LeBron James carrying Cavaliers like he never left

18 Comments

Before the playoffs began, Cavaliers coach David Blatt said, “This all can’t be on LeBron. This is a team and a team effort and everyone here has to do his part.”

Yesterday, when Blatt drew up a play for someone else to attempt the game-winner, LeBron James said, “Just give me the ball.”

Blatt, of course, listened.

This is how it has always been for LeBron with Cleveland. It’s his show, his way, his time.

LeBron has claimed a level of control he never had with the Heat. Whether this is an intentional power grab, the mere byproduct of the NBA’s biggest megastar picking a small market or an injury-created necessity, it hasn’t been more evident on the court than in the playoffs.

LeBron has attempted a field goal or free throw, turned the ball over or assisted a basket on 39.0 percent of Cleveland’s possessions this postseason. We’ll call this number Adjusted Usage Percentage. It differs from usage percentage in two ways:

1. It includes assists.

2. It includes all a team’s estimated possessions, even when the player is on the bench. (Possessions are estimated because some free-throw attempts are and-ones or technicals, not part of their own possession. Possessions ending in a team turnover are not counted.)

LeBron’s 38.8 Adjusted Usage Percentage ranks first among all players in the last decade – giving him the top four marks in this era:

image

Players have exceeded an Adjusted Usage Percentage of 30.0 in the playoffs 51 times in the last 10 years, including LeBron each year. But LeBron’s five highest Adjusted Usage Percentages have come with the Cavaliers and three lowest with the Heat.

Wasn’t LeBron supposed to learn how to win and Miami and bring back those lessons, not just repeat his old Cleveland problems?

Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, this could be Cleveland’s best available strategy.

LeBron knew Kevin Love is out for the rest of the season and presumably knew Kyrie Irving is battling a foot injury when he said he needed to be more aggressive. The short-handed Cavs might have no recourse but to let LeBron dictate everything.

And that’s no so bad.

LeBron can take the Cavaliers pretty far playing this way. He’s one of the best players – if not the best player – in the world, and he hit the game-winner yesterday after demanding the ball. (In a fitting celebration, teammates literally jumped on his back.)

But Cleveland is also seeing the downside of this approach. LeBron has shot 8-of-25 and 10-of-30 with seven and eight turnovers in his last two games.

It seems there’s a cap with this style of play. LeBron can carry the Cavs and win a round or three, but eventually, opponents begin to solve the one-dimensional offense. Then, soon enough, he runs into a team capable of actually doing something about it – a task made easier as LeBron gets worn down by this heavy load.

LeBron doing everything probably gives the Cavaliers a higher floor but a lower ceiling. It’s not the worst tradeoff, though if the goal is a championship, it’s concerning.

One of the main reasons LeBron left Cleveland in the first place seemed to be the Cavaliers’ inability to build a quality supporting cast, and the decline of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh probably contributed to his defection from Miami.

It was supposed to be different in Cleveland this time with Love, Irving and and a more-well-rounded LeBron. But Love is out. Irving is hobbled.

And LeBron is putting the Cavs on his back, just like old times – and we all remember how those seasons ended.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

Ja Morant thumb
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

Gordon Hayward return
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

Ty Lawson China
Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.

Mike Brown reportedly on list of Indiana coach interviews

Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The buzz for a while has been the Indiana coaching job is Mike D’Antoni’s to lose — the Pacers want to update their offense, and no one is more qualified to do it.

But other names are circulating and people being interviewed: Dave Joerger, the Spurs’ Becky Hammon, Miami’s Dan Craig, Dallas’ Stephen Silas, Milwaukee’s Darvin Ham, Minnesota’s David Vanterpool, Philadelphia’s Ime Udoka, Brooklyn’s Jacque Vaughn, Portland’s Nate Tibbetts, and don’t forget Chauncey Billups.

Now add veteran coach Mike Brown to the list, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Brown was the head coach of both the Cavaliers and Lakers, leading the Cavaliers to the Finals in 2007 and being named Coach of the Year two years later. Brown has been the lead assistant under Steve Kerr for a few years now and has undoubtedly soaked up knowledge on setting up a modern NBA offense.

Whoever fills Nate McMillan’s shoes in Indiana has a tough job. Expectations may be high from ownership, but McMillan’s Pacers’ teams played hard and defended, making them difficult to play against. Their offense also was old school, which is why McMillan was fired after the Heat swept the Pacers in the first round, but it wasn’t terrible. How big a leap this team makes may rely less on the style of play and more on if Victor Oladipo has returned to his All-NBA form.