LeBron Can't Carry Offensive Weight; The Cavs Fall to the Rockets 105-103


Too much of a good thing isn’t so good, and the Cavaliers found that out when LeBron James tried to do everything Sunday in Houston. After going 12-24 through three quarters, James simply ran down at the end, becoming too much of the offense.

James hit only one of his last seven shots (two of his last 11 if you count free throws). Kevin Love got his chances too, missing three shots in the last four minutes including this gimme, where they worked the pick & roll to get Ariza switched onto Love, and then took him into the post. This offensive set with J.R. Smith, Love and James should be utilized more, taking advantage of Smith’s ball-handling and passing skills.

As you’ll see, Tristan Thompson’s man switches over and was open a foot away, as was Delly for the corner three. Then again, that’s a shot on which Love would often draw a foul and make the basket. Still, it’s a wonder that we can’t get more plays called at the end of games.

Instead the Cavaliers shot 13 pull-up threes – part of a franchise record 40 three-pointers taken — and made only two (vs. 9-25 of the catch & shoot variety). They shot 14 threes with between 15 and 22 seconds on the clock – and only made 4 of them, though it should also be noted that they had 14 wide open 3s (nobody within six feet) and only made two of them.

When not jacking up threes, there was a LOT of isolation. We understand the allure of using the greatest player, but given the heavy load James has been carrying – apparently on a bad back – perhaps Blatt could prevail upon James to not run so much isolation. He is, after all, the Coach.

The stats back up what the eye-test probably told you. All that dribbling around, playground-ish let-me-take-you stuff is only so effective. It produces some foul shots – which are usually a good thing – but it doesn’t produce as many hoops. On Sunday the Cavs were 4-17 when the shooter took more than 7 dribbles, and 9-25 when the shooter held the ball at least 6 seconds.

We’d love to see more plays like this one they ran with LeBron on the bench and with Smith initiating the play.

Overall, it seems like the team really misses Kyrie’s ability to take LeBron off the ball, giving him the opportunity to cut to the basket for easy hoops, but also takes some of the responsibility of getting everyone involved off his shoulders. James is the kind of fellow that at the end of the game seems to put a lot of it on himself. While admirably – like playing though an injury – it’s not always the best idea. That’s why there are teammates.

Of course, the issue is that Dellavedova is not a great distributor and he lacks a shot outside the catch & shoot three. This means defenders hang off him in the pick and roll daring him to shoot or laying in the passing lanes. That little floater of Delly’s isn’t reliable enough for the Cavs’ offensive fortunes to be based on it.

Akron Beacon-Journal’s Jason Lloyd reports that there is no chance Haywood is released because of his contract, and he believes Joe Harris is enough of an asset on a cheap enough contract they don’t want to lose him, leaving Mike Miller or James Jones as the player on the bubble should the Cavs go after another point guard. He reports the staff’s infatuated enough with Delly that they won’t make a move unless the player is a clear upgrade, which they feel China’s Will Bynum is not.

The 32-year old Bynum, who played with the Pistons last year, is only 6’0” and only shot 32% from 3 last year, but is a career 47% two-point shooter. He’s also a decent ballhandler who average almost 4 assists/game in 20 minutes/game off the bench for the Pistons. He had 16.1 and 14.4 PERs (player efficiency rating) that last two years while this year Delly is at 7.3.

It’s probably possible to convince yourself Bynum’s not an upgrade on Dellavedova, but it would be a delusion. Bynum’s a scrappy guy as well, but has more skills.

Despite these and these other issues to follow, it’s not hard to be encouraged by the team’s defensive effort against the Rockets. Nor should we ignore the fact that the Rockets shot 33 FTs to the Cavs 22 and the disparity was even greater before the fourth quarter, a sign of some home-cooking by the refs. This is a tough stretch of 5 in 7 days, three of them on the road.

Despite the two-game losing streak there’s still plenty to be excited about.

Moz-erati or Thompson

This has become the question and will remain so this summer when Tristan Thompson will make a pretty penny as a restricted free agent. On Sunday against the Rockets, Timofey Mozgov left the game with just under seven minutes left in the third quarter and never returned.

Thompson played the next 24 minutes, and he played HARD. He grabbed 10 boards – in the FOURTH QUARTER ALONE, and added 8 points, including a perfect 2-2 from the line – no easy task for a career 63% shooter. Nobody will ever question his effort, and this season he’s taken it to another level.

Indeed, this is probably less about last night specifically (though you have to wonder how gassed Thompson was playing as hard as he does for an entire half – 24 straight minutes.)

But even the hardest worker has limitations. Chris Haynes has a terrific column this morning on Coach David Blatt’s preference for scrappy, hard-nosed, leave-everything-on-the-floor kinda guys. Which is great. I LOVE watching those guys. Who doesn’t? But as Haynes notes about Dellavedova in his column, that intensity is like lipstick and powder – it can’t cover the sins with which you were born.

