Sunday, August 11, 2013

NBA Season Preview 13-14: Cleveland Cavaliers

2012-2013 Regular Season Record: 24-58

Key Additions: G Jarrett Jack (4 yrs 25 mil, 19.4 mil guaranteed ), F Earl Clark (2 yrs 9 mil, 4.5 mil guaranteed), C Andrew Bynum (2 yrs 24.75 mil, 6 mil guaranteed) Anthony Bennett  (Rd 1, Pick 1) , G/F Sergey Karasev (Rd 1, Pick 19), Head Coach Mike Brown

Key Losses: Head Coach Byron Scott

Projected Starting Lineup: PG: Kyrie Irving SG: Dion Waiters SF: Earl Clark PF: Tristan Thompson C: Andrew Bynum

Key Backups: C/F Anderson Varejao,G Jarrett Jack, F Anthony Bennett

After the infamous ESPN Special, "The Decision" in  July 8, 2010, the Cleveland Cavaliers immediately became a bottom tier team in the NBA in which I felt would never recover. Looking at the team three years later, the Cavaliers are set to make push towards the Eastern Conference's top eight. A huge reason for the come-up is third year guard Kyrie Irving, who has took all the pressure of being the post-LeBron franchise player and exceeded expectations with no sweat at all.
This former Duke guard operates the floor with undeniable confidence, has an incredible handle of the ball and creates a good image for the league being a huge difference from the Allen Iversons and Latrell Sprewells of the NBA. As a rookie, Irving posted stats of 18.5 PPG , 5.4 AST and a .47 field goal percentage playing 30.5 MPG. He followed up that season scoring 22.5 PPG, 5.9 AST with a .45 FG percentage  at 34.7 MPG. On top of these stats he also displayed deadly three point shooting with just over 39 percent for those first two seasons. While Kyrie is dynamic and dangerous on the offensive end, his defense could use some improvement. Over the past two years, Irving has been statistically one of the worst defensive point guards in the NBA. Despite that, he has made an improvement from his rookie year where he was abysmal on that side on the floor and will only improve with defensive minded Mike Brown as coach. If you take a look at the assists stats and consecutive seasons with over three turnovers per game, some can may take those outputs as alarming but for Kyrie's credit, he did not have much to work with and the ball had to be in his hands for his team to get a chance to win. With a plethora of new acquisitions at Kyrie's disposal, Irving is set to take the league by storm and is expected to battle Chris Paul and Derrick Rose as the best PG in the NBA.

Speaking on new acquisitions, Andrew Bynum, Earl Clark, Jarrett Jack and rookie Anthony Bennett adds much needed depth in the thin Cleveland Cavaliers. Arguably the biggest risk-reward in the free agency, Andrew Bynum known for having glass knees and being temperamental, was formerly the best post playing center in the NBA during his Los Angeles Lakers tenure averaging 18.7 PPG, grabbing 11.8 rebounds with almost 2 blocks and shooting 56 percent in the 2011-2012 season. You can also take into account that Bynum had to play with the high usage Kobe Bryant and a closer to prime Pau Gasol. If Andrew Bynum can even produce of semblance of that season, it will be a major improvement over what Cleveland had last year and at only 6 million guaranteed in his incentive laden contract, could prove to be a bargain.

 Jarrett Jack was one of the better point guards in the NBA let alone as a sixth man and should make a similar impact spotting Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters as he did with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Shooting 40 pct from the 3 point line would combine for a similar two 3 point guard tandem as he did with his former teammates and had really stepped up his game in the postseason scoring 17.2 PPG on an superb 50 percent field goal shooting in 35 minutes per game. Jarrett Jack could play either guard position and with a high basketball IQ and much needed playoff experience, Jack could be a team leader and possibly one of the top sixth man candidates for this young side.

Earl Clark is a versatile forward and fills the small forward position which was clearly the biggest hole on the team. The 25 year old has worked hard from being a fringe but promising NBA player to an established one gaining over 22 minutes for the Lakers last season and will have all to prove as a starter for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The surprise first pick Anthony Bennett will have to prove many doubters wrong to justify his draft status. Standing at 6 foot 8, will he be more of the lines of a Paul Millsap or Elton Brand or will he struggle with being an undersized tweener 4 just like more recent draftees; Michael Beasley or Derrick Williams? Other first round pick Sergey Karasev had questions on whether he would come to the NBA or remain in Russia for the upcoming season but with reports that he is indeed coming over could prove to be a good pick for the Cavs as his draft stock would have been higher.

As far as the other returning players on the team, Anderson Varejao is coming back off a life threatening injury with a blood clot. The good news is that Varejao is ready to return. Varejao was arguably the top center in the Eastern Conference before the blood clot averaging 14.1 PPG and 14.4 RPG on 48 percent shooting. I would expect Mike Brown to incorporate Varejao in the rotation by playing him at the power forward spot but for now I see him spelling Bynum and working with the second team. The current starting power forward Tristan Thompson has made strides in improvement and is a solid starter in the NBA. Given his two years of starting experience and is still developing I also expect Thompson to start over Bennett for the beginning of the season. Dion Waiters has shown flashes and even took over games for the Cavs when Kyrie Irving went down to injury. Shot selection and defense were a problem for him but on the offensive end when he is hot, he is on fire.

Even when Anderson Varejao was playing, the Cavaliers were still one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA. The Cavaliers were sixth in the NBA in points allowed giving up 101.2 PPG, a near five point difference in what they scored which was 96.5 PPG. This is expected to be addressed with the hiring of Mike Brown for his second stint with the team. In his previous tenure, the Cavs were among the top defensive teams in the NBA for multiple years and made the Lakers formidable in defense before the Dwight Howard saga. Mike Brown has also coached Andrew Bynum during his best year which probably influenced Bynum's move to Cleveland. Although Mike Brown can bring defense, former coach Byron Scott has been very influential in the development of Kyrie Irving just like he was with Chris Paul in his early years and is surely not to blame for their losing records and is a better coach than given credit for.

Nonetheless, the Cavaliers have built a playoff contending team in the Eastern Conference and even though Dan Gilbert failed on promising fans they will win a title before LeBron, has surprised alot of people with the quick rebuild of his team. Kyrie Irving in my opinion will emerge as a top point guard and could prove to be an all star starter. Uncle Drew is a positive influence in the new generation of the NBA and is a good role model for children and the post aftermath of LeBron James for fans in Ohio.

Projected All-Stars: Kyrie Irving, Andrew Bynum(If healthy)

Season Projection: Playoff Contention