NBA Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers

Last Year: 33-49 for third in Division; Leading scorer— Kyrie Irving (20.8), Leading rebounds—Anderson Varejao (9.7), Leading assists— Irving (6.1)

Changes: Added—James Jones (signed), Joe Harris (draft),  Keith Bogans (3 way trade with Sacremento and Boston), Kevin Love (traded #1 pick Andrew Wiggans for), Lebron James (signed), Mike Miller (signed), Shawn Marion (signed), Tyler Zeller (3 way trade with Boston and Brooklyn), Extended—Kyrie Irving, Lost— Anthony Bennett (Kevin Love trade), C.J. Miles (free agent), Erik Murphy (3 way trade), Jarrett Jack (trade), John Lucas III (3 way trade), Luol Deng (free agent), Malcolm Thomas (3 way trade), Sergei Karasev (trade), Spencer Hawes (free agent)

Positions

Point Guard: Kyrie Irving, Matthew Dellavedova, John Lucas III

Irving is one of the better point guards in the league—an All Star, 20 ppg scorer, MVP of the All Star Game and the World Cup, and still just 22.  He is young, but rounding into form and will play alongside the best player he (or most players) has (have) to date in Lebron.  Additionally there is upside in him not having to be the under pressure all in star here anymore.

His backup situation is not looking nearly as well. Dellavedova did next to nothing in 17 minutes last year, and they shipped Jarrett Jack off for cap space.  John Lucas III is woefully undersized, but he has experience and in 11/12 he average 7.5 for Chicago.  Either Lucas III will need to find his peak form, or Dellavedova will have to develop very quickly for there to be any upside in the minutes Irving isn’t playing—and if Irving plays 38+a night with his injury history I do not project good things for the Cavs.

Shooting Guard: Dion Waiters, Mike Miller, Joe Harris

This will be the year where Dion Waiters is either a permanent bust, or shows that he has what it takes to play in this load. 16 points is competent and Waiters has a decent PER, but there were definite questions about his fit alongside Kyrie last year.  However, going from being the 2nd option to the 4th should allow his production to tail off while still being successful in the team setting.

Mike Miller looked rejuvenated in Memphis last year, scoring more and actually playing more minutes than he did in Miami with his highest 3 point % since his 09/10 .480 and ridiculous .500 02/03 highs at .459%.  He should backup Waiters well, and might work into a starting role depending on what happens with Waiters. If there is one thing Miller knows how to do is to its catch a pass from Lebron and sink the three, so expect a lot of that this year.

Don’t expect any minutes from second round rookie Joe Harris—the Cavs want to win now, so unless he blows the world up in very limited looks I doubt he will get any run.

Small Forward: Lebron James, Shawn Marion, James Jones, Malcom Thomas

Do I need to mention that Lebron is the best player on the planet right now?  Ok, good.  Let’s talk about his backups.

Marion is old.  He won’t be able to defend the way he did when he was younger, His shooting percentages and points average have been up and down the last few years, but 10 points in 30 minutes does not project well for a role where he is much more likely to play 14-17 minutes per, and there is a huge risk of his shooting percentages falling off a cliff.  I know that the Cavs are expecting him to play the Shane Battier role here, but Battier was a better defender, and three years younger at the start of Miami’s run—and barely holding on last year (at 35).  Maybe I’m wrong and all those years in Phoenix will allow the Matrix to defy father time, but I’m guessing he’s going to be averaging 4 points a game and providing not much of anything.

James Jones basically got brought in due to his relationship with Lebron.  His PER is high, but in 10 minutes he averaged 4 points.  He might earn more minutes over Marion depending how steep the cliff is once Marion’s minutes drop, but I expect him to just see a handful of minutes and to generally not be a high impact player.  Malcom Thomas will see even less play if he remains on the roster.

Power Forward: Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Erik Murphy, Dwight Powell

Kevin Love is an All Star, a double-double machine, the best shooting power forward in the league, and for the first time in his career he will be making the playoffs this year.  The knocks against him are his defense, and that he hasn’t made the playoffs yet.  However, his value is unequivocal and now that he won’t be the number one option on a bad team, I fully expect him to be the player we always wanted him to be.  I’ll always ride hard for “My cousin Kevin”(no known relation despite sharing last names).

Thompson brings solid rebounding numbers, and a good shooting percentage.  He should fit in as an alternative to Love’s perimeter oriented offense and stay closer to the basket (his 0-0 for 0.00% 3 point shooting is either perfect or horrible depending how you spin it—but hey, he hasn’t missed any 3 pointers, right?).  The real question will be how Thompson copes with transitioning from an average starter on a bad team to a bench player on a good team.  This transition has destroyed better players than Thompson, and has made players with lower ceilings into very valuable long term players—could go either way and we won’t know until 10-12 games in.

Erik Murphy and Dwight Powell don’t project to play many if any minutes.   Murphy was unable to earn any playing time in Chicago last year, though the Bulls are one of the hardest rotations for rookies to crack.

Center: Anderson Varejao, Brendon Haywood, Alex Kirk

Varejao is very good, high motor, tons of rebounds, good defense, flying around the floor.  But he is also out with injuries part of every season nearly.  Haywood is on the downside of a fairly low impact career, but his number skill remains “being 7 foot tall”.  Kirk, also 7 foot, is an undrafted rookie.  This spells very bad things for the Cavs if and when Varejao goes down.

Most likely that will mean Love starting out of position and Tristan Thompson starting at power forward.  Or Lebron starting at four and either Marion or Mike Miller starting at the three—either way one injury to this Cavs front court sets up a series of bad choices that takes their initial on paper depth and very quickly leaves them with a completely untested rotation, with superstars playing out of position, and role players asked to do far too much—backups like Miller and Marion backing up stars?  Good.  Backups like Miller and Marion starting in position?  Undesirable, but acceptable.  Backups like Miller and Marion starting out of position? Starts to get tragic pretty quickly.

Outlook: All that said, the Cavs have Lebron, a young All Star in Kyrie, a proven big man in Love, and a good collection of role players (assuming they don’t fall off age cliffs).  This team should be a top 3 seed easily.  They might actually be better off letting themselves slip to the 3-4 range and giving up home court advantage and sparing Lebron and some of their other veterans part of the grind of the season with Spurs like minutes and game management.  But it’s impossible to say what rookie coach David Blatt’s strategy and temperament for things like this will be.

Also, we all know that anything less of winning the Finals for this squad is a failure.  Despite all Lebron’s talk about it taking time, and trying very hard to tamp down expectations, for Lebron coming home to be judged a success he needs to net four rings, and at least three of those need to be back to back to back.  Anything else is a failure.  That’s the breaks of being the best basketball player on the planet and being in the same sentences with Michael, Kobe, Magic, and Larry.

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