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New York Knicks’ Early Season Progress Report

Twenty-one games into the season, Tommy Beer offers his early grades of the Knicks’ players.

Tommy Beer

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Having played 21 games, the New York Knicks have now passed the quarter pole of the 2016-17 campaign.

A 12-9 record may not be much to celebrate in some cities, but for New Yorkers thirsty for just a taste of success, it’s viewed as an important step in the right direction.

The Knicks are over .500 through first 20 games of a season for just the third time this century. And New York is currently three games over .500 for the first time since April 17, 2013.

Thus, with 20-plus games in the rear-view mirror, let’s look back and hand out grades to each player.

Carmelo Anthony: B+
Based solely on the numbers, ‘Melo is not having a great season by “Carmelo Anthony standards.” He’s had to adjust his game playing alongside a true, talented point guard in Derrick Rose and an emerging superstar in Kristaps Porzingis. For instance, last season Anthony posted the highest assist percentage rate of his career (20.9). This season, his assist percentage is under 10 percent for the first time since 2007. Correspondingly, his usage rate is below 29 for the first time since his rookie year in Denver.

Nonetheless, ‘Melo has played a crucial role in propelling the Knicks to a fast start, especially over their last 12 games, when the Knicks have posted a conference-best 9-3 record. Despite getting knocked by many for unimaginative isolation plays at the end of games, Anthony has silenced the critics by sinking multiple game-winning shots.

In addition, ‘Melo remains a truly elite catch-and-shoot marksman. He’s averaging 7.7 points per game off catch-and-shoot shots, which is fifth-best in the entire league. He’s shooting a terrific 50.4 percent on these attempts. To put that in context, Klay Thompson is shooting 43.7 percent. (Anthony and Steph Curry are the only two players in the league shooting above 50 percent on at least at least five attempts). ‘Melo has also been a bit more focused on the defensive end. His Net Rating of plus-1.4 is best among Knicks starters.

Nonetheless, there are still some areas in which ‘Melo can improve. For instance, despite knocking down a few clutch shots, he tends to settle for forced jumpers out of isolation too often. Per the numbers above, we know how deadly effective he can be when spotting up and knocking down jumpers. However, his efficiency drops dramatically when he puts the ball on the floor. Per NBA.com/stats, he’s shooting just 33.8 percent on possessions in which he takes between 3-to-6 dribbles before attempting his shot. That’s obviously far less impressive when compared to his catch-and-shoot accuracy. And if he is going to put the ball on the floor, he should drive far more frequently instead of settling for mid-range jumpers. ‘Melo is averaging a career-low 4.5 points in the paint. Just 16 percent of his total field goal attempts have come at the rim this season. That’s far below his career average of 33.4 percent. He is also averaging a fewer than five free throws attempts per game for the first time in his career.

Kristaps Porzingis: A-
The Knicks thought they had a something special when they drafted this skinny Latvian kid with the fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft. They knew they had something special when he exceeded even the highest of expectations during his stellar rookie season. But even the Knicks have to be surprised with the improvement and development of Porzingis in his second NBA season.

After struggling defensively and not rebounding as well as he should have in his rookie season, Porzingis has improved on both fronts as a sophomore. His ability to contribute substantially on both ends of the floor is why so many in the Knicks organization are so high on him. Last week, he became the first player in New York franchise history to block at least two shots and make at least two three-pointers in four straight games. At just 21 years old, he is on pace to become just the seventh player in NBA history to average at least 20 points, seven rebounds and two three-pointers per game.

In addition, he leads the team in most advanced metrics. He is first on the team in PER (19.8) and also leads the team in VORP, offensive win shares and defensive win shares.

Last season, when he wasn’t knocking down shots, he would have a difficult time finding other ways to contribute. This season, that hasn’t been the case. For instance, he is shooting just 31.1 percent from the floor and a frigid 18.8 percent from downtown over New York’s last three games, but has also grabbed 31 rebounds, blocked eight shots and posted a positive plus/minus in those the games – all Knick wins.

Quite simply, the Knicks are at their best when they make a concerted effort to feature Porzingis. New York is 7-3 this season when his Usage Rate is north of 25 percent. They are just 3-7 in the 10 games in which KP’s usage rate dips below 25 percent. The Knicks are 8-3 when he plays more than 33 minutes. They are 0-4 when he plays less than 30 minutes.

