Getty Images

Three things to watch in Game 2: If Cleveland cleans up its mistakes, is that enough?

1 Comment

OAKLAND — After getting blown out in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers were not distraught nor did they feel overwhelmed. Rather, they think they beat themselves mostly.

Make no mistake, the Warriors are good, but the Cavaliers think they gave Game 1 away by turning the ball over and not communicating well on defense.

“We have to be much better,” LeBron James said. Game 1 was the feel-out for us, and they definitely took advantage of all our miscues. We just have to get better.”

“Watching basketball throughout the course of the season, you obviously know they’re very good,” J.R. Smith said Saturday. “But one thing about us, it’s all about us. If we take care of what we’re supposed to take care of, it doesn’t matter if it’s the ’96 Bulls, it doesn’t matter. We would win. We just gotta worry about us, understand that no matter what they do, if we do what we’re supposed to do, they can’t beat us.”

Here are the three things to watch, and what the Cavaliers need to improve, if they are going to steal game 2 on the road.

1) Cleveland will play more focused defense, will protect the rim, and they will get physical.
If there is one thing everyone agrees on about Game 2, it’s that the Cavaliers are going to get physical.

“You have to be the first one to hit,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “I thought they hit us first. You have to be physical. The game is physical. You have to bring a physicality to the game, one through five. And I thought last game we weren’t as physical as we needed to be. We were off bodies, let them run free. So we have to do a better job of being on bodies, being physical and bringing the contact to the game.”

What that means in practical terms is the uncontested layup line the Warriors had in Game 1 will go away. Part of that is being physical, but a larger part is just making better decisions on defense, particularly in transition where the Cavaliers were terrible. Protecting the rim will be a priority.

“We have to stop the ball,” Lue said. “That’s the most important thing. We can’t let Durant get easy baskets like that. With him being probably one of the best scorers in the NBA, you can’t give guys like that easy opportunities at the basket. So we have to do a good job of stopping the basketball, but we also have to get back out to shooters. One guy has to stop the ball and the other guys have to get back and get to Steph and Klay and those guys. But we have to stop the basketball first.”

2) Cleveland needs to clean up its offensive mistakes — don’t turn the ball over and dominate the glass. One other thing both sides expect in Game 2 is for Cleveland to do a better job taking care of the ball — they are not going to turn the ball over 20 times again.

The Cavaliers admitted that Golden State’s defense — aggressive and using their athleticism and length — made them indecisive at points. They also said that was correctable.

“So when we make a move to the basket, we just have to be decisive — take it to the basket or make the pass,” Lue said. And I thought they did a good job of just playing in between, making us be off guard. So we make a move, we have to be direct with what we’re going to do; if not, move the basketball.”

“We had a lot of unforced turnovers,” LeBron added. “Some of them was aggression. I had two charges — that’s aggression, I can take those. But I also had some where I got caught up in the air, trying to make some skip passes, and they were able to pick them off. Those are like pick-sixes. It’s like throwing the ball to Deion Sanders. For the most part, it’s going to be a touchdown going the other way.”

If Cleveland is going to win they also need to dominate inside the paint and on the glass, something they did not do in Game 1. Tristan Thompson needs to be a force for Cleveland on both ends, and in Game 1 he had just four rebounds.

“Trash. Trash,” is how Thompson defined his Game 1. “I have to be better. I have to bring more energy, make it tough for them. I know they’re watching film, and something for them it’s to keep me off the glass. It’s going to be a wrestling match down there, and you have to keep it going and make it tough for them and just try to wear them out.”

3) How fast is this game played? The first game of the NBA Finals had 102 possessions, not lightning fast but right at the Warriors pace for the season — meaning it was right in Golden State’s comfort zone (and faster than the Cavs played this season). Check out this stat from Michael Pina writing for Vice Sports.

