5 Hurdles That Will Make or Break Cleveland Cavaliers’ 1st-Year Title Hopes

Regardless of how good the Cleveland Cavaliers may look on paper, they still face a long uphill climb to the top of the NBA.

If one looks hard enough at any contender’s roster, weaknesses will emerge.

For the Cavs, there are still plenty.

This is a team that has undergone a complete makeover. A new general manager, a new coach, a new star and potentially 10 new players in all will make things difficult, indeed.

The following hurdles will certainly test them early and often.

In the words of Bleacher Report’s Joel C. Cordes, “Pass with flying colors, and they may indeed be championship contenders. Trip over them in the process, and we’ll be saying ‘they’re still a year or two away.’”

Here’s how Cleveland’s new-look team can win a title in their very first year.

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The One Flaw in Tim Hardaway, Jr.’s Game That He Must Fix

If his first season in the NBA was any indication, New York Knicks shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. is a gunner. 

During runs of hot shooting, the bunches of points he poured in sparked the Knicks offense and carried the team. But when he cooled off, the shot volume didn’t change.

If he ever wants to develop into a truly great player, he’ll have to address his shot selection when he’s having a poor shooting night. 

It’s said that great shooters have no conscience and short memories. The Ray Allens of the league trust their mechanics and keep firing, knowing that they’ll get a few shots to drop eventually. 

But turning around cold streaks isn’t about powering through them; it’s more crucial to find shots in the flow of the offense that don’t disrupt rhythm. 

With Hardaway‘s all-around offensive game, it’s understandable why he rarely encounters a shot he doesn’t like. 

His lethal outside touch, both off the dribble and in catch-and-shoot situations, has defenders guarding him closely all over the floor. His ability to penetrate and finish with strength punishes defenders who crowd his space. 

No coach will ever fault Hardaway for attacking the rim or letting fly a wide open three-pointer. It’s the difficult floaters, one-dribble pull-ups, and mid-range fadeaways that get him in trouble, especially early in the shot clock. 

Former Knicks guard Beno Udrih saw this troublesome sign early last season (via The New York Times): “Sometimes he’s so excited to be here, his shot selection can hurt him. But he’s confident, and that’s always a good thing.”

Before being drafted by the Knicks, DraftExpress also noted that “Some of Hardaway‘s struggles were due to his less than stellar shot selection.”

At least a part of the blame for Hardaway‘s difficulty in choosing the right shots can be assigned to a Knicks offense that crumbled in the latter half of the season. 

The focus on Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith isolations with little weak-side movement quickly bred a selfish attitude among non-primary ball-handlers. With very few touches left for the remaining players, it was hardly surprising that Hardaway‘s trigger finger became that much more itchy.

Hardaway‘s final season at Michigan was the real birth of this trait. His 460 field-goal attempts only trailed teammate Trey Burke, despite his 43.7 field-goal percentage ranking worst among players with significant minutes averages. 

In his rookie year on the Knicks, the statistical trend continued but shifted to the three-point line. Despite only playing 23.1 minutes per game, Hardaway still found time to jack 4.4 three-pointers per game while only knocking them down at a 36.3 percent clip.

Further cementing the problem was Hardaway‘s reliance on off-the-dribble jumpers. Though his 38.9 shooting percentage on such attempts, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required), was actually well above league average, his willingness to hoist the lowest-percentage shot type in the game drove down his overall efficiency.

With 23.1 percent of his shots coming off the dribble, Hardaway‘s percentage of those types of shots was extremely high for a non-primary scorer. Compare that to Anthony, arguably the best off-the-dribble shooter in the game, whose 25.2 percent of attempts preceded by a dribble was only slightly higher.

Considering their respective roles in the offense, the difference should have been far greater. 

This isn’t to say that dribbling before shooting is necessarily a bad thing for role players. Sometimes overzealous closeouts on catch-and-shoot three-point shots fuel easy pump fakes, a quick dribble and an open pull-up.

Here’s Hardawday doing just that against the Chicago Bulls, when a double-team of Amar’e Stoudemire leads to multiple ball swings. When it lands in Hardaway‘s hands in the corner, his feet are set and he’s ready to shoot.

Chicago’s Kirk Hinrich knows of his shooting prowess and runs him off the three-point line, almost baiting Hardaway into dribbling past him. Hardaway obliges and properly pulls up, as the rotating defenders protecting the rim would make any drive and finish difficult.

