1. Both the Cavaliers and Pistons have both made major organizational changes in the past week. Which team, as currently assembled, is better setup for the future?
Chris Manning, Right Down Euclid EIC: I answer here is the Cavaliers, but it only remains that way if Joe Dumars doesn’t become the next GM. But in all seriousness, the Cavaliers have a better collection of assets, a better surrounding cast around their star player and more financial flexibility over the next few years. While Jarrett Jack’s deal looks worse and worse each day, I’d much rather pay Jack $6.3 million for two more seasons than pay Josh Smith $13.5 million for three more seasons. Also, the Cavaliers are likely lottery bound (giving them to chance to add another piece organically) while Detroit is likely to sneak into the bottom end of the playoffs and have to get creative (or sell Greg Monroe to the highest bidder). The only area this debate is close is in terms of their franchise player. Kyrie Irving is outstanding, but Andre Drummond is clearly something special and has an incredibly high ceiling. Still, it’s the Cavaliers – even if the answer isn’t clear right now.
Marlowe Alter, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: This is a fascinating question because I don’t trust either organization’s front office and I don’t love either teams’ roster. However, I think the Cavaliers are better set for the future because of their roster flexibility and young talent. Pistons GM Joe Dumars’ bet on going big with Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith hasn’t worked and Brandon Jennings isn’t the right guy at the point to try to make it work. Meanwhile, Cleveland’s core of Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson will all still be 23 years old or younger at the start of next season and they are still in the running for a lottery pick in the top half of a talented draft class. With a projected cap of $62 million, Detroit has roughly $42 million tied up for 2014-2015, while Cleveland currently has $32 million in guaranteed salary for next season. The Cavs will likely try to pay Irving big money this summer and must decide whether to re-sign Luol Deng and pick up Anderson Varejao’s $9.8 million team option. They still don’t know what they have in Waiters, Bennett and Sergey Karasev, while Thompson looks like a serviceable yet unspectacular player. Both teams’ futures are cloudy and both seemingly have a franchise player in Irving and Drummond. The problem is the surrounding pieces are either unproven or don’t fit together.
Trevor Magnotti, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: I think it’s the Cavs, because they have the younger roster and wayyyyy less long-term guaranteed money. They also have zero long-term money being paid to Brandon Jennings OR Josh Smith. Detroit also has the problem of their best young guard getting buried in the rotation for no discernible reason, and they likely won’t have a first-rounder this year because Joe Dumars paid Ben Gordon way too much money once and had to get rid of him. Cleveland, as it stands with a bevy of young talent, future picks that are enticing, and seemingly all of their terrible players minus Jarrett Jack being exiled after the season, seems like the much easier fix right now.
2. The Pistons monster sized front line went 22-38 from the field in the previous matchup between these two teams. Is this similar to what they’ll shoot on Wednesday night?
CM: It’s possible, but can we really expect Josh Smith to go 10-18 from the field again when his shot chart looks like this and has a true shooting percentage of 46.6 percent, which is a worse percentage than that of illustrious shooters Kendrick Perkins, Metta World Peace and Earl Clark. Based on that alone, I can’t see the Pistons bigs having that much success again. Andre Drummond will likely get his (he’s going to absolutely destroy Tyler Zeller and Henry Sims on the block) and Greg Monroe should be able to find some success against Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett. Still, Smith will likely be horrible as he has been most of this season and, as a result, the Detroit bigs won’t shoot as well as they did the first time they matched up in December.
MA: I think the Pistons frontcourt will again have its way with Cleveland’s big men. Detroit is playing well, having won three straight games including a surprising win over San Antonio following the dismissal of head coach Mo Cheeks. Varejao is out again, forcing the Cavs to throw out an overmatched Tyler Zeller and Henry Sims against Drummond, Monroe and Smith. That’s the definition of a complete mismatch. Cleveland ‘held’ Boogie Cousins to 21 points and 10 boards last night, but I think Drummond specifically is too big and athletic for them to handle. If the Pistons are smart, they will play inside-out basketball, using Drummond on the pick-and-roll and looking to him for easy lobs while he crashes the offensive glass for tip-ins and extra possessions. Detroit’s front court will have another big game so long as Smith doesn’t resort to chucking up 20-footers.
TM: I’ll say no. Right now the trio averages about 50.3 percent from the field combined on the season, but the big confounding variable there is Smoove. Right now he’s taking the most shots of the three, and shooting 42 percent from the field. He went 10-18 from the field in the last game between these teams, and seeing as that’s his ninth-best shooting performance of the season, I don’t see that happening again. Let me put it this way: Josh Smith has hit 50 percent or better from the field in 15 of 51 games this season. so less than 33 percent of the time, Smith is missing most of his shots. That makes it a very safe bet to think these three won’t kill the Cavs as badly as they did back in January.
3. Per Synergy Sports, the Pistons defense gives up the highest shooting percentage when defending cuts (63.7 percent), the roller in the pick and roll (53.4 percent) and in transition (54.4 percent). Where can the Cavaliers have their most success?
CM: The pick and roll is the obvious option here, but Drummond’s presence in the middle makes that a tricky selection. Because the Cavaliers don’t have a good roll man to pair with Irving or Dion Waiters, teams can put all of their effort into defending the player with the ball in their hands and in Detroit’s case, this means Drummond can be on the lookout for blocks, whether or not he’s the big primarily defending the pick and roll or not. Thus, I say the Cavaliers try and get Luol Deng early off of cuts. If they can Deng a few high-percentage looks and force Detroit to focus on Deng, then that will open everything up for Irving and Waiters in the pick and roll. Also, the Cavaliers need to get out in transition and take advantage of a Detroit team that commits the fifth fewest turnovers per game in the NBA.
MA: Greg Monroe is slower than molasses and Brandon Jennings doesn’t give great effort, so anytime the Cavs can exploit these two together, it’s likely to result in a good shot. Drummond is still learning but he can wreak havoc on defense due to his otherworldly combination of size, quick hands and foot speed so I would try to avoid him and mostly go after Monroe or Smith. I’d like to see Bennett in the pick-and-roll now that’s he’s finally getting more comfortable, because he can shoot it or get to the hoop.
TM: The Pistons are a sieve against the PNR mainly thanks to Brandon Jennings, one of the league’s worst PNR-defending point guards. He’s also very bad at closing out, bleeding points in catch-and-shoot opportunities as well. Well, he’s going to be guarding Kyrie Irving, one of the league’s top PNR threats and a capable spot-up guy. I don’t see that ending well for Detroit, especially when Greg Monroe is at center. Monroe has cinder blocks for feet, and Jennings is lazy, so a Kyrie/big man PNR should devastate these two and allow for many open looks for everyone on the team. This is also one of the rare times that the Jack/Kyrie pairing could benefit the Cavs, because Jennings is so bad defensively that if Jack gets a clean look at the basket and kicks out to the perimeter for Kyrie, he’s almost guaranteed a good shot opportunity because Jennings’ close-out form is awful, if he even attempts it. So yeah, PNR is the way to go here.