During the 2015 Finals, the pace was 95.3 possessions per 48 minutes when James was on the floor. That dropped to 94.8 in last year’s seven-game classic. With James in the game on Thursday night, the pace was 102.1.

So the Cavaliers are going to slow the game down and grind it out, right? No. Not if you ask them. To a man they said they needed to play with more pace.

“We’re a team that plays with pace. We know that,” LeBron said. And in order for us to be as good as we can be offensively, we have to play with pace. But we have to control the ball as well.”

“When we get stops, we have to get out. We have to play with pace,” Lue said. “We’ve got to play in transition. They’re a great team in the half court, as far as loading up and taking away what they want to take away. So when we get stops, we have to get out and run and play with pace.”

To be fair, Cleveland dominated the Warriors in fast break points a year ago. They can do better in this category, but it also is fraught with risk. It makes sense for the Cavaliers to push the ball when they create turnovers or off Warriors misses, but if nothing is there they need to pull out and slow it down. If this turns into a track meet the Warriors will win.

Paul George-Gordon Hayward-Celtics rumor doesn’t add up

AP Photo/George Frey
1 Comment

Paul George reportedly wants to play with Gordon Hayward. George is also reportedly willing to join his desired team (universally accepted to be the Lakers) by means that don’t guarantee the highest salary.

Could the Celtics – who are pursuing Hayward in free agency – leverage those conditions into getting George?

Adam Kauffman of 98.5 The Sports Hub:

I don’t what George would do, but it’d be a MAJOR financial disadvantage to go this route.

There a couple ways it could happen – George getting extended-and-trade or George getting traded then signing an extension six months later. The latter would allow George to earn more than the former, but even if he pledged to sign an extension, would the Celtics trade for him knowing he’d have six months to change his mind if he doesn’t like Boston as much as anticipated?

There’s a bigger issue, anyway. Both extension routes would leave George earning far less than simply letting his contract expire then signing a new deal, either with his incumbent team or a new one.

Here’s a representation of how much George could earn by:

  • Letting his contract expire and re-signing (green)
  • Letting his contract expire and signing elsewhere (purple)
  • Getting traded and signing an extension six months later (gray)
  • Signing an extend-and-trade (yellow)

image

Expire & re-sign Expire & leave Trade, extend later Extend-and-trade
2018-19 $30.6 million $30.6 million $23,410,750 $23,410,750
2019-20 $33.0 million $32.1 million $25,283,610 $24,581,287
2020-21 $35.5 million $33.7 million $27,156,470 $25,751,825
2021-22 $37.9 million $35.2 million $29,029,330
2022-23 $40.4 million
Total $177.5 million $131.6 million $104,880,158 $73,743,861

Firm numbers are used when it’s just a calculation based on George’s current contract. When necessary to project the 2018-19 salary cap, I rounded.

The Celtics could theoretically renegotiate-and-extend, but that would require cap room that almost certainly wouldn’t exist after signing Hayward.

Simply, it’s next to impossible to see this happening. It’d be too costly to George.

Dwyane Wade on why he exercised his player option: ’24 million reasons’

2 Comments

Dwyane Wade said he wanted to see the Bulls’ direction – winning now with Jimmy Butler or rebuilding? – before deciding on his $23.8 million player option for next season.

While Chicago was actively shopping Butler (before eventually trading him to the Timberwolves), Wade opted in, anyway.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

This is most real answer answer you’ll ever see. Props to Wade for his directness.

This also speaks to the unlikelihood of him accepting a buyout, no matter how poorly he fits with the rebuilding Bulls now – though maybe he’d accept a small pay cut to choose another team.

Medically risky prospects bring intrigue to 2017 NBA draft

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
2 Comments

ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla dubbed Indiana forward O.G. Anunoby, who was slipping through the first round, a “sexy blogger pick.”

While I appreciate the compliment, Fraschilla was also right about another point: Those analyzing the draft for websites clearly valued Anunoby more than NBA teams. Fraschilla cited Anunoby’s limited offense, but it’s hard to get past Anunoby’s knee injury as a primary reason he fell to the Raptors at No. 23.

