Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Missing: Joe Smith from Cavs rotation. Reward: Something that resembles offense

Posted By on Wed, Apr 2, 2008 at 2:36 PM

Has anyone seen this man?
On Saturday night, with his team trailing the Pistons 29-18 at the end of the first quarter, Cavaliers Coach Mike Brown trotted out a lineup of Boobie Gibson, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejao, Wally Szczerbiak, and Devin Brown. By my count, that’s exactly 1.75 offensive threats – 1 point for Z, and 0.25 points each for Boobie Gibson, playing for the first time in over a month, Szczerbiak, who is still floundering around 35 percent or less from the field, and Devin Brown, who can score but usually depends on someone like LeBron to find him with open looks. Nearly five minutes later, with 7:07 left in the second quarter, Detroit’s lead had grown to 38-22, and Brown decided it was time to bring LeBron back into the game, putting him alongside Szczerbiak, Ben Wallace, Devin Brown, and Varejao. The idea, it seems, was to lock down the inside with Wallace and Wild Thing and spread the floor for the shooters. ... You don’t need stats to tell you this strategy didn’t work. This lineup, especially the combination of Varejao and Wallace, rarely looks overpowering, and often looks plain pathetic. Not even three minutes later, the score was 45-25. The problems Saturday were emblematic of the trouble Brown has long had finding a rotation that works. Even the best coaches would have had trouble managing the Cavs roster this year, which has seen an astounding 23 different guys suit up, thanks to a litany of injuries and a blockbuster midseason trade. But Brown seems to struggle with this more than most. The trouble, from this fan’s perspective, is that Brown thinks defense when the game starts, when the Cavs are ahead, and when the Cavs trail -- even by 16 as they did Saturday night in Detroit. And with his defensive fixation with putting Varejao and Wallace on the floor at the same time. After the trade, the five man unit that has seen the most minutes on the floor is West, Devin Brown, LeBron, Wallace, and Varejao, logging 105 total minutes, even though that combination has been outscored by a total of 208 to 204, and has only scored more than the opponent 3 out of the 9 times they have been on the floor. (Those stats are courtesy of www.82games.com, possibly the coolest thing ever invented). The ails of the Varejao/Wallace tandem don’t stop there. When paired with West, Wally, and LeBron, the squad has been outscored 49-31. When paired with West, Pavlovic, and LeBron, the squad tallies a scant 54-53 advantage over the opponents. And when paired with Damon Jones, Wally, and LeBron, the squad only managed 16 points against the opposition’s 17. We’re no experts, but it seems winning a title might require occasionally outscoring one’s opponent. Does anyone hear Joe Smith’s name ringing in their ears right now? On Saturday night Smith didn’t see action until midway through the third quarter, then proceeded to go 4-4 from the field for 10 points and 5 rebounds. I’ve been saying this for a long time, and the Beacon Journal’s Brian Windhorst has been too: Joe Smith needs to play more and needs to have plays run for him. With the nagging back injury to Ben Wallace sidelining him for Sunday’s game against Philadelphia, that’s exactly what happened. It’s another example of Brown coming upon a working rotation almost by happenstance, or maybe as the last refuge, forced into a decision by injuries. On Sunday, Smith played 32 minutes, going 5 of 8 from the field for 13 points. And, oh yeah, the Cavs won. Sure, he’s not even close to the defensive presence of Wallace or Varejao on the inside, and his 13 points looks mighty meager when compared to his minutes, but Smith’s importance on the floor extends beyond whether he is scoring at any given moment or not. Pairing him with Z or Varejao, the Cavs gave the Sixers another scoring option to worry about other than LeBron. They had an offensive threat on the inside to go with a rebounding presence. When Brown pairs Varejao and Wallace on the floor at the same time, this doesn’t happen. You can immediately disregard the two as complete non-threats on the offensive end, and let your big guys double LeBron with hardly any risk. Obviously it’s not as simple as moving Smith into a rotation that would eliminate the Wallace/Varejao tandem on the floor. There’s a slew of other questions out there, including the health of Gibson, West’s consistency at the point guard, and whether Devin Brown, Wally, and/or Jones can hit open jumpers. But there’s no question Smith needs more minutes. – Vince Grzegorek


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