Throughout what has thus far been an up-and-down season for the Cleveland Cavaliers (even though they're 18-7 today), expectations and questions have wildly bounced along with the team.
Concerns about Shaquille O'Neal's effectiveness, the Cavs' ability to contend with the ever-improving Eastern Conference, and the expiring contract of LeBron James were just a few of the worries Cleveland carried with it as it prepared for a season brimming with hope for a title.
Delonte West's weapons charges arrest certainly didn't help things. In fact, the incident has opened the floodgates for the maligned former Cavs starter.
Since West's Sept. 17 run-in with the law, he has missed significant time in both practice and games. With a roster full of several new names taking on very important roles, preseason and early season gelling for the Cavs was—and still is—of the utmost urgency.
For West, who is pound-for-pound the second-toughest (being second best at anything on this team is a huge accomplishment) player on Cleveland's roster, developing chemistry in what has become a crowded backcourt was even more important.
The fallout of West's arrest has seen the guard not see a second of action in nine games so far in the 2009-'10 campaign. Some of these absences have been attributed to head coach Mike Brown simply benching West, while others have been due to the guard's being listed as inactive. West's aforementioned missed time with the team and the performance of his backcourt mates explain the former; his much-discussed bi-polar condition—which has effected his play now more than any other time in his career—clarifies the latter.
Despite the quagmire that West's 2009 has become, his fellow Cavalier guards have gone above and beyond picking up his slack and are slowly showing that West is not integral to Cleveland contending for a championship.
Bolder statements have been made, no doubt, but considering the man who "better have his doughnuts" was one of two Cavs who actually bothered showing up during last year's Eastern Conference Finals and was arguably the Cavaliers' second-best player throughout the 2009 postseason, West's value to the Cavs jumps.
While West's dramatic storyline has been a nagging distraction to most, the play of guards Mo Williams, Daniel Gibson, and Anthony Parker has been a refreshing and understated strength to Cleveland's play.
As expected, Williams has continued the very solid brand of basketball he brought with him to Cleveland last season. He's shooting 44 percent from three, averaging 16.7 points per game, and, other than a few aberrations, has been just as consistent running the Cavs' offense as he was last year, when he made the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
Gibson and Parker, on the other hand, have been quite surprising.
Gibson is finally hitting shots at the consistency he did as an unheralded rookie, when he helped dethrone the Detroit Pistons in the '07 East Finals. He's shooting at a 48 percent clip from three; far and away the best of his career and good for fifth in the NBA. Gibson's improved shooting can be attributed to the fact that he's been relatively injury-free this season (he suffered a minor finger injury last week against Houston).
What have been even more surprising about Gibson's play this year have been his shot selection (he's shooting an average of 3.1 threes per game this year, as opposed to the 3.8 in '08-'09, when he shot an pedestrian 38 percent, and the 4.6 in '07-'08, when he shot 44 percent; in short, he isn't jacking up threes at any chance he gets, which has been the case for the majority of his career), tireless defense, and aggressive takes to the basket. The latter has been especially relieving for the Cleveland offense in certain possessions.
Parker has defined the phrase "pleasant surprise" so far this season. After a slow start to '09-'10, during which the perimeter defense that was advertised upon his signing with Cleveland was M.I.A. and his shot selection was poor at the very best, Parker has put the pedal to the floor on the defensive end and is shooting a league best 50 percent from three.
What's more impressive about Parker's marksmanship from beyond the line is that the Cavs don't seem to run many plays intended to go his way. With James and O'Neal sharing floor time as starters, Parker is, at best, a fourth option in Cleveland's offense.
To be able to shoot with the consistency that Parker has in what are mostly broken and/or improvised plays is very, very impressive.
If the Cavaliers can get this kind of backcourt production throughout the season, they should be well in place to defend their home court during most of this year's playoffs.
They should also make West's solid offense, stout defense, and Energizer Bunny-esque motor all afterthoughts.
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