On to Cleveland

Stop #2 of this Eastern swing: Cleveland, Ohio to meet with LBJ and the Cavaliers. Yeah, I know, the season is about team success not individual accolades, etcetera, etcetera, but I won’t lie. I really hope CP puts on a show against his fellow MVP frontrunner. Ben Wallace is out, and I love the way we match up against this team. Delonte West is an upgrade for Cleveland at the point, and no Hornet can guard James, but which NBA player can? I expect Peja on LBJ once again, just as in the December victory. 

Since I haven’t followed Cleveland as a team (following LeBron doesn’t count… it’s sort of an unconscious thing every NBA fan does), I was lucky enough to get the guys from the Cavalier Attitude to answer some questions: 

At the Hive: Let’s start with the guy who’s destroying the league, LBJ. The dude’s obviously is the greatest 23 (24?) year old the NBA has ever seen, and continues to post absolutely mind-boggling stats. But I’m wondering, is there anything  you as a Cavs fan notice he still needs work on? Is there any aspect of his game he can further develop, or will we just have to live with 31, 8, and 7?

Cavalier Attitude: That’s whats scary about LeBron-there’s still a lot of stuff for him to develop, although Shoals notes that because he can do just about everything, he has such a wide pallet of skills that could be developed that it’s almost impossible to imagine him as “complete”-Andrew Bynum is never going to bomb threes and Kyle Korver’s never going to need an up-and-under move on the blocks, but LeBron’s wide base of skills differs the expectations. I’ve made this list many times, but I’ll do it again for you because it’s fun. In order:

1. Free Throws. 70% for a perimeter player who goes to the line as much as he does is absurd. 85% puts another point or two on his average, free of cost, and he might actually drive more if he had more confidence in his FT stroke.

2. Post Moves. He has either a size or speed advantage on everyone in the league. He can blow by most anybody, but if he could get low position and really learn to seal off smaller defenders, he’d be unstoppable because of his strength, size, and ability to work the glass with either hand.

3. Outside shooting. Yep, it’s only third on my list. People say he’d be “unstoppable” with a consistent J, but I don’t get that. LeBron’s eFG% on “inside” shots is right around 70%, and that’s before you factor in fouls. The best perimeter guys-your Kobes, Ray Allens, CP3s-have eFG%s of around 45-50% on their jumpers. Steve Nash, who’s an absolute outlier among players who handle the ball, is around 58%.

Long Story short-LeBron could stroke it like Drazen and he STILL wouldn’t be as dangerous shooting it as when he puts the ball on the floor. As for it “opening up his drives more,” he already takes 40% of his shots from “inside,” a mark as high as any other perimeter player’s. Of course he’d be much better with a more consistent J, but he’d average more ppg this year, statistically, if he shot free throws like Kobe than jumpers like Kobe. His stroke is VASTLY improved this year, but the results haven’t really presented themselves from outside yet. They will soon enough.

AtH:  In a season of blockbuster trades, you guys made the biggest move in the East, jettisoning Hughes and Gooden to acquire Szcerbiak, and Big Ben among others. How has that trade changed the complexion of this team, and how is this Cavs team different than the one that lost to New Orleans back in December?

Cavalier Attitude: Jeez, how much space do you have? Honestly, it’s still a little tough to say, as the Cavs have had a key player missing since the trade went down, be it Boobie or Z or Andy or Sasha. Having Larry Hughes gone has done wonders for the flow of the offense-this looks like a much nicer offensive team in the half-court with Devin and Delonte taking over Larry’s non-LeBron ballhandling responsibilities.

Delonte’s my favorite of the four so far-he gives the offense motion and a previously non-existent flow in the half-court by doing positive things with dribble-motion and off screens, he can bang open jumpers, and most importantly, he opens things up for LeBron by keeping the defense from “tilting” towards him in the half-court and ACTUALLY PUSHING THE FREAKING BALL WHEN YOU HAVE THE BEST FULL-COURT PLAYER SINCE MAGIC JOHNSON I’M TYPING LIKE STEPHEN A. SMITH AND I DON’T EVEN CARE. I like Delonte a lot.

Joe Smith has been fantastic as well-very reliable mid-range stroke, good D, good rebounding.

Ben’s apparently been having back issues, which makes sense-some nights he’s back-tapping everything, diving for dunks when he’s inevitably left alone, and changing every shot, and some nights he’s grounded on rebounds and we’re playing four-on-five on offense.