Everyone can live with these types of shots. It was Hardaway‘s inability to make the right (or any) pass and his penchant for cutting short basket attacks in favor of pull-ups that got him in trouble, leading to a flurry of difficult and guarded shots. 

Take a look at this play from last season against the Brooklyn Nets, when Hardaway receives the ball in a similar closeout situation and is able to slip by his defender, Marcus Thornton. Even the minimal penetration draws a second defender in Jorge Gutierrez, who abandons Shannon Brown.

A quick dribble and pass would have led to an open three-pointer for Brown, but Hardaway elects to rise up for a fadeaway with 10 seconds on the shot clock. 

Even though he does miss the easy pass here, it’s not the end of the possession. Hardaway could have quickly felt out the isolation opportunity against the smaller defender in Gutierrez and moved the ball if it failed. There was still time to generate something better.

Hardaway‘s predatory attitude has him capitalizing on any opening to get his shot off. In some sense, this relentless and attacking mentality can really plague defenders who can’t guard him.

But Hardaway‘s not quite at that level offensively to beat multiple defenders, and more often than not he’s caught taking bad shots against help defense once he gets past his original man. 

What’s even more frustrating about Hardaway‘s game is his unwillingness to completely attack creases in the defense with his dribble. He just loves that pull-up a bit too much and settles too quickly. 

In the play below against the Miami Heat, a confused Miami defense has three players triple-teaming Stoudemire in the post. Stoudemire recognizes this quickly and gets rid of the ball to Hardaway, who now has Ray Allen sprinting at him.

Hardaway smartly pump fakes and slides around him, with a gaping hole in the Heat defense now staring him in the face. With a quick left-to-right crossover, Hardaway can get all the way to the rim or draw more defenders to set up a teammate.

Instead, he settles for that pull-up. Because he’s slightly leaning left and Allen is bothering him from behind, what appears to be an open and easy shot isn’t quite that. 

To be fair, Hardaway isn’t a great ball-handler. With time he’ll improve this aspect of his game, but he’ll always be a perimeter shooter first. Still, that doesn’t excuse his aversion to probing defenses more.

In pick-and-roll situations, Hardaway has mostly limited himself to jump shots. In an NBA that features more and more defenses with bigs dropping to the rim, teams are encouraging these off-the-dribble, mid-range shots.

Hardaway, thus far into his career, is playing right into the defense’s hands. The Toronto Raptors ran this dropping scheme in the pick-and-roll below involving Hardaway and Jeremy Tyler, and Hardaway takes the space given to him as an opportunity to shoot.

When he lets the ball go, there are 17 seconds left on the shot clock.

Part of the learning curve for all NBA players is understanding shot types in terms of time and score. In the simplest sense, this means that the first available shot is not always the best one. 

The best players, and typically the best scorers, have mastered how and when shots become available. Pull-up jump shots off the pick-and-roll, contested three-pointers or isolations are possible at virtually any time.

If an offense has to resort to these shot types due to a shrinking shot clock, so be it. Avoiding them at all other times, however, tends to be a major offensive key. 

Early in the shot clock, better players explore pick-and-rolls with multiple dribbles and pass the ball, or they back it out and try something else. Allowing a possession to mature gives the best option time to reveal itself or the defense an opportunity to make a mistake. 

Though Hardaway is certainly capable of hitting any type of shot, that doesn’t mean any shot he takes is a worthwhile look. 

If he hopes to improve his shooting percentage and role within NBA offenses, it won’t be about drilling hard in the offseason to strengthen his skill set or scoring more points in games.

It will be about efficiency and shot selection. Sometimes less is more.

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Blake Griffin on LeBron James: “He was Osama bin Laden”

Blake Griffin praised LeBron James for returning home
During an interview with GQ magazine, Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin talked about LeBron James’ return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Griffin said James returning to Cleveland was great, but also praised him for the decision to return despite his family receiving death threats and hate from around the league. In one part, Griffin compared LeBron to Osama bin Laden in terms of the vitriol he received after leaving Cleveland for the Miami Heat.
Via GQ:
As a fan, what did you think of LeBron returning to Cleveland?
I think it’s great. The way he did it—the way he released that statement or article, whatever you want to call it—I think it shows a lot about him. And to be honest, it shows that he’s a much bigger person than I think people gave him credit for. Because that’s a tough thing to forgive. I mean, this man’s family’s lives were threatened. People constantly yelling at him. And not just Cleveland fans—from all over the

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LA Lakers sign veteran guard Wayne Ellington (Yahoo Sports)

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — Guard Wayne Ellington has signed with the Los Angeles Lakers.

