Kyle Korver

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Study finds NBA players getting skinnier as teams focus on small ball

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Call it the Mike D’Antoni revolution. Say that it’s a copycat league and everybody wants to be the Warriors. Talk about how advanced analytics and the three-point shot have changed the game.

The NBA has been trending for years toward “small ball” — which is a nebulous term but essentially means playing fast and shooting a lot of threes. It means fewer traditional bigs and more centers and power forwards who can step out and drain a three (think Kristaps Porzingis or DeMarcus Cousins).

Harvard’s Sports Analytics Collective noticed an interesting trend that is going along with this — the NBA is getting skinnier. (Hat tip to Tom Haberstroh writing for Bleacher Report.)

It makes sense: If the focus is on athleticism and speed, then players will want to be thinner rather than bulkier.  Here is what the report found.

While both the height and weight of the league increased drastically from 1952 (the first year with minutes data) to 2000, the pattern in the 2000s is strikingly different. The weight of the league rose 7 pounds (per player) from 2000 to 2013, before dropping nearly 3 pounds steadily over the course of the next 4 years. Meanwhile, the weighted average height has stayed between 78.8 and 79.1 inches (about 6’7”), for the entirety of the 21 century….

This may seem like an incredibly obvious result, but it highlights another efficiency that NBA teams have gravitated toward in the past 5 years. Teams are slimming down, and using their athletic advantages to run the heavier teams of the floor. The NBA is again trending lighter, and it will be interesting to watch how this stabilizes over the next 5-10 years.

What the study also found was no correlation between hight or weight and winning, however, in recent years there is a trend of lighter teams playing faster. Which again just makes sense.

This trend toward lighter players and pace, plus increased three-point shooting, is ultimately a result of the rules and how they are enforced. Once teams were allowed to play zone defense (starting in 2004), it evolved into the Tom Thibodeau overload defense, which was designed to take away wing isolation plays (which were very common at the time) by bringing another defender over to the strong side. The best offenses started adapting to this in two ways — good off-ball movement on the weak side combined with better ball movement to get guys like Kyle Korver clean looks off a couple passes; and playing faster and getting in the offense before these defenses have a chance to set up.

Both of those attacks are designed for players to use their athleticism — so thinner, more athletic players have the advantage.

At some point, the move to get thinner will stabilize. But this style of play in the NBA will stick around until they tweak the rules again.

Did LeBron take a shot at Kyrie Irving in praising Isaiah Thomas?

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LeBron James is excited about Isaiah Thomas getting healthy and joining the Cavaliers on the court, even if that is maybe a month away. He should be. Watch the Cavaliers play and it’s clear LeBron could use a little help on the offensive end (Kyle Korver provided it in New York), they need another shot creator who gets himself buckets and set up others.

That’s what LeBron said to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report… but is this a dig at Kyrie Irving, too?

“It’s been a while since I’ve had that clear-cut guy who can get guys involved but also score at the same time,” James told B/R Mag. “But it’s fine. It’s something that our team will make an adjustment to.”

LeBron is too polished and too savvy with the media now to think he does anything by accident. He knows what he’s saying and how it will be taken (most of the time, he was confused why Knicks fans didn’t get his jab at Phil Jackson).

Just to give you the numbers, last season in Boston Thomas assisted on 32.5 percent of his teammates’ baskets when he was on the court, while this season in Boston Irving is assisting on 32.7 percent of his teammates’ buckets when on the court. Last season in Cleveland, Irving was at 29.7 percent. For his career, Irving has an assist rate of 30.1 while Thomas is 29.7.

Basically, that’s the same impact as a passer. Neither of these guys are known as pass first.

There’s a lot of eyes on the Cavaliers as they have stumbled to a 7-7 start this season with the worst defense in the NBA. There are legitimate questions to ask about how this team fares this season, and what it will look like going forward. However, if you are betting against a LeBron-led team in the East, you do so at your own peril.

