The Boots (March 4, 2009)
Boot Up: Here comes Joe Smith – After weeks upon weeks of rumors, it appears that forward Joe Smith is finally coming to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The 6-foot-10 former first round pick out of the University of Maryland signed with the Cavaliers Wednesday morning, and will be able to play in the big game in Boston on Friday night. While many different blogs and reporters across the Northeast Ohio area have praised the return of Smith, a steady 33-year-old veteran presence in the locker room, I warn them of thinking too much about the fourteen-year NBA pro.
Sure, the Cavaliers have had problems defending the paint against teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat this season, but they are still #7 in the NBA in points in the paint allowed per game. The Cavaliers are only #23 in the league in points scored in the paint per game, according to TeamRankings.com, but that sort of happens when you have two top perimeter guards starting every single game. An odd fact, however, is that the Cavaliers have the #13 best points in the paint differential at home, while they are #20 on the road. This relates to an article I wrote recently on how LeBron James tends to be more productive at home, as he usually looks to drive it to the basket more often than not.
Joe Smith will continue to be a decent player, as he has averaged at least 17.36 points and 9.65 rebounds per 48 minutes in every single season of his career. Last season, in which he spent his final 27 regular season games with the Cavaliers, was one of his finest of his career on a per-minute basis. He averaged 21.64 points and 11.15 rebounds per 48 minutes, and advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in his career. He is not by any means a legitimate starting post presence for one of the best teams in the NBA, but he is a very good fit for the team for the remainder of this season. I will certainly cheer for him to do well in Cleveland, but I do not think this automatically makes us the favorites, nor does it make us a very different ball club.
Boot Up: Dwyane Wade returns – Three years ago, a scrappy 24-year-old guard out of Marquette University won his first NBA championship with Shaquille O’Neal and the rest of the 2005-2006 Miami Heat. During the season, Wade averaged 27.2 points and 6.7 assists per game, but is more famous for his historic performance in the playoffs that season. He put up LeBron-like numbers in the post-season, averaging 28.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.7 assists, topping it all off with an unbelievable close to the NBA Finals in their victory over the Dallas Mavericks. Yet at the time, I was not a true believer that a scrappy guard, with a severe tendency to have injuries for long periods, could possibly be one of the top players in the NBA. This season, however, Dwyane Wade has proved me otherwise.
Dwyane Wade is currently averaging career-bests with his 36.62 points per game, 1.121 efficiency field goal percentage, and a sparkling 2.106/1 assist to turnover ratio. Along with these impressive statistics, “Flash” is also averaging 9.28 assists, 6.28 rebounds, 2.79 steals and 1.79 blocks per 48 minutes, and has yet to miss a single game. He is a huge reason why the Miami Heat are back in the playoff race this year, and is certainly one of the leading candidates for the Most Valuable Player award (he would be second on my ballot right now, below LeBron James, and just ahead of Dwight Howard.)
I watched the entire game on Monday night between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat. For three and a half quarters, there was no doubt that Wade was the best player on the basketball court. Until the final 7:14 of the game, when the Cavaliers started to double-team him and went on a 27-9 run to win the ball game, Wade had scored 38 points along with six rebounds and nine assists in only 33 minutes of play. He took over the game entirely in the third quarter with 13 points and five rebounds in the period, then leading to the game-winning strategy to double team him. This game proved to me that he is truly one of the best players in the NBA today, and it will surely be a lot of fun watching him and LeBron develop side-by-side for the next decade plus.
Boot Down: Predicting the performance of the Cleveland Indians in 2009 – The Cleveland Indians were supposed to be one of the best teams in baseball last year. In the end, they managed to finish with an 81-81 record, which I think is just phenomenal considering all of the events circumventing the actual baseball games on the field last year. Just for some fun, here is a look at what I said about the American League Central towards the beginning of last season:
“AL Central – Let me tell you something about winning a division. It takes a team that has shown steady improvement as a balanced unit, above average pitching to battle against key teams in key games, and a developed core of team leaders. The Cleveland Indians fit all of those categories, while the Detroit Tigers do not, simple as that. The Indians had the best one-two starting pitching combination in baseball last year with C.C. Sabathia and recently re-signed Fausto Carmona, and certainly have a nice core of offensive machines in Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner. The Tigers are searching for their identity in the baseball world, and despite making the World Series in 2006, the playoff atmosphere is all about ‘what you have done recently.’ The Twins are in a rebuilding mode, I am still not sure what is going on in Chicago, and the Royals are a few years away from seriously competing.”
