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Buddy Ball Notes: "I know who you are"

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Odds and sods notes about how the Cavs are finding themselves on a spiritual journey since the mid-January trades.

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It's been a face-melting few weeks of Cleveland Cavaliers basketball, and I have some thoughts about it.

  • I'll start off with a personal anecdote, courtesy of my mother in law. She was in the Cleveland Clinic lobby yesterday, and she saw Anderson Varejao walking with his entourage. Another woman in the lobby shook Varejao's hand. My mother in law? She opted to tell him, "I know who you are," which prompted him to give her a smile and walk away. It prompted the valets in the lobby to openly laugh at her. I mention this story to give her a shout out because it WAS impressive she knew who he was. She's visiting from Buffalo and knows nothing at all about basketball. Big ups to Linda for recognizing Varejao from the one time she watched a game with me and the camera cut to him on the bench.
  • And, hey, "I know who you are" applies to the Cavs now, too. When everyone is healthy, this team is playing the brand of basketball I expected from them all along. They push the ball in transition when they can. They play aggressive defensively even if that still isn't their forte. They shoot way more threes. More on all of this in the points to follow.
  • It takes a team effort to push the ball in transition, but I've been especially impressed with LeBron James and J.R. Smith in this respect. For James, it took good health to get back to that transitional terror he has always been. For Smith, I've been so impressed with how will he's been to leak out in transition. I know that seems like a thing that's right up Smith's alley, but J.R. hasn't always done the things that are best for J.R. in the past.
  • Furthermore, I love the spacing Smith creates from not only his three point shot but the threat that he will launch a three if he gets even a little bit of separation -- and maybe even make it. Too many guys on this team are hesitant to shoot quick-trigger catch and shoot threes. Not that we need an entire team of guys willing to shoot at will, but it's good to have at least one guy who will do that.
  • A lot has been made of how Timofey Mozgov allows David Blatt to run the defensive system he prefers. If you read a ton of articles, you have probably read about these changes already. The system change has obviously been working, but one of the other bonuses of having Mozgov in the middle is that guys like Irving, Smith, James and Shumpert can now take aggressive risks on defense to create turnovers without it destroying the defense as a whole.
  • As a team, the Cavs are generating 6.8 steals per game, 4.5 blocks per game and 11.1 opponent turnovers per game since Mozgov's first game at Golden State. They averaged 7.3 steals per game. 5.1 blocks per game and 13.2 opponent turnovers per game before Mozgov's first game. And while those team turnover and block stats are slightly down, opponents have an eFG percentage of .496 since Mozgov's first game compared to .517 before it. Part of that is probably being more careful about when to take those risks, but a lot of it is also Mozgov covering up for when guys are out of position.
  • As an individual, Irving has shined generating steals lately. He is picking up 2.0 steals per game since Mozgov joined the team as opposed to 1.5 steals per game before that. It will be interesting to see if James and Shumpert especially start generating more steals as well as the team as a whole gets more used to the new defensive system together.
  • Before the Cavs traded for J.R. Smith, they averaged 23.3 three-point attempts per game. After? 29.2 three-point attempts per game. I love it. For the entire season, Houston leads the league with 33.6 per game. Second is Portland at 27.6. That's the kind of company the Cavs are sharing recently. Their .366 three-point percentage since the Smith trade would put them at eighth in the NBA behind San Antonio if they kept that up for the season. That's a lot to ask, but shooting a lot of threes at a high rate is a good way to win games.
  • I'm not going to pretend to be a doctor, but Kevin Love looks way-injured. I tend not to criticize players who are playing injured. He seems to be trying out there. He needs some time off.
  • This team is still figuring out how exactly it's going to play come the playoffs, but for the first time ever, an identity seems to be forming. Now the only trick is to get everyone healthy for once and see what happens.