In the case of Timofey Mozgov, that’s enough size to deter driving point guards, of which there are a great many whenever Matthew Dellavedova is in the game. (His sin, if you haven’t noticed, is foot speed, and it gets exploited more than a Cayman Island tax shelter.) Yet through predilections and what-not, Blatt chose not to play Mozgov at all late.

The case for Mozgov is partially in the numbers. Over the last ten games the Cavs have been outscored only when two players left two court, Kevin Love (-0.4) and Timofey Mozgov (-5.0). (For those who are wondering, the Cavs are +0.1 when LeBron isn’t on the floor over this stretch.) Care to guess who the three most dispensable players are over that stretch? Tbompson (+19.7 when off the court), Dellavedova (+11.8) and James Jones (+10.2).

The reason for this is the same reason Thompson can’t play clutch minutes at power forward – he lacks any range whatsoever. If Thompson isn’t picking for you on offense and diving to the basket or grabbing offensive rebounds, his man is sucked into the middle.

No knock on Thompson – he does those things very, very well. But team-construction-wise, is this a guy that you want to pay that kind of money to? (He allegedly turned down a 4-year, $52 million contract.) Or put another way – he wouldn’t have to grab all those offensive boards if there weren’t so many bricks – if you can see where I’m going.

For the season, Tristan Thompson is 29-91 from 5 ft (32%) and beyond including 10-36 (28%). Mozgov is actually 23-53 from 15’-19’. That’s not a lot of shots – about one in eight he takes, but it makes him a significantly greater offensive threat than Thompson.

As a result, the offense scored more points in February with Moz-erati (as Iman Shumpert colorfully called him in mic-ed up bench comments during the game) on the floor (114.9/100 possessions) than anyone else but LeBron James (115.3). (Kevin Love was 114.6 and Kyrie Irving 111.1) Meanwhile the Cavs allowed less points when T-Mo was on the floor than any other lineup at 93.3 Love was second at 95.1, testament to his defensive improvement this year.

Counter-intuitively, Thompson the defense saw much worse when he was on the floor. That’s partly because he was on the floor with second teamers a lot, but mainly because he’s not Moz-erati. His 104.7/100 possession when on the floor was only better than back-end players like Joe Harris (132.7), Brendan Haywood (123.2), Shawn Marion (112.6) and, of course, James Jones (109.9).

In case you were wondering, T-Mo’s rebounding rates (25.7 off/74.8 defensive) are every bit as good as Thompson’s (25.9/72.8). As we said earlier, this subject will be revisited this summer, and could have a dramatic impact on the team.

Thompson has been close to James and shares the same agent. However, you look out on the floor, and he’s not your backup power-forward, he’s your backup center, and playing him any other way screws the offense. As we said, he’s a great, hardnosed player, but if they give him a $60 million contract, they may very well rue that day.

Take James Jones. Please.

Listen, I’m no fan of James Jones’ game. He’s got his skills. He’s a stone-cold killer from the arc and his long gangly arms make him a decent on ball and deny defender, but he’s exactly the opposite of a brick shithouse. His rebounding rate is the lowest on the team and over the last two months he’s produced nearly as many turnovers (7) as steals (3), blocks (1) and assists (5) combined which is tough for a guy that’s really a catch & shoot player.

He’s got 10 3-pointers in the last 6 games, 10-23 (43%) after going 0-16 since that last time we played Houston in early January in admittedly sporadic minutes.

The lack of three-point shooting options beyond Love and the need to stretch the floor to open driving lanes has led to Jones’ increased play since that last game before the break, when he got 30 minutes against the Bulls. The NBA.com’s defensive tracking numbers put him as one of the worst defenders on the team improving opposing shoots 3-point percentage by 6.3% and their 2-point shooting by 7.9%.

He has a use, but if the Cavs weren’t suffering so much offensively when Thompson was in the game maybe they wouldn’t need to play James Jones at the 4. Now perhaps that’s something Marion’s return from injury will solve and maybe not. But the numbers are pretty persuasive that just about anything is better than Jones who has the worse net rating (pts scored – pts allowed/100 possessions) of anyone (-11.1) still with the team, outside of Brendan Haywood (-23.5). Neither Dion Waiters (-4.7) nor Mike Miller (-4.4) have been close to that bad.

One obvious alternative is to play LeBron at the “4” like he did in Miami, and indeed we’ve seen a little of that, and even, for a brief bit during their last home game, some of Love and James with three guards. Even that would be preferable to giving more than six minutes/gm to James Jones.

The Cavs play the Celtics on Tuesday. I’ll be covering the game live posting and posting video. You can follow me on Twitter at @CRS_1ne, and read my analysis the next day here on the Scene blog.

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