1. How should the Cavaliers defend the Wizards duo of Nene and Marcin Gortat?
Chris Manning, RDE co-editor: I think tonight is very good night for the Cavaliers to roll out a lineup we have yet to see a lot of: Anderson Varejao and Andrew Bynum. Here’s why.
First off, you get the best of both worlds with this lineup. Varejao will provide the quickness necessary to defend Nene (and chase him around the floor) while Bynum (while still not agile enough to defend pick & rolls) should largely eliminate any concerns about Gortat sneaking in and grabbing offensive boards. If he can handle Joakim Noah, he can handle Gortat.
But when that duo is not in the game (or if it is not used at all), I’d like to see Tristan Thompson on Gortat and Varejao on Nene. This is the duo Mike Brown is probably going to go with most often, especially considering that Thompson leads the Cavaliers in minutes per game with 36.4 and Varejao is third at 32. In this case, Varejao should be able to hound Nene enough to limit his ability to pass to into the paint, while Thompson should be able to preform at a high enough level to limit Gortat’s ability in pick & rolls.
One last note: I think a lot of the Cavaliers success in defending this duo will come down to the backcourt’s (looking at you Kyrie Irving) ability to make smart decisions in the pick & roll. If Irving and the others can get around screens and limit the number of times the bigs are force to come out and hedge John Wall (thus leaving a big to freely roll to the hoop), the more effective the Cavaliers defense as a whole will be.
Trevor Magnotti, Staff Writer: The big issue with defending this combo is Nene’s passing ability combined with Gortat’s cutting ability off pick and rolls. These two could conceivably run a below-the-rim version of last year’s Hawks Josh Smith/Al Horford pick-and-rolls, which was great fun. The two also have great chemistry, which lends to the pair’s 11.5 point Net Rating when on the floor together.
Defending this combo will definitely be a challenge for the Cavs. I’d really almost rather see Anderson Varejao on Nene and Thompson guarding Gortat, because Varejao has shown a tendency this season to hedge pick-and-rolls aggressively, and with a tandem as good as Wall and Gortat in the PNR, I’d rather have the more conservative player on Gortat so that Wall doesn’t dissect the defense with lobs to a wide open player. Also, Varejao is a very smart defender, which will have him more well-suited to defend one of the league’s most versatile post options. When the Bynum/Bennett combination is in against these two, I’m nervous for Bennett guarding either player, but putting Bynum on the better rebounder seems like a good idea, so Bennett on Nene and Bynum on Gortat is what I’d want.
Marlowe Alter, Staff Writer: Gortat at 6’11,” 240 is nimble and shifty for his size while Nene, 6’11,” 260, is more physically imposing and uses his strength in the post. Combined, the two big men are gathering five offensive rebounds per game, so the Cavs must use all five players to corral defensive rebounds and avoid giving up easy second chance points. The Wizards like to use Gortat and John Wall or Bradley Beal in pick-and-roll situations so it will be imperative that a) Kyrie Irving/Jarrett Jack force the ball handler into the screen where a help defender will be waiting and b) the Cavs defense must be rotating and cannot fall asleep on the back-end. Although they will be down a shooter without Trevor Ariza, the Wizards are sixth in the NBA in three point shooting at 41 percent and take 26 long-range attempts per game, good for second most in the league.
In the post, the Cavs will likely have to defend one on one because of Washington’s deadly perimeter shooting capabilities. Andrew Bynum and Anderson Varejao are big bodies and can handle Nene or Gortat in the post but the pick-and-roll will be a difficult test for every Cavalier big man.
2. Who has the advantage in the Kyrie Irving John Wall matchup? And what about Dion Waiters and Bradley Beal?
CM: I give a slight edge to Irving in his head-to-head with Wall. Both men’s strengths and weaknesses balance the two out, but despite some horrid performances, Irving has at least shown flashes on his normal shelf this season while also adding a good understanding of rebounding to his arsenal. As for the two sophomores, I give the slight edge to Beal. While Waiters has shown marked improvement on defense (I’m still gushing over how he handled Joe Johnson on opening night, after all) Beal has, at times, been the player carrying the Wizards – just not in a 16-shot first half type of way. He has a true shooting percentage of 50.5 percent and has cut down on turnovers from 4.4 per game to 3.3. I do think there is chance Waiters locks down Beal for stretches, but he’s going to hit open threes when the surely present themselves. I can’t say the same for Waiters.
TM: I’m going to say neither for both matchups because none of the four has looked good this season. Irving and Wall have both looked pretty passive so far this season, and are struggling to score consistently at the rim, which is concerning because, you know, that’s a calling card for both. Wall is still the better passer and better defender; Irving is still the better shooter and rebounder. We’ve really learned little that could separate the two so far this season. As for Waiters and Beal, it’s the same dance. Beal still is the better three-point shooter, and Waiters has become a slightly better defensive player, but both still somewhat doom their teams with low efficiency shooting. Gun to my head, I’d say slight edges to Wall and Waiters because of defense. Though I’m not confident in either.
MA: All four supremely talented young players are struggling mightily right now for different reasons. Irving and Waiters haven’t shot the ball well in the paint while Wall hasn’t run the offense well consistently and Beal has been porous from midrange. At the point, I think Wall has the advantage right now because of his defensive capabilities. Waiters is out with an illness paving the way for CJ Miles to start his second straight game. I’ll take Beal in that matchup as well because of his offensive versatility.
3. Which team, as currently constructed, is better primed to make a playoff run?
CM: I’ll go with the Wizards, if only because I trust their ability to score far more than the Cavaliers. John Wall has okay this season, but Bradley Beal has had a few tremendous performances, namely his 31 points out burst against the Oklahoma City Thunder. I can’t say the same for the Cavaliers. Kyrie Irving has been up and down all year, Jarrett Jack has been more bad than good with his overall shot selection and Dion Waiters has been, well, the Dion Waiters from last season. The fact that Tristan Thompson is the Cavaliers third leading scorer and that they are 29th in offensive efficiency in the NBA right now speaks large volumes about where this team is at offensively. Washington isn’t much better – coming in at 19th – but I see far more room for improvement in the nation’s capital than I do on the shores of Lake Erie.
TM: The Wizards, but barely. The Wizards completely lack frontcourt depth of any kind, seeing as Al Harrington and Kevin Seraphin are their reserve tandem, but they make up for that with consistent shooting from outside (Which the Cavs completely lack), and they have a good knack for forcing turnovers. Yeah, they’re struggling defensively and on the boards, and yes, they’re dead last in the league in free throw shooting, but the fact is that I can’t trust the Cavs’ shooting at this point enough to make me think they can make a playoff run, while the Wizards could get hot and that alone gives them a better chance. Also, the Wizards’ opening schedule has been pretty tough, while the Cavs’ really hasn’t. I’d expect both teams will bounce back here in the next few weeks, but I think the Wizards’ record is more of a mirage than the Cavs’.
MA: I’m going Washington. I think the offense fits together with Wall at the point running pick-and-rolls while surrounded by shooters and they have great size in Gortat and Nene. They are experiencing growing pains with Wall and Beal, who Nene seemed to target with his comments after a 13-point loss to the Spurs earlier this week.
The problem I have with the Cavs is the struggles of Waiters and Anthony Bennett. Irving’s shooting struggles will turn around but the Cavs need production from their two top five lottery picks. Waiters hasn’t continued to build on his strong second half performance, failing to get to the line while Bennett has been a complete disaster thus far. I’m more inclined to pick the Wizards to make the playoffs, but I won’t be surprised if both teams rebound from their early season struggles to sneak into the playoffs in a conference full of weak teams after Miami, Indiana and Chicago.