Cleveland wakes up for one quarter, that’s enough for comeback win in New York

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Madison Square Garden was rocking — something all too rare in recent years. Monday night against the hated Cavaliers, through three quarters Tim Hardaway Jr. and Enes Kanter each had 20 points, the Knicks defense had forced 12 steals, Knicks fans were into it and chanting “Ky-rie Ir-ving” at LeBron James, then the crowd went over the top when Kanter and Frank Ntilikina stood up to LeBron.

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers were napping. All season long against opponents they don’t perceive as a threat they have coasted, and clearly the Knicks didn’t scare the Cavaliers at all. New York led by 23 at one point in the third and it was a 15-point point Knicks lead.

Then the fourth quarter started.

Cleveland put up 43 points on 26 shots, Kyle Korver got red-hot and hit five threes on his way to 19 points in the frame, LeBron had eight assists, the Cavaliers had seven offensive rebounds and three blocks. The Cavaliers defended like they cared, battled back to tie the game.

Then LeBron did this to Porzingis.

That put the Cavaliers up for good. What would have been an ugly loss for Cleveland and a confirmation win for the Knicks turned into a reminder of the status quo in the East as Cleveland held on to win 104-101.

The win pulls the Cavaliers back up to .500 on the season at 7-7, and while they still have some problems to address — and key guys to get healthy, Isaiah Thomas and Tristan Thompson — this team can find a gear nobody else in the East can reach. (Boston may like to dispute that, there’s a long season to see if that’s true.)

The Knicks fall to 7-6 on a night their young star Kristaps Porzingis was off, finishing the night with 20 points on 21 shots. The Knicks struggled to defend Kyle Korver and his off-the-ball movement in the fourth, and once a couple of shots fell (he started the game 0-of-4) he got hot as only the great shooters can.

This also exposed the need for the Knicks to get — or develop in Ntilikina — a shot creator on the perimeter. When the Cavaliers started to care on defense, they made it rough for Porzingis to get the ball and start the offense, he needs another playmaker on the roster and they don’t have that yet.

It was a learning experience for the Knicks — they are going to have a lot of rough ones of these in the coming year. This is a team on the rise, but a young team that is going to lose some games they should have won. It’s the way of the league, what matters is what they do out of it.

LeBron James goes as killer clown to his annual Halloween party (photos)

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Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said some Cleveland players are intimidated by LeBron James.

This won’t help.

LeBron held his annual Halloween party last night and went as Pennywise:

Other costumes:

Tristan Thompson and Khloe Kardashian as Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen:

Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union as Milli Vanilli:

Isaiah Thomas as Eazy-E:

Cruisin' down the street in my '64 #ripEazyE #StraightOuttaCompton #Halloween2017

A post shared by Isaiah Thomas (@isaiahthomas) on

Kevin Love as Sting and J.R. Smith as a Conehead:

Kyle Korver as Willy Wonka:

Personally, I think Wade and Union are the big winners.

Report: Richard Jefferson may be odd man out with Cavaliers

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The Cleveland Cavaliers have 16 players with guaranteed contracts in training camp.

They can only carry 15 into the season, which means someone is going to get paid not to play.

That may be veteran Richard Jefferson, reports Jason Lloyd at the Athletic.

First off, backup point guard Kay Felder, who is on a partially guaranteed contract, almost certainly will be let go. Then it gets to the guaranteed contracts on the wing, and the Cavs have LeBron James, Jeff Green, Dwyane Wade, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, Iman Shumpert, and Cedi Osman. That’s a lot of depth. Even though the Cavaliers turned to Jefferson during the NBA Finals last season for regular rotation minutes, that was really about the need for wing defenders, which he still did better than most on the roster. This season there is that depth.

What the Cavaliers would prefer to do is trade Jefferson because it saves them money — he is on a $2.5 million contract but with the repeater luxury tax hit he costs them $10.5 million. Trade him and all those costs go away, but the Cavaliers will struggle to find anyone interested in the 37-year-old unless they attach a sweetener (a likely second-round pick).

Either way, it looks like Jefferson’s run in Cleveland is done.