers have now.
At the same time, theoretically, the player[s] the Cavs will acquire via draft, free agency or trade–I'm fairly confident Chris Grant is going to swing a deal for a rotation-caliber player–should be collectively better than Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones.
After that, I was relatively torn as to what is a fair way to project this data.
If you were really trying to be positive, you could simply argue that Brown's team would be at least as good as they were during his first ever season as an NBA coach.
Or, maybe more fairly, you could say that his team would improve by the same margin on a per-category basis.
Meaning the 2012-13 Cavaliers who averaged 96.5 points per game–ironically enough–may average 97.6 next season. The field goal percentage of 43.4 could push up to 44.1 and the three-point percentage could move from 34.6 percent to maybe somewhere over 35, I guess.
Hard to really say.
What we can say, though, as evidenced by past history, is that the Cavs improved across the board during Brown's first season–most notably in terms of wins, increasing by eight.
The other takeaway I can't seem to get away from, however, is that it might not be until year two under Brown that we begin to see his defensive system deliver the tangible returns we remember.
The Cavaliers ranked fourth overall in points allowed during the 2006-07 season, for example, but only improved slightly in that category during Brown's first year (see chart[s] above).
In opponent field-goal percentage, Brown's Cavaliers also moved up to 7th in year two after only ranking 11th in the league before he arrived and 10th in his first season.
The Cavs would also have to win 14 more games in 2013-14 to match the 38 won by the No. 8 seeded Milwaukee Bucks this season too, as opposed to that increase of eight last time around.
Is Mike Brown six or seven games better than he was during his rookie campaign, though?
I'd say that he is, but we'll have to wait and see. For now, we can at least be assured that an upward trend in statistical production is on its way.