Cleveland Cavaliers: Would Starting Antawn Jamison Revitalize His Production?
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After two losses, it's not time for the Cavaliers or their fans to start panicking...even after Saturday night's abysmal second-half performance in blowing a 16-point lead to Sacramento, a team that won just seven games on the road last year.
The rebuilding process is a long and arduous one. It would be a fantastic story if the city could rally around a team that could make its way into the postseason this year and put to bed the constant "LeBron was a one-man show" argument that many have used as the reason he went to Miami. It would be a significant morale boost to the fans, the team and the organization.
But in the short-term, that fleeting feeling (which would most likely result in a first-round exit in the playoffs) isn't as important as maintaining a consistent direction to have the team back in a competitive position in three or four years.
It's a fine line to traverse. The Cavs have enough talent and potential to win games so there's not enough justification to simply blow the roster up and start from scratch. At the same time, there probably isn't enough talent to maintain a strong nucleus that will be able to compete with teams like Chicago and Miami in the next few seasons.
In the words of Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel, they've just got to find ways to keep getting better every game.
There have been plenty of bright spots to focus on: Bobby Gibson seems to be thriving in his role, giving the Cavs a legitimate scoring option off the bench. Byron Scott said his system was tailor-made for a player like Gibson and through three games that prophecy appears to be accurate.
Despite a poor game against Toronto, Ramon Sessions has excelled in the two games at Quicken Loans Arena, being aggressive off the dribble and using his quick first step to get to the basket.
The team as a whole is averaging 93.3 points—nothing to boast about, but don't forget they've been playing without their starting point guard, and probably their most prolific scorer, Mo Williams. A player who is more comfortable pushing the tempo than playing in the half court (like in Mike Brown's system), Williams' presence won't slow the team down on the offensive end.
And as with most inexperienced teams (especially one that lost their franchise player), there have been areas where they've struggled as well—team defense and rebounding immediately spring to mind.
But the serious lack of production at the small forward position really stands out...and it's a problem the Cavs haven't had in about seven years.
Jamario Moon has gotten the nod at starter in the first three games. Offensively he's not doing much—6.3 points, five rebounds and an 18.2 three-point percentage...on nearly four attempts per game. The typical rule of thumb is if you're not a good three-point shooter, you shouldn't keep hoisting up shots from behind the line.
To his defense, he's never been known as a great scorer or shooter, just a consummate role player that gives his team tough defense and a solid presence off the bench—but not necessarily a guy you want starting and playing 30 minutes a game.
The production from the reserves isn't that much better. Jawad Williams is a similar player to Moon—not nearly as athletic but known more for his defense than his offensive game. And he's a below-average rebounder and passer.
Joey Graham has only seen four minutes in one game so far and it doesn't appear as if he'll be a part of the rotation anytime soon.
Unless the front office pulls the trigger and makes a trade (and even if they do, nothing is happening soon), it appears Moon and Williams will be two guys heading forward. But the Cavs do have one more option:
Start Antawn Jamison at the 3.
There are several pros and cons to the move. Obviously the most notable cons are that Jamison's stats (6.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, 31.8 field goal percentage) this season are no more impressive than Moon's, he's 34 years old, he's a bad three-point shooter, he's not as good of a defender as Jamario and there's no way he can keep up with small forwards like LeBron, Kevin Durant or Paul Pierce night in and night out.
Byron Scott nearly gave Jamison the starting spot at power forward over J.J. Hickson, but the third-year player's improved focus and tenacity in practice during the final week of preseason earned him his spot. Jamison is a true professional and would never publicly speak out about the decision, but he wants to start.
When asked about Scott's decision to have him come off the bench, Jamison simply said, "It is what it is." When a player with a background like Antawn says something like that, you can translate it to "I'm not very ******* happy about it."
But Scott liked having a veteran presence like Jamison off the bench and thought a scoring combination of him and Gibson would be difficult for an opponent's second unit to match up against. On paper it's a great theory...until you remember that Jamison was horrible as a reserve for the Cavs last season and that trend is continuing into 2010-11.
Antawn's a scorer. He needs the ball to be effective. He's fallen in love with shooting three-pointers this year (nine attempts in 65 total minutes) almost because it's a way for him to create instant offense.
The flip shots, the awkward leaners, the sneaky reverse lay-ups and the runners and floaters that tortured the Cavs when Jamison was with the Wizards are nowhere to be found.
It's quite possible that Jamison has simply lost his step. He is 34. He has logged over 900 career games and over 33,000 career minutes. And maybe one of the craftiest scorers of this generation just doesn't have enough left in the tank to consistently compete anymore.
But we won't know for sure if he keeps coming off the bench. Fifteen to 20 minutes a game isn't going to give any answers.
It would be a gamble but one that the Cavs ultimately might have to make. It won't be as simple as just trading him—the market for a bench player in his mid-30s that averages single-digit points and will make $15 million next year is pretty slim.
Who knows, maybe he'll become the scoring spark the Cavs need at small forward.
Maybe a forward combination of him and Hickson will complement each other's games—the athleticism and aggressiveness of J.J. combined with the maturity and mid-range game of Antawn.
Maybe his rebounding ability (poor/average this year, but he hasn't averaged less than eight rebounds as a starter since 2005) combined with Varejao's will improve one of the worst teams on the glass this year and allow someone like Hickson to leak out in transition more.
Or maybe we'll realize Antawn doesn't have it. If so, they'll move him back to the bench, restrict his minutes and wait until next season to try and find a buyer for his expiring contract.
Basically they'd be in the same situation they are now. Isn't it worth taking that chance when there's virtually nothing to lose?
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