- The first thing that jumps out when watching Cleveland is just how well they space the floor. They have at least 3 plus three-point shooters on the floor for the entire game and they have a lot of stretches with 4 guys who have to be guarded at 25+ feet. They spread the floor, they zip the ball around and they generate a lot of open shots in the half-court. It doesn't really matter how good you can play defense because Cleveland is playing LeBron in max space which means they are going to score a lot. That's what Utah found out tonight. They have the No. 1 defense in the league because they have a ton of length on the perimeter and they completely shut down the paint - the Cavs spread them so far out it didn't really matter.
- I like how much they utilized Kevin Love in the offense, especially in the first half. His passing skills are the most underrated part of his game and he's a fantastic facilitator from the high-post, the three-point line and in the two-man game. If you are going to pay Kevin Love $110 million, he has to be at least the No. 2 guy in the offense. I've always thought they were better with Love and LeBron as the two main hubs because it's so tough to guard a 6'9 and a 6'10 guy who can pass, shoot and score like those two. Nothing against Kyrie but I'd rather maximize the 6'10 guy than the 6'1 guy, all else being equal. It will be interesting to see how much Love is utilized when Kyrie gets back or if he goes back to being a 6'10 spot-up shooter.
- What makes Love great on offense is that he can spread out bigger defenders like Favors and kill them in the pick-and-pop game and then he can pound smaller defenders in the post. It's kind of amazing how unguardable he is considering how limited he is as an athlete as a ball-handler. I'm really curious to see how he will fare in 1-on-1 match-ups against guys like Paul Millsapp, Chris Bosh and Draymond Green in the post-season. Love has been in the league a long time without ever getting the chance to face elite players at his position in the playoffs. That's what we were really robbed off when he got hurt last season because those match-ups will tell the tale as to how good a player he really is.
- The thing you have to worry about with Love is that whatever he gives you on offense he gives right back on defense. It's not even so much his 1-on-1 defense as it is help-side D. When Love is your second line of defense, you have no second line of defense. He's the Maginot Line - they invested all this money in him and a fast attack can go right around him like he's not even there. The obvious thing to do against Cleveland is to get the primary rim protector, whether it's Mozgov or Thompson, out on the perimeter and force Love to protect the rim. He can't do it all and it's going to be the glaring Achilles heel for this team in the post-season. People knocked Dirk for his defense but at least he was 7'0 and he could stick his hands straight up in the air and be tall. Love doesn't even have that really. To me, what happens to Love on both sides of the ball is going to be the most interesting storyline for the Cavs in the playoffs.
- The crazy thing about LeBron is that it felt like he was playing on cruise control for most of the game and he still wound up with 31 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds on 19 shots. He took over the game in the 4Q on offense but he mostly seemed content to set everyone up in the first 3Q's and there's probably no real reason for them to change up that approach in the regular season. He's also taking a step back on defense, which you can see in him almost never guarding Gordon Hayward and trying to hide out on the other Utah wings for most of the game. Just in general, he didn't seem as explosive as when he was in his physical prime, although he did cram one on Rudy Gobert off a beautiful feed from Love in the 1Q.
- If there's a concern about LeBron, it's his jumper, which abandoned him in the playoffs last season and he still seems to have not found it. As he moves deeper into his 30's, he doesn't need to be the best athlete in the game to be the best player in the game. What has to happen is he has to become a plus shooter so he can make the same type of transition that MJ made. LeBron can get open shots whenever he wants so if he can consistently knock them down it will allow him to score a lot easier and take a lot of pressure off his body since he won't need to take the ball all the way to the rim as much. There's no reason LeBron shouldn't have a money turnaround jumper and a money spot-up 3-point shot. That's what he needs to add to his game if he wants to stay in the GOAT conversation. As it is now, a coasting LeBron with a shaky jumper isn't head and shoulders over the other Top 5-7 guys in the league.