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Breaking Down Miami Heat’s Shooting Guard Position for 2014-15 Season

Just as he’s been for the past decade, Miami Heat legend Dwyane Wade remains atop the team’s shooting guard depth chart entering the 2014-15 NBA season.

However, there will be some new blood backing up Wade this upcoming season. Ray Allen, who has not announced whether he will return for a 19th NBA season or retire, almost certainly won’t be back with Miami now that his good buddy, LeBron James, is a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Unfortunately for Miami, it’s replaced the greatest shooter in NBA history with a bunch of question marks. Shannon Brown and Reggie Williams are the top two shooting guards Miami added this summer. It’s worth noting, though, that more competent players such as James Ennis and Mario Chalmers will likely spend time at the 2 this year.

Still, from a depth standpoint, shooting guard is Miami’s worst position. 

Let’s take a full-scope look at the 2 position for the Heat.

 

Grading Last Year’s Shooting Guard Performance

The performance of Miami’s shooting guards last season took a big hit because of the maintenance plan the Heat instituted for Wade. 

Wade appeared in just 54 games during the 2013-14 season as Miami tried to protect his health. This resulted in the Heat having to rely on below-average players such as Roger Mason Jr. and Toney Douglas for minutes at certain points of the season.

But when Wade was out there, he was extremely effective. He averaged 19.9 points (54.5 percent shooting from the field), 4.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game during the regular season.

For all the talk of Wade’s demise, he had a very good year prior to the 2014 NBA Finals.

As for Allen, he had a down year but was still a valuable contributor for Miami. His streak of three consecutive seasons in which he shot above 40 percent from beyond the arc ended, as he connected on 37.5 percent of his three-pointers.

Allen’s defense also continued to suffer, and his only real value to Miami was his outside shot.

Still, make no mistake, the Heat would gladly take back a declining Allen given who is scheduled to back up Wade now.

Grade: B+

 

Newcomers

“Uncertainty” is the key word when talking about Miami’s shooting guard additions this summer.

Brown played in 29 games this past season with the New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs and averaged just 2.2 points and 1.0 rebounds per game.

While Brown used to be an effective role player for the Los Angeles Lakers from 2009-2011, he’s done little in the league since then. There’s a chance he could be an effective three-point shooter and a decent defender for Miami, but he could also flame out within a month.

Going another peg down, Williams is a one-trick pony. The 28-year-old can shoot the three ball (37.1 career three-point percentage) but has proved to be a terrible defender throughout his career and is far from a playmaker. 

Williams appeared in just three games in 2013-14 with the Oklahoma City Thunder, so not much should be expected from him.

As for Ennis, he will likely split time at the 2 and 3 for the Heat this year. The rookie from Long Beach State was dominant in summer league play this year, but the Heat aren’t a team that loves to rely on young players, so it remains to be seen how much run he will get.

 

2014-15 Season Outlook

It goes without saying that Miami needs a big season from Wade given James’ departure and the lack of depth at the shooting guard position.

The Heat can’t afford to have Wade sit out 28 games this year; he will have to stay healthy, play in 70-75 games and return to form after his poor Finals performance if Miami is to remain competitive.

Behind Wade, Miami just has to hope that at least one of Brown, Williams and Ennis proves to be a reliable option. 

But as we’ve talked about, that’s not guaranteed. Miami needs to be prepared to make a trade if its backup 2s aren’t cutting it. 

Ultimately, the strength of this position comes down to Wade. If he can prove his many doubters wrong and turn in a great season, the Heat have a shot at reaching its potential of a No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. 

