I’ve gone back and forth on how to best reveal/stumble through/present a roster analysis of the Cavs. On one hand I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time over the past couple of weeks calculating the Wins Produced of every player in the NBA last season (there is a lot to say about this alone, but I would be remiss if the first thing I did say about it wasn’t: thanks David Berri) and I now have that information stored in a tidy spreadsheet. Wins Produced is the best metric for player production in the NBA and, therefore, forms a large portion of what I have to say about the players on the Cavs’ roster. Of course, I have only a fleeting interest–at best–with how productive, say, PJ Brown was last season. The Wages of Wins Journal is unveiling the Wins Produced of a new team every few days and is going in alphabetical order (through Charlotte now), so if you care to know how productive PJ Brown was last season, then you ought to follow their blog. Pretty soon they’ll write about the Cavs and I’m of the opinion that whatever glory can/will be derived from unveiling the Wins Produced of the entire Cavs’ roster should be theirs alone. Since my analysis will be heavily rooted in Wins Produced, one option for how to reveal/stumble through/present a roster analysis of the Cavs–by unveiling in one quick post the Wins Produced for every Cavs’ player last season–is reserved for the WoWJ, although that which will appear on the WoWJ will be concerned primarily with the 2005-06 Cavs.
Another option is to do a player-by-player analysis, but a) I’m not sure how much there is to say about an Alan Henderson-type player, b) I’m not sure how much I’d want to write about an Alan Henderson-type player, c) I’m not sure there is much to say statistics-wise for the slew of rookies joining the team, and d) I could easily see myself losing interest in the player-by-player analysis after about player #7. So that option is out.
Therefore I’ve decided to present an analysis of the Cavs’ roster by breaking down the roster into positions and then discussing what the relative strengths and weaknesses are of each position and how any recent trades/contract extensions affect both the position and the team overall. This seems like the best compromise among the many conflicting interests afflicting my decision-making–you’ll get a brief jump on the rest of the world in knowing the Wins Produced of a few of the Cavs’ players; I’ll get to share a piece of the work I’ve done with people whose last names aren’t the same as my own; the gun won’t be jumped on WoWJ for the entire Cavs’ roster; and I can see myself being able to commit to writing the analysis in five parts with much more conviction and determination than writing the analysis in 17 parts.
Without further introduction, then, here is the first part in my pre-preseason (or very post-postseason) analysis of the Cavs’ roster.
The biggest weakness position-wise for the Cavs is point guard. Eric Snow will enter the 2007-08 campaign as the starting point guard, a job he was supposed to lose last preseason to Damon Jones. As I’ve said elsewhere, Eric Snow is a problem for the Cavs insofar as he’s owed a ton of money–about $20 million over the next three seasons. If Snow were only being made the minimum salary for NBA veterans he’d be a steal. Snow is the Cavs’ best defender and last season often found himself guarding the opposing team’s best player who wasn’t a center. In a game against the Nets in early December Vince Carter blew apart the Cavs’ defense–a lousy rotation of Hughes and James–for 26 points in the first half. In the second half Eric Snow often guarded Carter and held him to only 12 points. In the playoffs Snow guarded Rasheed Wallace–Detroit’s power forward–more often than one would expect from a point guard. Snow is also valuable to the Cavs as a mentor to the team’s younger point guards. Plus he’s an upstanding citizen who has never, as far as I can tell, caused any internal conflicts on any team for which he’s played. These qualities are valuable, just not at $20 million.
Is there hope that Snow will return to form (form being a slightly above average point guard)? The outlook is grim. Here are Snow’s Win Scores per minute for the last four seasons.
For reference the average guard will have a Win Score per minute of .130. In the last four seasons Snow’s Win Score has been cut in half. Snow is just not a productive player and there is no sign that he’ll improve next year. In fact, at his current pace Snow’s Win Score per minute next season will probably be about .61, by far the lowest of his career.
Why is his Win Score so low? For starters Snow does not shoot particularly well. His points per shot [(PTS-FTM)/FGA] last season was only .819, well below average for the NBA. If Snow were capable of knocking down the occasional three pointer his scoring deficiency might not be so pronounced, but Snow made only one three pointer last season, or the same number as Drew Gooden. Snow, however, had 10 attempts while Gooden attempted only three. Given the other players on the Cavs, in particular James and Larry Hughes, it is necessary that the Cavs have player capable of making jump shots. Eric Snow’s effective shooting percentage on jump shots last season was only .381. Snow also turned into an awfully foul-prone player last season. This might be attributable to the increased pressure on Snow to make up for the defensive lapses of his teammates.
Working for Snow is that he doesn’t turn the ball over for how many assists he records, which is a positive for any player and particularly a point guard, and he generates a high number of assists per minute on the court–.147, second only to LeBron James (.155). But, again, he doesn’t score–only 391 points in over 2300 minutes played. If Eric Snow learns how to shoot this off season it would go a long way to helping him improve as a player.
No one should expect Snow to improve as a shooter, however. This is precisely why last year GM Danny Ferry gave a lot of money (four years, $16.1 million) to Damon Jones to sign as a Cav.
In his first two full seasons as a starter–2003-04 with Milwaukee and 2004-05 with Miami–Jones’s points per shot were a respectable .964 and an outstanding 1.22, respectively. Since 2001-02 Jones’s effective shooting percentage has never dipped below 48% and topped out during his season in Miami at 61%. If Ferry were judging Jones solely on Jones’s season in Miami then certainly Ferry thought acquiring Jones at $4 million per season was a steal. Compared to Eric Snow’s contract, it sure looks like a steal. But is it?