- Mo Williams had a turn back the clock game on Tuesday - he's a guy who probably should stay with LeBron the rest of his career. Every team in the league should have a guy like Mo Williams because every 6'0 guard out there should be locking himself in the gym and trying to turn himself into a guy who can knock down 3's off the dribble. That's the kind of skill that can keep you in the league for a long time. Mo is who Trey Burke should be trying to become.
- Utah is a pretty tough match-up for Tristan Thompson because they have the size to exploit him as a small-ball 5. Favors buried him in the post and scored over the top of him a few times and Gobert exploited his lack of length on the offensive boards and in the two-man game. TT is good at what he does but he can't protect the rim, can't create his own shot, can't space the floor and can't match up 1-on-1 with bigger 5's. He landed in the absolute perfect spot for his skill-set and he really should be giving LeBron like 50% of his paycheck.
- The good news for TT is that very few teams out East have the size to really bother him. The Hawks play small-ball all the time. The Bulls have two 7'0 but neither one is a two-way player anymore - Noah can't score to save his life and everything Pau gives you on offense he gives back on the other end. I am curious to see how he would fare against Miami (Whiteside + Bosh), Toronto (Jonas V) and Detroit (Drummond).
- Richard Jefferson was a great pick-up for them as a 6'7 guy whose serviceable on both ends of the floor in a 3-and-D role. The one thing about him I noticed after watching him all season in Dallas is that he makes a lot of weird, stupid plays and he doesn't really have the bball IQ you'd expect for a 15-year veteran. There's a reason this is his 5th team in 5 seasons. I doubt he stays in the rotation come playoff time but he's a great pick-up in terms of filling minutes in the regular season.
- Anderson Varejao was +9 in his 6 minutes of action in the 1Q but you kind of saw the plight of the backup 5 in a game like this. In the 2nd half, David Blatt tried to open up the game and go 4-out around TT with his 2nd unit in order to take advantage of Utah not having either of their two C's in the game. A traditional backup 5 has to be really special to stay in a rotation in the modern NBA because otherwise the coach can just move a 4 to the 5, play small-ball and generate some easy spacing + flow for his 2nd unit.
VIDEO: LeBron James Posterizes Rudy Gobert With a Huge Dunk - https://t.co/shQCWUU681 pic.twitter.com/0aK6qvCpIC— Cavs Central (@cavscentral216) November 11, 2015
I'm going to try and watch a ton of Utah this season, although not quite as much as if Dante Exum was healthy. They are a fascinating team because they are bucking so many of the trends in the modern NBA and they are a really fun team because they have so many young players growing into their game and figuring out who they are at this level.
- Derrick Favors + Rudy Gobert is the most unique frontcourt duo in the league. The Jazz have two of the premier rim protectors in the NBA playing together, which negates a lot of the advantages that a lot of teams try to create in the half-court offense. Take Gobert or Favors out of the paint and it doesn't matter because they have a 2nd shot-blocker rotating over whose just as good. That said, I think I'd want to set it up so that I had one or the other in the game for all 48 minutes. Having two great defensive 5's is a lot like having two great primary options on offense - for as good as they can be together, a lot of the value you can get from that duo is being covered in that area for all 48 minutes. Let Gobert and Favors carry the defense for stretches and they should both be better on offense when they can play in more space.
- Gobert gets all the press but Favors is the better two-way player. His 15-foot jumper is absolutely essential for making the two-headed monster work at all and he has become a pretty effective scorer in the post. What Favors is really good at is using his size to bury smaller defenders on his back. It was a lot easier for him to score over Thompson than Mozgov, who stoned him a few times in the post. When he's playing at the 5, you want him out at 15+ feet so he can use the face-up game to get around bigger defenders. He's just an all-around great player and it has been really impressive to watch him grow every season since coming into the league as a super-raw 19 year old.
