Well, that's more like it. While the first preseason game -- a competitive tilt where the Cavs won ugly and gutted out a decent win -- was a bit out of form from last year's Cavs, this seemed to be more like the modus operandi of the 2011 Cavaliers. You know. Get behind big early, fight back, get ahead, then choke the game on a variety of ill-advised moves and strange lineup choices. In the first game I wasn't totally sure I was watching the Cavs. In this game? I knew I was watching them. Everyone paying attention did.
LEADERS: Points: Casspi, 18; Rebounds: Varejao, 10; Assists: Sessions, 8
Quick thoughts: As sloppy as last Friday's game was, this one was actually rather competently played. Both teams had cold stretches, but the Pistons put up 30 points in the first on a very good shooting performance and the basketball as a whole was quite a bit more crisp than it was in the first preseason game. The main issues with this game were less endemic to the game itself and more to the curious lineup decisions of the coaches -- while both coaches played essentially their regular season rosters, without alteration, they put together odd and doomed lineup combinations that made very little sense.
An example: for the final defensive possession of the game, Byron took out Kyrie and replaced him with Sessions, telling the Plain Dealer after the game that he feels Kyrie "needs to improve" on defense before he puts Kyrie on the game at the end of close ones. Which is... a creative opinion, I suppose, since it requires that he contort logic and reality to fit a storyline that doesn't actually exist. Speaking of Kyrie. This wasn't a great game for him, but the pieces are all there. Kyrie is, barring injury, going to be the rookie of the year. Or, at the very least? The best rookie from this class. I'm comfortable saying that. His driving is Tony Parker quality, and his shot -- while overused -- is more technically advanced than Parker's is and can be expected to result in a better field goal percentage over a full season than we've heretofore seen. Kyrie gambles on steals a tad too much, but recovers very well and his switching on defense is absolutely great. Which leads me to my big question. Where in God's name is Byron getting the idea that Kyrie is a worse defender from Ramon from? Ramon Sessions is one of the absolute worst defensive points in the league. He's undersized, lazy on defense, can't cover his man and doesn't contest for shots. He can't recover off steal attempts but tries to do them far too often. Kyrie? He's great for a rookie and still above average compared to the league in general.
Scott's public comments bashing Kyrie's game because he doesn't like his defense would be fine if they indicated a coach who was similarly hard on all his players. He's not -- I understand that Byron hates rookies, but no coach that's equally hard on all his players would say something like that about Kyrie without acknowledging that every other guard on the roster is worse. Because no coach in their right mind would play Sessions over Irving and Harangody over Varejao for the final possessions of a competitive, one point game unless they honestly just wanted to lose. Don't like watching Scott with this roster, if I'm honest. He's starting to scare me into thinking that this is how he'll approach the whole season. And if that's true, he's going to kill our rooks and actual hard workers in practice while giving the vets free reign and ignoring completely obvious facts about this Cavs team. Kyrie got a grand total of 7 minutes with Varejao this entire preseason, and was "gifted" some absolute stinker lineups throughout the game then pulled when he failed to do anything with them. I'm not sure where Scott thinks the offense is going to come from if you field a Kyrie-Boobie-Casspi-Thompson-Hollins lineup and call no plays for Omri. Ryan Hollins kept getting the call, and it seemed to be what Byron was looking for -- he also seemed to be irritated at Kyrie for not making something out of nothing. For all the talk about how Mike Brown wasn't a fun coach to watch, Scott is significantly worse at coaching defense and impossibly worse at putting together coherent lineup decisions. As well as coaching rookies. Why is Scott so great, again?
- In the first half, Kyrie had a line of 6 points, 2 steals, and 1 assist -- there were 3 other plays where his man got hit for free throws, and one other play where his man was in a good place to make the shot and shanked it. Kyrie's passing is extremely on-point for a rookie, enough so to make me very excited about his future as a passer. To wit; next time you watch him, watch where his passes sit as they reach the target. It's one thing to find the open man, something Kyrie does very well -- it's another to deliver the pass on point, where the pass recipient doesn't need to bend over or change his motion to recieve the pass. Kyrie is great at delivering passes exactly where they need to be to keep the player's motion unimpeded -- in these two preseason games, I can only count 2 or 3 times where Kyrie's man has needed to change his motion or stop in place to get his pass. The effects of this aren't always obvious. If he's passing to offensively challenged players (see: Ryan Hollins in the first half of this game, Samardo Samuels in the previous tilt against Detroit) it doens't really matter how on-point or perfect the pass is, it's not going to result in an assist very often. But the better the offensive weapon (see: the Omri-Kyrie connection in this game that was so deadly), the more obvious Kyrie's passing talent is going to become. And once the Cavs draft some better weapons to surround him with, it's going to be very, very obvious. It's true that Kyrie's shot selection wasn't excelling -- he had 2 or 3 pull up shots we'd probably like to get back -- but with the exception of two key shots they were virtually all in the flow of the possesssion. And his shooting will improve -- with form as solid as his, it isn't going to stay 5-12 and 4-14 for very long.
