Don’t look now, but the Cleveland Cavaliers are actually playing some decent basketball this offseason. Sure, they have their ups and downs. There are times when the transition defense looks pretty bad, and the Cavs’ interior defense is going to be a big time problem this season. And yeah, they are turning the ball over way too much.
Overall, though, those are the growing pains we expected to see. What has exceeded my expectations so far, though, was the relative ease with which the Cavs have picked up Byron Scott’s offense. The motion is pretty good and it’s sweet relief to see multiple players moving without the ball at all times. There are signs that this team is picking things up and that they can compete with many of the good teams in the NBA.
What has surprised me more than anything, though, has been that it is the young players leading the way for the Cavaliers rather than the older guys. Not that the Cavaliers have an abundance of older players with Mo Williams and Andy Varejao out, but that’s kind of the point. With Mo and Andy being out all 4 games so far, I expected the Cavaliers to struggle a lot more than they have and I expected them to rely on Antawn Jamison and Anthony Parker more as the veteran leadership on this team.
Byron Scott has been keeping Jamison’s minutes particularly low, but in the minutes he’s being given he’s not making much of an impact, averaging just 4 pts per game in 19.7 minutes per game while shooting an appalling .182 from the field. Anthony Parker hasn’t fared much better. In 21.8 minutes per game he’s averaging 4.5 points while shooting .318 from the field and .250 from three. So how are the Cavaliers 3-1 then, with no Mo and no Andy and ‘Tawn and AP playing so poorly?
The answer lies in the impressive performances by the younger guys on the team. Each of the top 7 on the Cavs in points per game are under 30 years old and only one, Jawad Williams, is over 25. Though it seems like he’s been here for a long time, Boobie Gibson is still just 23 years old and he is making the most of the opportunity given to him so far by Coach Scott. Though his shot isn’t exactly falling with any consistency yet, he’s still being aggressive in running the offense and is the team’s 2nd leading scorer. Ramon Sessions has been equally impressive in running this offense. Manny Harris isn’t even a roster player but in 3 games is averaging 10.3 points per game and is making a strong case for making this team over Danny Green.
Above all else, though, we know the Cavaliers need a lot out of JJ Hickson, and so far through the preseason he has given them what they have needed. In 23.8 minutes per game, JJ is averaging 15.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 1.25 blocks. He has established himself as a presence on the court and though he still has a long way to go to become the complete player he’s capable of being, his continued improvement is a welcome sight.
Now, I know most people by now are probably saying “who cares, it’s just preseason and none of this actually matters”. Scott Sereday disagrees. In an article on 48minutesofhell.com, he does some research and finds out that preseason performance is actually a pretty decent predictor of regular season success:
Not only do good teams play better in the preseason, but, after accounting for the number of games played, the preseason isn’t much worse at gauging regular season success than the regular season itself.
In instances of significant player movement, such as what the Heat experienced this year, preseason performance can paint a much clearer picture of future expectations. This is because the team’s performance last year becomes much less meaningful to estimate the current year’s record. If Wade wasn’t hurt this preseason, watching him play with Lebron and Bosh could be very telling.
The preseason is a significant factor for predicting regular season success. In fact, preseason performance is comparable to regular season performance for predicting future wins and losses. After accounting for the number of starter minutes played, the difference becomes even smaller.
Nothing is absolute, but if you’ve been following the Cavs preseason performance so far and have been mildly encouraged, there’s some basis for that optimism carrying over to the regular season.
Once Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao return, there’s reason to believe this team can play even better than they have so far. The most encouraging sign for the future beyond this season, though, has been the play of the younger guys. This is especially key because the Cavaliers will almost certainly be looking into trading guys like Anthony Parker, Mo Williams, and Antawn Jamison this season.
None of this is to say that the Cavaliers can just trade away Mo and Antawn and not expect there to be any residual effect on the team as a whole. Rather, it’s just to point out that it’s encouraging sign that as this team tries to define their rebuilding plan, they at least know there are a few players under 25 who are showing signs that they can play in this offense and be positive contributors to this team. And finding answers such as these is precisely what preseason is all about.