Posted by Michael Flores | Sports

NBA season is upon us!

“The Top 8” is going to be a weekly column focusing on the trials and tribulations of my beloved Cleveland Cavaliers… Stats-based but still super biased (probably)

Here goes!

Game One: Cavs at Bulls 10/27/15

ESPN Headline: Pau Gasol stuffs LeBron James’ would-be tying layup as Bulls hold off Cavs

There are lots of despicable cliches in sports narrative reporting. High — if not chief — among them is the concept that crunch time shot attempts are somehow worth more points than those in the first forty-odd minutes of a game.

The headline accompanying the opening game of the 2015-2016 Cavs season is a good example of this.

Gasol, in thirty-two minutes of play, had a mediocre game at best. Two points on seven shots (barf); and only two rebounds (!!!) starting at Center. He did, however, record six blocked shots, and the one on LBJ at the buzzer did make for good dramatic narrative.

Outcome: Bulls by 2

It’s tough to dissect what happened in this game. The Cavs actually put up more shots (94 to 87) and neither team shot the lights out or anyting (though the Bulls did put up 42% to the Cavaliers’ 40%). Moreover the Cavs outrebounded the Bulls while the Bulls gave up more turnovers. Decided by only two points, it looks as if this was the rare, mythical, game actually decided on the free throw line: The Bulls shot 16-23 from the charity stripe while Cleveland only 10-17. And sure, it was a two-point game!

BUT!

I think if the Cavs simply calmed down and shot their season average from 2014-2015 (five clicks up from last Tuesday night) they would have handled the Bulls; that, and committed fewer fouls. Both of these things, for an elite squad coming off of so many injuries and having played so few minutes together, are just artifacts of it being the first game.

Despite the outcome (two-point loss) there were a lot of nice things to take away. Besides those two percentage points on goal there was almost nothing the Bulls did better than the Cavs.

The Top 8

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Unsurprisingly the best player in the game had the best game (even if he was stuffed by Gasol for the ESPN headline). Even if conceding his starting spot to Nikola Mirotic wasn’t the more storied Noah’s idea, Noah and Mirotic were both effective producers. What was more surprising to me was how good Mo Williams was in his Cavs return! Nineteen points on fifteen shots, four rebounds, seven assists, and only one turnover with starter’s minutes! If Mo plays like this consistently he’ll be back on the All-Star team!

I didn’t register how well Tristan Thompson played just watching the game (which I guess is easy to miss considering he was 1-4 from the field) but if TT keeps putting up double-digit rebounds off the bench the Cavs are going to be borderline unstoppable (and his giant contract will be more-or-less justified).

And honestly? I thought he Cavs would be rusty enough with TT having sat out all of the preseason and half the starters still injured that they would have lost by twelve. Merely two was like winning by ten 🙂

Game Two: Cavs at Grizzlies 10/28/15

ESPN Headline: Love leads Cavaliers past Grizzlies 106-76

Simple. In this case accurate. The Cavs starting PF played nearly as well as the best two Grizzlies in this game. The storied Memphis defense was eviscerated on Wednesday night… Which pretty much had to be the case with LeBron James nowhere near his usual form… As his team won by thirty points.

Outcome: Cavs by 30!!!

Obviously this was a super encouraging game, with the Cavs demolishing one of the better teams in the league by huge margins on a back-to-back (with LBJ on “mortal” mode). Nuff said.

The Top 8

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Game Three: Heat at Cavaliers 10/30/15

ESPN Headline: LeBron James (29 points), Kevin Love (24) help Cavs topple Heat

The main thing wrong with this headline is that Kevin Love’s name should have come first!

Outcome: Cavs by 10

The Top 8

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This game was way less close than even the ten-point drubbing would imply. Cleveland was up by 18 — eighteen — with a minute to go and the third string managed to give Goran Dragic almost his entire night’s production in circa the final one hundred seconds.

The Cavs starting guards — Mo and Smith — were atrocious, combining for 8 points on 18 shots; Jefferson was no better (five points on seven shots)… but the frontcourt was absolute music. If Kevin Love can continue play as well as he has for the first three games of the season LeBron’s prediction will come true and Kev will be back in the All-Star game. LeBron played a workmanlike great game while Dellavedova aped CP3, lobbing an unending string of alley oop assists to Tristan Thompson.

The Heat stars played well too, actually; Miami just got very little production from their bench.

Speaking of which: Hassan Whiteside is the truth! He is very clearly one of the best players in the NBA, racking up SIX (!!!!!!) blocks in this game. Amazing! What is even more amazing is that as good as he was, Whiteside was outplayed by two different Cavaliers PF/Cs. I’ll take it!

I know the first week was just three games, but like I said already: They were super encouraging. Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson are both playing like All-Stars. The fact that LeBron was not the best Cavalier in either win means that maybe he will be able to rest more during the regular season. I would love Love LOVE to see a team configuration where LeBron takes a backseat during most of the regular season and lets the younger guys get us to 60+ regular season wins and just shows up to claim his Finals MVP.

I am a little concerned about the Cavs guard play, though. Mo was excellent in the Chicago game; J.R. was good in the Memphis game, but neither starter has strung together even two above average games. Hopefully both sharpshooters can get back into the three-point form that earned them All-Star and Sixth Man of the Year awards in past years.

LOVE
MIKE

The Top 8 is produced via Simple Models of Player Performance + Box Score data from ESPN.com

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