Here are Damon Jones’s Wins Scores per minute for each of the past three seasons.
Two things are apparent from the chart above. First, Damon Jones had an above-average year in Miami. Second, Jones had an abysmal year last season with the Cavs. The good news for Cavs fans is that Jones is still a fairly good shooter despite his early season woes last year. In 2003-04 he scored .964 points per shot. In 2004-05 he scored 1.22 points per shot. In 2005-06 he scored 1.06 points per shot–about average. Jones’s effective shooting percentage on jump shots last season 53% and in the clutch (fourth quarter or overtime, neither team ahead by more than five) he shot a smooth 50%. And no one will forget his game-winning shot against the Wizards in the first round of the playoffs. The drop in Jones’s Win Score from the previous season is not explained by his lack of shooting. So what happened?
Jones stopped playing like a point guard and started playing like a shooting guard or small forward. Part of the reason is because he was periodically on the court with Eric Snow and during those times he played more shooting guard than point guard. But the rest of the time he just plain didn’t play the position he was brought in to play. To wit: In 2003-04 Jones dished out 478 assists and in 2004-05 he dished out 350 assists–both respectable assist totals for a point guard. Last season? 119 assists. His per-game assist total last season fell by more than half from 2004-05, from 4.3 to 2.1. If the primary aim of a point guard is to guide an offense by setting up teammates for quality shots, Jones was certainly lacking in this regard last season.
Unfortunately, while he was firing up shots like a SG or SF, he wasn’t rebounding like one. Last season Jones grabbed 133 rebounds, or 98 fewer than he grabbed in Miami. In fact, Jones had the lowest total of rebounds per minute of anyone on the Cavs last season, averaging .064 rebounds per minute. The mighty Mike Wilks, who is five inches shorter than Jones, averaged .11 rebounds per minutes, to cite but one person who was a more prolific rebounder than Jones. Had Jones equaled his rebounding numbers from his year in Miami, last season his Win Score per minute would have been .128, or about average. Had he dished out the same number of assists, his Win Score per minute would have been slightly above average (.145).
At no point in his career has Jones been a stud point guard (or a stud shooting guard masquerading as a point guard). Based on his previous efforts the best the Cavs can hope for from Jones is to be about average. The keys to Jones’s future success in Cleveland are being more aggressive on the boards and adequately guiding the offense in the half court. I wouldn’t worry too much about his assist numbers. After all, for the foreseeable future LeBron James will be leading the team in assists, and this is a good thing. As long as Jones doesn’t turn the ball over his assist totals, should they remain about average for his career (253 per 82 games), won’t be a problem. Oh, and if Jones stops acting like he learned to play defense at the Steve Nash Academy of There He Went it would go a long way to ensure that he’s on the court more often than he was last season.
Last and certainly least is Mike Wilks. Since he is no longer a Cav and since he didn’t play much last season (only 250 minutes) I’m not going to say much about him. In fact, I’m done discussing Wilks.
So how productive were the Cavs’ point guards last season? Here are the Wins Produced and Wins Produced per 48 minutes (WP48) for last season.
The Cavs received very little production from the point guards. In fact, the Cavs had the second-worst group of PGs in the entire NBA (only Utah was worse). Of all the areas in which the Cavs could really stand to improve, certainly on the short list is the point guard position. This off season no trades have been made (yet) to improve the team in this area, but the Cavs did draft Daniel Gibson, PG out of Texas, in the second round. Gibson will make the final roster and could see spot-duty at point guard, although this will depend almost entirely on his assist-to-turnover ratio, which was never high in college. As long as he’s a turnover liability he’ll struggle to contribute to the team next season.
WHAT WE’LL SEE NEXT SEASON: After starting the season as the starting point guard, Snow’s minutes will decline once it becomes clear that Damon Jones is the better option, although that’s not saying much at this point. It’s like chosing between death by suffocation or drowning–there really is no winner. In late-game situations Snow will be the primary point guard because of his superior defense. In end-of-game situations (last-second plays) on offense Jones will be tapped because he is a much better shooter than Snow. A lot of people are down on Damon Jones and probably don’t expect him to improve, but I wouldn’t be shocked if his numbers increase a fair amount next year–if anything I’d expect to see increases in both rebounds and assists. Of course, increases in rebounds and assists might simply be the function of increased minutes, but I think Jones will increase both his assists/min and rebounds/min totals. This is assuming Jones remains with the Cavs through next season. Jones being traded is entirely possible, however, because Eric Snow will never be traded–no one will absorb his contract, except maybe the Knicks, who have a track record of acquiring such burdensome contracts. If the Cavs were able to trade Snow and his monumental salary keeping Jones wouldn’t be such a huge problem. As it is, keeping two point guards for a combined $10+ million, both of whom are, at best, average, is not financially wise. If the Cavs have to trade one of them, it’s Jones, if only because he’s younger, cheaper, and better. But even his contract won’t set Ferry’s phones ablaze with offers. $4 million per season is on the high end for a player of Jones’s ability. What will Gibson do? Not much. Probably 500 minutes, 55 assists, 40 turnovers, 50 rebounds, and 85 points. I’m 75% certain that these numbers will be within a 25% margin of error.