- Favors has to do a lot of the heavy lifting on both sides of the ball because he has to get out of his comfort zone on offense and defense. Guarding Love 25+ feet from the basket is no picnic and Cleveland got him several times over the course the game by involving him in 2-man game with Love picking and popping out to the three-point line.
- Gobert still has no real ability to create his own offense, which you could see in Cleveland hiding Love on him on defense in the second half. A big man should take it as disrespect when Love is guarding him because that means the other team doesn't think he can score at all.
- Hayward kind of had a quiet game and he never really got going on offense, which might be because he had to guard LeBron for most of the night. That will really take a toll on your legs over the course of a game. The good news for Utah is that they could fairly easily swing the offense to Trey Burks, Rodney Hood and Alec Burks. For a team that doesn't score the ball that well and is missing their starting PG, the Jazz have a lot of guys comfortable being the initiators on offense. As I was saying earlier, they have a ton of talent and as they get everyone more comfortable in the roles and figure out the rotations a bit, they are poised to explode.
- I'm thinking big picture they are going to want to split up Favors and Gobert more and play a lot of 4-out line-ups that go Exum - Burks - Hood - Hayward - C. That's 6'6 - 6'6 - 6'8 - 6'8 on the perimeter and they can all shoot the ball, put the ball on the floor, create shots for others and switch the pick-and-roll. That's the kind of line-up you are going to need to beat a team like Golden State in a 7-game series.
- Raul Neto has the solid Euro PG game down but he's not going to get a lot of minutes if he's not knocking down open 3's. The Jazz are dying for spacing with the Gobert - Favors combo upfront so just about every other spot in the rotation has to go to a three-point shooter.
- Rodney Hood has a ton of game for a 6'8 guy. The most impressive thing about him is how smooth he is - he moves like a guy whose 6'4-6'5. A lot of guys Hood's size with ball-handling skills are really combo forwards who should play a lot at the 4. He's just a freakishly tall SG and it makes him a real problem on both sides of the ball. He can guard multiple positions on the perimeter, he can shoot over the top of just about any defender and it's really hard to bother him as a passer in the two-man game. Hood is a pretty good example of why you have to draft tools. Gary Harris and Nik Stauskas had better NCAA stats but I have a hard time seeing either of those guys being a better NBA player.
- If Alec Burks can consistently knock down 3's, he's going to be a serious problem for the rest of the league. He has a pretty complete game otherwise - he can get to the rim, he can run point and he can use his size and length to defend and crash the boards. The one knock on him coming out of college was the outside shot so if he can become a consistent shooter there's no real ceiling on his game. He'll be a 6th Man candidate in Utah and he'll have to go somewhere else and be a starter when his contract runs out.
- The big difference with Trey Burke in Season 3 is that he seems to be playing much more under control, letting the game come to him and not forcing the action. Of course, it helps when you are knocking down 3's at 50+ percent. A guy his size whose not an elite athlete has to be a knock-down shooter to be effective in this league. There's always going to be a ceiling on his game, though, because he can't really defend at his size. I call it The Chair Problem because little ass guards like him might as well be chairs for anyone 6'2+ who can shoot the ball off the dribble.
- Trey Lyles didn't play much on Tuesday but it's kind of crazy he went from playing as a 3 at Kentucky to playing as a 5 in the NBA. That just shows you what a ridiculous team Kentucky had as well as what kind of versatility he possesses. He has a chance to be a really good player in this league and if he can be a consistent 3-point shooter he could become a great one. Lyles was a classic tools over stats pick and Utah has been one of the best drafting franchises over the last 5+ years so don't sleep on this guy.
With the bottom of the playoff picture out West pretty unsettled, I'm pretty confident Utah makes the playoffs, especially considering how well they play on defense. Playing great defense is something you can count on a night-to-night basis and it will make the Jazz a lot more consistent than some of the teams they are competing with for spots 6-8. What's crazy about them is that young teams are generally not good on defense so as their offense improves they could end up quickly climbing up the pack in the Western Conference over the next few years.