1. How can the Cavaliers take advantage of the Jazz not playing Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors together at the same time for long stretches?
Chris Manning, Right Down Euclid Co-EIC: This is game where the Wine & Gold need to stay big for 48 minutes and not go small against the Jazz. Although it could be tempting for Mike Brown to go small with new acquisition Luol Deng at the four and three guards on the wing, the Cavaliers frontcourt should be as big as possible for as long as possible. Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao should be able to feast on the boards and backups Tyler Zeller and Anthony Bennett should be able to do all right themselves. If the Cavaliers stay the course and use their size to their advantage, they can dominate the Jazz lineups without Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors together on the floor.
Trevor Magnotti, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: The stats back up that Kanter and Favors together is a disaster on offense, mostly out of lack of spacing. This forces the Jazz into small-ball looks, with Marvin Williams playing the four. The ideal solution here, of course, would be for the Cavs to run their offense as normal. The Cavs get a lot of relief from not having to deal with Kanter/Favors together defensively, and Anderson Varejao creates great mismatches with both, particularly Kanter, with his high post play. Without a notable post threat, the Cavs will make Kanter a lesser factor defensively, and this will potentially make it so that Tyrone Corbin plays Favors far more than Kanter, which makes the Jazz less of a threat offensively and on the boards. It feels weird to say this, but because the Cavs can space the floor with their bigs on the elbows, it will cause some big problems for the Jazz defensively.
Amar, SLC Dunk Managing Editor: The head coach of the Utah Jazz, Tyrone Corbin, seems to have become increasingly interested in playing ‘small ball’. You can get away with that for stretches, or unless you have LeBron James at power forward. The Jazz don’t. They start Marvin Williams at power forward. That’s okay, but in the long run, probably not as okay as playing Derrick Favors (6’10) and Enes Kanter (6’11) together. The obvious thing that other teams have done so far is to just play their normal game. The teams in the Western Conference that the Jazz have played so far (Utah is 6-18 vs the West so far) don’t adjust — they don’t get suckered into going small. And Tyrone Corbin seems hesitant to tinker with what obviously doesn’t work, he let Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, et al. go one on one against Marvin all night long.
Keeping guys like Tristan on the floor with Andy, and others instead of trying to go small will be the best way to take advantage of the natural mismatch that occurs. Of course, Jazz fans feel the real mismatch is in the mind of the Coach who doesn’t seem to understand that it’s okay to play two, consecutive #3 draft picks together in Favors and Kanter.
2. Trey Burke has had possibly the best season of any rookie so far. What are Burke’s big strengths, and how can the Cavaliers try to limit him?
CM: Burke could have a solid night against the Cavaliers, who don’t exactly defend point guards very well. He does okay in the pick & roll game – which the Kyrie Irving and company don’t defend very well – and can shoot from the mid-range. Basically, the Cavaliers are going to need to do what they haven’t done well all season, which is closing space and limiting penetration. Oddly enough, this is a scenario where Anderson Varejao’s insane tendency to hedge hard on screens could work in the Cavaliers favor. If he can get out and sufficiently limit Burke moving into the lane, they can cut off his jump shot and, at the same time, cloud his passing lane to his rolling big man. However, if he’s a tad slow or comes out too far, Burke could burn him and get around the hedge, leaving Irving or Jarrett Jack the only man in between Burke and the roller. And although he’s a rookie, Burke is the guy the Cavaliers need to key on here. He’ll be going against their weakest defensive position and has the tools to light them up.
TM: I think Burke is one of those types that the Cavs should let have a big night, and try to shut down everything else. Burke’s shown great passing skill so far this season, and although he’s not a great athlete, it’s his ability to drive and dish on PNRs that makes him special. In this case, I would love to see the Cavs treat him like John Wall, Rajon Rondo, or Mike Conley: Force him into jump shots. If the Cavs can play the roll man well in the PNR, it will force Burke into mid-range jumpers or to drive to the basket himself, where he’s finishing at a 43.1 percent clip at the rim, a number rookie Dion Waiters would make fun of. If the Cavs can sucker Burke into doing things himself, and not allowing his teammates to help him, that’s going to be a death knell for the Jazz.
