Welcome to the sixty-ninth installment of Right Down Euclid’s “Weekly Roundtable.” This weekend Trevor Magnotti and Zak Kolesar 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 & Gold and two questions surrounding the league.
Today the discussion revolves around Luol Deng joining the Cavs at the beginning of a road trip, the dedication displayed by some Wine & Gold players after the loss in Portland, the stinging of the 44-point loss to Sacramento, Greg Oden’s return and mid-season awards.
First Question: The addition of Deng came at the beginning of a five-game road trip, and offensively, he has contributed a lot more than people thought he would on that end of the game. What was the most telling thing you have learned about Deng’s short time with the Cavaliers so far?
Trevor Magnotti: I just think the fact that the Cavs’ offense seems to have a lot better flow with him in the small forward spot confirms that this was a good trade. This team has been a dumpster fire at times on offense this season, but with Deng, it’s been solid. Teams respect Deng, so they play him close at all times, and that allows for better spacing for the Cavs’ guards to work. He’s also been able to create his own shots at times, which he can do out of post-ups or from the perimeter, which further adds options to the Cavs offense. He’s been very versatile for the offense as a whole, and that exactly what I hoped for when he joined the team.
Zak Kolesar: I think that spacing is key for the Cavaliers from here on out during the regular season, and Deng definitely helps in that category. His three-point shooting hasn’t been tremendous this season (shooting 32.5 percent from beyond the arc), but through four games of this five-game trip out West, Deng is converting on 53.3 percent of his long-range attempts. A lot of his success from three did come from the contest against the Lakers, in which he shot a perfect 5 of 5 from that range, but what I’ve noticed from Deng that Earl Clark and Alonzo Gee can’t provide at the three is somewhat consistent play and a knack for shooting high-percentage threes. Clark has had his struggles as the starter all season long from three, missing on open opportunities quite often, and Gee always seems to gravitate toward the corners, where he is highly ineffective. Because Deng is an actual threat from this range, he will open up Cleveland’s passing game by creating spacing as a mid-to-long-range threat.
Second Question: Some members of the Cavaliers held an impromptu practice after their loss to the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center. What does this say about the leadership and dedication on the Wine & Gold this season?
TM: I’m not sure it says anything based on the guys who were out there. Between Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark, Matthew Dellavedova, C.J. Miles, and Alonzo Gee, none of these guys played more than 12 minutes in the game last night, as the Cavs instead opted to stick with their top seven guys for most of the game. As a result, and the way the game ended for the six or seven that were playing, I think these players were mad that they weren’t playing, except C.J., who was upset because he played like crap and got benched. I think it says that the bench is determined to get better, which is good, and may be frustrated with the amount of playing time they’re currently getting, which is bad. We’ll have to see how the practice troupe plays in the Denver game to determine how I feel about this.
ZK: I think it shows a shift in team culture from when Andrew Bynum was consuming headlines and destroying locker room presence in the process. With a headache like Bynum now out of the picture–and with the veteran leadership of Deng coming into play–it seems as if the attitude of the team (sans a few headaches caused by Dion Waiters) has really shifted, which is the first step in helping this squad play more team basketball, thus being on their way to becoming a playoff team. I know the players involved in the impromptu practice aren’t usually big players in the scheme of Cavaliers lineups, but this type of attitude is contagious. C.J. Miles has been noted in the past as staying after games and working on his shot with coaches, and I’m assuming it was his idea to get his teammates on the Moda Center court after a tough loss to the Trail Blazers.
Third Question: The 44-point loss against the Kings really leaves a sour taste in Cleveland’s mouth, even though they have a chance to head back to Quicken Loans Arena with a 3-2 mark on this trip. Through four games, are you satisfied with how the Cavs fared?
TM: I think it’s gone about how I expected. Obviously, I’d like to have seen the Cavs play a much stronger game against the Lakers, and for the Kings game to have not been such a ridiculous blowout. However, their second half against the Jazz was excellent, and they played very strongly against the Blazers in a loss, which makes me a little more okay with slugging out a win against the Lakers. I think if they at least play a competitive game with Denver (even if I think that game is a guaranteed loss), I’ll consider the road trip a success, because we’ve found out Deng’s role in the offense and only were kind of an embarrassment. It may not seem like it, but the Cavs are playing .500 ball in the new year, and if they continue that through the rest of the season, even assuming a loss to Denver, that’s 35 wins, which would put them in the seventh seed in the East currently.
