Saturday, February 9, 2008

Cavs Injury Update and Z's Season

The Cavaliers have been flying high lately, going 11-3 in December and defeating Boston for the second time this season to kick off February. As luck would have it though, the Cavs had to go into Atlanta with four major players out with injuries. Varejao has now missed six games with an ankle injury, while Pavolvic is scheduled to sit for another month with a sprained left foot suffered January 21 against Washington. Gibson decided to join the fun by straining a hammy versus Houston, with Gooden straining his groin for good measure.

And…Larry Hughes stubbed his toe and missed the last five minutes tonight. No, seriously.

The situation has gotten so bad, Brian Windhorst jokingly listed the M.A.S.H. 4077th in the box score against Atlanta tonight. Gooden is listed as day-to-day, while the Plain Dealer thinks Gibson will miss the three games leading up to the All-Star break.

With LeBron already carrying the team, Ilgauskas and Hughes will have to be at their best for the Cavs to finish strong going into the break. Coach Brown obviously can’t count on Ira Newble to have 18 points and 8 boards each night, although Newble’s effort was a big reason they beat Atlanta. Despite the current situation, I’m not overly concerned with the long term state of the team; they’ve already weathered a lot of injuries, but managed to tread water and have looked strong when healthy. The most recent example is Cleveland going 5-2 without Varejao and Pavolovic. Things might get a little ugly again for a few games, but after seeing them play so well when they were healthy, I know the team will bounce back again. Also, did I mention that 11-3 December?

On one hand the timing of Gibson and Gooden’s injuries is horrible, with the next three games against Denver, Orlando, and San Antonio. On the other hand, the All-Star break will buy everyone not named LeBron time to get healthy. I know it won’t happen, but I wish LeBron would take it easy during the All-Star festivities. From what I’ve heard, he’s still not 100% after his ankle injury and a degree of restraint during the exhibition match would be wise.

On Big Z

Over the course of the season, I’ve heard several conflicting opinions on Ilgauskas’ impact on the Cavs this season. Apparently, Z was a candidate for the Eastern All-Star team’s reserves, but did not make the cut. I thought it would be relevant to see how Z’s season has been thus far and see how he stacks up with the East’s All-Star centers. Below are Z’s stats from the last four seasons, including this season:

Year GS Min PPG FG% FT% Ast Reb Blk
04-05 78 33.5 16.9 .468 .799 1.3 8.6 2.1
05-06 78 29.3 15.6 .506 .834 1.2 7.5 1.7
06-07 78 27.4 11.9 .485 .807 1.6 7.7 1.3
07-08 48 30.9 13.9 .477 .821 1.6 9.6 1.6

I was expecting Z’s numbers to be a little better this season, but they are still solid compared to recent years. Ilgauskas has handled a slightly larger workload with fellow big-man Varejao missing so much time. Ilgauskas’ average points per game are down slightly, but are still two PPG better than the Cavs’ 50-game campaign last season. Two numbers that stand out to me are his shots made and rebounding, both of which may explain Z’s decrease in points production. Ilgauskas has sacrificed some of his scoring to gather up rebounds. Z is averaging 9.6 boards per game; more than in any of his past three seasons.

Another cause for Z’s drop in PPG may be the way Coach Brown is utilizing him. One of Ilgauskas’ best weapons is his mid-range shot. The threat of Ilgauskas’ shot can open up more opportunities for James inside, but will result in more lower-percentage shots for Z. My theory is that Z is getting more shot opportunities (or at least feints to draw the defense), giving up scoring chances in the paint to Gooden and James. added a shot tracker tool to their website recently (a nod to Mistake by the Lake for bringing this to my attention), so let’s see if my theory holds up. Below are Z’s shots taken for the 07-08, 06-07, and 05-06 seasons:




According to the charts, Ilgauskas had 5.72 shot opportunities per game in the paint for this season, 5.64 in 06-07, and 7.2 in 05-06. It looks like my theory about Z getting more of his scoring opportunities away from the hoop was at least part right. His FG% declines right along with his shot opportunities closest to the hoop (predictable, but it was unclear where his shots had been coming from).

Granted, at least some of Z’s numbers are likely down because of age, but I just don’t see enough of a drop across the board to warrant much criticism. Z’s role on the court has just shifted slightly, changing the sources of his offensive production.

Ilgauskas played a key role in the Cavaliers resurgence in December averaging 10.2 boards and 16.6 PPG on 53.3% shooting. He also had great efforts against tough opponents like Washington, Phoenix, the Lakers, and Boston in his last 10 games (see below).

Opponent Result FG% PPG Reb
@Mia W .455 13 11
Was W 1.000 24 6
Pho L .600 21 10
@Lal W .400 16 11
@Por W .333 7 13
@Sea L .231 17 9
Lac W .447 22 13
Bos W .818 21 10
@Hou L .438 8 8
@Atl W .615 17 11
.533 16.6 10.2

While LeBron was busy being his usual spectacular self, Ilgauskas' contributions were overlooked during the team's winning streak (as usual). Big Z has been on fire heading into the All-Star break and will continue to be tested as the injury depleted Cavs face a tough three-game series against Western Conference teams to close it out. It’s crucial that Ilgauskas step up until the Cavs can get healthy again and continue to make LeBron’s job easier.

Finally, how does Ilgauskas stack up to the East’s All-Star centers?

Player GS Min PPG FG% FT% Ast Reb Blk
C. Bosh 42 36.1 22.7 .488 .850 2.2 9.1 1.1
D. Howard 51 38.9 21.8 .557 .599 1.4 14.6 2.5
Z. Ilgauskas 48 30.9 13.9 .477 .821 1.6 9.6 1.6

Well, not that great. I’m definitely not calling Ilgauskas’ lack of a bid a “snub,” far from it. Anyone who tries to argue Chris Bosh or Dwight Howard stole a roster spot from Ilgauskas is one serious Cleveland homer. Despite being compared to players 10 years younger who make up the core of their respective teams, Z makes a decent showing for himself. Like I said, the PPG aren’t a fair comparison because of the crucial roles Bosh and Howard play compared to Z, but Ilagauskas is competitive in FG%, assists, blocks, and rebounds. This is just a rough comparison in relation to the All-Star game, but I think a strong case can be made for Z still being one of the top centers in the East.

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