With the Cavaliers tipping off their 2011-12 season tonight against the Toronto Raptors, I felt it would be an appropriate time to give some of my (bold?) predictions for the coming year; being all over the Mychel Thompson over Manny Harris tip, I feel like I’m off to a relatively good start. Some are a little more out-on-the-limb than others, but they are certainly worthy discussion points as the team begins their first steps with a new foundation. That said, here are a few things that I think will occur during a season that won’t be as much about quantitative measurables as it is on-court gelling and on-the-job training for several key, young players.
Ramon Sessions will be the team’s starting point guard on Opening Night
With Anthony Parker, Omri Casspi, Antawn Jamison and Anderson Varejao locking down the two-through-five spots, the last remaining question mark surrounds the point guard position; Ramon Sessions and rookie Kyrie Irving are still fighting to get their name called out during the pre-game by Ahmad. While I firmly believe that the job will be Irving’s before too long, and he will receive plenty of minutes regardless of whether or not they are as a reserve, my gut tells me that Sessions – recently praised for his defense, experience and knowledge – will get the nod on opening night. To add a layer, if there’s a one- or two-point game in the near future, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Byron Scott go with Sessions at the point late in the contest due to all of the aforementioned.
Three players who start on opening night will not start opening night 2012
Vague, but perhaps intentionally so. As the Cavaliers grind through this 66-game slate, I’m expecting at least some level of turnover. Whether it’s a trade of Antawn Jamison, Anderson Varejao or both; Kyrie Irving taking over at the point guard slot for good; or the team finding a way to acquire a higher-impact player to play shooting guard. This will be a very fluid season, as evidenced by a 10-man rotation which Byron Scott apparently has in store. Figure in the potential for an early-first-round draft choice to play somewhere along the wing, and there’s going to be plenty of moving and shaking between now and next October.
Omri Casspi will lead the team in scoring by year’s end
Sure, he may not have been the target of a lot of Cavs fans when JJ Hickson was moved in the 11th hour, but Casspi will show why Chris Grant has been targeting him since the day he entered the NBA Draft. Many will point to either Irving or Antawn Jamison as the team’s leading scorers and both men could easily have the team’s lead, but given anticipated rotations and minute splits, Casspi is really the only scoring threat on the team who doesn’t have considerable time to share with a high-upside rookie. He may only average 17 or 18 points per evening, but thinking is, by this time in April, Casspi puts the small forward position back on the Cavaliers’ map. For what it’s worth, I think both Ramon Sessions and Kyrie Irving will top him in PER.
Sessions will lead the team in assists
…barely edging out Kyrie Irving. Both players will be well north of five assists per night.
Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson and Samardo Samuels will all average double-digit rebounds per-36 minutes of play
Varejao was in the midst of his best season as a professional before it was uprooted by a freak foot injury during a drill in practice. Samardo Samuels came on in his absence and played admirably for an undrafted rookie, proving to be the best back-to-the-basket option amongst the Wine and Gold. Tristan Thompson averaged over four offensive rebounds per game as a collegiate freshman at Texas; his work ethic only cements the notion that rebounding is the easiest skill to translate at the next level. This isn’t to say that Thompson, standing at a mere 6-foot-8-inches, will log minutes at center, but that the Cavaliers – with Samuels’ work this offseason and strong play in the preseason – served to have greatly improved rebounding totals compared to a 2010-11 campaign that saw them finish 27th in rebound differential (only the defensively absent Knicks, Suns and Warriors were worse).
Thompson will lead the team in blocked shots
…despite playing less than 28 minutes per evening.
Semih Erden will pass Ryan Hollins on the depth chart once healthy
Hollins, despite being one of the best athletes on the team, continues to frustrate the Cavaliers’ coaching staff. A high-jumper by trade, the seven-footer still manages to be outrebounded by every frontcourt player in the league except for Andrea Bargnani and Brian Cardinal (thank you John Hollinger). Erden, acquired just before last year’s trade deadline, is nursing a broken thumb that should keep him out for a handful of weeks. Once fully healthy, allowed to do more than full-court sprints at practice, expect the Turkish big man to usurp Hollins as the first reserve center off of the bench. Bonus prediction: Samardo Samuels could also pass him if Scott opts for smaller lineups at any given time – he’s already ahead of Erden, but the injury is playing a factor.