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PHOTO: Metta World Peace’s new shoes feature panda heads

The last we heard from Metta World Peace, he signed a contract with the Sichuan Blue Whales in China and announced he’d go by the name “Panda’s Friend” throughout his stay in China. Now, to kick off his new career overseas, the man with a history of names has released new basketball shoes featuring a stuffed panda head along with two panda arms. “Welcome to Metta’s World China! Available in Mettaworldpeace.com tomorrow,” the caption read. It was originally reported that the panda head was detachable and that he would be throwing the head to the crowd before each game. However, World Peace, AKA Panda’s Friend, later confirmed that the head is not removable. The bear is not detachable. The Teddy bear is a permanent and is the pandas friend! The ears on the side are also not detachable. Enjoy— mettaworldpeace.com (@MettaWorldPeace) September 22, 2014 Too bad. Even without the detachable characteristics of the shoe, you can’t make this stuff up. Here’s the guy who was part of arguably t

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L.A. Lakers sign veteran guard Wayne Ellington

Los Angeles Lakers sign veteran shooting guard Wayne Ellington 1 week before training camp

      
 

 

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Bulls re-sign veteran center Nazr Mohammed

Bulls re-sign veteran center Nazr Mohammed

      
 

 

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NBA Rumors: Latest Details on Zoran Dragic, Ricky Rubio Contract and More

The new NBA season is right around the corner, which can only mean one thing—the rumor mill is coming out of its brief hibernation.

Some teams are still on the hunt for upgrades as small as they may be. This mostly pertains to depth at this time of year, but injuries, performances in non-NBA events and other such factors usually see a few names earn a job in the early fall.

Other teams are more interested in building for the future whether that means making personnel moves or inking a contract with a key player.

Regardless, the mill is alive and well. Miss it? Didn’t think so. Here is the latest.

 

Zoran Dragic to the Desert?

It sounds as if Markieff and Marcus Morris will not be the only pair of brothers on the Phoenix Suns next season.

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Suns are close to signing a multiyear deal with Goran Dragic’s younger brother, Zoran:

Zoran went undrafted in the 2011 NBA draft and was a brief addition on the Houston Rockets’ summer league squad in 2012, but he has made most of his cash overseas to date, starring in the Slovenian League and more recently drumming up interest in the NBA again as he continues to improve.

As captured by Sportando, he believes he now has an NBA-ready game:

The motivation from the Suns here seems to be obvious.

For one, Zoran is quality depth. Make no mistake, the roster is loaded with talent such as Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas, among others, but key minutes and a strong shooting stroke should an injury occur is never a bad thing to have.

There is an underlying storyline to the potential signing, too. Goran is an unrestricted free agent after the season, and while it sounds like he wants to be back, having his brother rostered certainly does not hurt.

Goran was a key cog for a team last year that shocked the league thanks to its superb depth. Zoran can be a big part of that right along with his brother.

 

Evan Turner in Limbo

We heard back in August that journeyman and alleged bust Evan Turner had agreed to terms with the Boston Celtics.

Since then, crickets.

Now there appears to be some sort of life in this transaction, as noted by A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com:

Turner certainly needs a chance with a new team, even if it comes in a reduced role. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft has in no way lived up to his billing to date:

Perhaps a rotational capacity in Boston will change that. Rather than being a primary scorer, Turner can be an off-ball presence who works in with names such as Jeff Green, Gerald Wallace and James Young. 

Either way, the highly anticipated, low-risk, very high-reward maneuver to bring on Turner will eventually get done. Or so says the mill. 

 

Money Time for Ricky Rubio?

At just 23 years of age after averaging 7.3 assists or better in each of his first three seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, there is already chatter about getting the man an extension on his contract.

KSTP.com passes along word that the organization is working hard with Rubio‘s agent, Dan Fegan, to get something ironed out: ”KSTP’s Darren Wolfson hears the Wolves are willing to do a 4-year deal in the $40 million range, and that Fegan, at least initially, is seeking the 5-year maximum, which is worth in the neighborhood of $90 million.”

ESPN.com’s Ethan Strauss provided a humorous look at a scenario in which Rubio actually hit the open market:

Rubio is certainly not a great finisher at the rim, not does he strike fear into defenders with his jump shot, but he does most other things at a high level to the point where it is safe to think he may be one of the best in the league sooner rather than later if he continues to develop at his current clip.

With Kevin Love out of the picture, Rubio is a key piece to the puzzle in what has the look of a promising rebuild along with Andrew Wiggins and a host of others. In fact, Wiggins happens to be the main reason the Timberwolves should do whatever it takes to keep Rubio on board, as his on-court efficiency will help the impressionable rookie develop at a rapid pace.