- Hollins... may honestly be the worst center in the league. He had a head scratchingly bad 22 minutes, scoring 4 points on 0-3 shooting with 4 rebounds to 3 turnovers and worse defense than virtually anyone else on the team. He's incredibly bad. Impossibly bad. But he isn't the most shamelessly bad player on this Cavs team. That appelation, unfortunately for us, belongs solely to Antawn Jamison. This game was the classic Antawn statline -- 11 points on 3-11 shooting (2-6 from three), 3 rebounds, and the laziest defensive performance of anyone on the floor for the Cavs. This is what he gives us, now. A player who chucks the ball whenever he gets it, plays no defense, and is praised throughout the game by Fred and Austin for... well, god knows what reason, because it certainly isn't his play on the court. There was this hilariously misguided bit of banter between Austin and Fred that absolutely needs to be set in stone and recorded for future generations. Discussing the Cavs on defense, they talked about how the Cavs don't talk on D and how they should start. Which is reasonable, of course. But then the conversation got straight up weird when they mentioned that Byron Scott wants his rookies to "emulate Antawn, because Antawn really talks on D and it's some real veteran savvy that he does." I don't know about you, but the fact that Byron Scott has honestly told someone to "emulate Antawn" on defense TERRIFIES me. And regarding Antawn talking on defense, I mean, cripes... what is he saying? "Kyrie, Kyrie, close out. Kyrie you should close out. Andy, can you rotate over? Because there is absolutely no chance I'm going to put effort into this defensive possession, and you may as well be playing four on five right now. Sorry. Close out though, please? Do as I say, not as I do."? Is that what Antawn's saying? It remains a mystery.
- Tristan Thompson... I don't want to say he's figuring it out. He isn't. Yet. But there are signs he'll be a good player someday, and not the kind of signs that made Hickson look good. Thompson hasn't gotten too involved on the offensive end, which is actually a very good sign for a player who should at this point understand his offensive limitations and avoid pushing his luck on that end. On the plus side, his rotations in the post were crisp (better, in his second preseason game ever, than any rotation J.J. Hickson ever had as a Cavalier) and his weakside defense is certainly not bad for a rookie. His raw post-up defence seems to leave a bit to be desired, but I'd want to see more tape before I declare either way. On the subject of bigs doing good things. Anderson Varejao is too good for this team. I hate to say it, but it's true. The Cavs are going to win games solely on Andy's grit and hustle this year, and in the end, it may come back to bite us in the form of a lower draft pick than we really deserve. I love Andy on this team, and cerebrally I don't want them to trade him. But at this point it's probably better for both parties if the Cavs trade him for young talent, cap relief, and picks to a contender. For the Cavs in the form of pieces to build their future team, and for Andy in the form of getting him away from Scott's brutal practice schedule and back onto a contender that can effectively build a plan around using his insanely effective game. Until that happens, though, he's going to be one of the most entertaining players on the Cavs, and I'm really excited to see him get extended time with Kyrie as the season goes along.
Fear the Sword Player of the Game: Omri Casspi.
- Omri Casspi floats on defense a bit much, sometimes, but he hustles with the best of them and runs the floor faster than you'd think for a man his size. Which is, honestly, one of his biggest advantages as a three -- he's large and mobile, and a good enough shooter that wings can't lay off him. But he's large enough that if he gets cross matched onto a PF he's not going to kill you. He had a block, some great setup passes and hockey assists, intense and solid roaming defense, and great shooting. He was, as my friend Alex put it, "Anderson Varejao in a large SF body". It was wonderful. He also had a some truly great posessions on man D where he stuck with his man and bodied up. Omri is a really, really good player -- games like this overrate him a tad, but when he's healthy and locked in there are few more promising young rotation players at the 3 than the Israeli Assassin. The fact that we got a great young piece like Omri (with a pick!) for a rather disappointing piece in Hickson makes me really, really happy about Grant's ability to continue Ferry's legacy of of great trades and solid moves. And excited for the Cavs' future, as well.