July 31, 2014

Cavs thoughts on Dion’s success, trades, Kyrie’s struggles and more

Kyrie Irving, Dion WaitersDuring Thanksgiving eve and the actual holiday itself, I got a lot of questions from family and friends about those pesky 4-11 Cleveland Cavaliers. I’m sure you did too. Here are my assorted takes on the hottest of Cavs topics at the moment.

On the Dion Waiters trade options listed so far … meh. That’s what I have to say. The three main options rumored via ESPN’s Chris Broussard: Chicago’s Luol Deng, New York’s Iman Shumpert and Philadelphia’s Evan Turner. Don’t get me wrong; Deng and Turner would be excellent fits on this small forward-lacking roster. But both are free agents on the verge of big paydays in summer 2014.

Deng is an old 28 because he has nearly 25,000 career NBA minutes including playoffs. He never has been a major offensive weapon, but has been a consistent piece for Chicago for the last decade. Turner, on the other hand, is having a breakout season at still only 25. He’s averaging 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists for the overachieving 76ers. Which means his agents will make some unfortunate team pay massive money for his services next year.

Again, Deng and Turner would both make this team better certainly in 2013-14 and perhaps again the next few years. But the decision at hand is whether the Cavs will shorten the expectancy of their eventual future contention years for a quick fix for the purpose of shaking things up. Is the still-only 21-year-old Dion Waiters doomed to be traded before proving his worth? Are the Cavs doomed to sell him low?

That’s what worries about such talk. Shumpert, 23, is the worst fit of the three. At 6-foot-5, he’s more of a guard, again adding to the Cavs mix. He’s a solid perimeter defender who posted impressive long-distance shooting numbers last year, but I’m not a huge fan of his overall long-term upside. New York fans certainly will disagree with me. Anyway, the Knicks are rumored now to not be interested in such a swap. Good, I wasn’t that interested in the bulk of their overpriced and underachieving roster either.

In the end, these trade ideas just scare me. I do empathize with some of the urgency behind fans and management to at least show some competitiveness this season. I just don’t imagine an easy situation for usual trade wizard GM Chris Grant to get a rewarding package back. And I think it’s possible for Waiters and the rest of the current Cavs to co-exist and play well. One example was. …

On Dion’s game on Wednesday night … well then. Waiters had one of his more impressive games perhaps of his career. As many have shared, he attempted no mid-range shots, instead focusing on attacking the rim and taking one step outside the three-point line. He had 24 points on 14 shots plus six rebounds and three assists in 33 minutes. He was far more engaged, consistent and efficient than his backcourt mate Kyrie Irving in the somewhat uplifting 95-84 loss to the Miami Heat.

Maybe Waiters (or perhaps his involved agent Rob Pelinka) read my latest edition of The Diff where I called him out for shooting too many mid-range shots? He’s been much better behind the arc this year, converting on a good amount of his still-limited catch-and-shoot opportunities. He needs more of those looks, even if he’s spelling Irving as the ballhandler at times. His shooting at the rim can perhaps also improve if he’s more consistent and decisive with his drives — as Fear The Sword’s Sam Vecenie wrote earlier this morning.

Listen, I think Dion Waiters at 21 still has the potential to be a primary contributor to a Cavaliers playoff squad. He’s shown that in flashes this season, out-performing Irving in a number of games. The only thing Waiters didn’t do particularly well on Wednesday was his free-throw shooting, but you’d have to expect that to improve after just one 6-for-11 showing. It was a very encouraging overall performance.

On who should be the starting 2-guard … hopefully, it will be C.J. Miles again tonight. Undrafted rookie free agent Matthew Dellavedova has started the last three games in Miles’ absence. I’ve greatly enjoyed the hustle and intensity from the Australian out of St. Mary’s. You’d better hope that his presence taught his teammates a lesson about always giving consistent effort. Yet, he ended up with only 7.5 minutes of play on Wednesday against Miami.

Miles was off to a scorching start before being sidelined last week with a right calf strain. He went down before Earl Clark’s impressive shooting game against the New Orleans Pelicans. Do I think that the Cavs have enough spacing and long-distance shooters in Miles and Clark plus Delly, occasionally Waiters and other rookie Sergey Karasev? Not exactly, but it’s a start, and it’d be nice to see some type of offensive structure that utilizes their skills consistently.

On Kyrie Irving’s extended slump … it’s troubling. This is still something I’m puzzled about. I wrote last month about how Irving likely was overrated by ESPN’s #NBARank process in being named the game’s No. 8 player. Dating back to a near-half-season stretch since last year’s All-Star Break, the 21-year-old certainly hasn’t played that way.

irving shooting stats 112813

Above is my updated and expanded shooting chart for Irving, similar to the one I created for Waiters in The Diff. After a very impressive 93-game start to his NBA career, he’s been practically mediocre in terms of shooting efficiency. And if you take away that comparative advantage, how good is this budding MVP candidate after all?

The two biggest areas of concern are his three-point shooting above the break and his shooting inside the paint, mostly not in the restricted area. But which streak was more flukey? Do you trust the 93-game sample as the more truthful one, instead seeing this prolonged slump as a fleeting issue? Or is it possible the NBA has caught up to Irving, closing out on his long-distance heaves and better defending his impressive moves inside the paint? If we question Dion Waiters’ potential, but he’s out-played Irving in several games this year, why is Irving not without criticism?