Derrick Rose: B
It’s been a very long time since the Knicks had a point guard capable of what Rose brings to the table each night. Specifically, Rose’s ability to penetrate into the heart of opposing defenses has been invaluable.

Rose has already scored 200 points in the paint this season in the 670 minutes he played. In contrast, the Knicks’ starting point guard the last two seasons, Jose Calderon, scored a total of 128 points in the paint over 3,294 minutes from 2014 through 2016. Rose is on pace to score 780 points in the paint this season, which means he’d join Amar’e Stoudemire as just the second Knick this decade to score more than 700 points in the paint. In addition, Rose’s penetration does far more than just allow him to score; it creates space and stretches the defense, which puts his teammates in positions to succeed.

Rose is currently averaging 16.7 points, 4.8 assists and 4.1 rebounds. Only two Knicks point guards have averaged at least 16 points, four dimes and four boards over the course of a full season: Walt Frazier (eight times) and Mark Jackson (once).

However, Rose can get into trouble when he tries to do too much. He’s hurt the team at times when he tries to force shots and passes that aren’t there. We mentioned the usage rates stats related to Porzingis above. Well, it’s a far different scenario for Rose. The Knicks are just 1-8 in games in which Rose’s usage rate is greater than 26 percent. In contrast, New York is 11-1 when his usage rate is less than 26 percent. Similarly, the Knicks are 0-7 this season when Rose attempts more than 16 shots in a game. They are 12-2 when he shoots 16 times or less.

Nonetheless, Rose has provided a steady hand to lead the Knicks since the start of the season. He has also remained healthy, playing in each of the first 20 games of a season for the first time since his MVP campaign. Yet, Rose had to exit Tuesday’s win over Miami with back spasms. We shall see if it’s a lingering issue.

Brandon Jennings: B
We’ve talked a lot about stats and figures thus far, but Brandon Jennings’ greatest contributions typically don’t show up on the stat sheet each night. Jennings has provided a much-needed spark of energy and excitement off the bench. He’s also been demanding of his team. Jennings has been unafraid to publicly call out the troops after embarrassing performances.

Jennings has also proven himself as a finisher. He is actually second on the Knicks in total minutes played in the fourth quarter this season (behind only Porzingis).

At times, he’ll try to do too much, but that’s easier to accept when it’s a by-product of the ratcheted-up intensity he supplies on a nightly basis. There were many questions about Jennings coming into the season, as he was still working his way back from a devastating Achilles tear, but Jennings has looked spry and reinvigorated. He’s also revamped his game. For his career, he has averaged 13.8 FG attempts per game. This season, he’s focused on becoming a facilitator. He’s currently averaging just 6.4 shots per contest. He also boasts a team-best 2.94 assist-to-turnover ratio.

If Rose ends up missing time, he’ll become vitally important as the team’s starting PG.

Courtney Lee: C+
The Knicks had high hopes for Lee when they signed him this summer, hoping they’d finally found an elite perimeter defender and knock-down shooter from long distance. Lee hasn’t quite lived up to the hype.

He is shooting 44.2 percent from the floor, below his career mark of 45. Yet, while he hasn’t been quite as great defensively as hoped, he’s certainly been solid. His individual Defensive Rating of 106.5 is fourth best on the team. As he works his way back from an ankle sprain, there is certainly reason to believe he’ll improve as the season moves on.

Joakim Noah: D
Many pundits panned the Knicks for signing Noah to a four-year, $72 million contract back in July. Right now, those that defended the Knicks’ decision don’t have much of a leg to stand on. While most agreed that the deal would look bad three or four years from now, the hope was that he’d play well enough early on in the contract to justify the potential of dead weight down the road. Instead, Noah stumbled badly out of the gate.

Not only has he had trouble staying healthy, missing four of the Knicks’ first 21 games, he’s also been ineffective for much of the time he’s been on the court. The standard stats aren’t pretty. He’s averaging just 4.2 points, 2.9 assists and 0.8 blocks. He’s also dealing with a terrible case of the yips at the free throw line. Noah is just 6-of-25 (24 percent) from the charity stripe this season, including 11 straight misses. It’s extremely odd, considering he shot 73 percent from the line over the first seven years of his NBA career.

