November 1, 2014

Medina
Rain
39°F

Cavaliers won’t jell overnight

What, you expected the Cavaliers to become the best team in the NBA overnight?

Don’t worry — at least not too much — that Mike Brown’s team has gone just 1-2 with Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Joe Smith and Delonte West in uniform.

It takes time for four players to jell with a new team, especially when they’re acquired at this point of the season and all are playing major minutes.

Things are going to be just fine, people, though Cleveland’s up-and-down performances should justifiably quell all the premature talk about an NBA championship.

First things first: The Cavaliers have to integrate The King’s Quartet into their system and get back to playing smart, hard-nosed basketball at both ends of the court, with LeBron James, as always, leading the way.

Once the Cavaliers do that, they have what it takes to compete with the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics for a berth in the NBA Finals.

That’s still a long way off, however, so for now let’s take a quick review of the four new players:

Ben Wallace: If you listen to sports talk radio, people will have you believe Big Ben was the best player involved in the three-team trade with Chicago and Seattle, the missing piece to the championship puzzle, the best rebounder and defender in the NBA.

No, no, no, a thousand times no.

Wallace is a tough guy and an above-average rebounder and defender, to be sure, but it’s highly doubtful the 6-foot-9, 240-pounder will ever duplicate his four-time Defensive Player of the Year performances with the Pistons.

Simply put, Wallace was in the perfect system in Detroit. The Pistons had four great players around him and his strengths were maximized while his weaknesses, of which there are several, were minimized.

Unless he’s dunking or merely reversing the ball from a position above the 3-point arc, the guy should never touch the ball on offense. He can’t shoot a lick, either from the field or at the foul line.

People don’t want to hear this because the guy has a million-dollar body and a reputation as an enforcer, but Wallace has been the most overhyped player the Cavaliers acquired in the trade.

Sure, he can provide toughness and interior defense, which are certainly things the Cavaliers need. Wallace’s tremendous offensive liabilities, however, mean that Brown is going to have to be very careful how he uses him down the stretch of games.

In Cleveland’s three-point loss to Milwaukee on Tuesday, the Cavaliers were minus-14 in point differential when Wallace was on the court. Every other player of note was in the plus- to minus-4 range.

Wednesday in Boston, Cleveland was minus-17 with Wallace on the floor. (It was also minus-14 with James on the court, so we’ll admit sometimes stats don’t tell the whole story.)

What we do know already is that Brown has to be careful not to play Wallace and Anderson Varejao together too much, especially down the stretch of close games, because it leaves the Cavaliers with no post-up presence.

We also know Smith and Zydrunas Ilgauskas can provide that presence, so Brown’s already questionable substitutions, or lack thereof, will be under even closer scrutiny.

Again, this is not to say Wallace won’t help the Cavaliers. He will, especially in the playoffs, when games often slow to a crawl. The man is not, however, the be-all, end-all performer many people believe.

Wally Szczerbiak: Szczerbiak has made just 12-of-41 shots in three games with the Cavaliers, which brings back haunting memories of Larry Hughes denting rims all over the NBA.

Don’t panic, people. This guy has been a great shooter, is still a great shooter and will continue to be a great shooter.

Right now, Szczerbiak is rushing things because he’s trying too hard to make a good impression. Once he settles down, adjusts to playing with James and finds a rhythm, Cleveland fans will love his ability to knock down open shots, both from behind the arc and a few feet inside it.

If we could suggest one thing, it would be that Mike Brown put Szczerbiak in the starting lineup soon and take Devin Brown out of it.

Actually, we want to suggest two things: Szczerbiak should also quit trying to handle the ball and create things, especially late in games, so we don’t have to see too many more of those horrendous turnovers he’s been committing.

Shoot the ball, Wally. That’s what you do. No one cares if you miss two or three in a row because we, like you, believe the next one is going in — and the one after that, and after that, and after that.

Joe Smith: Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry correctly summed up Smith in five words the night the lanky big fellow was acquired: “Joe Smith is a pro.”

The more you watch the No. 1 pick in the 1995 NBA Draft, the more you’ll realize he’s an older, more consistent and mentally tougher version of 26-year-old Drew Gooden, who left for Chicago in the trade that brought the 32-year-old Smith to Cleveland.

The guy can score inside, shoot from the perimeter, rebound and defend. As an added bonus, he’s also a tremendous presence in the locker room.

Getting him was an absolute steal. Our only concern is that Mike Brown will underplay him and Ilgauskas while giving too many minutes, at the wrong times, to Varejao and Wallace.

Delonte West: The jury is still out on this guy, and likely will be until he appears in the playoffs for just the second time in his four-year career.

West will provide some things the Cavaliers need in that he can push the ball and break down defenses, but he is already starting to look like a guy whose career shooting stats are misleading.

The left-hander came to Cleveland as a respectable .444 career shooter from the field, but from what we’ve seen, he shouldn’t be taking many 18- or 19-foot jumpers, especially off the dribble.

West can score in transition or when he goes strong to the hole, and he will also be decent when his feet are set behind the 3-point line, but the Cavaliers don’t need him to score a ton of points.

If the 24-year-old can handle the ball, take some pressure off James and occasionally break down a defense and get a teammate an easy layup or dunk, he’ll be a nice addition.

Like Wallace, however, this is not a guy the Cavaliers will need on the floor a ton at the end of games, because the offense always runs through James on those occasions.

Mike Brown would be better served to surround his superstar with guys like Szczerbiak, Smith, Ilgauskas and Damon Jones — Daniel Gibson will be an even better option when he’s healthy — because they will make opposing defenses pay for double- and triple-teaming James.

Of course, no matter how much we analyze this trade or talk about potential lineups Cleveland can put on the floor, the real barometer will be the postseason.

The deal should give the Cavaliers a better chance of returning to the NBA Finals than they had prior to it, but James, as always, will be the ultimate factor in any playoff run.

Noland may be reached at rickn@ohio.net or 330-721-4061.