Cavalier fans are an intriguing blend of overwhelming optimism and lingering draft-fueled pessimism these days. The truth, of course, always lies somewhere in between. Today, I’ll cover some tips, talking points, and predictions as we inch closer to the season opener on Tuesday night against Washington.
Don’t get caught up in playoff talk.
Yes, this is coming from the same person who thought the opposite at season’s end last year (about this year).
We’re all hoping that the playoffs are on the near horizon. This team was right in the thick of such discussion last season before injuries to Anderson Varejao and Kyrie Irving. Still, when you start looking at the East playoff picture, who is this team going to jump? Not Miami, Indiana, Boston, Chicago, or Brooklyn. I also highly doubt they finish better than Philadelphia, New York, or Milwaukee. Boom, that’s eight team right there.
More than that, it’s about who the Cavaliers are and who they want to be soon. They don’t want to be the same team that they were in the past with one player carrying them to the playoffs and then eventually becoming overwhelmed with exhaustion. They want a much stronger team dynamic. To foster that, their pair of number four picks are going to have to play a lot of important possessions. It means Alonzo Gee and C.J. Miles are going to have to take and make important shots. They’ll need bench contributions. They’ll have to be a cohesive unit on defense. All of that is still very much a work in progress.
Expect Waiters or Zeller to hit their bumps in the road.
This is a bit of a no brainer. Still, there may be a temptation to hold these two up against the high-impact season that Irving flashed last season. Instead, we need to look at Waiters, who will likely start at shooting guard, and Zeller, who will likely be the first big man off the bench, as unpolished players with lots of potential.
Waiters could (and hopefully will) be the second-leading scorer on this team. He’ll get plenty of shot attempts given the team’s current personnel. From what I’ve seen of him in summer league and preseason, I really hope that Byron Scott continues to influence him to drive to the basket more often. He is a very average three-point shooter, and his shot from out there can best be described as a hideous leaner. He can’t dominate the ball with Kyrie on the floor, so can he find ways to get open, cut to the basket, and finish in traffic off Kyrie dishes?
With Zeller, it’s more about realizing what he’ll never be. I don’t expect him to ever be a good interior defender. He has the type of frame that will result in getting pushed out from underneath the basket on physical rebounding opportunities. It’s more about what he will be able to provide. To me, that’s a mid-range post threat that’s heady and can run the floor with his quickness. I don’t see a lot of plays being drawn up for Zeller, but I do think he’ll be encouraged to step out and take those short corner and foul line jumpers while gathering some garbage on the glass.
Antawn Jamison and Anthony Parker may actually be missed.
As much physical pain as watching the lack of defense from Jamison and the clanking threes of Parker caused me last season, it’s very likely that the Cavaliers will miss their veteran presence in some capacity. Now, it’s the two longest standing Cavaliers in Daniel Gibson and Anderson Varejao who take that veteran leadership role. Jamison may have been an inefficient scorer and an absentee defender, but the Cavaliers may struggle to find that second guy who could go out and grab 20 points on any given night. As for Parker, he was one of the few three-point threats on this team. Outside of Irving and Gibson, there could be a lot of cold clanks off the rim from the three-point arc this season.
Do expect more out of Daniel Gibson and Omri Casspi.
I just mentioned that Gibson is one of the only real three-point threats on this squad, and because of it, if he can stay healthy, he should play a fair amount. Gibson has worked himself into an improved rebounder and defender from the combo guard spot. His playing time will always be dependent on how many shots are falling, but his veteran presence will be needed to spell Irving and Waiters.
We all know how lousy Omri Casspi was last season and the lose-lose that trade was for Sacramento and Cleveland. C.J. Miles has been brought in to play small forward along with Alonzo Gee. Still, I find it hard to believe that Casspi can’t at least carve himself out into a productive bench role.
The other side of this coin is that both players are entering the final year of their contracts (Casspi has a $3.3 million qualifying offer for next year). If they don’t have a much improved season, they’ll be packing their bags.
Expect a revolving door at the fourth big spot.
Coach Scott could probably play only three big men predominantly if he wanted to, splitting the minutes evenly between Varejao, Zeller, and Tristan Thompson. However, with injuries and foul trouble, we’ll end up having a fourth big enter the rotation on a fairly consistent basis. It looks to be Jon Leuer for now. He can provide some offensive punch off the bench, though he has limited athleticism and strength. If the Cavaliers get pushed around too much, Samardo Samuels could creep back into the conversation. It would be a shame to see all that weight lost for nothing, and I do think Samardo will get another chance to prove himself. If he can avoid becoming a black hole on offense, he has a shot to stick.
Don’t be surprised when this team wins some games they shouldn’t.
It happened last year with arguably a less talented team. Byron Scott’s offense became at least watchable, the effort on the defensive end was improved, and Kyrie Irving flashed his closer mentality. It can happen again. I expect the start of the season to be rough. In the first 15-20 games, there could be a lot of grinding of teeth as we watch many new faces struggle to figure out this Princeton-style offense. But, as things start to gel, and if their shots fall, I expect the Cavaliers to compete night in and night out provided they can stay relatively healthy.
While these points may be a little gloomy, I still see one foot being put in front of the other by the Cavaliers’ organization as they get younger, more talented, and closer to legitimately being a playoff contender once again.
(Photo: Phil Long/AP)