Wally’s been frustrating. Part of it is that Mike Brown’s playing Devin Brown’s torrid play and putting him in the starting lineup with LeBron and having Wally lead the second unit, which is obviously stupid, as Wally’s a spot-up guy while Devin likes to create. He’s shooting a lot of 18-footers off down-screens and putting the ball on the floor a lot now, which is obviously not the best way to use him, although he’s a surprisingly solid decision-maker and finisher when he puts the ball on the floor. I use the word “solid,” not “exceptional.” As a shooter, he came over in an odd slump for whatever reason, and gagged more than his share of wide-open looks, and he’s still learning how to position himself to get an open catch-and-shoot when LBJ drives. Personally, I don’t think LBJ’s sold on him; he doesn’t look for him very much when they’re on the floor together, and now they don’t play well together. Boobie Gibson has been worlds better for us than Wally has this year.

AtH:  You have to be feeling a little snubbed- you make the Finals last year and then everybody just talks about Detroit and Boston this season. Does this team have what it takes to make it back to back years out of the East?

 

Cavalier Attitude: Nah, I don’t feel snubbed at all. We’re not nearly as good as Boston or Detroit over 82 games, so it’s not a stretch to assume they’d be better than us in 7. Hell, Miami won the whole thing two years ago and went from first-round sweep to out-and-out abomination. Rings don’t make for results. I’d feel snubbed if I was an Orlando fan or a NO fan, because while experience does matter, the playoffs are played in present time last I checked. I think the consensus actually has it right with us, that we’re not the favorites but we certainly have a puncher’s chance, mostly due to a certain fella who’s currently on newsstands in a possibly offensive pose.

AtH: Lastly, who gets your vote for MVP? Chris Paul? Kobe? … or LeBron?

Cavalier Attitude: I like your three choices-in my opinion, if anyone not in those three wins, the award shouldn’t count.

1. LBJ
2. CP3
3. Mamba

Although I gotta admit, I feel a little squicky inside putting LeBron over Paul right now. In my heart of hearts, I believe the award should go to the best player, and I have no doubt that LeBron has been the season’s best player by any conceivable measurement. His stats are mind-boggling, and his efficiency in obtaining them is on par with CP3 and ahead of Kobe. He’s been the game’s best in crunch-time. He’s improved his defense to a near all-NBA level.

I think the importance of stats in an MVP debate is being tossed aside too Cavalierly-people in the Kobe camp talk about the last time someone won the award with less than 50 wins, and point to Nash and Dirk, but when was the last time someone won MVP when someone else beat him in points, rebounds, and assists? Probably Bill Russell. And as for MJ in ’87-88-go check Magic’s stats that year. Go ahead. I’ll wait. People say Kobe’s been statistically dominant the last three years-bull palopy. Check his stats next to LBJ’s since LBJ was a rookie. He’s never remotely approached statistical “dominance” over LBJ, let alone the league. This is statistical dominance, and he’s been more than just great on paper.

However, it doesn’t feel quite right to give the award to a player whose team wouldn’t make the playoffs in the West, especially with the recent emphasis on team success. By that definition, I can see no possible freaking way that Kobe deserves it over Paul. I’m an English Major, but I think 1 assist equals two points. If we go by that, then Paul’s producing 43.5 points per game to Kobe’s 38.9. He’s shooting more efficiently, turning the ball over far less, plays a minute less per game than Kobe, could well be the best backcourt defender in the L, and his team has 1 less loss than Kobe’s despite having, in my belief, a worse supporting cast. And even if his supporting cast is supposedly equal or better, you go by stats first and team success second, otherwise we’d be handing the award to the best player on the best team every year.

On the third hand, Kobe’s been doing this for a long time, and CP3 only really became MVP-caliber this year. And believe me, Laker nation needs this MVP trophy a lot more than Hornet Nation. I go to USC and work for an LA sports site, and believe me, there will be no peace if Kobe’s past exploits are not recognized. They are going to make the ’94 riots look like a Pepperdine party. I GO TO SCHOOL IN WATTS.

So here’s my answer: LeBron’s been the best player, CP3 is the one who best fits the definition of MVP, and Kobe Bryant should be named MVP. That’s the most eloqent cop-out you’ll hear.

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