Most shocking, his defense has been sub-par. Per NBA.com, the Knicks are allowing 108.4 points per 100 possessions while Noah is on the floor. That’s the third-worst individual DefRtg on the team.

By all accounts, he is a terrific teammate and a leader in the locker room, and there is obviously still plenty of time for Noah to turn it around, but the pressure on Noah will only continue to grow if his play doesn’t improve.

Mindaugas Kuzminskas: B-
Kuz has unexpectedly become a fan favorite among Madison Square Garden faithful, and for good reason; the kid can play.

Kuzminskas is 27 and has a wealth of international experience, so he isn’t your typical rookie. That experience has been hard to miss, as his impressive basketball IQ and solid all-around skill set have earned him plenty of minutes along with coach Jeff Hornacek’s trust. Coming into Tuesday night’s game in Miami, Kuz was second among all rotation players in Net Rating (plus-4.3).

Justin Holiday: B-
Holiday was an afterthought in the “Derrick Rose trade,” but the young, skinny wing has been a pleasant surprise for Hornacek and the coaching staff.

He is shooting a career-high 40 percent from the floor and 37 percent from three-point territory. Holiday has also been better than expected on the other end of the floor. He is an active, pesky defender that uses his length to his advantage.

Kyle O’Quinn: B-
After a slow start and struggling just to maintain his spot in the rotation over the first month of the season, O’Quinn has been a man possessed recently. Over the Knicks’ last three games, O’Quinn is averaging 12 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks, while shooting a scorching 70.8 percent from the floor. And it should be noted that the opposing centers he’s matched up against in these contests were Karl-Anthony Towns, DeMarcus Cousins and Hassan Whiteside.

O’Quinn’s effort has been inspiring. He’s been a beast on the offensive glass and has seemingly come up with every loose ball for a week straight. His strong play has made the disappointing performance of Noah far less damaging than it could have been. On the season, his PER currently sits at 19.6, just ahead of ‘Melo for second-best on the team. We’ll see if KO can keep this up.

Willy Hernangomez: B-
Hernangomez has been another pleasant surprise for the Knicks. And, like O’Quinn, Willy has done an admirable job filling in for Noah when called upon.

Hernangomez has a terrific feel for the game, possessing great hands and good vision. Furthermore, his footwork around the basket is phenomenal for a player his age. He currently leads the team in both True Shooting percentage (62.5) and Effective Field Goal percentage (60.9). He also ranks first on the Knicks in defensive rebounds per 100 possessions.

The knock on Hernangomez is his defense. He doesn’t have the lateral agility to guard quicker opponents, and he’s not yet strong enough to move bigger centers from their preferred spots on the low block.

Lance Thomas: C-
Thomas greatly exceeded expectations last season and played the best basketball of his career. The Knicks rewarded him with a lucrative four-year, $27.5 million contract this past summer. However, the early returns have not been overly encouraging. He is shooting 41.5 percent from the floor and his individual DefRtg of 110.5 is the worst on the team.

Still, to be fair, Thomas has been hampered by injuries this season. An ankle sprain cost him three weeks in November and he is still dealing with the nagging effects of plantar fasciitis. To his credit, Thomas stepped up and played his best game of the season Tuesday night in Miami. Maybe that boosts his confidence and he begins playing closer to the 2015-16 version of himself.

Sasha Vujacic: C+
Vujacic’s standard, offensive stats are far from impressive. He’s averaging only 2.2 points while shooting just 35.7 percent from the floor. However, he has actually played far better than anticipated on the defensive end (Defensive Rating of 96.2). It is safe to assume this won’t last, and he’ll need to start knocking down shots in order to see additional minutes, but the steady professional has been a calming influence on the floor whenever his number has been called thus far.

Maurice Ndour: C-
Ndour was on the fringe of the rotation early in the season. He appeared in seven of the Knicks’ first 12 games, averaging over 10 minutes per contest. However, he wasn’t overly impressive on either side of the ball and eventually lost his playing time to more productive bench contributors, such as Q’Quinn and Kuzminskas. Ndour has played a total of only seven minutes over the Knicks’ last nine games.

Ron Baker: Incomplete
Baker played well in the preseason to earn a roster spot, but has played sparingly since the regular season commenced. Baker has played a total of 34 minutes in four brief appearances. However, he may be forced into action if Rose misses any time.