I’m not exactly certain. Yes, Irving is the All-Star and still has been better than Waiters’ career numbers during this slump. It’s still damning to consider that Irving might not be the amazing talent we all assumed that he would progress to be after all of his success before his 21st birthday. In ESPN’s Brian Windhorst’s thoughts from Wednesday’s loss, he wrote:  “This can’t-miss kid is in the midst of a malaise that seems to be as puzzling as it is far-reaching.”

Irving emphasized to the former Clevelander that he’s been putting in even more work to his game lately. That once he gets over this slump, there’s “no looking back.” Here’s to hoping this is indeed just one fleeting slump and we’ll again see the Irving that dazzled our hearts with a brief taste of his ridiculous potential.

On Anthony Bennett’s future … anything still is possible. This certainly was the question I was asked the most by folks over the last few days. The 20-year-old Canadian certainly hasn’t played consistent minutes of late. He managed to score a career-high nine points in garbage time last Friday against San Antonio, despite racking up five turnovers in near-historic fashion.

But he still only has 122 minutes to his NBA name so far. That can’t possibly close the books on all of his potential. When was the last time you watched the Draft Express scouting video before the draft? And when was the last time you read the six pack of optimistic takes on Bennett from WFNY’s Ryan? Those points of analysis still stand. When he gets his feet wet, body in shape, head on a swivel and more good practices in hand, he should be just fine.

What do I hope for next from the UNLV product? Let’s say close to what I hoped from Sergey Karasev this season. That by the end of the year, we’re seeing flashes of why Bennett was the Cavs’ target at the No. 1 spot. That hopefully he’s playing rotation minutes usually and he’s scoring and rebounding within the offense. That’s all I’d really need to see to get my opinions back on track.

On what’s next for the Cavs … a huge opportunity. Tonight, they are in Boston to take on Brad Stevens’ 6-11 Celtics. Tomorrow, they host the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls, losers of four of five. After that, it’s Denver, Atlanta, the Clippers, Knicks and Magic before a rematch against the back-to-back defending champions in Miami. Seven games in 15 days before Saturday, Dec. 14. I’d love to see the Cavs win at least three with good ball movement and effort like we saw on Wednesday.

In the end, despite all the awfulness and stink of these first 15 games, the Cavaliers are only two games back of the No. 8 seed in the terrible and horrible Eastern Conference. Anything is possible over the final 67 games with the Cavs getting back C.J. Miles, Dion Waiters playing well and hopefully a few other folks getting back into their usual shape.

(AP Photo/Phil Long)

  • whosevelt

    I have been up and down on the Cavs this season. The Heat game made me think the following:

    Brown has to select a starting five and stick with it. The idea of cycling through players until he finds a group that will hustle is a bad reaction and leads to terrible units on the floor. We’re dealing with young players, a new coach and several significant new additions, it doesn’t make sense to start with the Hunger Games. Dellavedova does not belong on a unit that has only one other ball handler. Varejao can’t be the best finisher among the bigs on the floor. Hustle doesn’t matter when your team is outclassed physically and has no one that can do anything other than hustle.

    If I were the coach, I would start Irving, Waiters, Bennett, TT, and Varejao. They are going to struggle, of course, because Waiters and Irving neglect defense, and Bennett, well, you know. The advantages are that they can develop a flow between Irving and Waiters so that teams will have to pay for doubling Irving all the time. They can show confidence in Bennett’s inevitable success rather than stomping on what’s left of his ego. Instead of exuding desperation at the outset, they show confidence as they work toward a goal.

  • Earl Malmsteen

    Waiters is a 40% high-volume shooter and plays lousy defense. As a non-Cavs fan I don’t see understand the optimism expressed in the article. He seems to be a (very) poor man’s J.R. Smith / Monta Ellis. If you could trade him for any of those three guys to at least see if there’s a fit, you clearly do it, and decide at the end of the year if you are going to try to re-sign Turner/Deng.

    It seems to me you can hide one subpar backcourt defender but not two, and right now the Cavs have two. Look around the league–how many average or better teams have multiple bad defenders in their backcourt who get serious playing time? The only one that comes to my mind is Dallas, but even they are likely fool’s gold. Undersized SGs who jack up 20 shots to get 20 points on a bad team are much less valuable than players who defend their position and embrace a role that helps their team.

  • Watcher-0000

    The irony about Matthew Dellavedova’s 7.5 minutes against the Heat was that I didn’t see others do a defensive job any better against Dwayne Wade over the rest of the game which appeared to be the reason he got yanked. Hence I was surprised he didn’t get a few more minutes later on particularly when the offence spluttered into its dribble and shoot routine. This is not to say that he should be a starter (especially as SG) but he didn’t look out of place on the floor. Jarrett Jack gets paid many multiples of Dellavedova but didn’t look any better on defence when he appeared.
    Offensively there are lots of others who will will crowd in to have a shot before Dellavedova gets a look though his shooting percentgae has stabilised and improved since the start of the season. A liitle more passing from Cleveland (a la Dellavedova style) on offence, rather than the dribble excessively and shoot first approach, might yield better results?? Watch “the Foreign Legion” from the Spurs for a short lesson on this technique.
    All up Dellavedova has been a pleasant surprise and appears to have moved up the ladder from Number 15 at the end of the bench. Whether he should be in Number 2 is a different conversation. The “undrafted” part of the converstaion needs to start drifting away (which will also help Anthony Bennett pressure wise).