The 76ers adjusted us to the idea of picking an injured player high in the draft, with Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid in recent years. Even though Ben Simmons was healthy when picked, a later injury that cost him his entire rookie year conditioned us to the idea that sometimes top rookies don’t begin their pro careers ready to play.

But the 2017 NBA draft pushed back against that as a new norm. Most of the biggest tumblers on my board had injury concerns, from where I ranked them to where the went:

  • 12. O.G. Anunoby, SF, Indiana – No. 23, Raptors
  • 13. Harry Giles, PF, Duke – No. 20, Kings
  • 18. Isaiah Hartenstein, PF, Zalgiris – No. 43, Rockets
  • 19. Ike Anigbogu, C, UCLA – No. 47, Pacers

Anunoby had the aforementioned knee injury that even he, trying to paint himself in the most favorable light, said would cause him to miss some of the upcoming season. The strength of his game is a defensive versatility that would be undermined by a decline in athleticism.

Giles looked like a potential No. 1 pick in high school until three knee surgeries in three years derailed him. He was limited at Duke as a freshman, though reportedly acquitted himself in pre-draft workouts.

Hartenstein’s and Anigbogu’s medical issues were less widely know, but teams were apparently concerned.

Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress:

https://twitter.com/DraftExpress/status/878094857037676544

https://twitter.com/DraftExpress/status/878099339012210688

The 7-foot-1 Hartenstein is big enough to put a heavy load on his back. Just 19, he has nice vision as a passer and a developing outside shot that could allow him to spend more time on the perimeter and better take advantage of his passing.

Anigbogu was the youngest player drafted. He’s big and strong and mobile and throws his body around like a wrecking ball. He must develop better awareness and maybe even some ball skills, but there’s a path toward productivity.

Will these players blossom as hoped?

As I wrote when ranking Anunoby and Giles 12th and 13th before the draft, “I’m somewhat shooting in the dark” and “I’m mostly guessing here.”

This is the disconnect between the public perception of these players’ draft stocks and where they’re actually selected. We don’t have access to their medical records like teams do. We’re operating with far less information.

Still, it’s not as if teams always know how to interpret medical testing. Even with more information, this is hard.

I’m confident Anunoby, Giles, Hartenstein and Anigbogu would have gotten drafted higher with clean bills of health. So, this is an opportunity for the teams that drafted them. If the players stay healthy, they provide excellent value.

It’s obviously also a risk. If the player can’t get healthy, his value could quickly approach nil.

There are no certainties in the draft, but these four players present especially wide ranges of outcomes, which makes them among the more exciting picks to track in the years ahead.

Vlade Divac: Kings would have drafted De’Aaron Fox No. 1

5 Comments

I sense a pattern.

Like Celtics president Danny Ainge saying Boston would’ve drafted No. 3 pick Jayson Tatum No. 1 if it kept the top pick, Kings president Vlade Divac said Sacramento would’ve taken No. 5 pick De'Aaron Fox No. 1 if it had the top pick.

Divac, via James Ham of NBC Sports California:

“Screaming,” Divac said about the reaction in the room to Fox falling in their lap. “It was a guy that we all loved and in some way, if we had the number 1 pick, he would’ve been our guy.”
“De’Aaron is our future,” Divac added.

The Kings are getting a lot of credit for drafting well. Maybe it’s a good thing they didn’t get the No. 1 pick, because it would have been foolish to pass on Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball (and others) for Fox. (The real punchline: Sacramento couldn’t have won the lottery due to Divac’s dumb salary dump with the 76ers giving Philadelphia the ability to swap picks.)

I don’t believe the Kings would’ve actually taken Fox No. 1. This sounds like Divac embellishing, which can be no big deal. It also puts outsized expectations on Fox, for better or worse.