Welcome to the fifty-ninth installment of Right Down Euclid’s “Weekly Roundtable.” This Friday Trevor Magnotti and Chris Manning sit down and discuss the latest trending topics concerning your Cleveland Cavaliers and the NBA. The combination of rotating RDE duos answer three questions regarding the hometown Wine and Gold and two questions surrounding the league.
Today the discussion revolves around the Cavaliers defensive struggles against Milwaukee, Anderson Varejao’s outside game, Anthony Bennett’s offensive role, top rookies (besides MCW) and early season MVP frontrunners.
First Question: We finally saw the Cavaliers offense come alive Wednesday night, but after four games of stout defense, what happened to Cleveland’s perimeter D?
Trevor Magnotti: I’m going to just chalk the game Wednesday night up to unsustainable shooting from Milwaukee. Yeah, the Bucks hit a ton from outside, but it’s not like the Cavs weren’t guarding the Bucks from outside well. Remember, the Bucks have two of the NBA’s finest chaos agents in their rotation in O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal, and some nights those two are just going to be untouchable from outside, as their 10-of-12 mark Wednesday will show. That said, however, the Cavs could have done a lot better job with their rotations. They blitzed pick-and-rolls a lot against Milwaukee, which is fine, but it was clear Jarrett Jack and Dion Waiters didn’t fully know their rotation responsibilities once the ball was kicked out to the wing. That will improve with time, but I think that’s the biggest gripe I have right now about the defense.
Chris Manning: I’d chalk it up to a one-game struggle. With Mike Brown in as head coach, defense is always going to come first. That being said, the Cavaliers have lots of minus defenders on the wing. Kyrie Irving, Jarrett Jack and Dion Waiters are all average at best. Alonzo Gee is also the Cavaliers best perimeter defender. There are going to be a lot of game like this, even if the first four games are an indication of how good they can be on that end of the floor. It’s going to take time to be consistent on a nightly basis.
Second Question: Andy’s offensive game continues to evolve outside of the paint. Do you think this move was made to lessen the likeliness of an injury?
TM: I think it’s both trying to eliminate injury and a result of Anderson’s injuries. Varejao’s shooting from 16-23 feet has improved in each of the past three seasons, and now he looks like a monster from midrange. I think this has to have been at least partially a product of him missing so much time. Shooting is often the first thing a player returns to when he suffers a serious injury, and I think the sheer volume of work Varejao has put in because of this is helping him develop a better outside game. This in turn drags him away from the basket on offense, which not only keeps him from needlessly banging down low, but also provides better spacing to the offense. The Cavs have really seemed to focus on getting Andy touches at the elbow, from where he can use his passing skill to hit slashers or kick-outs, or drain a deep two with ease. Everyone wins as a result of Varejao’s improved mid-range game.
CM: I think it’s due to him filling out his skill set more so than avoiding injury. While I do think it played into his thought process, he had to realize he’s not capable offensively to bang on the inside against larger players. A reliable jumper can open up the middle for not only Varejao but for everyone else. It’s more an evolution of his game than anything. After all, he had an emerging jumper last year and still got hurt.
Third Question: Anthony Bennett made his first career field goal against the Bucks. Despite struggles, do you like that he’s been taking more outside shots?
TM: I think that’s his role in the offense, more than anything. Bennett’s most common lineup has been with Jack, C.J. Miles, Alonzo Gee and Andrew Bynum. When the Cavs go with this look, it appears that the emphasis is on using Bynum as a post-up threat with the other four players as kick-out options, and Jack and Gee cutting to the hoop at times. Bennett has to be placed outside the paint in order for Bynum to have enough space to work. This has had decent results, as the lineup is one of the Cavs’ more efficient options so far. If this is the route the Cavs want to take, eventually I can see this being deadly as Bynum’s offensive game continues to come back and Bennett gets more confident. If everything’s clicking, this lineup is a poor man’s version of the 2009 Orlando Magic with one post and four solid shooters, and that’s a very difficult matchup for anyone.
CM: I’d rather see Bennett work inside-out. He’s more likely to gain confidence making shots on the inside as opposed to bricking jump shots. The more he sees the ball closer to the hole, the better. And he’ll succeed more scoring-wise on the inside than shooting threes. The more time he spends hanging out on the wing, the more I’m going to worry. Ideally, the Cavaliers will use pick and rolls to get him shots by the rim. That’s his path to redemption.
Fourth Question: Michael Carter-Williams has been, without a doubt, dominant this early season as a rookie. But what other rook has really caught your eye?
TM: I’ve been on his bandwagon since the early preseason, but I have been very impressed with Steven Adams. He hasn’t looked very polished so far, but that was what we had to expect when Oklahoma City drafted him. After all, he’s only been playing the game for a few years. So far, Adams has been one of OKC’s best energy guys off the bench, flashing great rebounding skills and a knack for contesting shots. With Kendrick Perkins decaying more and more each day, Adams appears to have a bright future in a pairing with Serge Ibaka in the Thunder frontcourt.
CM: This is the obvious choice, but I LOVE how Victor Oladipo has played thus far. He’s creating turnovers, finishing at the rim and shooting at a higher clip than expecting. He also shows real poise, going head-to-head against veterans with no fear. Literally every time I watch him play, I fantasize about him playing next to Kyrie Irving instead of Dion Waiters. I love Oladipo so much so that I want to watch the Magic regularly. He’s that entertaining.
Fifth Question: Paul George is picking back up right where he left off in the 2013 postseason. Can he top LBJ or a Western Conference star for the MVP award this year?
TM: George has been impressive, but at this point, my executive decision is that Chris Paul is the MVP through five-ish games. Per game, Paul is posting roughly 23 points, four rebounds, 13 assists, and three steals per game. He has hit 45 of 46 free throws. He’s assisting on 55 percent of Clippers field goals while he’s on the floor, a number that only John Stockton has topped over a full season. The above stats are ABSURD. Paul probably can’t keep this up for a full season, but Point God is our MVP right now. George’s numbers are nice (26/8/4, two steals per game), but outside of rebounding, Paul is putting up Magic Johnson numbers right now.
CM: I think the MVP race comes down to three players: LBJ, Chris Paul and Paul George. Paul was my pick before the season, but seeing as Trevor argued for the best player in Los Angeles, I’ll focus on the Pacers star. He’s picked up where he left off against Miami in the postseason and has helped make Indiana the best team in the NBA right now. Plus, he’s a legit two-way player (which both James and Paul are as well) and he is also starting to come out of his shell. He made headlines this week in saying the Chicago Bulls had their time to win during the Michael Jordan-era and that now was the time for his Pacers to win. Expect George to stay in the mix all year. He very well could win. But FYI: LeBron James will come roaring sooner or later. It’s just a matter of time.
Make sure to check back next week to see what Trevor Magnotti and Dan Pilar have to debate at the “Weekly Roundtable.”