LOS ANGELES: Chris Paul was irritated, maybe a little jealous and certainly tired. So at some point during the Cavaliers’ victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night, Paul approached good buddy Byron Scott and made a simple request: Get him off me!
Scott has been promoting Alonzo Gee as one of the league’s best defenders since the start of this trip. He is backing that up by using Gee, a natural small forward, to guard a multitude of positions on the floor. Gee has defended everyone from point guards to power forwards in the first two games. He did well collaring Brandon Jennings in Milwaukee, so Scott used him extensively Monday on Paul.
“Take him off me. Why you got him guarding me?” Paul told Scott during the game. “Let the young fella guard me.”
The young fella Paul was referring to, of course, is Kyrie Irving. Scott and Paul are still incredibly close from their time together in New Orleans, so Scott chuckled and told him Irving had defended him plenty during the game.
“You threw me in the fire, made me guard all those guys,” Scott said Paul told him.
Paul still finished with 17 points and nine assists for the game, but had a hard time getting shots off over Gee. It’s easy to see why — Gee has a good 6 inches and 35 pounds on him.
“It’s tough, I’m not going to lie,” Gee said. “It’s tough to guard point guards. Every night I’ve got to be ready, whether it’s a point guard, ’Melo [Carmelo Anthony] or Kobe [Bryant]. I have to watch a lot of film, but I like it.”
Defense has always been Gee’s best attribute: He has just managed to intensify it through the early part of this season. After the formal portion of practice is complete, Cavs players break down into shooting contests. What looks like simply playing around has actually been valuable for Gee, who has used the time to defend Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters in practice. Those moments have helped prepare him for games like Monday when he is asked to defend one of the league’s best point guards.
“Right now he’s one of the best defensive players in the league,” Scott said. “I truly believe that. That size and his strength and quickness is affecting some of these guys.”
The Cavs struck gold when they picked Gee off the Development League scrap heap two years ago. Part of their plan throughout this rebuild is to find guys in the D-League who fit their system and develop them. Gee is a perfect example of how it can work, but rarely does it work so well the first time a team tries it. The Cavs brought three forwards into their practice facility for a private workout two years ago. They were looking for a little more athleticism and someone who could play defense. Scott said when the workout was complete, it was nearly unanimous to sign Gee.
“We had some good intel about his work ethic,” Scott said. “We put him to work and it’s been a great marriage. The kid has continued to develop and this year he’s taking it to a different level early in the season because he really knows what we want from him at both ends of the court. I think he’s so comfortable right now and he’s so confident, he can just go out there and play.”
Gee signed a three-year contract after setting career-high offensive numbers last season. He appears to be more aggressive offensively, looking for his shot more and attacking the basket. Teams were giving him open 3-point looks for the past two years, but Gee would typically either pass on them or try to drive into the teeth of the interior defense. Scott has finally convinced him to shoot the open shots. He is shooting 40 percent on 3-pointers (4-of-10) after shooting 32 percent last season and 34 percent for his career.
“Zo to me is a lot like Andy. You have the right to shoot the ball when you play as hard as they do on the defensive end,” Scott said. “One thing we talked about with Zo ... take the shot the defense is giving you. He’s done that and his numbers have shown it.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.