When you consider the fact that we traded C.C. Sabathia and Casey Blake at the deadline, Fausto Carmona only made 22 starts, Martinez hit only two home runs in 266 at bats, AND Hafner hit a remarkable .197 in his 198 at bats, it is amazing to think the Indians finished the year at the .500 mark. When you look at the Indians schedule and results from last season, you can pretty much see a pattern in dividing the season into four different quarters. Here is a look at how the Indians did in those four quarters of the year:
We were truly mediocre for the two quarters up from opening day until May 15, and from July 9 to August 6. In the other two quarters, we were incredibly awful, and then surprisingly great. The Pythagorean winning percentage I have in the table above is close to the original formula used by Bill James to find the to find the expected winning percentage of a team based on their runs scored and runs allowed. This shows that even when the Indians were mediocre last season, they were still rather efficient, and in the end, the Indians overall 2008 Pythagorean winning percentage had us expected to win about 94 ball games. Some of the reasons for this discrepancy are the awful Indians bullpen and our ability to play a ton of close ball games. (The Indians played 94 games decided by 3 runs or less, and were 43-51 in those games with an average margin of victory of -0.189, and were thus 38-30 in their 68 games decided by more than 3 runs, with an average margin of victory of +0.925.)
What this means, is that it will be incredibly difficult to forecast the Cleveland Indians in 2009. Who knows if the Indians will have severe injuries all around (it is starting to happen again, case in point here and here) or if they will play like they did at the end of the season. In addition, who knows if the additions of Kerry Wood and Joe Smith will be enough to bolster a bullpen that was #29 in MLB last season with an ERA of 5.13. I only hope that the Indians will play as the statistics expected them to play but there are many other components involved in the game of baseball and I am truly at a loss in predicting how the Indians will do this season.
Boot Down: Counting out Shaquille O’Neal – Coming into this NBA season, everyone already knew that Shaquille O’Neal was going to be a future hall of famer: he already had over 27,000 points and 12,000 rebounds, was a three-time NBA Finals MVP and had been on the All-NBA team eight times. He was going to go down in history as one of the greatest centers and possibly even basketball players to play the game, no matter what he did in this, his seventeenth season as a professional basketball player at the ripe age of 36. No matter what the records indicated, the original Superman would never just let his career pass him by so simply….
Believe it or not, the 7-foot-1, 300 pound giant out of Louisiana State University is actually on pace for his best season since leading the Miami Heat to the NBA Finals in 2005-2006. Along with racking up honors as the All-Star Game co-MVP a few weeks ago, Shaq is also averaging 28.68 points and 13.98 rebounds per 48 minutes, and is playing 30.38 minutes per game. He has played in 53 of the 60 games of the Phoenix Suns thus far this season, meaning he is on pace to play over 70 games for the first time since 2004-2005, and for only the third time this decade. In his incredible career, Shaquille O’Neal now has averages of 33.29 points and 15.15 rebounds per 48 minutes in 1,095 games played (and nearly 40,000 minutes played) for four different teams.
Last season, Shaquille O’Neal looked sluggish on the court. Bothered by several different injuries, O’Neal finished the season averaging 13.64 points and 9.08 rebounds in 28.66 minutes and 61 games played. The points were a career low per game and per 48 minutes, and picked up a career-high 6.26 fouls per 48 minutes. This season, on the other hand, “Kazaam” is shooting a career-high 60.8% from field goals, 62.5% from the free throw line, and looks healthier than ever. It is amazing how size is always valuable in the NBA, and Shaq proves that as he is having an incredible season with the Suns. He might not be one of the best players for them over the next few years or so, but this season will go down in history as one of the main reasons why he is the greatest center of all-time.