My mission over the next few weeks is to figure out how the Cavs match up with the other teams in their “tier” in the Eastern Conference. This likely will include the Raptors, Hawks, Wizards, and Pistons. I’ll look at the lineups, the schemes, and the coaches, and try to determine just where the Cavs stack up in the Eastern Conference. The Wine and Gold’s opponent today? The Atlanta Hawks.
Likely Starting Lineups
Cleveland: Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Earl Clark/Alonzo Gee, Tristan Thompson, Andrew Bynum/Anderson Varejao
Atlanta: Jeff Teague, John Jenkins/Lou Williams, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap, Al Horford
Unlike Toronto, who the Cavs had a huge advantage against in the backcourt with Kyrie Irving, the Hawks offer much more stout competition. Jeff Teague is a big upgrade in quality over Kyle Lowry, and a freshly healthy Lou Williams is a wildly underrated weapon that will give Dion Waiters fits with his three-point shooting and surprising all-around game. John Jenkins, a solid shooter, will likely get starting time, but according to Brandon Barnes of Soaring Down South, “The starting shooting guard will depend on if [Mike] Budenholzer wants shooting or defense/hustle next to Korver. Lou is Manu, basically.” Therefore, we can expect Williams to get lots of playing time either way, especially against Waiters, who struggled a lot with this player type last season on both ends. Al Horford is the best player for the Hawks, and could give the Cavs some problems with his shooting range. Anderson Varejao or Andrew Bynum should be fine against him defensively, but Horford could potentially draw the Cavs only semblence of rim protection away from the basket in this situation, setting things up for Teague to get to the basket quite easily. The Cavs also can’t solve this by putting Tristan Thompson on Horford, because Paul Millsap hits 42% from midrange and it’s imperative that Thompson hound him. This frontcourt combo has outstanding range, which will be tough for the Cavs to account for, especially with Budenholzer likely implementing more slash-and-kick to the Hawks offense.
On the offensive end for Cleveland, Bynum would be more effective than Varejao against Horford, but a huge key to success for the Cavs would be Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters having big nights. Millsap and Williams are both great weakside thiefs, and if one or both of the Cavs young guys is struggling, it frees up these two to sag off and prowl for steals more. I can’t see that ending well for Kyrie Irving and the Cavs centers, who already have tough assignments. Finally the small forward question for the Cavs would likely be answered with Earl Clark against Kyle Korver, one of the league’s most dangerous outside scorers. Alonzo Gee is the better defender, but Clark has a lot more length than Gee, and even though Gee’s quicker, the length of Clark could be more helpful bothering Korver, who mainly gets his chances in spot-ups. Regardless, I think the Cavs would have some mighty struggles against the Hawks’ starting lineup on both ends.
Pretty even here. Jarrett Jack vs. Lou Williams has potential, as does Anthony Bennett and the non-starter of Varejao/Bynum battling Elton Brand and Pero Antic. The Cavs top bench guys will likely see more playing time than the Hawks guys, but the big advantage the Hawks have is a bevy of reserve posts. Brand, Antic, Mike Scott, and Gustavo Ayon are all going to see some playing time, and with that rotation of fresh bodies to compliment Horford and Millsap, that’s going to pose a severe issue to a Cavs frontcourt that’s inevitably not going to be completely healthy. The Cavs will have to make the Hawks pay with a decent group of reserve wings, but that post rotation is making me very nervous if the Cavs aren’t completely healthy in the frontcourt.
We’ve discussed what Budenholzer will likely bring over from the Spurs a little bit earlier, but the scary thing for the Cavs is that unlike the Raptors, the Cavs probably can’t beat the Hawks with pace. This is a roster and coach that is very adaptive, and the Hawks are built to both get out in transition with Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap, or bludgeon teams to death with post play and halfcourt offense. It can also be expected that the Hawks will implement some of the Spurs defensive principles, with Tim Duncan being played by Al Horford. The Cavs will likely struggle with this suddenly very cerebral team, and will have to rely on what should be a deadly midrange game offensively, and improvements from the guards on defense to snuff out drives to the basket. This can happen; however, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Hawks then turn to the post game offensively, and letting the Cavs settle for three-pointers on defense. The Hawks are extremely versatile, which is dangerous. They also will be pretty smart, it seems. They will be tough to out-strategize.
Yeah…..the Hawks just look like they will have no problems dealing with the Cavaliers. They offer a more dangerous frontcourt with a ton of weapons, smart coaching, and even more importantly, smart players to make those smart schemes work. The one thing they lack, which the Cavs could really capitalize on, is rim protection; like the Cavs, they don’t really have a consistent shot-blocking threat. I feel like the Cavs PNRmagheddon game with Kyrie, Waiters, Bynum and Varejao will get some hits in against this defense without one. However, the Hawks should be able to strategize well against this, and offer enough skill at other spots to adjust their gameplan accordingly. The Hawks have more talent, better coaching, and a more versatile team than the Cavs, and that’s before we factor in health, a strength the Hawks, and really most teams, will probably have over the Cavaliers. I’m not sure whether the Hawks will have a better record than the Cavs, but in a 7-game series, the Hawks would likely win comfortably over Cleveland.