ZK: I agree that the victory against the Lakers–a team that had lost 10 of their past 11 games heading into the matchup–was discouraging, especially following the embarrassment against the Kings. Teams that are “on their way” don’t lose games in a fashion like the drubbing they took against Sacramento. I wouldn’t say I’m satisfied because of this excruciating loss, even though Deng was just getting acclimated with the team. But on the bright side, for a team that had only won two road games on the season heading into this trip, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Will I be satisfied if Cleveland pulls out a win against Denver and ends the trip with a mark of 3-2? Yeah, very much so. Even if the Cavs fight hard, as Trevor mentioned above, and come up short against the Nuggets, I’ll still always have the debacle in Sacramento in the back of my mind. These types of games shouldn’t exist anymore this season if Cleveland wants to make a push.
Fourth Question: Greg Oden made his debut with the Heat on Wednesday, scoring six points and grabbing two boards. Do you think he will make any sort of impact for Miami this season?
TM: AS LONG AS HE DOESN’T GET HURT (Big, big, IF there), Oden will be a big help to the Heat come playoff time. They just dealt Joel Anthony to Boston for tax purposes, and Oden will be able to better body up some of the bigger centers in the East. I don’t see him playing much the rest of the season, but once it comes to playoff time, I could see Oden playing significant minutes if the Heat end up in a tight spot against a quality center, like they did last year (and probably will this year) with Roy Hibbert. Right now, they’re projected to face a team Oden would be very helpful against. Detroit, who has Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond for the Heat to deal with. I think Oden helps them greatly in a series with the Pistons, Knicks, Bobcats, or Pacers.
ZK: I don’t think he will make an impact, like you pointed out, the rest of the regular season, but I also don’t see him making much of an impact come playoff time. I think he’s going to prove to be much more of a liability on defense for the Heat, especially against teams playing in the postseason. Removed from NBA play for far too long, this season will serve as a “getting your feet yet” season for Oden. Miami is going through their roughest patch of the season currently, losing their last three games against below-.500 talent. Oden’s insertion is just for testing purposes for Miami right now, as they’ve hit somewhat of a roadblock. It won’t last long, which means that Oden won’t be seeing an increase in minutes in the near future.
Fifth Question: Being almost at the halfway point in this NBA season, who do you have as your MVP, Rookie of the Year and Coach of the Year?
TM: For MVP, I’m picking Kevin Durant, who’s averaging 30/8/5, has 49/39/88 shooting splits, and leads the league in PER. He’s been single-handedly at times carrying this Thunder team without Russell Westbrook, and after many thought last year a Westbrook injury was a death knell to the OKC powerhouse, he has them with the West’s third-best record, a respectable 28-10 mark. He gets it over LeBron, even though LeBron’s still having a monster season.
Rookie of the Year is Michael Carter-Williams, who’s putting up 18/6/7 and is second in the NBA in steals per game when many thought he was going to get eaten alive in his rookie season. No other candidate is even remotely worthy.
Coach of the Year? I’ll give it to Mike Budenholzer. The guy is in his first coaching season, has dealt with major struggles from Lou Williams and a severe injury to the irreplaceable Al Horford, and is still keeping the team afloat at 20-18. He’s gotten Jeff Teague to play better than ever, turned Shelvin Mack into a dependable bench player, and ushered in the Spurs philosophy of tons of threes and smart ball movement. I thought he was the best coach for this Atlanta team, and he’s proven to be thus far. Now just imagine if they beat Miami or Indiana in the playoffs.
ZK: Even though the Thunder isn’t winning as much without Russell Westbrook in the lineup, Kevin Durant has stepped up for his team immensely. Although the shooting statistics aren’t as impressive as they were last season (let’s be honest, KD was on one last year as a shooter), he’s been able to up his passing game with the absence of Westbrook and he’s become a better rebounder, posting his best average in his seventh year. And, despite playing more minutes this season because of Westbrook’s surgery, Durant is leading LeBron (and the League) in PER with a mark of 29.6. And his PER shoots up to astronomical levels when Westbrook is on the bench, too.
I want to say Trey Burke will come out as the eventual winner of the Rookie of the Year award, but I would be stupid to award the point guard with mid-season honors at this point. Carter-Williams is playing far smarter basketball than Burke, finishing much better in the restricted area than Burke, who is just shooting a tad over 52 percent in that area this season. Yeah, Carter-Williams isn’t as proficient of an outside shooter as Burke is, but he’s shown smarter shot selection and is, as his stats indicate, an all-around better player at this point in the season.
Much like I said with Burke overcoming Carter-Williams at some point over the next half of the season, I have Portland’s Terry Stotts, who has had a completely healthy starting lineup so far this season, taking the mid-season cake over the Raptors’ Dwayne Casey, who could be a very likely winner if he gets Toronto the third seed in the Eastern Conference, which is very likely. A lot of Toronto’s success lies on the wizardry of general manager Masai Ujiri, but Casey has done an incredible job as of late managing his roster without Rudy Gay in the picture.
Make sure to check back next week to see what Trevor Magnotti and Chris Manning have to debate at the “Weekly Roundtable.”