But Rubio has to stick around for that plan to come to fruition.

 

Stats and info via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

 

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Which Charlotte Hornets Player Has the Most Upside Right Now?

A huge reason why the Charlotte Bobcats went out with a bang was due to the emergence of Josh McRoberts as a multi-talented unique power forward. He improved so much that he went from hitting 58 threes over his first six seasons, to nailing 105 last year alone. McRoberts was also second in the entire NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio only to Chris Paul at 4.01 per game. He was the only player in the top 20 who was not a point guard.

Aside from the truly elite teams, the only way to succeed in this league is to have at least one player on the team make a leap. Whether he goes from bench warmer to role player, or star to superstar, striking gold where it wasn’t likely to be found is one of the biggest elements for success in this league.

Charlotte is bringing back the buzz with a bevy of young talent, but the man most capable of pushing this team to the next level in 2014-15 is the new acquisition Lance Stephenson.

Rookies P.J. Hairston and Noah Vonleh have tremendous upside, but their respective roles on this roster are murky at best for the time being. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller can be big X-factors, and while they both should make some big improvements, they will not shift the balance of power in the Eastern Conference quite like Stephenson will.

Hopefully Stephenson can put his rap career on hold for the time being, because Charlotte has invested heavily into him. He very well should blossom this year and be this team’s missing link.

With the Indiana Pacers last year, Stephenson’s usage rate was a mediocre 19.4. By comparison, Paul George‘s was 10th in the league at 28.3, and Gerald Henderson’s was 22.1 Imagine what Stephenson could do with a more featured role even after leading the league in triple-doubles this past year.

Without another wing player of that caliber to compete with, Stephenson will instead be heading into his age-24 season with a roster mostly devoid of playmakers from the shooting guard and small forward positions.

Stephenson gambled on himself by bolting Indiana, accepting a deal for three years with Charlotte that ideally will set him up for an even bigger deal at his age-27 season. Indiana loved to spread the ball around as a team, but Charlotte is not wired quite like that, which is what appealed to the enigmatic shooting guard as an opportunity to capitalize.

The biggest recent improvement in Stephenson’s game has been his jumper. He couldn’t throw it into the ocean for his first two seasons, but this past year he worked himself into a respectable 35 percent outside shooter. With the majority of Charlotte’s shooting gone after this offseason due to McRoberts, Anthony Tolliver and Chris Douglas-Roberts jumping ship, Stephenson will have more freedom to operate.

Stephenson improved markedly last year to the point where he was a borderline All-Star, but with a chip on his shoulder and a bigger role, the table is set for him to keep getting better. He is on a similar team that loves to hit the glass and play defense without aggressively pursuing steals, except now it is a certainty that he will be allowed to create more plays.

The big resource that Stephenson also has at his disposal cannot be overlooked. Of course, I am talking about Michael Jordan.

His Airness finally has a player on the roster whom he can relate to a little bit. Clearly him pummeling MKG in 1-on-1 has gotten the franchise nowhere. Jordan was on-hand during Stephenson’s signing of the free-agent contract, and the former Pacer spoke fondly of his new boss.

“He told me what he likes about me, he told me what I need to calm down on,” Stephenson told the Observer after the news conference. “He told me how I can contribute to the team. And he told me he believed in my talent. He likes my competitive edge.”

Learning when to hit the gas and when to pump the brakes is going to be critical in his development, but having guys like Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Steve Clifford and Al Jefferson around should make this a non-issue.

Charlotte has accumulated many strong prospects for the future, but it is difficult to imagine any of them reaching the ceiling that Stephenson presently has. The fit is perfect alongside a fellow slightly braggadocious Big Apple backcourt mate, along with an intense defensive coach and a premier center. It was only fitting that Charlotte would bring in a star who can ruffle a few feathers to help usher in the new era.

Fans should have little doubt about Stephenson’s ability to continue his improvement as a scorer, distributor and lockdown defender. The icing on the cake is the playoff experience and confidence that he brings. This is not a team that will be satisfied with being mediocre anymore. Stephenson is another big piece in the continued reinvention of this franchise’s makeup.

The buzz is most definitely back, and Stephenson will not have to blow into anyone’s ear this time to let it be known. Charlotte is ready to reach the next level with the help of its shiny new toy.

 

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