Monday, May 25, 2009

Center problems

I know the Cavs have some serious problems to address. I know that the local media, the blogosphere, and the insufferable and uninformed national media have pointed out their lack of any production from the backcourt, which is entirely valid. Mo and Demonte's disappearance in this series is most likely the difference between a 3-0 lead and a 2-1 hole right now. But that is not what this is about. My posts are not here to reiterate what is so blatantly obvious after watching these games.

I'm not here to talk about the officiating, which seems to favor Lebron, then the Magic, then the Cavaliers. It's a super-weird issue that will probably rear its head more often than not, but the Cavs, outside of Lebron are getting hosed, while Lebron seems to be getting absolutely retarded whistles. Obviously the amount of free-throws on Sunday made for a stupid game, but what do you expect when you line up Joey Crawford in a playoff game. It's an odd choice, but not nearly the oddest of David Stern's handling of officials.

I'm here to harp on an issue that I can’t seem to understand. It's actually quite simple: Why is Zydrunas getting minutes in this series? Look, I've never met the guy, but it seems that all that have say he's an absolutely classy and gentlemanly guy. (Save his DUI and his stealing of Bob Sura's wife) I want him to succeed, and I thank him for everything he's given the city in the last thirteen years. But I am absolutely BAFFLED as to:

A. Why despite his inability to defend Howard, along with his complete inefficiency on offense, Mike Brown insists on starting him.

B. Why, despite these inefficiencies in all three games, Brown insists on playing him in crunch time despite Joe Smith and Ben Wallace both giving better minutes in this series.

C. Where, please someone tell me where, Darnell Jackson has gone!!!

The first is the most understandable. Z has been your starting center all year. I understand this attempt at congruency as the team tries to regain their regular season form. In fact, one can even argue that, given our hot starts in games 1 and 2, this can't be pointed out as a problem. But here's the thing: In game 1, Dwight Howard DESTROYED him in the first quarter. Dwight is a first half player. Z simply can't guard him. If Brown wants to start Z, I get it, but what I don't get is playing him through the first quarter (like he did Sunday night). It is PAINFULLY obvious that he is simply overmatched and hurting the team, so it's fine to give him the start, but to handicap the team leaving him in doesn't make any sense to me.

The Second question is quite bothersome. I am not arguing for more Joe Smith, Ben Wallace or others. I am not the coach, and I do not have the resources that I pray Mike Brown is currently consulting. I am simply asking: What is Z giving you down the stretch? Please…What!!!!

Several bullets about this. For one, Z appears, on paper, to have two discernable offensive skills. His ability to hit from 12-16, and offensive rebounding. The jump shot has simply not been there. In fact, one can even argue that he's simply not taking enough jumpers. So far in this series, in 95 minutes, Z is 9-26 from jumpers, including an 0-5 from beyond the arc. Overall, he's 13-34 from the field. This is well below replacement level, and is completely ineffective. I understand that no one on the team is shooting well, and that Z has the unfortunate task of going up against the DPY, BUT, it is different for Z, and I'll get to that in a minute.
The other skill is his ability to offensive rebound, and more specifically tip-in. However, in 95 minutes of play in this series, Z has 8 ORB. Now, I concede that rebounding can be a misleading statistic, for instance, Ben Wallace (in way less than half the minutes) has 5 ORB, but has countless tips keeping balls alive that aren't measured by a traditional stat, while Z has very few if any. Again, I concede that Z is up against Dwight Howard, so his numbers will go down, but this at the end of the day, both of Z's skills that make his defensive liabilities worth dealing with have been neutralized. Whether its declining skills, lack of heart, or Orlando's schemes and personnel, Z hasn't done what he does.

Defensively, I don't need to say anything. When Howard is in, Z resembles the chair that Yi Jianlin infamously dueled in his 2007 pre-draft workouts. When Howard is out, Z is turning a pole, seemingly named after a concentration camp into Hakeem. He cannot, and will not play a role on the weak side, he doesn't block, tip, or alter shots, he's slow in transition, clunky in the post, and even his fouls have been weak enough to allow way to many and-ones. You've all watched the games, so just know this.

OK, so you say "But Mo and Delonte haven't been able to hit either!" Here's my rebuttal. First off, Mo and Delonte had great years; fantastic years even. Z's numbers in almost all categories went DOWN. Z is getting older, his body is falling apart, and his skills—like all mid-30's big men—are declining. To compare Mo and Delonte's cold streaks to Z's lack of production is ignorant.

Also, Mo and Delonte's cold streaks could be attributed to invariable factors. Guys get cold, guys struggle under pressure, guys go through streaks like this. With Z, the problem is more about the Magic. They have neutralized him. If we get past this round, and Z can rip up Andrew Bynum, so be it, play him 40 a game. But against this team, in this series, he is a nothing.

And furthermore (and most importantly), with Mo and Delonte, we don't really have a choice. Mo was an all-star and Delonte was our best non-Lebroner in the playoffs. Their backups are Gibson, Szerbiack, Kinsey, and Sasha. Even given Sasha's hot 5 minutes on Friday, we still kind of NEED these two to get hot. We need to ride them out, and hopefully, given the nature of their problems, they could get out of it. With Z, it's not the case. Wallace is a MUCH better defender and MUCH better rebounder. While statistically his presence is hard to interpret, his presence has been very much felt. Joe Smith has been average, but significantly better than Z. He has been better shooting jumpers, a better rebounder, and played better defensively. And then there's the third question I've asked.


Please, let me make this clear. I have no clue, NONE, if Darnell Jackson is capable of making an impact in this series. Why do I have no clue? Because none of us do, including Mike Brown, because he will not try him. Here's what goes against Jackson: He's a roogie who may not be able to handle the limelight. He's untested against such a great player like Howard. He hasn't played much in the playoffs and might be rusty. Here's what he has for him: His size is, BY FAR, the best asset we have against Howard. Howard's second-round struggles were, by consensus, attributed to the physicality and size of Kendrick Perkins, and Jackson is the closest thing we have to a Perkins. His youth and inexperience could actually inject life into the team that seems to be lagging (see Lee, Courtney). He played very well in the second half of season, eventually usurping one-time future savior J.J. Hickson's minutes, and actually playing a few crunch time's late.

And the biggest thing Jackson has is: WHY THE HELL NOT! The Cavs have no answer, I repeat, NO ANSWER, for this team. All we hear is the "matchup problems" et al. Why not try, even if just for a 6-8 minute stretch in the second, to match this guy up against Howard. Worst case scenario, he gives you Ben Wallace's impact on offense and takes a few fouls on Howard that can keep Varajau in the game. Best case scenario, he frustrates Howard, helps get stops, scores a few easy baskets on offense (i.e. what Z SHOULD be doing) and forces the Magic to change their strategy. Could it hurt to TRY???

Z is getting 30+ minutes a game. He needs 20 at most. Give Jackson 8-10 of Z's minutes, 2 or 3 of Smith's and 2 or 3 of Wallace's. Match him up on Howard and just try to see if he can stop him. Give him 16 minutes, and let's hope that he's our Kendrick Perkins. Otherwise we lose this series 4-1 or 4-2. We go back to the drawing board and try to figure out next year. How will we deal with this guy, we will need to re-design our frontcourt. Why not try that now Mike? Change on the fly? Z won't mind.

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