1. Cleveland Struggles: We’re almost two weeks into another NBA season and there is a distinct lack of serious surprises. The one occurrence that most people are noticing is Cleveland’s sluggish start out of the gate. After winning 66 games last year, the Cavs are 4-3, though LeBron James has been as good as ever. Is it too early to speculate as to why Cleveland is struggling? Frankly, yes. John Hollinger took a look at the issue yesterday and agreed that it was premature but did posit that 2008-09 could’ve been an outlier for the Cavs, who have really been closer to a 50-win team previously. In that same vein, he also noted that the team was struggling offensively this year, which was a similarity to the pre-2008-09 Cavs, who lacked secondary scoring options as well.
My feelings is that it is way too early to count the Cavs out. They will be a title contender this season. While it is unlikely they win 66 games again, remember that both the 2006-07 and 2007-08 teams were serious playoff threats, going to the NBA Finals and taking the champ Celts seven games respectively. Another factor to consider is that it is very hard for a team to improve on a 66-win season. Last year, we reviewed the issue of how teams follow up on seasons after they won 64 games or more the year before. We found that not a single team matched its win total from the previous season (though they all ended up being at least pretty good). The point is that perfection (or close to perfection) is impossible. It may seem to our memory that the past legends were always absolutely dominating the NBA. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and Shaquille O’Neal were usually very good but their teams, even when contending, were not always transcendent. History tells us that the Cavs should break 50 wins this season but some decline shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
Putting historical trends aside, the limited data that we do have so far does indicate that scoring is an issue here. In particular, Mo Williams has been only decent and should improve and Zydrunas Ilgauskas is also likely to improve over his really poor start. The real question is whether they can get more scoring from the two guard slot. Anthony Parker, Delonte West, and Jamario Moon need to score a little more for the Cavs to start blowing out teams regularly again. If not, outside help is needed. It is a little ironic that Allen Iverson would be an absolutely perfect bench spark for the Cavs if he was willing to accept such a role but that is unlikely to happen. Cleveland should keep its eyes open to see what scorers become available on the cheap during the season.
2. Danilo Galinari’s Shooting: Good news for the Knicks, Galinari isn’t a bust. He’s not a star but Galinari can shoot and apparently will do so often. Galinari has one of the more extreme stats lines we’ve seen. He has averaged 17 ppg but is shooting a ton of threes (about 9 per game) and he’s hitting them too (24-55 for 44% so far). He can’t really rebound or pass (or create non-three point shots) but for a raw 21-year old he looks like he has some NBA talent. The Knicks just hope his game rounds out a little more and that he’s not the second coming of Matt Bullard or Brad Lohaus. The Knicks, by the way, are shooting a ton of threes as a team (leading the NBA with 193 through six games) but making them at an abysmal percentage (28%) which is why the aren’t really winning any games.
Is there any way Galinari can keep shooting threes at this rate? Probably not but if he does, he will shatter the record set by George McCloud (678 threes attempted for 8.6 per game for the Mavs in 1995-96). It should be noted that D’Antoni’s offense is a pretty good place to get that chance as his team’s consistently out three-pointed his opponents over the years. Here’s a review of D’Antoni’s teams and their three point ranks over the years, along with each team’s three point leader:
-1998-99 Nuggets, 922 three attempts (18.4 per game, second in NBA), leader Chauncey Billups (5.2 3PAs per game)
-2004-05 Suns, 2,206 three attempts (26.9 per game first in NBA), leader Quentin Richardson (8.0 3PAs per game)
-2005-06 Suns, 2,097 three attempts (25.6 per game, first in the NBA), leader Raja Bell (5.6 3PAs per game)
-2006-07 Suns, 1,966 three attempts (24.0 per game, second in the NBA), leader Raja Bell (6.4 3PAs per game)
-2007-08 Suns, 1,764 three attempts (21.5 per game, fifth in the NBA), leader Raja Bell (5.9 3PAs per game)
-2008-09 Knicks, 2,284 three attempts (27.9 per game, first in the NBA), leader Al Harrington (6.5 3PAs per game)
Like Q-Rich with Phoenix, Gallinari is clearly in the designated three gunner role and the Knicks’ lack of conventional scoring weapons should keep with ample opportunities. Indeed, if the Knicks keep their team shooting pace, they will beat last year’s three attempt mark (they are on a pace to shoot 2,638 for the season).