NBA Roundtable

Cleveland’s Defense

In 2010 NBA Playoffs on May 12, 2010 at 11:02 am

Bad Defensive Lineup

  • Shaquille O’Neal = very poor defender
  • Antawn Jamison = atrocious defender
  • LeBron James = excellent defender
  • Anthony Parker = mediocre defender
  • Mo Williams = poor defender

That lineup is a below average defensive team. In that 16-20th range.

When Cleveland gives that lineup big minutes, they cannot be an elite defensive team. The best case scenario is a good defensive team (8th-to-12th) who’s best defense is played when the starting lineup goes off the floor, and unfortunately, they’ve failed to use the right lineups through substitutions to achieve even that (last night I mean, for the majority of the rest of the series they have done a serviceable enough job to be in the 11-14th range, slightly above average defensively).

Cleveland should not be considered a high quality defensive team when that starting lineup is playing long minutes.

Compounding Lineups’ Weaknesses

By putting Mo Williams on Ray Allen + Anthony Parker on Rajon Rondo, the Cavs slightly below average defensive lineup becomes comparable to one of the five worst defensive teams in the league.

It gives Boston matchup advantages at:

  • Individual matchup advantages at the PG position (Rondo vs Parker) + the off guard position (Mo vs Ray) + and at the PF position (Jamison vs Garnett).
    • In drive and kicks (jump shooters) + drive and dumps (finishers in the paint) from a playmaking point guard. As well as the usual scoring opportunities.
    • A huge advantage from shot creation out of Ray Allen (fourth option, limited at creating his own shot attempts at this stage in his career)
    • An advantage in the post with Garnett and Jamison that requires instant double teams.
  • Pick and roll offense
  • Transition offense

All of those defensive holes play into Boston’s strengths and become huge liabilities for the Cavaliers and make them the equivalent of a bottom five defensive team in this league.

Top Defensive Lineup

  • Jamario Moon vs Rajon Rondo
  • Delonte West vs Ray Allen
  • LeBron James vs Paul Pierce
  • JJ Hickson vs Kendrick Perkins
  • Anderson Varejao vs Kevin Garnett

That lineup is a very good-to-excellent defensive lineup.

It’s also a good rebounding lineup + their best transition lineup (weakness to strength) + a very good offensive lineup.

Substitutions + Other Good Defense

Note: These subs based off of the above lineup, their most talented defensive lineup

What other effective defensive lineups can the Cavaliers call upon?

#1 — Cleveland can switch out West for Parker and still be a very good-to-excellent defensive team.

#2 — Cleveland can switch out Mo Williams for either West/Parker or Moon (with Mo defending the point, never Ray Allen) and still be a very good defensive team.

#3 — Cleveland can switch out Antawn Jamison for JJ Hickson and still be a very good defensive team.

#4 — Cleveland can bring in Antawn Jamison + Mo Williams while keeping on LeBron + Varejao and one of West/Parker/Moon and still be a good-to-very good defensive team.

#5 — Cleveland can also bring in Shaq or Ilgauskas for Hickson and still be a very good defensive team.

They are all quality defensive lineups.

Staples Of Cavs Good Defense

What are the most important traits to Cleveland having a quality defensive lineup?

Two players

Anderson Varejao + LeBron James

These two players are Cleveland’s only high caliber defensive players. They need to be on the court alongside one another for Cleveland to have a very good or better defensive lineup.

Defending Ray Allen

Avoid giving Ray Allen a matchup advantage.

(1) Two players can defend Ray Allen at a very good level = Delonte West + Jamario Moon

(2) One other player can defend Ray Allen at a good level = Anthony Parker (note: Parker’s minutes need to be watched, his all-round game and defensive contributions drop off when he plays big minutes. Ideally, keep him in the high twenties per game)

One of these three players should be defending Ray Allen at all times.

Mo Williams

Under absolutely no circumstance should Mo Williams be defending Ray Allen. Mo Williams isn’t big enough physically (to contest the shot) or talented enough defensively to defend Ray Allen on pin downs. Also a liability in post ups but they are used sparingly and a non-factor when Ray is handling the ball.