A: Trey Burke is an interesting cat. He doesn’t have the overt physical congruences that you think a player his size should have. He’s below average in height, but isn’t above average in athleticism. Usually the smaller guys are the faster guys. And as a guy who is known for outside shooting, if you watch, his release is very slow. His gather is as well on layups. What Trey does have to compensate is that he seems to process information very quickly. And that has allowed him to adjust to what is happening on the floor quickly enough to make good plays. Trey has been sufficient enough on his pick and roll decision making so far as a rookie and seems to have developed a keen eye for where his bigmen are on the floor in the halfcourt. He actually PASSES the ball to them, which is a sight for sore Utah Jazz fan eyes as we’ve had to deal with Mo Williams / John Lucas / Earl Watson / Devin Harris types for the last few seasons. Burke is also becoming increasingly comfortable stepping back on a pick and roll and taking the jumper.
The best way to stifle him would be for the defense to give him what he doesn’t want. Don’t cheat on the pick and roll / screens, and challenge the space he needs to make in order to take the shot. When he plays off the ball (which does happen when Gordon Hayward is in the mix) make sure to stick on him. His spot up jump shooting is better than a lot of players on this roster, but only if he gets open. Aggressive close outs hurt him.
Make him drive into the paint, he doesn’t have a mid-paint shot like Tony Parker’s floater, and he doesn’t finish at the basket like a Russell Westbrook. This is a difficult part of his game right now. And that’s where you want him taking the ball, instead of hanging out on the perimeter taking jumpers with space.
3. The Cavaliers and Jazz give up roughly the same number of points per game. Overall, which team is better on defense?
CM: I submitted this question before the Cavaliers acquired Luol Deng, but that doesn’t change my answer – it only made it easier to answer. With Deng, the Cavaliers now have a guy who can lock down an opposings scorer at multiple spots. Tristan Thompson is solid defending fours and Anderson Varejao has done a solid job this season using his quickness to frustrate bigger centers, such as Indiana’s Roy Hibbert. Also, Andrew Bynun’s departure means an improvement in the Cavaliers fastbreak defense, as the Cavaliers gave up five points more in transition with Bynum on the floor than without. Mike Brown, despite all of his shortcomings on offensive, is a very good defensive coach. The stats back this up as well – the Cavaliers smack dab in the in defensive ratings, while the Jazz are among the lowest. Advantage, Cavaliers.
TM: This is where the burgeoning stat nerd in me would like to point out that the Cavs and Jazz are actually worlds apart defensively, even though the deceptive points allowed per game stat fools us into thinking they’re the same. The Cavs and Jazz rank 17th and 19th in points allowed per game, but 14th and 29th, respectively, in defensive efficiency. This is a product of the Jazz playing at the 4th-slowest pace of any NBA team. While they surrender about the same amount of points as the Cavs per game, they allow opponents to reach that number in a staggeringly low number of possessions. Therefore, it is pretty obvious that the Jazz are the worse defensive team, and one of the worst defensive teams in the league. This is a product of Favors and Kanter not playing together, Richard Jefferson faking his way through most defensive sets, and a rookie point guard. The Cavs are much better off due to Anderson Varejao, now Luol Deng, and Mike Brown’s defensive teachings.
A: On paper the Jazz should be better than they are. They aren’t. A huge part of that is coaching. The Cavs have a defensive minded coach at their helm in Mike Brown. You guys are anchored by Andy V, and have an actual system in place. Injuries and wing-insecurity have hit both teams this season at times, but I’d say Cleveland defends better. And the numbers seem to agree as the Cavs have a defensive rating (DRTG) that’s ranked 16th in the NBA. The Jazz? 2nd to last in the league in DRTG. That was an easy question : )