The Sports Report

A Statistical Take on Sports and Politics

Quick Cavaliers Note

There have been many rumors over the last week or so about the Cleveland Cavaliers possibly acquiring an extra forward for Wally Szczerbiak and his expiring contract. One name that has come up in the internet discussions is Los Angeles Clippers F/C Marcus Camby, the winner of the 2006-2007 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award. Camby, who is 35 years old, has a much smaller salary cap burden than other names mentioned such as Antawn Jamison or Brad Miller, as he is making $8 million this year, and then $7.65 million in the final year of his contract next season. In an effort to see what the impact of this addition would mean to the Cavaliers, I took a little visit to the Web site http://www.82games.com.

On this website, I saw as not much of a surprise, that LeBron James has gradually been playing substantially more minutes at the PF position over the last three seasons. This is not a surprise, because when you think about the personnel changes in the last three seasons, the Cavaliers have needed LeBron and his massive size in the post more often while the front office has surrounded him with under sized sharp shooters. This season, LeBron is playing 22% of his 75% of the Cavaliers minutes on the court at the 4 according to this Web site, but what I was very surprised to see out of this limited sample size, is that he is actually producing more efficiently at that position.

Here is a quick summary of his net efficiency marks per 48 minutes at the two different positions over the last three seasons:

2008-2009 Season
SF – 53% of Cavs time, 102.2 OFF, 85.6 DEF = 16.6 Net
PF – 22% of Cavs time, 109.9 OFF, 91.0 DEF = 18.9 Net

2007-2008 Season
SF – 58% of Cavs time, 97.7 OFF, 95.7 DEF = 2.0 Net
PF – 17% of Cavs time, 103.4 OFF, 100.5 DEF = 2.9 Net

2006-2007 Season
SF – 76% of Cavs time, 96.7 OFF, 91.0 DEF = 5.7 Net
PF – 3% of Cavs time, 111.0 OFF, 102.7 DEF = 8.3 Net

Not very scientific averages of these three seasons, adjusted for percentages of playing time
SF – 62.3% of Cavs time, 98.6 OFF, 90.9 DEF = 7.6 Net
PF – 14.0% of Cavs time, 107.4 OFF, 9.7 DEF = 11.7 Net

These numbers are only a little piece of the total basketball puzzle, but it is very interesting to see this difference here. On television recently, I heard that LeBron is 6-9, 270, but that still does not explain why a guy who is just about the right size for either position, plays better at the taller position. Sure it makes him focus on playing in the post, where his speed and strength makes him practically unstoppable on both sides of the court, but I definitely did not expect this.

A trade of Wally Szczerbiak and a potential first-round pick for 35-year-old Marcus Camby, would leave the Cavaliers with fewer options at the SF position. Camby, Andy Varejao, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Ben Wallace, and J.J. Hickson would all combine to eat up minutes at the PF/C positions, meaning LeBron would be forced to play smaller. I think this little piece of evidence provides just a small reason why that might not be such a smart idea.

*Update as of Saturday, January 17*

Zydrunas Ilgauskas last played on December 30th on the road in a 104-95 loss to the Miami Heat. In the 7 games since that date, the Cavaliers have somehow managed to stay afloat and go 5-2 are now without the help of starting guard Delonte West, who fractured his wrist in Thursday’s 102-93 loss to the Bulls in overtime. Here is a breakdown of the number of minutes played by our other forwards and centers, not named LeBron James in these games:

Fri, Jan 2nd – W 117-92 vs. Chicago:
Varejao 31:09, Wallace 27:57, Hickson 18:08, Jackson 6:35, Wright 5:33
= Total 89:22 (+/- of +49 equals per 48-minutes played +/- of +26.32)

Sun, Jan 4th – L 77-80 @ Washington:
Varejao 39:33, Wallace 24:39, Hickson 17:56
= Total 82:08 (+/- of -10 equals per 48-minutes played +/- of -5.84)

Wed, Jan 7th – W 111-81 vs. Charlotte:
Varejao 32:33, Wallace 21:08, Hickson 23:03, Jackson 5:42, Wright 3:57
= Total 86:23 (+/- of +50 equals per 48-minutes played +/- of +27.78)

Fri, Jan 9th – W 98-83 vs. Boston:
Varejao 35:06, Wallace 29:49, Hickson 19:54
= Total 84:49 (+/- of +19 equals per 48-minutes played +/- of +11.87)

Tue, Jan 13th – W 102-87 @ Memphis:
Varejao 29:30, Wright 14:36, Hickson 28:05, Jackson 8:17, J. Williams 1:19
= Total 81:47 (+/- of +13 equals per 48-minutes played +/- of +7.63)

