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Will Cleveland Miss Mo Williams?

Jan 21, 2010 – 6:30 PM
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Tom Ziller

Tom Ziller %BloggerTitle%

Mo WilliamsMo Williams, quasi-All-Star point guard for the Eastern Conference leading Cleveland Cavaliers, will miss up to six weeks with a shoulder sprain, reports Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. For now, that puts Delonte West in the starting PG role, with Anthony Parker playing long minutes at shooting guard and Daniel Gibson re-emerging from darkness. (Gibson hasn't played 10 minutes in a game since January 2, and hasn't topped 20 minutes since December 16.)

As Williams is considered Cleveland's second-best player*, this is seen as a huge opportunity for the other Eastern challengers -- Boston, Orlando and Atlanta -- to make up ground, and potentially even grind Cleveland away. But that oversells Williams' particular value to this team. In other words, while Williams is indeed a fine player, the injury hasn't happened in a vacuum, and Cleveland can remain excellent.

The biggest reason is, of course, LeBron James, who somehow -- despite averaging nearly 30 points and eight assists a game -- can pick up some slack. James's usage is at his career norm, but every observatory has recorded his universal improvement on offense this season: he's making the right decision on seemingly every possession, and he's nailing his jumpers. His efficiency is ridiculously high for someone so heavily featured. The common belief goes that a player can nudge his usage up at the expense of a bit of efficiency. LeBron's efficiency is so incredible (.611 True Shooting, 121 Offensive Rating) that the Cavs can afford seeing a nominal dip if he needs to handle 35, 36 percent of the team's possessions when he's on the floor. Other high-usage stars can't get away with that. James can.

The other safety valve in Cleveland is West, who has been a huge factor in Cleveland's success. If Williams is a shoot-first point guard, West is certainly a full-on combo guard with selfless tendencies. Mo is a bit better on offense -- especially in shooting and limiting turnovers. But West is the superior defender (defense matters!) and, in relation to the point about LeBron, much more submissive to The King on offense. This isn't to say Williams takes away shots James should be taking. It's that every fewer possession used by the backcourt is likely going to LeBron, who has shown an unprecedented ability to turn possessions into points, whether by scoring or passing. That can be a boon at times. There's a reason Kobe's longtime preference at point guard is Derek Fisher.

Don't forget that what West lacks in deep shooting relative to Williams (37 percent to Mo's 43 percent) can be absorbed by Gibson, who for his career shoots 42 percent on three-pointers. Gibson has defensive issues commensurate to Williams, but if Mike Brown finds he needs an extra shooter on the floor, Boobie is an easy choice.

One issue which could rear its head: West's criminal trial in Maryland on those preseason gun charges is slated to begin mid-February. If that's not delayed, West's absence could overlap Williams's recovery period, which could put Cleveland in a pickle.

* I'd go with Anderson Varejao, personally.
Filed under: Sports