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The Cavaliers add by subtraction: While We’re Waiting…

Cleveland Sports

Happy Post-Valentine’s Day, WFNYers. I hope you enjoyed your candlelit dinners for two, especially if they were for one person. Nothing to assuage the pains of romantic desolation and fill the void of a lonely existence than an extra dinner portion — especially if it’s smothered in sour cream. In any event, I assure all readers that their Valentine’s Day was more romantic than mine, as I spent my Valentine’s Day evening — well, writing what you’re reading right now. Don’t let anyone say I don’t love you all. I think I’m one of the few people thoroughly enjoying the winter Olympics, but that’s fine because watchable Cleveland Cavaliers basketball has returned! They won’t play again until after the All-Star Break, but while we’re waiting…

I think it’s important not to draw any overly dramatic conclusions about the new Cavaliers this early in the experiment, but there are promising early signs that the second version of 2018 Cavaliers is much improved from its predecessor. Koby Altman did an astounding job of salvaging this team on the fly.

It’s not even requisite that the newcomers — George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., and Rodney Hood — perform spectacularly well (which they may). The Cavs may have improved drastically by virtue of the classic “addition by subtraction,” or, nearly as important, “addition by subtraction of something of such insignificant value that it could hardly be considered subtraction.”

The concept of negative numbers are hard to grasp as a child. I can count two apples or three marbles, but how can one have negative apples or marbles? In the modern understanding of arithmetic, subtraction is simply the addition of a negative number — they’re fundamentally the same thing. Subtracting two apples or three marbles is the same as adding negative-two apples or negative-three marbles. Financially, to “have” negative two (-2) apples means to owe someone else two apples and to “have” negative three (-3) marbles is to own a deficit of three marbles. As a real-life example, while I have money in my checking account, my net worth is below zero because I have have -$60,000 in student loan money:1 I own a substantial amount of student loan debt; I am worth less than nothing.

And that’s exactly what some of the exported Cavaliers were. (I think it’s important to add a disclaimer that I do not include Channing Frye and Dwyane Wade in this discussion, who I valued more than their limited statistical contribution demonstrated.) Sure, Derrick Rose scored points sometimes — but he had negative value for the Cavaliers. Isaiah Thomas may have come around eventually, but the Cavaliers were scoring negative points every time he was on the floor because of the minus (-) Thomas was defensively. Thomas would have had a more positive net effect on defense for the Cavaliers had he actively tried to help the other team score — Thomas jacking up shots has been a terribly inefficient offense in 2018, especially compared with those putting up ABA-esque numbers against the Cavaliers, plus it would have been like, totally confusing. Similarly, Jae Crowder subtracted value every time he was on the floor. Take a look at Jae Crowder’s three-point shooting chart below. It’s as red as a Valentine’s Day card … from hell. And he attempted nearly four threes per game for the Cavaliers.

These players were having a net negative effect on the Cavaliers’ NBA balance sheet: they were basketball debt personified. Together, they were three of my least favorite Cavaliers of all time: the cauliflower, black olives, and anchovies on my Cavs pizza. The Cavaliers improved merely by jettisoning the liabilities that Rose, Thomas, and Crowder were from their roster. It would be like what happened to your discretionary income if you suddenly “lost” your children.

What the Cavaliers gained on top of shedding toxic assets are four passable to very good NBA players. Jordan Clarkson, with perhaps an undesirable contract, is a good backup NBA point guard, an improvement over … whatever it is Derrick Rose was. George Hill is a very capable point guard who can shoot, play defense, and move off the ball. Larry Nance is a solid rebounder, excellent roll man, reliable defender, and thunderous dunker. Rodney Hood was one of the available mythic “three-and-D” guys, if an inconsistent one. All four have the potential to greatly enhance the Cavaliers’ prospects for 2018 and possibly beyond; probably not all of them will. But contrast George Hill’s three-point shooting chart below with Crowder’s above. Think that skill may be of use alongside LeBron James?2

But the new players don’t need to be great collectively for the Cavaliers to improve — they only need to be not an unmitigated disaster. The table below shows the three-point percentages and some advanced metrics of the new Cavalier additions compared to the the recently departed Thomas, Crowder, and Rose.3 While advanced metrics are flawed at reflecting a players’ contribution to a team, you can bet a three-point percentage of 25.0 and a negative VORP are undesirable no matter what mathematical voodoo you subject it to.

Short of spontaneous combustion or self-decapitation, the new 2018 Cavaliers Role Players will likely be improvement over the old 2018 Cavaliers Role Players. Small to midsize pluses would be a huge improvement to the zeroes and negatives they’re replacing. Hence, addition by subtraction for the Cavaliers.

The Calvin and Hobbes Strip of the Day. I think you have to use calculus and imaginary numbers to express how much I disliked watching Derrick Rose play basketball for my team. Like, at least … eleventeen sad Kyles per game.

And now for the random 90s song of the day. For songs from 1991’s Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest’s video for “Jazz (We’ve Got)” and “Buggin’ Out” is an awesome contrast piece between two different ATCQ songs. The deathly serious MCs stalk vacant black-and-white urban landscapes accompanied by unnerving horns in “Jazz (We’ve Got),” before a jarring transition to the colorful, goofy, and flamboyant verse from “Buggin’ Out” which has a killer stand-up bass line. Two sides to one of rap’s finest groups. Q-Tip is at his finest in these songs. Don’t forget to follow @R90sSotD on Twitter. 

Then cool out to the music cause it makes you feel serene
With the birds and the bees and all those groovy things
Like getting stomach aches when you gotta go to work
Or staring into space when you’re feeling berserk
I don’t really mind if it’s over your head
Cause the job of resurrectors is to wake up the dead
So pay attention, it’s not hard to decipher
And after the horns, you can check out the Phifer

  1. Viewed one way. Other accounting principles would treat my debt differently. []
  2. For some reason, NBA.com has George Hill attempting one three-point field goal inside the the three-point line. []
  3. All numbers courtesy Basketball-Reference.com. []