Ray Allen gets excellent shot attempts on a consistent basis with Mo Williams covering him which allows a shooter of his caliber to lock in the rim and stay dangerous for the rest of the night. So even five minutes and 2-3 made shot attempts can cause Cleveland huge problems for the rest of the night.

Defending Rajon Rondo

Jamario Moon is Cleveland’s best defender on Rajon Rondo. He has the athleticism, size and defensive ability to play off of Rondo and limit the value of Rondo’s dribble penetration.

Delonte West is a solid defensive option on Rajon Rondo. He plays very good team defense off of Rondo because of Rajon’s lack of shooting ability. He does, however, play slightly below average man-to-man defense.

Mo Williams is the Cavs third best option against Rondo simply because he is a bigger liability defending anyone else.

Defending Garnett

Anderson Varejao is their best man-to-man defender against a player of Kevin Garnett’s physical attributes (length, quickness) and high skill level (shoot, drive, pass, low post, mid post, high post, pick and rolls, transition play). Varejao should get the majority, if not all, of his minutes defensively against Garnett.

JJ Hickson is the Cavs second best defensive option on Garnett but it is worth noting he is vulnerable in the post against Kevin.

Antawn Jamison is vulnerable against everyone on their front line (except Glen Davis, well yeah, Davis too, but to a small degree). In order to give him minutes, Cleveland will have to live with him being taken apart by Garnett, Sheed and/or Perk.

Defending Pierce

LeBron James needs to stay on Paul Pierce. Nobody else on their roster is good enough defensively to stay with Pierce. They cannot take James off of Pierce and put him on Rondo or Ray.

Pierce has routinely abused Moon + Parker in recent seasons and is fully capable of doing so again in this series. Neither player is good enough defensively to stop an intelligent versatile skilled scorer like Pierce or big enough physically to take away Pierce’s midpost action.

If the Cavs give him that matchup, Pierce will go off, and suddenly the Cavs will have another massive problem to deal with.

They absolutely have to keep James on Pierce.

Combinations To Avoid

A slow footed center (Shaq + Ilgauskas) and a defensive deficient second big man (Jamison). This gives the Cavs very weak team defense from the two big man positions, hurting their interior D, pick and roll D and transition D severely.

That weakness can be further compounded by playing a defensive liability against Rajon Rondo (Mo + Parker and to a lesser degree West) … which leads to Rondo creating shots from everyone else on the Celtics team.

And can be compounded further by giving Ray Allen a money matchup (Mo Williams) which is what the Cavaliers are currently doing and have been doing for several games now.

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  1. Nice breakdown… had been looking forward to it, seeing as this is the only 2nd-round series left!

    I agree that Williams and the frontline (Jamison, Shaq, Z) are killing them defensively. Mike Brown has not shown the ability to recognize this, however, and I’m not optimistic that he’ll figure it out in time to save their season. To me, game 3 was a red herring for CLE in that they won big while playing essentially the same lineups, by virtue of the fact that a few guys had big offensive games. As we’ve seen, the defensive shortcomings will inevitably catch up with them over the course of a series.

    I wasn’t a fan of the Jamison acquisition, and, although this series presents an especially bad matchup for Jamison (as would LAL), it wasn’t hard to see that a Jamison-Shaq pairing would NOT be successful in the playoffs.

    Your pre-series analysis has proven prescient… nice work!

  2. Bill Simmons must be reading your blog ;)

    “(Important note: The Cavs’ biggest advantage in this series was/is athleticism. The Celtics can’t match up with Hickson-LeBron-Moon-West-Williams or Hickson-LeBron-Varejao-Williams-West. In a Feb. 25 game in Boston, Hickson-LeBron/Moon-Varejao-West-Williams turned a 78-77 deficit into a 101-86 rout in just eight minutes. They blew the Celtics off the court. Tuesday night, Varejao played 17 minutes, Hickson played four and Moon played seven. It’s illogical. It makes no sense. You could argue that Varejao should play 48 minutes a game in this series, and that Moon should be the one defending Rondo”

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