Thu, Jan 15th – L 93-102 in OT @ Chicago:
Varejao 38:30, Wright 21:48, Hickson 18:20, Jackson 4:18
= Total 82:56 (+/- of -18 equals per 53-minutes played +/- of -10.42)

Fri, Jan 16th – W 92-78 vs. New Orleans:
Varejao 22:36, Wallace 15:54, Hickson 10:28, Wright 3:02, Jackson 0:20, J. Williams 0:20
= Total 52:40 (+/- of +16 equals per 48-minutes played +/- of +14.58)

This is the first time I have ever done this kind of analysis, so please bear with me as I work out my thesis here. The regularly used front-court of the Cleveland Cavaliers has deteriorated in efficiency over the two weeks without Zydrunas Ilgauskas here in the month of January. While the Cavaliers have gone 5-2 they have won by an average difference of 12.43, while the +/- average of the forwards mentioned above equals out to 10.27. Thus in all of the other minutes by all the other players on the team, they averaged out to have a game +/- of 13.54. This shows how on average, the back-court and all other assorted players have been more responsible for the recent success of the Cavaliers.

This should not come as a surprise, but it is interesting to note the developments in playing time. In the first game without Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the Cavaliers forwards not named LeBron James played 89 minutes and 22 seconds, 93.1% of the minutes played by the tallest or second-tallest players on the basketball court (96 minutes max). In the five games after that, including the two losses to Washington and Chicago, the average percentage of minutes played was 85.4%, a slight decline, and then in the New Orleans game the percentage dropped all the way to 54.9%. It looks like the coaching staff is just now starting to take advantage of LeBron’s skills as a power forward, and utilizing them in favor of some of the less versatile bench players.

*Update as of Monday, January 19*

The Cleveland Cavaliers take on the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center tonight at 10:30 PM. In preparation for tonight’s game, I wanted to look back at a comment I made last week in my NBA Version of the Boots. In this Boot Up concerning LeBron James’ chances for MVP, I compared some aspects of the Cavaliers and Lakers rosters:

“I showed above how the Cavaliers have the best frontcourt in the league, but that is only because of LeBron. The Lakers have the second best frontcourt, and arguably the most explosive backcourt alongside one of the best players in the league. The reason why the Lakers were so good last season, and are so good again this season, is not Kobe Bryant: it is his fantastic supporting cast, including two players good enough to be perennial All-Stars in Bynum and Gasol.” — Written on Saturday, January 10th

Now take a look at this link on 82Games which ranks team’s and their position efficiency. According to thees numbers, the Cavaliers currently have the top frontcourt in the NBA with the #1 SF production, and #2 PF and #3 C. The Lakers on the other hand, rank 11-8-3 in these categories. It will be important for the Cavaliers to maintain this advantage in this game tonight, as Kobe Bryant makes the Lakers backcourt much more impressive than the Cavaliers, especially with the recent loss of Delonte West.

I think that the key factors of this game tonight will not revolve around LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Here are my top three keys to the game:

1. Control the Lakers bench forwards – While the Lakers do have a worse frontcourt overall, the combo of Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza off the bench creates some horrible mismatch problems for the Cavaliers. Do they dare place rookie Hickson on the agile Odom, who is very capable of playing the point? Or even do they dare place Wally Szczerbiak with his “diminished lateral quickness” against super-athletic Ariza? I think that if the Lakers bench forwards have incredibly positive +/- numbers, just like the Bulls guards did in their overtime win last week, the Cavaliers will have difficulty winning this ball game.

2. Pound it in the paint with our starters – The established combination of Anderson Varejao, Ben Wallace and J.J. Hickson can only be successful if they are set up offensively by easy shots inside the paint. On the season, these players are not very great outside shooters at all as Varejao is shooting 35.3% on jump shots, Wallace is shooting 20.8%, and Hickson is at 27.3%. Zydrunas Ilgauskas is the master of the outside jumper (shooting 49.2% on jumpers) but the Cavaliers must change their offensive style with him out of the lineup. Let Maurice Williams, Daniel Gibson and Wally Szczerbiak take all the outside shots while constantly pushing it inside with the big men.

3. Force Fisher and Vujacic inside – This might seem like an odd fact, but LA Lakers starting PG Derek Fisher is only shooting 31.2% on his 77 shots right next to the basket this season. Back-up guard Sasha Vujacic on the other hand, has taken only 27 of his 191 shots this season anywhere near the basket or the paint, and he is shooting 37.0% on those shots. The Cavaliers are usually quite bad against teams with penetrating guards, but in this game, forcing these trigger-happy players inside will only work to their advantage. For example, in the Lakers two lossese earlier this week to the Magic and Spurs, the two combined to shoot 2-12 from two-pointers and 6-12 from three-pointers (Vujacic actually missed the Spurs game with back spasms, however.)

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January 15, 2009 - Posted by | The Boots | , , ,

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