Marshall Plumlee: Incomplete
Plumlee has only appeared in two games this season. Last Wednesday in Minnesota, Plumlee came off the bench and gave the Knicks a solid 20 minutes of effort and energy. However, it’s too small of a sample size to draw any fair conclusion.

Which Knicks have surprised you the most? Who needs to step up for the team moving forward? Leave your thoughts in a comment below.

Tommy Beer is a Senior NBA Analyst and the Fantasy Sports Editor of Basketball Insiders, having covered the NBA for the last nine seasons.

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NBA Daily: Surging HEAT Must Overcome Adversity

The Miami HEAT have been hit with a number of injuries at shooting guard. Can they stay hot?

Buddy Grizzard

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The Miami HEAT have surged to fourth in the Eastern Conference on the back of a 14-5 stretch since Dec. 9, including a seven-game win streak that ended with Monday’s 119-111 loss to the Bulls in Chicago. In the loss, shooting guard Tyler Johnson got his legs tangled with Robin Lopez and appeared to suffer a serious injury.

“I was scared,” said HEAT small forward Josh Richardson, who joined his teammates in racing down the court to check on Johnson. “You never want to see a guy, whether it’s on your team or the other team, down like that. I talked to him when he was in here [the locker room] and he said he didn’t know what was up.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra told pool reporters after the game that X-rays were negative. It was initially feared to be a knee injury, but Spoelstra said the knee is okay and the ankle is the area of concern. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel tweeted that an MRI was not deemed necessary and Johnson will be listed as doubtful for Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, the HEAT is facing a serious shortage at shooting guard, having lost Dion Waiters to season-ending knee surgery, Rodney McGruder to a left tibia stress fracture that will likely keep him out until February, and now Johnson. Miami has applied for a $5.5 million disabled player exception after losing Waiters, according to the Sun-Sentinel. HEAT power forward James Johnson said the team will be looking for other players to step up.

“I think it’s the next guy’s gonna step up like we always do,” said Johnson. “As we have guys going down we also have guys getting back and getting back in their groove [like] Justise Winslow. Hopefully, it’s going to give another guy a chance to emerge on this team or in this league.”

Johnson added that the loss to Chicago came against a hot team and the HEAT didn’t have the right mental approach or defensive communication to slow them down.

“Our communication was lacking tonight,” said Johnson. “I think our brains rested tonight and that’s not like us. Tilt your hat to Chicago. They’re shooting the hell out the ball. They didn’t let us come back.”

Richardson echoed the theme of communication and the inability to counter a hot-shooting team.

“We weren’t communicating very well and we were not giving them enough static on the three-point line,” said Richardson. “They’ve been the number one three-point shooting team in the league for like 20 games now. They ran some good actions that we were not reacting right to.”

Spoelstra referred to a turnover-riddled close to the first half as “disgusting” basketball and agreed that the defense let his team down.

“I don’t know what our record is in HEAT franchise history when we give up 120-plus,” said Spoelstra. “I would guess that it’s probably not pretty good.”

The good news for Miami is that it can try a combination of Richardson and Winslow at the wings, while Wayne Ellington has been shooting the leather off the ball from three this season (40.5 percent on over seven attempts per game). The HEAT is the latest team to attempt to defy history by making a serious run without a superstar player. To make that a reality and remain in the upper half of the East’s playoff bracket, Miami will have to personify the “next man up” credo.

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NBA Daily: Is It Time To Cash Out On Kemba Walker?

Should the Hornets get serious about trading Kemba Walker or risk losing him in 2019 for next to nothing?

Steve Kyler

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Is It Time To Sell?

Every professional sports team at some point has to decide when its time to cash out, especially if they have a star player heading towards free agency. The Charlotte Hornets are a team teetering on this decision with star guard Kemba Walker.

Now, let’s be honest for a moment. The Hornets are getting nothing of meaningful value in a trade for Walker if they decided to put him on the trade market—that’s something that will drive part of the decision. Check out these UK sports books with free bets!

The other part of the decision is evaluating the marketplace. This is where Charlotte may have an advantage that’s easy to overlook, which is the ability to massively overpay.

Looking ahead to the cap situations for the NBA in the summer of 2019, there doesn’t appear to be a lot worth getting excited over. While it’s possible someone unexpected goes into cap clearing mode to get space, the teams that project to have space in 2019 also project to have space in 2018, meaning some of that 2019 money could get spent in July and change the landscape even more.

