Saturday, November 15, 2014

What the Blatt is going on?

The Cavs are a strange looking team right now, but no one seems to have noticed.  Focusing on the outcomes (bad D, good O) allows people to see what they want to see, but they are missing some really fun stuff, and it looks like Blatt is trying out what appears to be a rare, or entirely new, strategy. 

To start with the Cavs are an average rebounding team this year, 14th in Oreb rate, 18th in D reb rate.  While there is nothing odd about a team being average at rebounding this is actually very unexpected.  Love is one of the best three rebounders in the game, Varejao has been above average most of his career and TT has been a very good at offensive rebounds and decent at defensive rebounds.  With those three as the primary big men along with SFs that have no problem getting involved in Lebron and Marion the Cavs "should" be at the top of the rankings, not floating in the middle.  What is going on?

First off Tristan Thompson is crashing the offensive boards like a maniac.  His Oreb rate of 19.3% would be the 7th best season all time if it lasted the whole year.  Meanwhile his Dreb rate has been basically cut in half. 

Anderson Varejao has been neutered on both ends with his Oreb rate down 20% and his D rebound rate down 40% from his career averages.

Love's defensive rebounding has remained excellent- right around his career mark and 4th in the league so far- but his Oreb has taken a massive dive- down 40% from last season and 60% from his career mark. 

What in the Sam Hill is going on around here?

The Cavs right now are running an unconventional rebounding system with responsibilities split between offense and defense between two players, TT and Love.  When TT is not on the court the Cavs barely grab any rebounds on the offensive end- Thompson has more than 1/3rd of their total rebounds despite playing 1/10th of their total mins played.  In other words this isn't just a case of an aggressive offensive rebounding team where TT happens to be the best at it.  On the other endLove has snagged a little less than 30% of the team's total defensive rebounds. 

The situation, as far as I can tell, is one where Tristan Thompson is solely responsible for attacking the glass to generate 2nd chance opportunities.  This, in theory, leads to the other 4 players getting back defensively more quickly.  Love is taking the other side of the responsibility, which should free up other Cavs to leak a little early and use his excellent passing either to generate a fast break or at the least put pressure on the opposition and make them scramble with their assignments. 

Lots of teams, of course, have had excellent offensive and defensive rebounding players over the years, but they are frequently one and the same which changes the dynamic.  If you offensive rebounder misses his chance and the opposition takes it and pushes up the floor he new has to catch up to get into position to grab a potential defensive rebound.  When he does grab a rebound his team has a choice to make in running a break or a quick possession.  If they move to quickly they lose the value of his offensive rebounding on their shot.  By splitting the responsibilities between the two players the Cavs do not suffer from these conundrums. 

The entire system is far more complicated though and is heavily read based.  Sending 4 men back on D immediately wouldn't be wise as it would leave Thompson alone offensively when he does snare the ball.  Sending no men back is unwise as he will miss the rebound 80% of the time and the opposition would feast on fast breaks.  The middle ground is that each player has to read Thompson's attack of the glass and the likely spots where help will be, well helpful, if he can't take it straight back up.  Then each player has to (quickly!) determine if he should be going to one of those spots or heading back defensively.  These reads have to happen before the ball hits the rim, and it will take time to work out the kinks.

Offensively the early returns are very good.  The Cavs are 5th in the league in transition scoring even though they are a below average defensive rebounding and turnover creating team playing at the 22nd slowest pace in the league.  Three of the top 5 teams in transition offense are playing at a top 7 pace, and the 4th, Dallas, while only 1 spot ahead of Cleveland in pace are #1 in creating turnovers. 

If, or when, the Cavs can turn TTs massive rebounding rate into coherent defense this strategy will be a terrific base to build on.  Teams that like to attack the glass offensively will be making a tough decision and leaving themselves vulnerable, while TT's rate is so good it implies that even tough defensive rebounding teams won't be able to deny him as much as they would like. 

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