But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume most of the 2019 cap space teams swing and miss on anything meaningful this summer and have flexibility the following summer. Not only will Walker be a name to watch, but guys like Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Dallas’ Harrison Barnes, Detroit’s Tobias Harris, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Cleveland’s Kevin Love can all hit unrestricted free agency.

That’s a pretty respectable free agent class.

While most of those names will likely stay where they are, especially if their teams shower them with full max contracts as most would expect, there are a few names that might make the market interesting.

The wrinkle in all of it is the teams projected to have space. Based on what’s guaranteed today, the top of the 2019 cap space board starts with the LA Clippers.

The Clippers currently have just Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari under contract going into 2019. They will have qualifying offers on Milos Teodosic and Sam Dekker, but that’s about it. If the Clippers play their cards right, they could be looking at what could be close to $48 million in usable cap space, making them the biggest threat to poach a player because of the LA marketplace. It should be noted, though, that DeAndre Jordan’s situation will have an impact here.

The Chicago Bulls come in second on the 2019 cap space list with just $35.77 million in cap commitments. The problem for the Bulls is they are going to have to start paying their young guys, most notably Zach LaVine. That’s won’t stop the Bulls from getting to cap space, it’s simply a variable the Bulls have to address this summer that could get expensive.

The Philadelphia 76ers could come in third on the 2019 cap space list, although it seems the 76ers may go all in this summer on re-signing guard J.J. Redick and a swing at a big fish or two. If the 76ers miss, they still have an extension for Ben Simmons to consider, but that shouldn’t impact the ability to get to meaningful space.

For the Hornets, those three situations have to be a little scary, as all of themff something Charlotte can’t offer – big markets and rosters (save maybe the Clippers) with potentially higher upside.

The next group of cap space markets might get to real salary cap room, but its more likely they spend this summer like say the Houston Rockets or are equal to less desirable situations like Sacramento (similar), Dallas (has Dennis Smith Jr), Atlanta (similar) or Phoenix (likely drafts a point guard).

That brings us back to the Hornets decision making process.

If the Hornets put Walker on the market, historically, teams get pennies on the dollar for high-level players headed to free agency. If traded, its more likely than not that Walker hits free agency and goes shopping. That’s the scary part of trading for an expiring contract unless you get the player early enough for him to grow attached to the situation, most players explore options. That tends to drive down the potential return.

The Hornets can also start extension discussions with Walker and his camp this summer and it seems more likely than not the Hornets will pay Walker the full max allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, which could be a deal north of $150 million and he could ink that in July.

It’s possible that someone offers the Hornets the moon for Walker. That has happened in the past. The Celtics gave the Cavaliers a pretty solid return for Irving, a player the Cavaliers had to trade. So it’s not out of the question real offers come in, especially with the NBA trade deadline approaching, but what’s far more likely is the Hornets wait out this season and try to extend Walker this summer.

League sources at the G-League Showcase last week, doubted that any traction could be had on Walker while admitting he’s a name to watch, despite however unlikely a trade seemed today.

The challenge for the Hornets isn’t as simple as cashing out of Walker, not just because the return will be low, but also because where would the franchise go from here?

It’s easy to say re-build through the draft, but glance around the NBA today – how many of those rebuild through the draft situations are yielding competitive teams? How many of them have been rebuilding for five years or more?

Rebuilding through the draft is a painfully slow and frustrating process that usually costs you a coach or two and typically a new front office. Rebuilding through the draft is time consuming and usually very expensive.

It’s easier to rebuild around a star already in place and the fact that Walker himself laughs off the notion of him being anywhere but Charlotte is at least a good sign and the Hornets have some time before they have to really make a decision.

At some point, Charlotte has to decide when to cash out. For the Hornets, the time to make that decision on Walker might be the February 8 trade deadline. It might also be July 1, when they’ll know whether Walker would sign a max contract extension.

If he won’t commit then, the Hornets have their answer and can use the summer to try an extract a package similar to what the Cavaliers got for Irving.

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Cavs Woes Reason For Concern, But Not Dismissal

Spencer Davies takes a look at the Cavs’ issues and why we shouldn’t count them out just yet.

Spencer Davies

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

When they’re on, they look like the defending three-time Eastern Conference Champions. When they’re off, they look like an old team that’s worn down and, at times, disinterested—and it gets ugly.

Take this past three weeks for example. After going on a tear of 18 wins in 19 games, the Cavs have dropped eight of 11 and are falling fast. Two of those three victories in that stretch were decided by four points or less against bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the East.

So what happened? For one, the schedule got significantly tougher. Beyond just the level of competition, Cleveland has been on the road for a long while. Nine of the games in this recent down period have been away games. The only time they’ve been home was for a quick second in mid-December and a short stay for New Years.

You’ve got to think about how that affects a psyche, not only from an on-court standpoint but also in regard to spending time with loved ones and family. LeBron James brought attention to his own homesickness on Christmas Day while he was in the Bay Area instead of in Northeast Ohio to celebrate the holidays. If it gets to him, you know it’s got to get to the other players as well. These guys are human beings with lives, and the rigors of travel can wear differently on people. Luckily for them, seven of their next nine games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.

With that being said, everybody in the NBA goes through it, so it’s no excuse for how flat the Cavs have been. Anybody on the team will tell you that, too. However, when you’re figuring out rotations and re-implementing players who had injuries, it’s not easy. This is exactly why nobody should envy Tyronn Lue.

He’s being asked to make room in his rotations and adjust on the fly as Cleveland gets guys back. When they went on that month-long run, the reason they had success was that the second unit really clicked. Dwyane Wade found his niche as the maestro of the bench bunch along with any mixture of Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, and Jae Crowder. Lue had found the perfect group to spell LeBron James and company.

But then, Tristan Thompson came back and, with all due respect, it messed with their flow. The spacing is no longer there for Wade or Green to penetrate because the paint is clogged. It makes it easier on opposing defenses to just stick to Korver because there aren’t any other threatening shooters on the floor (besides Osman, maybe). Worst of all, the change basically kicked Frye—who has a plus-14 net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass—out of the rotation completely.

Deciding who plays and when is a tough job. Derrick Rose is set to come back soon. Iman Shumpert is coming along as well. Lue likes a 10-man rotation, but there are at least 12 players who deserve to be on that court. We already know Rose is expected to commandeer the second unit in Wade’s absence on back-to-backs. As for if Shumpert remains in Cleveland, who knows? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this situation is managed moving forward.

Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is somebody the Cavs have been waiting on to return since the season started. Despite LeBron being LeBron and Kevin Love having as great of an offensive year as he’s ever had on the team, the starting unit lacks an extra punch. Thomas can be that shot in the arm, and he proved that in his debut at home against Portland and on the road in Orlando. There are two snags that both he and the team are going to hit before the 29-year-old returns to his All-Star form: 1) He’s got to get his legs under him to regain the consistency in his game and 2) His teammates are going to have to adjust to playing with him.

These are not easy things to do. Remember, aside from Jae Crowder, there is nobody on Cleveland’s roster that has played with Thomas before. Add in that he’s trying to re-discover his own game and that makes for a pretty bumpy road, at least out of the gate.

Start here—put Thompson in the starting lineup. As poor of a fit he’s been on the bench, he has shown promising signs of a developing chemistry with Thomas. It’s only been four games, but he loves having a partner in the pick-and-roll game. That’s clearly where you’ll get the most production out of him and how he can thrive. He’ll provide hustle, second chance opportunities, and a semi-decent big that can at least bother some of the competition’s drives to the basket. Sliding Love over to the four might change his game a little bit, but you can still get him going in the post before giving him chances as a shooter to work him outside-in.

The resulting effect helps the second unit as well. They’ll get one of either J.R. Smith or Crowder, depending on who would be relegated there. Both of those guys can use a spark to get them going. Because of Crowder’s familiarity with Thomas, let’s say Smith gets kicked out. Maybe that gets him out of the funk he’s in? It also allows for Frye, who hasn’t seen more than 20 minutes in a game since December 4, to get re-acclimated to a group he truly helped on both ends of the floor earlier in the year.

Outside of the need to make a move at the deadline, the Cavs can figure this out. It’s understood that they’re the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA, but they’ve gone through these kinds of ruts at this time of year, specifically since LeBron came back. There might not be statistical evidence backing up the claim of any improvement, but the track record speaks for itself.

The panic button is being hit, but pump the brakes a bit. This isn’t anything new. The pieces are a little different and things look as bad as they ever have, but in the end, the result will likely be the same.

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